Saturday, December 21, 2013

In which I bake cookies - and you can, too...

So, today is cookie day.

I'm still not exactly happy about the holiday season, but I'm at least in the mood to make my favorite Christmas cookies. That's a good thing, right? I mean, this is the first time in years that I've even considered doing this, so it's a step forward, at least for the day.

I'm making Jubilee Jumbles. It's an old recipe, and available in all sorts of permutations on the Internet, but I'm making them the way my grandma taught me when I was about three years old. These are my favorite cookies in the world (peanut butter comes second, and there's always shortbread, but I don't really consider shortbread to be cookies), so it's no surprise that these are the ones I'd choose to make.

I've already mixed the dough, and it's in the refrigerator chilling. While I'm waiting for it, I thought I'd share my recipe with you. They sound kind of involved to make when you read the recipe and instructions, but they really aren't, and they're more than worth the effort if you like a light, cake-like drop cookie with a tasty frosting.

You start out with the shortening, sugars, and eggs:

1/2 cup shortening - I learned to make them using Crisco shortening, but I've also made them with butter and margarine; all three will work. I'm using Crisco today.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed in the cup - either golden brown or dark brown will work
2 eggs - I recommend letting them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes before you start mixing

You beat those together until well-blended. Then you add:

1 cup evaporated milk - note: this is not sweetened, condensed milk, which will not work. Make sure you put the rest of the can of milk in the refrigerator; you'll need it for the frosting for the cookies.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract - I usually use a teaspoon and a half, but I really like vanilla flavoring

Mix these into the sugars/shortening/eggs mixture until well-blended. The mixture will be very thin when you finish this step; don't worry about it, it will thicken up when you add the rest of the ingredients. If you are using an electric mixer, you need to be careful at this step that you don't put the mixer on too high a speed. The goal is to keep the mixture in the bowl, not send it all over the kitchen, which can happen - I've done that before when not paying enough attention to what I was doing.

After the milk and vanilla is mixed into the rest of the ingredients, gradually add:

2 3/4 cups flour- the recipe says to sift the flower, but I don't usually do that and the cookies still turn out just fine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda - not baking powder; that won't work.

The way I do this is, I add the first cup of the flour and the salt, then mix; then I add the second cup of the flour and the baking soda and mix again; then I add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and mix again.

If you don't have nut allergies, you can add 1 cup of chopped walnuts to the dough and blend thoroughly. I would recommend this; unfortunately, right now walnuts are so expensive that I wasn't able to do that. The cookies are still very, very good without the walnuts, but I love walnuts so I always add them when I can.

Now that you've finished mixing the dough, cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator to chill for a minimum of one hour. I always let it chill for at least two or three hours, and even overnight will work.

When it's time to bake the cookies, you first need to make the Burnt Butter Frosting for the cookies. No, really. Don't skip this; the cookies are immeasurably better when frosted. You can be preheating the oven to 375 degrees F while you're making the frosting. To make the frosting, you first:

Melt 2 tablespoons butter. This MUST be real butter, because it must be browned/slightly burnt for the frosting to taste the way it should.

When the butter is browned, add it to:

2 cups powdered sugar and
1/4 cup evaporated milk

Blend the butter, sugar, and milk until the mixture is smooth. Set this aside.

To bake the cookies, use a spoon to drop the dough on a greased cookie sheet. Use a regular spoon, not a large spoon. The cookies will spread a bit while baking, so leave a good inch and a half or so between the cookies on the sheet. Bake the cookies in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown and feel light when you pick one up (on a pancake turner, please; you don't want to burn your hand in testing the cookies). Different ovens run differently, so you should start testing the first batch at about 10 or 11 minutes to make sure you don't over-bake the cookies. My experience is that 11 or 12 minutes is usually long enough unless you've made your cookies very large. Still, just remember that golden brown on the bottom and light and cake-like when you heft a cookie is the key to doneness.

Frost the cookies while they are still warm and while the frosting is still unset, sprinkle those colorful Christmas sprinkles on the frosting. Then, let the frosting set well before packing the cookies up. If you don't let the frosting set long enough, the cookies could stick together. Once you can package the cookies, they should last for at least a week in a closed container as long as they're kept in a cool place.

As I said, there are lots of different variations of this recipe on the Internet. Today, I saw one that substitutes sour cream for the evaporated milk. I'm going to have to try that one someday.

If you do decide to try these cookies, drop a comment and let me know how they came out and how you like them.

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