Here’s your chance to cook with the cast! Make the featured recipe with us and comment on your experience below—we’d love to hear how it goes. Our cooks will answer any questions you may have, too.
8/05/2011 Update: Bridget has picked a favorite photo! Take a look to see who won the tiara.
For a chance to win an entire Season Three 2-DVD set of Cook’s Country TV autographed by host Christopher Kimball, make this week’s recipe and email a photo of your completed dish to email@example.com by Thursday, Aug. 4. Bridget will pick her favorite snapshot and name the winner on Friday, Aug. 5. Good luck!
Let’s talk about Miss Congeniality. You know, the pretty pageant gal that’s always voted the nicest one of the bunch, but has no hope in heck of winning the crown and sash. Well, I think of a sugar cookie as the cookie world’s Miss Congeniality. On the façade it’s pleasant and sweet but lacks the panache of Miss Oatmeal Raisin, Miss Peanut Butter (damn those sexy cross-hatchings!) and, of course, the odds-on favorite—Miss Chocolate Chip. And without all of the smoke and mirrors, this cookie’s flaws are revealed.
Sugar cookies are a streamlined confection—usually made of butter, sugar, flour, leavener, and maybe salt. But, according to the proportion of those ingredients, the cookie may bake up crisp, crumbly, or cakey. And that’s just the textural problems. We haven’t even mentioned the 500-pound gorilla in the room: These cookies are sickeningly sweet. You may as well dip your hand in the sugar bowl.
So how do we get around these flaws? Is it possible to create a sugar cookie recipe that’s super-chewy, and tastes… not too sweet? And what if we could nix the mixer and make the dough by hand? And what if we could gather the countries of the world and sing “Time in a Bottle“?
OK—the test kitchen shot for two out of three, and came up with one amazing sugar cookie. The dough is so easy to make and by the end of the day you’ll know all about fat. Woo-hoo! I love fat.
I mentioned that we’re making this recipe by hand (if I didn’t, I am now), and we’ve developed kind of a quirky mixing method—stay with me. First up is sugar, and we’re using 1 1/3 cups. Now, I’m not going to even try to tell you that it isn’t a lot because it is, but without this amount of sugar the cookies get rather tough. It’s what we add to the sugar that’s going to help cut the sweetness. And in this case, we’re using a little cream cheese. Ever notice that cream cheese frosting is less sweet than buttercream? Same principle here: The tangy cheese balances and cuts through the sweet sugar. I love this trick.
To get these two kids together, we’re going to pour over 6 tablespoons of melted, unsalted butter and whisk it all up until it’s nice and smooth. By using melted butter, we’ll get slightly chewier cookies, but more importantly, we’re not going to need a mixer to beat in the butter, and the resulting cookies won’t have that aerated, cakey feel.
Anyone who’s ever dieted knows that butter is mostly saturated fat. If we were to use all butter in the recipe, the cookies would bake up chewy and bendable (since the butter is melted), but as they sat around the butter would set up, making the cookies less chewy. That makes sense—let melted butter sit on your countertop (put it in a bowl first, please) and eventually it will become solid. So to keep these cookies chewy, we also have to mix in a fat that’s always fluid (unsaturated), mild in flavor (to let that yummy butter and cream cheese shine through), and available—vegetable oil to the rescue.
Of course we’re not done mixing; we’ve got one egg, vanilla, and a little milk to add (without that last one, the dough is thicker than Play-Doh.) Then we can stir in flour, baking soda and powder, and a little salt. And I implore you: Don’t leave salt out of this, or any, baking recipe. It really enhances the other flavors.
Hooray, time to shape those cookies! We’re going to make two dozen, and excuse me now while I become nit-picky (worst expression ever—think about it). I’m going to ask that you divide the dough into 24 pieces before you shape them; each piece will measure about 2 tablespoons. Now you may be cursing me, but later on, when every single cookie bakes up to even and glorious perfection, you can send me a thank you card.
Now roll up those pieces into balls, and roll each one in more sugar; that will give it a crunchy coating. Place 12 on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then smoosh each one down with the flat bottom of a drinking glass. However, don’t go hog-wild—these rounds should measure about 2 inches in diameter—you’re not making tortillas here. A final flourish of more sugar sprinkled over the top, and these puppies are ready for baking.
Put one of the cookie-filled baking sheets on the middle rack in a 350-degree oven. Now we’re going to practice the ultimate in restraint: baking each sheet one-at-a-time. It really is the best way to ensure evenly baked cookies. Don’t worry—the first batch won’t be in there long. Somewhere between 11 to 13 minutes should do it. (How exact can we be?) The cookies should look just set and a little darker in color around the edge. Don’t bake them longer though, or you’ll get crisp, hard cookies.
After an infuriatingly long time on a cooling rack, these cookies are ready to eat. Go ahead and take a bite—they’re super-chewy right? And what’s that? They don’t taste like the sugar jar? They’re actually delicious, buttery, tangy, and rich? Best cookie you’ve ever had? Well, I’ll be darned—it looks like Miss Chocolate Chip is going down…