Wednesday, October 2, 2013

in celebration of Fall (and a truly outstanding sugar cookie recipe)

As our calendars now claim it is Fall and So Cal temperatures are just starting to dip in the evening (and by dip, I mean that it is no longer 100 degrees), I have decided to shift into full Fall embrace.

The arrival of pumpkins at my local trader joes is one of my Fall cues as is the incessant PSL (return of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks) chatter. Every Fall I want to put stacks of pumpkins around my house and decorate it like the set of You've Got Mail.

This past weekend I collaborated with a friend of mine and her daughter on a few Fall cookies. I know people (including myself) tend to think of decorating sugar cookies as a Christmas activity, but these darling little owls pretty much insist on being their own event.

It was such a nice afternoon of decorating, mixing, chatting and laughing. I think our hearts need those times of play and creativity with friends. It is restorative.

I tried a new sugar cookie recipe this time (it calls for 8 egg yolks!) and it really is the best sugar cookie I have ever made. The dough is tender and vanilla scented; the perfect amount of buttery-ness and crisp. The edges also hold their shape well, which I think is important quality when making shaped cookies.

The recipe is from Tom Douglas', The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. The Dahlia Bakery is in Seattle and I had the pleasure of visiting it this past March. It was spectacular and easily the best bakery I've been to in the US. It is that wonderful mix of classic, cozy bakery items elevated by the perfection of execution and unique details. For example, their doughnuts are served with a vanilla bean mascarpone icing. Ridiculous. Add to this the use of Northwest ingredients (tarts with Rhubarb) and, well, it took everything in me not to buy out the store. My sister gave me the cookbook last year for my birthday and I highly recommend it for your consideration of holiday gifts.

Sugar Cookies

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (yeah, I had to read that one twice too. Seems like a lot, but it is not overpowering)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Next, add the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt. Continue to mix until well combined.

2) Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add in the flour- about 3 additions. Feel free to pause the mixer a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. At the very end, be sure to check for the last bits of unmixed flour at the bottom of the mixer bowl, and incorporate. The dough will be gorgeously yellow and very soft.

3) Take the dough from the mixer bowl and quickly shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer.

4) Preheat the oven to 350 and remove the dough from the fridge.

5) Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. I found it easiest to split the chilled dough mass in half, return one half to the fridge and roll the other half on a lightly floured surface. (I am also a recent devotee to using a pastry mat, but it certainly isn't essential). Once the dough is rolled out, use a 3 inch cookie cutter (or whatever size you like, you'll just need to adjust baking time accordingly) to cut as many cookies as you can. Place the cut cookie shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, gather together the remaining dough scraps and reroll the dough one more time. Cut more cookies but this time, discard the scraps. It seems terribly wasteful, but by this point, the amount of leftover dough scraps is very minimal. Also, the rerolling of the dough makes it very tough. As you're cutting cookie shapes, I found myself filling up the cookie sheets quite quickly. While one sheet was in the oven, I put the others to chill in the fridge. This helps ensure the dough does not get too soft while waiting for it's turn in the oven and will keep better shape when baking.

6) Bake the cookies until very lightly browned at the edges, about 15 to 18 minutes. Be sure to rotate the baking sheet about halfway through the baking time. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cookies cool, still on the sheet, for about 10 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies to a cookie rack to cool completely before decorating.

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