Aunt Helen’s Sugar Cookies (Mystery Man Part 2)

Sugar Cookies 5

(You can catch Mystery Man Part 1 here).

Mystery Man and I started dancing together, and we danced a lot. Three to five evenings a week I would venture out of my tiny apartment around nine p.m. and head out to a local bar, restaurant or club to the designated ‘Swing Night’, usually returning well after one a.m. with my clothes damp from sweat and that feeling of calm after a good workout.

In between dances we would sit at a table, catch up on the day’s happenings and enjoy a drink. Gin and Tonic for him, Corona with a lime for me. The conversations were all over the place. Cooking, movies, our families, and dance steps were weekly topics. I was not par­ticularly attracted to Mystery Man and neither him to me. We were friends, dance partners, nothing more.

Valentine’s Day, February 2000. I was at my retail job on the closing shift and there was no swing dancing to be had that evening. That was fine with me, I was going home to crash since I had the tendency to burn the candle at both ends. I had no Valentine to speak of and had enough of the dating thing for a while. Besides, Valentine’s Day had never really been my thing, even as a kid I thought it was a pretty silly holiday.

The store was slow and I had sent most of the staff home. Shopping for educational toys on this holiday was not my clientele’s top priority. I was counting down to the end of my shift by fiddling with the cash register area. Straightening this, organizing that. The equivalent of cleaning your closet on a rainy day.

I felt a presence of someone entering the store and approaching. I looked up with my ‘can I help you’ look on my face and stared directly into Mystery Man’s eyes. On the counter sat a bouquet of sugar cookies. Wrapped in cellophane with sticks baked in, they were iced to resemble various flowers. Alongside the cookies was a small collection of heavy full-fat milk in three flavors. My favorite kind. He handed me a card, said “Happy Valentine’s Day”, and promptly left.

Shocked and a little flushed, I opened that card. It was a ‘friend’ card. No mention of love, not a hint of romance. Just a straight up, platonic, card. The redness in my face faded, and I tore into those cookies and milk to keep me energized through our closing routine, all the while trying earnestly to curb a little flutter in my stomach.

Since that day, every year on the fourteenth of February, Mystery Man visits that specialty cookie shop and brings me full fat, heavy milk. To be honest, the cookies have gone downhill since that first gift. Or maybe it is just the sweet memories that make me believe they were tasty. But in any case, I still eat them, then soon after that I get a hankering for my Aunt Helen’s sugar cookies.

I hope you make these for someone special, platonic or not.

Sugar Cookies Three Pics

Aunt Helen’s Sugar Cookies (pictured with Decorator’s Icing, recipe coming soon…)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup (two sticks) butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups sifted flour, plus more for rolling and cutting.

Preparation:

  • Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and butter. (about 1-2 minutes)
  • Add the eggs, one at a time and combine on medium speed for about twenty seconds in between additions.
  • Add in the sour cream and vanilla, mixing until uniform on medium speed. Stop and scrape the bowl down with a rubber spatula two times.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and soda and add to the mixture to the mixer (on low speed) about 1 cup at a time. After all flour is added, mix until no streaks of flour.
  • Using about a baseball-worth of dough at a time, dust your work surface, dough ball, and rolling pin with flour. Roll out to about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to lined baking sheet (parchment paper or Silpat).
  • Cookies will spread a little, so don’t crowd them on the sheet pan too close together.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before transferring to wire rack.
  • Repeat with remaining dough.

NOTES:

  • Dough can be refrigerated for up to two days prior to use. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before rolling and cutting shapes.
  • The cookies pictured were decorated by: Put icing in a Zip-Lock bag and squeeze out all the air before sealing. Snip off one corner of the bag and pipe icing onto cookies as desired. (If the icing will not stick to the cookie, use a spritz bottle of water and lightly wet the surface of the cookie prior to icing.) Press cookies – icing side down – into bowls of colored sugar, sprinkles, or any other decorative items you desire.
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Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies (Plus BONUS Gluten Free Version)

Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies1

It was Independence Day and we were gearing up for our annual BBQ and Ka-Boom Party. It took me a while to get everything in order since fatigue would set in without notice. Once it was finally all set, I anxiously awaited our guests, especially Spunky Girl.

Mystery Man and I had been keep my pregnancy a secret, as most people do for the first trimester. But, she was the one friend that I looked forward to sharing my news, and I knew she would keep it quiet until I was ready.

Friends and neighbors started piling in. Family by family they handed me covered dishes, grabbed a cold drink, and headed out to the heat of the back deck to the smell of meat on the grill.

The moment Spunky Girl arrived we headed upstairs to my closest for our continuous exchange of borrowed clothes. I gave here my ‘I know something you don’t’ slanted grin. She took the bait and asked what was up. As I shared the news, suddenly, her face started to change. A ‘I know something you don’t’ slanted grin came over her.

“No!”

“Yes!”

Not only were we both keeping a secret, our due dates were within two weeks.

As we shared in the journey of pregnancy, we also shared our most lethal cravings. Spunky Girl brought these cookies to me and I was hooked with the first bite. You obviously do not have to be pregnant to enjoy, but if you crave a chocolaty, salty, caramel trifecta on occasion, these are your cure.

Keep scrolling for the Gluten Free option…

Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies

Makes 4 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour, plus 1/4 cup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 Heath bars, chopped, or 1 bag Heath chips (or skip the Heath topping and opt for salt flakes)
6 rolls Rollo Caramel Chewy candies

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In a stand-mixer bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar.. Mix on medium for about one minute or until mixture is fluffy, scraping down sides as needed.
  • Add eggs, one at a time. Then add vanilla. Scrape down bowl if needed.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, cocoa, and baking soda.
  • With the mixer on low, add flour mixture a small amount at a time making sure each addition is mixed in thoroughly before adding more. (if you have a splash guard for your mixer, now would be a great time to use it.)
  • Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Place Heath pieces in a small bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • Measure out chilled dough with a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop. Wrap each portion around a Rollo candy, totally encasing the candy with the dough and rolling it into a ball.
  • Press each ball into the Heath mixture, covering just 1/2 of the ball (or sprinkle the top with a bit of salt.)
  • Place three inches apart on a cookie sheet, Heath, or salt, side up.
  • Bake 7-10 minutes. Cookies should look cracked and slightly undercooked in the center.
  • Allow cookies to cool five minutes before transferring to a rack. (This is important – if you place them on the rack too soon, the caramel will run out the bottom and through the rack onto your counter.)

NOTES: Can be transformed into a chocolate/mint cookie by substituting mint Hershey kisses for the Rollos, and crushed candy canes for the Heath topping.

GLUTEN FREE Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies

Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients:

12 ounces semi sweet chocolate (chips, or chopped)
4 ounces gluten free flour blend**
3/4 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup packed) light brown sugar
1 3/4 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 eggs
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted, then slightly cooled)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 Heath bars, chopped, or 1 bag Heath chips (or skip the Heath topping and opt for salt flakes)
(Check your Heath bar label for gluten contents!)
3  rolls Rollo Caramel Chewy* candies

* Although Rollo Caramel Chewy candies are not labeled gluten free, the ingredient list does not reflect any gluten. As always, do your own research for gluten free items and substitute accordingly.

**Gluten Free Flour Blend

24 ounces white rice flour (4 ½ cups, plus 1/3 cup) (one bag of Bob’s Red Mill brand)
7 ½ ounces brown rice flour (1 2/3 cups)
7 ounces potato starch (not potato flour) (1 1/3 cup)
3 ounces tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour) (3/4 cup)
¾ ounce nonfat milk powder (3 tablespoons)

Preparation:

  • Microwave semisweet chocolate in a bowl at 50 percent power, thirty second sessions, until melted (stirring between sessions). Let cool slightly.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together measured flour blend, cocoa, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum, set aside.
  • In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, oil, melted butter, vanilla, and espresso powder.
  • Whisk in slightly cooled chocolate. Combine until smooth.
  • With rubber spatula, incorporate the flour mixture until a sticky dough forms and no white streaks are left behind.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
    (Do not short change the resting period of the dough, or the cookies will be slightly gritty and not as chewy.)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Measure out chilled dough with a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop. I find applying vegetable spray to the scoop helps keep the dough from sticking. Wrap each portion around a Rollo candy, totally encasing the candy with the dough and rolling it into a ball.
  • Press each ball into the Heath mixture, covering just 1/2 of the ball (or sprinkle the top with a bit of salt.)
  • Place three inches apart on a cookie sheet, Heath, or salt, side up.
  • Bake 12-14 minutes. Cookies should look cracked and slightly undercooked in the center.
  • Allow cookies to cool five minutes before transferring to a rack. (This is important – if you place them on the rack too soon, the caramel will run out the bottom and through the rack onto your counter.)

NOTES: Can be transformed into a chocolate/mint cookie by substituting mint Hershey kisses for the Rollos, and crushed candy canes for the Heath topping. Again, check any substitutions for gluten contents.

Spreading the Baking Love

Shortbread

I am very excited to be teaching a baking class at Jungle Jim’s Cooking School this Tuesday, June 10th. One of my favorite recipes I’ll be teaching comes from my friends R&S and is a twist on the traditional British Shortbread Cookie.  Buttery, crunchy, and a little surprise in the texture – it is quite addicting.

Since I can’t indulge in these anymore (I have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease) I am working on a gluten free version, and it is Oh. So. Close.  As soon as it is perfected you will be notified! In fact, I am working with Jungle Jim’s on offering a gluten free baking class in the fall!