Monday, May 18, 2015

Simple Salted Butter Cookies

Remember those Danish sugar cookies that come in the blue tins? I haven't had them in forever, but they were THE staple cookie of my childhood. My parents and my grandparents often had them on hand for a sweet treat and their tins were always repurposed into excellent storage containers. I liked the crinkly paper that contained the different shapes of cookies that all tasted exactly the same. I never thought much of them because they were so unassuming and plain, but before I'd know it I'd eat ten of them. They were addictively satisfying in their simplicity.

That's the inspiration for these cookies. I just wanted to make a cookie that had almost no frills and tasted mostly of butter. Good butter.

If you've made pie crust from scratch then this recipe will feel familiar. If you have never made pie dough, this recipe is still on the easy end of the baking spectrum. A food processor helps the cause, but a pastry cutter or hands will work too.

The key for simple dishes is that all of the ingredients should be great. For these cookies you'll want to invest in very good butter above all else. A nice fleur de sel, sel gris, or flake salt would be helpful, too. And that's it... anyway, there are only about 5 ingredients in this cookie. It's the perfect recipe for when you're in a baking mood but not in a going-to-the-store-to-get-what-you-need mood.

These buttery crumbly crisp things are especially perfect dunked into a hot beverage. Good strong black tea or coffee with a drop of cream.

Salted Butter Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Salted Butter Breakups recipe
Makes 22-24 cookies, depending on size (or one sheet-pan's worth)

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup vanilla sugar or regular granulated sugar (I throw discarded vanilla bean pods into a jar and fill it with sugar. Voila! Vanilla sugar is born and used all the time)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar (I like the texture of this - it's usually coarser - and I like it in baking. You can use 100% vanilla sugar, 100% cane sugar, 100% regular sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, or sel gris (gray salt), or flake salt, or 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold good quality unsalted butter, small cubed
  • 3-5 tablespoons ice cold water
  • 1 cold egg yolk + a few drops of cold water beaten together
  • Turbinado sugar to sprinkle on in the end (optional)

In a food processor (or using a whisk), pulse the flour, sugars, and salt together.

Cube the butter into small chunks and drop them into the processor. Pulse a few times until the pea-sized clusters form. You want this pretty coarse so that you don't overwork the butter. Small chunks of butter will be visible in the finished dough. If you don't have a food processor, you can combine the butter and flour mixture using a pastry cutter, or you can even use your hands.

Add the cold water to the food processor one tablespoon at a time and pulse again. Pulse until the mixture sticks together when you press it with your hands (or using your hands to combine if you're skipping the FP). Only pulse to combine everything. Again, don't overmix or your dough will be tough and gross instead of crumbly and wonderful.

Transfer your mixture to a flat surface. Form it into a large disc or ball (flatter round disks are easier to roll out later). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Here's where patience is a virtue: refrigerate for at least 1 hour. You could keep it in the fridge for hours before you're ready to use it, but definitely you need at least one solid hour of chilling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly dust a flat surface with flour. Roll the dough out until it is 1/4-1/3-inch in thickness. Using a fork, run the tines of the fork into long stripes in the dough. I go in one direction and then I do the second direction after. I like a crisscross shape (see cookie above). This step is so optional... it's mostly for aesthetics but it is also nice texturally. You can go pretty deep, the dough will rise and the lines fade as it bakes.

Cut out the cookies and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. I used a square cookie cutter, but you can use any size/shape/style cookie cutter you'd like. Alternatively, you could cut it into squares using a knife.

Beat together one cold egg yolk with a few cold drops of water. Using a pastry brush, lightly (!) brush the tops of the dough with the egg wash. Sprinkle the cookies with Turbinado sugar (or coarse sugar) if you like that kind of thing. You can skip this step and it will be fine. You can also sprinkle with a tiny bit more salt if you're into saltier cookies.

Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch carefully, ovens vary and you don't want them to get too dark/browned. Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack and let them fully cool. The texture will be better once they're room temp.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days (or longer if you can make them last that long).

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