When I was young, my mom would every now and then make a batch of sugar cookie dough and we would get to make cut-out cookies. The dough was delicious both raw and plain baked. The baked, frosted cookies were scrumptious. And what a mess. Little bowls filled with frosting made of powdered sugar and milk and food coloring. Then we would decorate the brightly colored morsels with chocolate and colored sprinkles of every color; “jimmies,” stars, flat circles, silver balls; chocolate chips; raisins; cinnamon candies (those little round red ones), etc..
My mother’s cookie cutter collection grew from year to year and we always looked forward to seeing the new cookie cutters as well as the good old stand-bys. Many, many, fond memories of those days of my childhood.
When I grew up and after Alex was born I started my own cookie cutter collection and every year I make cookie-cutter cookies starting in the early Fall around Halloween. We have loads of Halloween cookie cutters, ghosts, pumpkins, autumn leaves, a witch on a broom stick and more. Then we make them for Chanukah and then we make them for winter/Christmas. We also have some random cookie cutters such as a shoe, a boot, a dinosaur, lots of flowers, and loads more.
My cookie cutter collection doubled in size about a year ago when my mother started going through her belongings as she started thinking about her future and where she would live and downsizing. She gave me her cookie cutter collection. That was a bittersweet moment for me. But I feel lucky to have them – cookie cutters...a very weird thing to treasure for sure!
Any time any of you want to bake cut-out cookies give a holler and I will very gladly pull out my cookie cutters and my mom’s cookie cutters and we’ll get going. That would be nice.
Around Christmas each year I go on a cookie baking marathon. I bake cut-out cookies by the batch, and any variety of other tasty and interesting cookies - all to be given away as gifts. When Alex was young, he and his friends would help bake and decorate. Sometimes even as young adults they would enjoy participating.
Every year when my niece Rebecca comes for a visit she and I will bake. I’ve also baked with the neighborhood kids and Annie Mandel, my other niece Jane and my faux niece Rachel. It’s always a good time and it marks the holidays.
This year the holidays were upon us before I knew it and I didn’t do any baking at all. Not even one batch. So when our New Years party rolled around I was missing it in a major way and I embarked on a new cookie journey that this year did not include cut-out cookies but did include three new recipes that are now part of my permanent repertoire:
Brown butter brown sugar shorties from SmittenKitchen.com (adapted from Gourmet magazine), traditional pecan sandies, and peanut butter brownies (also smittenkitchen.com) that I made because my husband Alan LOVES peanut butter.
So here we go, first things first:
Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties
(Adapted from Gourmet magazine by Smittenkitchen.com) (Makes about 2-dozen, plus cookies)
These cookies are a little tricky to make so go slowly and be forewarned. They are well worth it!!
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
½ cup packed brown sugar (I used light but the recipe called for dark – just didn’t have any on hand)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp flaky salt (Maldon or like that)
Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar) - optional
Cut the butter up and cook in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat stirring frequently until there are flecks on the bottom of the pan and the frothy stuff on the stops goes away. Takes from 4 to 10 minutes. Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan so that it doesn’t burn. Put the melted butter into a bowl and let cook until just firm, about an hour.
Beat together the butter and brown sugar in a mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then mix in the flour and salt at a low sped until just combined. It takes a bit because there’s not much liquid and I kept thinking that the recipe was wrong but it’s not. Transfer the dough to a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper and form into a 12-inch log (about 1 ½ inches in diameter). It’s kind of hard to do this because the dough is a little crumbly but do you best and press and squeeze until you get a nice round log or you will regret it later. Trust me. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F with the rack in the middle of the oven.
Unwrap the dough and roll it in the Demerara sugar (optional). Press the sugar granules into the dough – maybe use the parchment to push it in. Then slice the dough into ¼-inch thick rounds, arranging them 1 ½” apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake until the surface is dry and the edges are slightly darker – maybe about 10 to 12 minutes. It’s kind of hard to tell when these morsels are done – but I can promise you that you will know burnt! (they’re still good burnt). Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for a bit to cool before transferring to a rack. If you don’t let them sit for a bit they will crumble. They get sturdy as they cool.
Not one person who ate these complained. Everyone loved them. They are now a permanent fixture on the Christmas Cookie scene.
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