Tuesday 3 June 2008

Sugar Cookies for a Rainy Day

When I am tired, when it has been raining all day, when it feels more like October than June, I find solace in baking cookies.

Rain. Depression. Happiness. Low blood sugar. A diversion for the children. Birthday parties. Picnics. Holidays. Boredom. These are all good reasons to make cookies.

Yesterday, as I was tutoring, the small boy in my care piped up: "You ALWAYS have cookies at your house." It was clear, from the expression on his face, not to mention the crumbs on it, that he thoroughly approved of this consistency. I'm not ashamed to admit that I know the "bribing" (shall we just say encouraging) power of a warm, homemade cookie.

A cookie is intrinsically cheerful; and the good vibes are at least doubled if it is a homemade cookie. (But that is just my bias, and I don't actually have any scientific data to prove it.)

A crazy cookie maker like myself will even manufacture events -- in order to justify making LOTS of cookies. This Friday, I am hosting an all-day "tea" (for want of a better word) to raise funds for the "Walk the Walk" charity. This event has provided me with the perfect excuse to bake lots of cookies . . . not that I needed one! Next month, I will make hundreds of roll-out sugar cookies for the 4G booth for the Summer Fete. (A cookie decorating booth: My idea, of course.) In the last two days I've made sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies and cashew cookies. The latter are only for my family, as Walking Partner thinks that I should pay homage to the ubiquitous nut allergy that plagues us. Therefore, I need at least one more kind of cookie! Hmmmm . . . what could be more delicious than thinking about what kind of cookie to bake next?

I realize that there are people who don't bake/can't bake/won't bake . . . but I "comprehend" this imperviousness to the charms of baking without actually understanding it. Just like I know that there are people who don't like dessert . . . or people who don't comfort eat . . . and I don't really get that, either. I can admire these people for their abstinence; I can respect them; but in my secret, innermost self I tend to think that they are either (1) LYING, (2) strange, or (3) sad people who are missing out on one of life's best and most consistent pleasures.

For me, cookies are the most perfect baked good because they are (generally) really easy and (usually) provide instant gratification. Some people don't even wait to cook them before sampling their charms. (I'm not naming names, but let's just say I regularly stare the threat of salmonella in the face -- and so do my children.) In fact, cookie dough is to sushi as cookies are to baked fish: for those who love it, better "raw." I have been know to make chocolate chip cookie dough just to mix it into vanilla ice cream. I'm not alone in this strange behavior, either: I once knew a woman who claimed that the "secret ingredient" in her chocolate chip cookies was her own spit! (I know, you might be saying "eeww" or "ick," but I thought that it was pretty funny!)

(There are exceptions to the instant gratification angle: gingerbread cookie dough, for one example, needs to be chilled overnight. This can be either a positive or a negative -- depending on one's organizational skills.)

Unlike baked goods that require yeast (bread) or whipped egg whites (meringue) or kneading (bread) or gentle handling and cold butter (pastry) or precise cooking temperatures (cake), cookies are really forgiving. In fact, I believe that if you have good equipment -- meaning a decent mixer, proper baking sheets, and silicone mats -- you can hardly go wrong with cookies. You just have to figure out if you are a "chewy" cookie person or a "crisp" one, and judge your cooking time accordingly. Some people like a brown cookie; others prefer a paler, underdone version. It is also helpful to have someone around who likes the opposite of what you like -- because even with a good timer, cookies aren't always perfectly predictable. They are, however, almost always edible.

Recently, a dear friend asked me to contribute to a cookbook that she is putting together for her daughter's 21st birthday. After wracking my brains over the PERFECT recipe, I realized that I should just go with something that my family has made over and over again . . . something that is easy, always delicious, and part of the history of our family life. It is just a very simple sugar cookie -- cheap to make, and containing "standard" ingredients. (Okay, "standard" if you bake maybe . . . but still, certainly nothing fancy!) When I got married, my mother put a cookbook together for me -- and of course this recipe was in it. We can't have Christmas without these cookies -- and I make them even more than my mother did. Anyone who has ever attended one of my children's birthday parties has probably eaten these cookies. In fact, when I moved back to England I had a Christmas lunch for some old friends, and one of them said, "I remember these cookies!"

Sugar Cookies

Cream together:
4 oz butter
4 oz Crisco (or similar veg shortening; this is necessary!)
1 cup sugar

When creamy and fluffy add:
1 large egg

Sift together (or just add if you’re feeling lazy or time-pressed)
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt

And then mix with butter mixture.

Finally, add:
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp milk

Drop by spoonfuls (about walnut size) onto greased cookie sheet. (Silpat nonstick mats are very helpful, if you have them.)
Flatten (gently) the cookies with a glass dipped in sugar. (Dip the glass into the cookie mix first, to make it sticky enough for the sugar to cling.) Then decorate the cookies with sprinkles of your choice – OR, a whole pecan (my favorite).

Bake at 400 f./200 c. for 8 – 10 minutes. They should be barely brown at the edges, but I also like them slightly underdone.

My family almost always doubles this recipe – as they freeze beautifully, and also keep nicely in a tin for at least a week or two. (They are actually delicious straight out of the freezer!)

They are perfect with a cup of tea, coffee, or milk! They are sweet, but slightly salty; not too plain, but not too rich. For me, they are "just right" . . . especially if there is just too much rain, and some small comfort is needed.


Brave Sir Robin said...

I think I need a cookie.

They sound lovely.

Is 4G like 4H?

Alyson | New England Living said...

Thanks for the wonderful recipe! I can't wait to try it. And I'm with you on the idea that the cookie is the perfect baked food. I think it's pretty cool that you have your own signature food!

I'm more a salty girl than a sweet, but I LOVE a good sugar cookie!

Bad Bunni said...

You're killing me, woman, you're killing. Don't you know I'm trying to lose weight before my high school reunion?

Your recipe sounds AWESOME for lack of a better word. While I love my grandmother's baking, her sugar cookies are always too sweet for me, and yours sound like the mixture of sweet and salty I prefer. I will be sure to try these...after June 15th. ;-)

Also if you like the mix of sweet and salty definitely try bakerina's Salted Cashew Crunch Cookies, which I can tell you from experience are a fabulous mixture of salty and sweet. These cookies are particularly stupendous in my mind because I don't like cashews, but I ate up these buggers quick!(http://bakerina.com/bakerina/sugar_and_salt_and_all_things_nice_returning_to_earth_with_cookies/)

Sarah Laurence said...

It worked, Bee, the sun is shining now! Does that mean I don't have an excuse to eat chocolate? Or the rest of the brownies my daughter baked? As for the weather in England- the norm is 50's and wet no matter what the month. It does at least make you appreciate days like today the more. Too bad I need to work at my computer today. Sigh.

Bunni, high school reunions are tough. It doesn't really matter what you look like - people still will see you the same. At least most people mellow out with age. The trick is to get enough good friends to go with you and forget the rest. A few pounds here or there won't make much difference. Good luck!

TBM said...

I made brownies as a farewell for my guests yesterday :-) Your sugar cookies sound yummy!

Bad Bunni said...

Sorry to use this as a message board, but Sarah I can't believe you only live 10 blocks from me! (I'm on 85th and 2nd.) Hey neighbor, I love to bake so if you ever need fresh cookies and don't have time, shoot me an email. I always bake too much so I'm constantly on the lookout for excess cookie/cupcake recipients.

Bad Bunni said...

Oh the full bakerina link is: http://bakerina.com/bakerina/sugar_and_salt_and_all_things_nice_returning_to_earth_with_cookies/

Lisa Fain (Homesick Texan) said...

It's rainy and grey and I need a cookie, so thank you for this. Now I just need to pour myself a cup of tea.

debski beat said...

Baking in general in my humble opinion is soothing, your cookies sound wonderful, I can smell them from here. You do not actually need, but I do accept it helps to have a reason to bake. Yesterday I baked a cake- carrot, pineapple and walnut with cream cheese icing,needless to say it has gone down well with The Bearded One and my neighbour who is attempting to expand her garden area .. herself ! As I lead up to my next birthday I am becoming a Dervish in the baking dept. I am sure by the day before there will be loaves of bread lining the paving outside my home.

Does anyone have a good old fashioned recipe for Toll House cookies ?

Anonymous said...

Tea and homemade cookies - you must have lots of happy visitors. I often make oatmeal cookies with my kids. I like the Quaker package recipe with butter, just brown sugar, and if I've got them, we add chocolate chips. They're cinnamon-y and sustaining. My mother says sometimes you've got to have a cookie. (And she means homemade.) There's no substitute.

Pls report back on the cookie decorating booth. I'd love to hear how that goes.


Soaring Clay said...

I just whipped up these cookies, and we all love them! Here in Austin, I have to wait until after sunset to bake. (The AC does not need the oven counter-effect.) But we might get badly-needed rain tomorrow, so we will be ready with cookies in hand.

I know I said when you were here, Bee, that I would be in blog/e-mail contact. I am slow, but getting there! (Soaring Clay is NNH.)

BTW, I have re-read The God of Small Things, read The Inheritance or Loss, and just started Rushdie's Enchantress of Florence. So I'm doing my part on the Booker thing. I'll let you know my vote.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, just stopped back here as you haven't posted in a while, but I can guess why. Good luck with the fundraiser and hope you survived the concert.

Bunni, free cookies in NYC? Oh man! This is so unfair. I think I just figured out why you think I live 10 blocks from you in NYC when I'm actually living in England this year. You must have seen my agent's address on my homepage. So she'll be the one stopping over for cookies! I grew up in your neighborhood and still visit my family and friends there. NYC is so much fun - lucky you. This post isn't a message board but a cookie board.

Clay, I loved both Inheritance of Loss and God of Small Things - can see why you'd want to reread it. I just blog reviewed Jhumpa Lahiri's latest and Karen Connelly's Lizard Cage that are similar toned books. Once you've finished the Bookers....

Bee said...


You DO need a cookie! And if you could be beamed up to England I would gladly give you one.

4G, unlike 4H, has nothing to do with livestock. It is short for "Form 4 Girls."

You should make these with your children! Even the littlest ones love pressing down on the cookie with the sugared glass -- and of course they all love playing with sprinkles.

As soon as you get home from the reunion you can make some cookies! And by the way, the "cashew cookies" I refer to in this post ARE Miss Bakerina's cookies. I have raved about them all over the web.

Sarah and JAPRA,
Brownies are also unbeatable comfort food. I like Katharine Hepburn's recipe -- via Laurie Colwin, one of my favorite food writers.
And isn't it funny how quickly the weather can turn? It amuses me that we are all within an hour's drive.

Homesick Texan,
For you, I definitely recommend decorating these cookies with a pecan half -- the biggest, fattest ones you can find. Let me know if you make them!

Debski Beat,
Oh, I love a good carrot cake! That is the birthday cake of choice around here. I'm sure that The Bearded One is appreciative of all baked goods that come his way. And, per your request, I will post the Tollhouse Cookie recipe as soon as I finish here.

I always feel like the oatmeal kind of cancels out the bad stuff in the cookie and makes it almost a health food. (I'm prone to cookie rationalizations.) I have a new cookbook -- the King Arthur Multigrain book -- which substitutes whole wheat flour and ground oatmeal for the unhealthy white stuff. The multigrain snickerdoodle is really excellent -- and even appropriate for breakfast, in my humble opinion.

Soaring Clay,
I just figured out who you are (from my very first blog!). And of course we did go to Chuy's together . . .

I'm so glad to hear from you again after our great day in April; hope everyone's well.

Did you see the Booker shortlist? You've read some really good books, but none of them are on the final list for the Best of the Bookers! What did you think about Rushdie's latest? I'm about to start Midnight's Children -- which is on the shortlist.

Here's a God of Small Things anecdote: When I was in the hospital in Trinidad, giving birth to youngest daughter, I was reading that book. My doctor was originally from Kerala, and he knew the author of the book! A friend from his childhood!

Bitty said...

They are sweet, but slightly salty; not too plain, but not too rich.

This sounds exactly like my favorite sugar cookie recipe, which I have misplaced, so I'll try this one when time permits. Thank you for describing it so well.

I've also misplaced my "official" recipe card for my own signature cookies (I'm sure the two recipes are together). I have it saved to a zip disk, but no longer have a zip disk reader (argh!). However, my daughter has the recipe and I'm going to get it back from her when I visit her next week. I'll share it then.

Bee said...


Please do share your signature cookies . . . I love to have the really tried and true ones!