Put a little sugar in these cookies

They’re naked. I know. These sugar cookies went fast. And smelled so good (vanilla with a touch of fresh lemon) right out of the oven that they didn’t last long around here. And now I get to make more.

I don’t know about you, but growing up, sugar cookies came once a year in the shape of Santas, Christmas trees and bells and were covered in red and green sprinkles. Sure, cut-out cookies take a little more effort than dropping your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe by scoopfuls onto a baking sheet, but you can avoid rolling out sugar cookie dough by simply forming it into a log and slicing into rounds.  When something tastes this good, why not consider bringing it to the family table more than once a year? At the very least you and your loved ones deserve to enjoy these cookies throughout the many months and moods of winter.

I have found an excellent sugar cookie recipe and have used it as the inspiration for my own buttery-sugary cookies. I’ve made it several times as Santas and bells, snowflakes and flowers. It’s Dorie Greenspan’s grandmother’s and it’s very good and if it comes from anyone’s beloved grandmother, than it is good enough for me. What’s more, it seems to take very well to a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Dorie Greenspan’s Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies (as spied on The Splendid Table)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (from a large lemon)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder together and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute until smooth. Next beat in the sugar until light and fluffy and pale yellow in color. Beat in the lemon zest.

In a small bowl, gently beat the egg and egg yolk. Add the eggs one tablespoon (eye-ball it) at a time until fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla.

In three batches add in the flour mixture, mixing on low to incorporate. After the third addition, mix only until it all comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut in half and roll each half, one at a time, between two sheets of parchment to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Place both sheets of cookie dough onto a cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Returning to a lightly floured surface, and working with one sheet at a time (leaving the other in the fridge until you’re ready to work with it) carefully peel back the top sheet of parchment. And gently place it back on the rolled out dough. Now flip the dough over and pull back the bottom (which is now the top) sheet of parchment and set aside. Cut out cookies and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet. You can re-roll the scraps–using as much of the dough as possible–between the same two pieces of parchment. You may have to put the dough back in the fridge for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.

Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until they begin to take on a slight golden brown color around the edges.

Share these with the ones you love.



Banana Cake with caramelized bananas & cream

IMG_0568My family doesn’t diet.  When it comes to food, I was deprived, sheltered from the latest fad from the grocery store.  In our house, I never saw a jar of low-fat mayonnaise, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! – no artificial “spreads” of any kind come to think of it, nor did I ever see that pink packet of Sweet’N Low anywhere near a steaming cup of coffee or tea. Today I can guarantee there is a gallon of whole milk in my parents’ refrigerator next to a squeeze bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and a jar of Miracle Whip.  Real butter – firmer in the winter, softer in the summer, keeps company with the dinner plates in the cabinet above the kitchen sink.

I grew up in an extended family who believed in gathering regularly at the table to eat well and laugh loud.  The argument my father had with my grandfather that day about who should move who’s stuff out of the garage didn’t matter by dinner time.  By six o’clock in the evening, all differences were put aside in order to make room for dessert.

Dieting and exercise of any kind (other than walking to the local butcher and market) could wait another day.  The only time I can remember a hint of a contemplative exercise routine was when I found the brand new box containing Jack LaLanne’s Glamour-Stretcher exercise cord in my grandparents’ basement, tucked deep into a cabinet behind the green and gold Tupperware containers of flour and sugar.

What’s all this have to do with this week’s recipe?  I started out really trying to give you an honest-to-goodness low-fat banana cake recipe and on its own it is really good.  However, by the time I got through with it, well, I’d built it into something really far from the original healthful intent.  I guess it’s just not in my upbringing to serve the ones I love a reasonable, almost-good-for-you cake.

IMG_0521I do have to say that because it begins as a healthful dessert alternative, I don’t feel one ounce of guilt having a slice of it for breakfast with a cup of coffee.  It has unsweetened applesauce in place of the butter and most of the oil.  There’s a surprising exotic, floral taste to it thanks to the cardamom.  Overall, the cake is moist, light, has a beautiful blonde color with just the right amount of sweetness.

Banana Bundt Cake (adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites)

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup lightly mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium size)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (or expeller-pressed canola oil – can be found at Whole Foods stores)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 10-inch Bundt pan (if you have a dark pan you should reduce your oven temperature to 325 degrees) with vegetable shortening, cooking spray or a light coating of oil.

Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cardamom into a large mixing bowl.  Add the brown sugar and whisk it by hand until lumps of brown sugar are broken up and all is mixed well together. (I used my fingers to lightly break up the brown sugar and then finished it by whisking again.)  Set aside.

Combine the egg yolks, bananas, applesauce, oil and vanilla and mix well.  Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and stir (use your whisk) just until evenly blended.

Beat the egg whites until soft but not dry.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter and pour it into the pan.

Bake for about 60 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a rack for 10 minutes and then invert onto a plate.  (My oven must run hot, because this cake was done in 35 minutes!  As a general rule, whenever I bake, I begin testing for doneness as soon as I can smell something delicious.  It usually only takes 5 minutes more from this point.)

Now let’s have some fun!

IMG_0567Caramelized Bananas Sauce (I got this recipe idea from brennansneworleans.com.)

  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup dark or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 bananas sliced into coins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

In a pan over low heat, warm butter, brown sugar and cinnamon until the sugar dissolves.  Add the bananas and pecans (if using) until soft and brown.  Drizzle the maple syrup on top and sprinkle on the salt.  Stir gently and cook for 3 more minutes.  Remove from heat.

Real Old-Fashioned Whipped Cream (Thank you, Rose Levy Beranbaum, The Cake Bible)

  • 1 liquid cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, softened*
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

*The reason for the butter is that today our heavy cream lacks the original amount of butter fat found in olden days.  You can make whipped cream without it, but give this one a try….it’s good!

Refrigerate the mixing bowl and beater(s) for at least 15 minutes.

In a small saucepan melt together 1/4 cup cream and the butter, stirring constantly until the butter is fully melted.  Pour into a small heatproof measuring cup and cool to room temperature.  Add vanilla.

In the chilled mixing bowl beat the remaining 3/4 cup cream and sugar just until traces of beater marks begin to show distinctly.  Add the butter mixture on low speed in a steady stream, beating constantly.  Beat until stiff peaks just form when the beater is raised.

Note:  Whipped cream is smoothest when the butter mixture is added gradually.

To serve:

Take a slice of banana cake (if cool, warm slightly in microwave 15 seconds) and spoon warm caramelized banana sauce on top, finish with a generous amount of whipped cream.  Take a moment to have a little something sweet!