Spiced Sugar Cookies

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I have a confession to make.  I’m caught in the midst of a love affair…no not of the traditional variety, but rather the sweet kind.  Sugar cookies.  Sugar cookies of all kinds…vanilla,  lemon,  almond,  chocolate.  The list is ever evolving and I have no intention of ceasing my indulgences.  You might not believe this, but I have a surprising amount of willpower when it comes to most desserts, keeping my portions at bay (relatively speaking).  But when it comes to sugar cookies, I’m afraid I simply can’t resist. Thin, crisp and subtly sweet with a delicately crunchy icing that adds just the right amount of sweetness and texture.  I adore making these cookies because…well…let’s face it, everyone loves a good sugar cookie.  I also cherish them because of the accuracy that comes along with the task.  Don’t get me wrong, sugar cookies are simple to make, but achieving the desired shape and finished product comes with precision, lots of patience and plenty of challenges.  In an effort to create the perfectly crafted sugar cookie, I attempt them often and find myself tweaking my recipe a little each and every time that I make them.   Living in the “Mile High” City of Denver, high altitude undoubtedly plays a large part in the end result as it presents numerous baking challenges.  The dough rises too quickly and the cookie spreads too much, all but eliminating the details of the shape that you’ve worked so hard to create.  The center of the cookie is under baked while the edges of the cookie quickly become too dark and last but not least, the texture of the cookie reveals tiny bothersome bubbles throughout ruining the anticipated flawlessness.  After many years and a lot of tries, I’ve finally discovered my choice recipe and methods to creating sugar cookie perfection.  You may remember my post for “Sugar Cookies” from a couple of years back.  These cookies have the delicious flavor of almond infused in both the cookie itself as well as the icing…soooo good.  The chocolate sugar cookies from the “Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies” (another post from the past) are incredibly rich and chocolate-y and display the magnificent versatility that a simple sugar cookie can uphold.

Now that I’ve successfully surmounted the sugar cookie hurdle, I ask myself, “how can I further explore this beloved cookie?”  Sugar cookies are a chameleon of sorts, quite versatile, revealing endless possibilities.  The dough is a pleasure to work with and can accept many flavors to transform it from a humble sugar cookie to a cookie with more complex form and flavor.  After much contemplation, I concluded that in the spirit of this fall season and with the holidays quickly approaching, what better flavor addition than to infuse the cookies with the warm spices and flavors that this season embodies?

These lightly spiced cookies are really really good.  By altering my sugar cookie recipe slightly, I discovered such a lovely flavor combination.  These cookies warm your senses with the aromatic flavors of spice.  They truly embody the essence of fall, yet the cookie still maintains the admired qualities of a sugar cookie.  They are a perfect cross between a sugar cookie and either an English Biscoff or Dutch Speculaas.  Never heard of Speculaas cookies?  They are essentially a shortbread biscuit derived from the Netherlands, and are common particularly during the Christmas season.  Both varieties are a delicately thin and crisp cookie infused with holiday spices.  Whatever you call them, they’re delicious.

These spiced sugar cookies are lovely all on their own, but the royal icing and sanding sugar offer a contrasting sweetness and crunch that takes them over the top.  I think that you’ll find that these cookies become part of your beloved cookie repertoire as they did for me and you just might find yourself caught in the midst of a love affair.

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Spiced Sugar Cookies          {Print Recipe}

(recipe adapted from Susan Gold Purdy, Pie in the Sky)

Yields approx.: Four dozen 2” cookies

12 Tbsp (1- 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup  superfine sugar

¼ cup  dark brown sugar, lightly packed

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½  tsp  vanilla extract

2 ¾ cups  all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough

1 tsp  baking powder (1/2 tsp at high altitude)

1 tsp  salt

2 tsp  cinnamon

½ tsp  nutmeg

¼ tsp  cloves

½ tsp  ground ginger

¼ tsp  black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and divide the oven racks into thirds.  Line the cookie sheets with baking parchment or a nonstick baking mat.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, scraping down the bowl and beater as necessary.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on the lowest speed until well incorporated.  Remove from bowl and form the dough into a ball on a slightly floured surface. If it feels too sticky, add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of flour, until it is easier to handle. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes to an hour, or even overnight.

Work quickly with one-half of the dough at the time (keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator).  Lightly flour table surface and rolling pin and roll out dough to about a 1/16-1/8 inch thickness. Cut out shapes as quickly as possible.  The key here is to keep the dough as cold as possible (this helps to solve the bothersome bubble problem).  Transfer cookies onto prepared cookie sheet and place in the freezer for about 15-30 minutes (this helps the cookies to keep their intended shape).

Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes, or until they look slightly golden around the edges. Make sure to rotate pans halfway through baking time for even baking. Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Let the cookies completely cool before icing.

Sugar Cookie Icing

(recipe adapted from allrecipes.com)

3 cups  confectioner’s sugar, sifted

2-3 Tbsp  milk

2 Tbsp  light corn syrup

¾ tsp  vanilla extract

Assorted food coloring

Assorted sanding sugars

In a mixer bowl on low speed, beat together the confectioner’s sugar and milk until smooth.  Increase the speed to medium and beat in the corn syrup and vanilla extract until icing is smooth and glossy.  If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.

Divide the icing into separate bowls, if using multiple colors and add food coloring to the desired intensity.  Spread icing over completely cooled cookies.

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Ginger Peach Crisp

I can’t let summer pass without a post using our native Palisade, Colorado peaches.  They are so juicy and naturally sweet, they really could be considered dessert all on their own…but…

I recently came across the idea to bake in mason jars.  As always, I love the single serving concept for dessert:  Sometimes it’s just better for someone else to decide when you’re supposed to stop (It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat more than one though).  These peach crisps came to mind and they are so delicious!  The great thing about them is that once assembled, you can secure the lid on the jars and freeze them for longer storage.  It makes them perfect for a “ready ahead” dessert for a party.  Simply pull them out of the freezer, place on a cookie sheet & bake.

Marinating the peaches in amaretto is optional, however, it adds a fabulous sweetness and I find that I can’t leave this step out.  The topping really speaks for itself and makes the dessert if you ask me.  I love to serve these crisps with cinnamon ice cream…so good.

How can summer be over??

Ginger Peach Crisp            {Print Recipe}  

Yields: 8 4oz. jars

Filling:

4 cups                                  peaches, sliced (about 4 large)

¼ cup                                   amaretto

1 Tbsp                                   sugar

Topping:

1 cup                                      old fashioned oats

1 cup                                      gingersnaps, crushed

¾ cup + 2 Tbsp                (packed) dark brown sugar

½ cup                                   all-purpose flour

½ tsp                                     ground cinnamon

½ tsp                                     ground ginger

¼ tsp                                     salt

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks)          unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ cup                                   whole almonds, toasted & chopped

Make the Filling:

Combine the first three ingredients in a medium bowl, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.  While the peaches are marinating, make the topping.

Make the Topping:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Spray glass mason jars or ramekins with non-stick canola spray.  Place almonds on foil covered cookie sheet and toast in oven until golden brown and the kitchen starts to smell amazing, about 10 minutes.  Let the almonds cool completely and chop.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Mix the oats, crushed cookies, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon & salt together.  Cut the butter into ½” cubes and combine with the dry ingredients with your hands until the butter is well incorporated.  Add the almonds and stir until thoroughly mixed so that everyone will get lots of them.

Spoon the peaches evenly into the mason jars or ramekins and sprinkle with a generous serving of the topping.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Serve warm with ice cream.

Enjoy!