Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

I was in the mood for something a little sweet, a little crunchy.  We had some orange glaze leftover from Tai’s Valentine cupcakes, so I thought a simple sugar cookie was in order, something that would go nicely with the intensely orange-flavored glaze.  Humph, simple she says.

Even I, advocate of the “quality ingredients make the simple special” school, sometimes forget. A “simple” cookie of buttter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla bean becomes magical when your butter is from Ronnybrook, your (blue!) eggs are from free-range, pastured chickens at Holbrook Farm, your sugar is raw, your flour is micro-milled whole wheat from Wild Hive Farm, and your vanilla beans come straight from Mexico, via Penzeys, to your door.  While I did glaze some of these cookies with orange glaze, I found I much preferred them “plain;” the flavor is subtle, delicate even, but quite delicious.  This is the perfect cookie for afternoon tea, curled up with a good book on the couch, or for a cookie swap, where its homey shape and spectacular flavor will stand out over flashier neighbors.

I baked these cookies in two different ways; first, according to the Fannie Farmer recipe, by dropped teaspoonfuls in a 350 degree F oven. Second, I chilled the dough to form a log, froze the log briefly, then cut slices of cookie dough for thinner, more consistently shaped cookies, baked at 375 degrees F to crisp up the outsides a bit more.  I much prefer the second method, even though it takes a little advance planning; the cookies were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and quite evenly cooked.  A little sprinkle of turbinado sugar on top gave them added crunch and just a little extra sweetness.  Perfection!

Adapted from Sugar Cookies in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 13th edition, by Marion Cunningham

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Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 oz (1 scant cup) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 7 and 1/2 oz (1 and 1/2 cups) whole wheat all-purpose flour (soft white wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs (4 and 1/4 oz)
  • 2 tbsp whole milk or cream
  • 1/2 to 1 vanilla bean (see Options)
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup turbinado sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

METHODS

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (only if baking drop cookies; see Step #5).
  2. Combine dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
  3. Combine eggs, milk and vanilla. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise; pry open, and with the flat of a knife, scrape out the black seeds.  Transfer the seeds to a small bowl, add eggs and milk, and lightly beat until beans are distributed evenly throughout the mixture.
  4. Make cookie dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a handheld electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy (about 1 minute).  Gradually add sugar and beat on high speed, until the butter lightens and the large raw sugar crystals are less visible, about 3 – 4 minutes.  Add egg mixture and beat until well incorporated and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Gradually add flour mixture and beat until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl (stand mixer) or until very well incorporated, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout the mixing.
  5. Shape cookies.
    • Method 1:  Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheets. Place at least 1 inch apart.
    • Method 2: Transfer dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap.  Form into a rough log shape (dough will be sticky at this point), wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Remove from refrigerator, remove plastic wrap, and rewrap with a clean piece.  Roll into a firmer, more even log, about 2 inches in diameter; freeze for at least 1 hour.  Once partially frozen, slice 1/4-inch thick cookies with a serrated knife, periodically dipped in warm water. Place 1 inch apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle tops with a little turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12 minutes (dropped cookies may take longer), or until just starting to turn brown at the edges (turn halfway through for even baking).  Allow to cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Yields about 45 3-inch cookies.

OPTIONS

  1. If you love vanilla, and you are not icing the cookies with anything else, use the seeds from one whole vanilla bean. If you will be icing the cookies, or adding other flavors, such as lemon or orange zest or extract, use 1/2 of the vanilla bean.
  2. This is a very basic sugar cookie recipe and the options are practically endless: add nuts, ground or chopped, dried fruit, citrus extract, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, icing, powdered or crystalline sugar… whatever your fancy.
  3. The pictures shown are from the drop cookies (the sliced cookie pictures did not come out at all due to it being dark already!); I did prefer the taste and texture of the sliced cookies, however.
  4. This dough is quite wet and I think would be very difficult to roll and cut with cookie cutters; the cookies also spread quite a bit, so a different recipe might be better if you want to make fun shapes.

STORE

At room temperature, in an airtight container, for 3 to 4 days.  Frozen, double-wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 months.  Dough can be frozen in a log, and cookies cut off for baking, for up to 3 months.

SEASON

Year round.

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