I’ve been invited to a cookie exchange this weekend, and I’m fantastically excited because:
- It’s being held in a bar that doubles as an arcade. You’ll find me by the pinball machines, cocktail in hand.
- There are hundreds of people invited, which means thousands of cookies. If the words “thousands of cookies” don’t get you excited, you might be reading the wrong blog.
It takes me forever to decide what foods to bring to share at parties. As a professional baker and an overly-competitive person, I feel a weird, self-inflicted pressure to over-perform. Mediocre cookies will not be tolerated. My struggle is real.
This holiday cookie exchange is no different. I waffled for too long, sifting through tried-and-true recipes only to shun even the best ones. I racked my brain trying to invent brand new cookies with never-heard-before flavor combinations.
And then I realized that I was trying way too hard.
You’ve heard it a million times before, and it’s true: The best food is made from a few great ingredients and really simple techniques. Christmas cookies are no different. So why not take a classic cookie and up its “cool factor” with a couple of easy tweaks?
Helloooooooo, Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodles. You are the current apple of my eye.
Who doesn’t love a snickerdoodle cookie with its crisped edges leading to crackled, chewy centers, all encrusted in a fragrant coat of cinnamon and glimmering sugar? They are beloved and delicious just as they are. But browning the butter first gives a toasty complexity, and using smoked cinnamon enforces that. The traditional vanilla is purposefully omitted to let the caramelized, nutty, and smokey notes shine on their own. These changes are subtle but worthwhile, taking the humble snickerdoodles of your youth and classing them up a notch. Yup, these cookies are totally “exchangable.”
Browned Butter and Smoked Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening*
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons smoked cinnamon**
Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and place a smaller bowl inside, resting on the ice. In a small saucepan, cook butter over medium heat until it is very brown and smells like roasted nuts. Expect the butter to bubble and spatter audibly for a while as it cooks. When it quiets down, start watching the pot so that it doesn’t burn, but the butter should get quiet dark, like really good caramel. Pour the butter into the small bowl over the ice, stirring every few minutes to cool it to room temperature. Don’t let the butter get so cold that it hardens completely. It needs to be soft, but not liquid, to make the cookies.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
Measure out 3/4 cup of browned butter; reserve the rest for another use.***
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the browned butter and shortening until it is smooth and creamy. Add 1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar and beat on medium speed until it is light in color and very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl very well after each egg to get everything well combined.
Add the dry flour mixture in 2 parts, beating on low speed and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl often. Beat just until a dough is formed.
In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar with the smoked cinnamon Roll cookie dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat completely on all sides. Place on parchment-lined cookies sheets 2 inches apart.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until until centers of cookies are set. Remove from the hot pan to the cooling grid immediately.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
*Oh, you’re opposed to vegetable shortening, huh? Well, good for you. Feel free to substitute for all browned butter, but you need to know that your cookies will be much crunchier as a result. The shortening keep the cookies moist and soft, especially at days 2 and 3, if they last that long.
**Looking for smoked cinnamon, or any other delicious spices in the Chicago area? Check out Epic Spices at 1725 W. Chicago Ave. You’ll never meet a more friendly, knowledgable, or accomodating spice guy than Stephen, the shop owner.
***Awesome on pasta, fish, chicken, bread…Actually, I can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t be better with a little bit of browned butter. Make it your new refrigerator staple.