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I am a chocolate girl all the way. With the exception of fruit pies or crisps, I don’t care about sweets unless they contain dark chocolate. So it was very out of character for me to find myself obsessed with the frosted sugar cookies I sampled at a coffee shop in West Liberty, Iowa. In fact, whenever I visited Iowa I would drive the 17 or so miles for one of these cookies. The huge, soft, frosted discs tapped into the butter-sugar-sweet alter-ego of mine. I asked for the recipe, and was told the owner made these and that the recipe was not to be shared with the patrons!
Determined to figure out how to create these sugary treats, I bought three of them – each frosted with pale blue buttercream and sprinkled with orange, granular sugar crystals. The first I immediately shared with my daughter. I stashed the second one for dessert (to divide among the four of us). As for the almighty third cookie… this one I carefully wrapped in a paper bag and brought to Rachel’s friend Amy, a former lawyer-turned-pastry chef. She tasted the masterpiece and we discussed what ingredients should be included to replicate the flavor and texture. We both agreed that the cookie contained both butter and shortening, vanilla (no almond flavoring) and all purpose flour. The women surrounding us were astounded that we could be so involved with dissecting a mere cookie! I surprised myself too — after all, sugar cookies aren’t usually something I crave. Yet I became consumed with the desire to replicate them. Luckily I had noted that the coffee shop kept these cookies pre-formed into flat disks and frozen. And I spotted them being baked on a per need basis for 17 minutes. I would have made a great spy.
Once home, I perused my sugar cookie recipes and immediately went to my favorite Cooks Illustrated recipe for chewy sugar cookies, made with a combination of melted butter and oil. Because I didn’t want this cookie to be dense or crackly on top, I read about what makes cookies too flat. I reduced the fat a bit and used soft butter and Crisco vegetable shortening. I felt like homemaker June in “Leave it to Beaver.” My inner pastry chef self knew that they should be baked at a low temperature, say 325 degrees, for optimum puffiness and less browning.
I mentally tweaked and tweaked the recipe, sent an email to Amy the baker and she told me, “Go for it and report back to me.” The next day, I took out the ingredients and my trusty stand mixer and put on an apron just to feel like an honest-to-goodness kitchen goddess. Rachel’s friend’s nine year old son Owen was over and he helped me bake. I think he learned three things:
1) How to “tare” a kitchen scale to measure ingredients
2) How inventive the scraping blade for the mixer is for cookies
3) Not to ever overmix the dough because it gets tough
4) This I am adding, not one of the three… but he now knows how many ounces are in a cup. “Eight is Great!”
Owen helped me mix the flour with the leavening, he turned the mixer on to the correct speed and licked the beater with both the frosting and the cookie dough. After the dough chilled, he helped me weigh each ball of dough. I patiently formed the 2 ½ ounce balls into flat disks and froze them, then baked four of them for 17 minutes. Fresh out of the oven, I felt like I was a champion. The cookies were domed, smooth and perfect. Three minutes later they fell flat. Urggggg!
I still cooled and frosted them and took one to Baker Amy. I am now happy enough with the buttery flavor, the sweet frosting and the huge chewy cookies that I feel like I don’t need to keep tweaking and baking batch after batch. I’d rather concentrate on breads, salads and soups – my all time favorite things to cook.
My Sugar Cookie Experiment
- 2 ¼ cups flour (11 ¼ oz*)
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- ¼ tsp table salt
- 1½ cups granulated sugar (10 ½ oz*)
- 1 stick of salted butter
- ½ cup Crisco
- 1 large egg
- 1 Tbsp milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
*Note: I did weigh the flour and the sugar but am including the amounts in case you don’t have a kitchen scale or feel the need to be uber precise.
Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Cream butter, Crisco and sugar really well – until creamed. Add egg, milk and vanilla. Finally add dry ingredients and don’t over mix. Immediately refrigerate the dough until firm enough to form into smooth balls ( 1-2 hours).
Place the balls of dough onto a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet and cover them with another sheet of waxed paper . Flatten the balls with the bottom of a glass into disks that are 2 ½ ounces each – for a total of twelve. My disks were about 2 ½ -3 inches in diameter and even thickness. After they are solidly frozen on the cookie sheet, remove the frozen unbaked cookie discs and freeze them between sheets of waxed paper in a tupperware type pan.
To bake: Put four frozen cookie discs onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. I decided to only fit four per sheet to give them space to spread.
Place in a preheated 325 degree oven for 17 minutes or so on the middle rack. Bake only one sheet at a time. Finished cookies are five inch rounds and barely, barely brown. Let them cool on the cookie sheet, then remove from sheet to rack after five minutes. Cool completely and frost.
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 5 Tbsp. soft butter
- Less than ¼ c milk
- A few drops food coloring
- ½ tsp vanilla
- Coarse colored sugar sprinkles
Cream butter, add powdered sugar, then drizzle in milk and vanilla until spreading consistency. I always remove some of this white colored frosting, then divide the remaining frosting into half and make two separate colors. The extra frosting, by the way, freezes well! Just bring to room temperature before frosting the cookies.
Use a heaping tablespoon of frosting for each large cookie, and top the frosting with colored sugar.
Let’s be honest: any homemade cookie with buttercream icing and colorful sprinkles tastes great. Store in sealed container and devour — they are so sweet you will definitely want some coffee, tea or a glass of milk. I love baking them as needed rather than making an entire recipe worth of these huge cookies.