Friday, February 26, 2010

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

When you love to bake, social gatherings serve as a great excuse to try out new recipes. Who doesn’t like a little sweet treat when visiting with friends? And if the goodies you bring are unexpected, so much the better. You should, however, proceed with caution. If you surprise the same group of friends more than once or twice, your confections will likely go from being unexpected to highly anticipated. And you’ll feel inclined to deliver, because really, what baker doesn’t want to be known for his or her culinary prowess?

Assuming you have no problem with being a regular purveyor of baked goods, the only question that remains is what to make. One tip: think portability. I’ve carted chocolate peanut butter truffle cupcakes to a bowling alley, brought cheesecake brownies to a Super Bowl party, and smuggled lemon and almond biscotti into a hockey game. Basically, the thing to keep in mind here is ease of transportation and consumption. Unless you know your destination will have dishes and utensils available, hand-held treats work best.

So last night, Stan and I met up with some of his coworkers for a little ping-pong action. (Ok, really it was more of a trash-talking, ping-pong smack-down, but those details will remain confidential to protect the guilty.) I knew I wanted to bring something to share with our friends, but it needed to not only be hand-held but also relatively free of mess. (Last time we got together for ping-pong, I made the mistake of bringing cupcakes with messy, sticky frosting. I learn from my mistakes. Especially those that require obscene amounts of napkins.)

I had come across this recipe for vanilla sugar cookies earlier in the week and thought they would be a perfect, portable, ping-pong-playing treat. (Bet you didn’t know I rock at alliteration did you?) The cookies are simple to put together, fast-baking, and completely and utterly delicious. Soft and chewy, they aren’t overly sweet, which means you’re likely to want at least one for each hand. They also kind of melt in your mouth, and really, who doesn’t like that? If you are the sweets provider in your circle of friends, I definitely recommend these cookies for your next get-together. Your friends will thank you...and then ask you to make more.

Vanilla Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top of the cookies
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean (I used vanilla extract)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or generously grease with cooking spray or butter.

Place the room temperature butter in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (If you do not have one, use a large bowl and a hand-mixer.) Beat the butter on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add the vegetable oil and mix to combine. (They may not fully incorporate.)

Add the powdered sugar, granulated sugar, egg, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed or with a wooden spoon until just combined. (Your dough will be soft.)

Place the bowl containing the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes. (This will allow the dough to firm up a bit and make it easier to handle.)

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place dough on prepared baking sheet using a tablespoon. Be careful to leave enough space between the cookies because they will spread quite a bit.

*A scant tablespoon will make smallish cookies. A heaping tablespoon – which I used – will make medium-size cookies, and for giant cookies, use 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie.*

Flatten the dough balls with your fingertips or the palm of your hand until they are about 1/4-inch thick.

Generously sprinkle the tops of the cookies with extra granulated sugar.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes for smaller cookies, 12 to 14 minutes for larger cookies. (Mine took 10 minutes.)

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The cookies will keep for up to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.

Makes 12 to 36 cookies, depending on size.

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