Orange butter cookies
By nature, I am not a baker. Bakers, see, are precise. And organized. And neat. Rule-followers, usually. I am a cook. Intuitive, messy, and definitely a spirit-of-the-recipe kind of girl.
But, oh how I love to bake. Yes, this seeming paradox sometimes manifests itself in a great big doughy mess — cakes, especially, sometimes go terribly, terribly wrong under my erratic hand. Sometimes, though, every so often, a recipe for a baked good just feels right. As if I could do it little harm, even if I tried. These are the sorts of recipes that fall into my kitchen routine quietly, and before I know it, I’ve made the same kind of cookie or muffin or bready item a dozen times, and by some happy accident, they have turned out deliciously every time.
I first made these sandy butter cookies last holiday baking season, after I read about them on Orangette. Molly is right — this is quite an unassuming cookie, nothing much to look at. But it is exactly the sort of cookie that you can pile high on a plate, and before you know it, the plate has only tiny little crumbs to show for all your baking work. Left out, these cookies just get eaten, that is all there is to it.
I made these a number of times through the course of citrus season last year — I love them with Meyer lemon zest, as the original recipe calls for, but as you know, I have a supply of orange zest needing to be used. Orange zest marries so marvelously with plain old butter and sugar, I thought it would land happily in these simple little cookies.
Everyone has her own form of procrastination, and mine happens to be baking. So last week, when I should have been working on the semester’s final projects, I decided to make cookies for my students to eat while they took their final exam. David thought this recipe was an odd choice — he says these cookies are too sophisticated for college students’ palates. Perhaps he’s right, but as happens when they’re at our house, the platter piled high with cookies sat empty as my last student turned in her stapled stack of papers. As she walked out the door and wished me happy holidays, she turned around and said, “Oh, by the way, those cookies are good.”
Indeed they are. Simple, yes. But the separate flavors — orange here, a kick of sugar crystal there, finished with a bite of salt — come together after the crumbly texture has dissolved to make you want to take just one more bite.
Before you know it, you’ll be itching to make them again. Perhaps, like they have done with me, these cookies will work their way into your holiday baking ritual, and before you know it, you’ll have made them a dozen times. Happily they make great gifts. Or so I tell myself when I’m trying to remember what happened to all those little buttery disks.
–Amanda Hesser, via Orangette
Molly says you can bake and freeze them to give away, and that would be a lovely thing to do if you could keep from eating them all. That hasn’t happened around here yet, but I’m planning to wrap up the next batch to send with a couple of holiday care packages. They might not mail terribly well — they crumble a lot — but maybe if wrapped really well, they’ll do okay. I have frozen the wrapped cylinders of batter with good success; in fact, for a while, I kept at least one log of dough in the freezer for good measure — just in case a rainy cookie day appeared out of the cold, clear blue sky.
I usually hate recipes that call for only egg yolks or whites. Once I tried these, though, and kept making them, I had to think of something to do with all those whites, as I can’t stand to throw them out. Hang onto yours and stay tuned — a 4-egg-white recipe is coming your way shortly.
Other than that, the recipe is pretty straightforward, and I haven’t changed it much. I used demerara sugar in place of the turbinado, (Do you know demerara sugar? It is a lovely, lovely molasses-esque coarse sugar that I have grown to adore. They have it at my local grocer’s, and if you come across some, buy it. You’ll be happy you did.) and substituted orange zest for the Meyer lemon.
One urging — don’t skimp on the salt, and whatever you do, don’t use plain old table salt. What happens when you stir the coarse salt in at the end is that the granules hold their shape rather than dissolving into the batter, so the flavor is concentrated in tiny little bursts (rather than making the cookies salty). If you’re skeptical, at least try it with the full 3/4 teaspoon. It will look like a lot, but once you bite into a cookie, I think you’ll be glad you did.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
2 T. orange zest, grated (or other citrus zest)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 t. coarse sea salt
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup coarse sugar, like demerara
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
In a small bowl, combine the baking powder and flour. Toss in the orange zest and stir until it’s coated with the flour mixture.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars with the paddle attachment until smooth and creamy. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if you need to to make sure the egg is fully incorporated into the creamed butter and sugar.
Turn the mixer down to low and add the flour mixture, a little at a time, just until the flour is no longer noticeable. Stir in the salt.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Drop each portion onto a piece of plastic wrap, and using the wrap to work the dough, form it into a long, slender log. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Now the cookies are ready to slice and bake; I’ve left them in the fridge for as long as a week, or you can freeze the logs of dough by wrapping them in foil or dropping them into a plastic freezer bag.
When you’re ready to bake, spread the coarse sugar onto a plate. Roll each log of dough in the sugar, pressing with your fingers to make sure it sticks. Slice disks of equal thickness (about 1/4 inch) and place on the baking sheet. They will spread out a little bit, so leave a little space between them. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottoms take on just a hint of color and the edges are beginning to turn golden. Makes somewhere between 6 and 7 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your slices.