Friday, July 5, 2013

Lavender-Vanilla Icebox Cookies


Hurricane Sandy affected everyone's garden around here. The hurricane winds carried in a salty ocean mist and in then in combination with the cold wet spring some plants showed signs of stress this season. The lavender however, does not seem be the least bit affected; we are experiencing gorgeous lavender blooms.  The bees and other pollinators are clearly happy as are the humans that walk past the lavender and cannot help but stop to smell the musky delicious odor that permeates the air near the plantings.

I was just talking to a neighbor, a serious amateur gardener, about the lavender this year. He commented on how lavender used to be an "iffy" plant in our gardening zone, but appears to be much more reliable in the past few years. We both lamented that the plant requirements haven't changed, but rather the weather has - we are now designated as a zone 6 growing area rather than zone 5, accounting for the happier lavender. The climate change is causing angst among many of us, but the lavender appear to be taking it in stride.

This year, with the abundance of lavender flowers available in the garden,  I decided I would cut and dry some buds, make lavender sugar and try to bake some cookies. This recipe is inspired by Vanilla Bean Refrigerator Cookies, found in  Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library: Cookies & Biscotti. Recipes by Kristine Kidd, 1993; I'm pretty certain the book, a nice small compendium of cookie recipes, is out of print but available through used sources..  The cookies are faintly flavored and scented with lavender. You can increase the lavender flavor/scent by increasing the proportion of lavender sugar to unflavored sugar.



This is a basic sugar cookie that you prepare as a chilled or frozen slice and bake cookie.  It is "jazzed up" through the use of vanilla, lavender and granulated sugars.   You can simplify the process of baking these cookies by purchasing the flavored sugar ready-made, although preparing the flavored sugar by yourself is not complicated.  Both lavender and vanilla sugar are available at Wholefoods Market and on line at a number of food sites.

I've included instructions for making lavender and vanilla sugar in a separate posting. When preparing flavored sugars you'll need a few days for the sugar to cure. 

Choreography: 
  • Obtain the flavored sugars or prepare them yourself (it will take several days for the sugar to cure and develop adequate flavor)
  • This is a straight-forward sugar cookie. You mix the dough, allow it to chill a minimum of 4-6 hours in the refrigerator (or 2-3 hours in the freezer if you are in a hurry, as I inevitably am)
  • Slice and bake as needed. The wrapped -dough will keep for at least a month in your freezer. You can unwrap, slice off a few cookies , re-wrap, place in a zip-lock freezer bag and return to the freezer 
  • Baked and cooled cookies keep for 2-3 days at room temperature, for longer storage keep covered in the refrigerator
Equipment (for the cookies): 
Mixing bowl, measuring spoons, cups, spatula  
Electronic mixer or wire whisk
Cookie sheet or jelly roll pan
Baking parchment (to line pan)
Baking parchment or waxed paper (to wrap the cookie log)
Small sharp knife (a paring knife will work) to slice the cookies from the log

Ingredients: 
*4 oz lavender sugar (for instructions on home made sugar, see related posting)
4 oz vanilla sugar 
4 oz granulated sugar 
1 stick of unsalted margarine or unsalted butter 
1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
8 oz all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
pinch salt (less than 1/8 of a tsp)


*For a more assertive lavender taste, increase the lavender sugar to 5 oz and reduce the granulated sugar to 3 oz.



Procedure:
  1. Blend the 3 sugars together. Measure off 8 oz of the sugar, set the remainder aside  
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  The minute or so it takes to sift rather than stir the flour and baking powder together is worth it!!!! 
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter (margarine) and 8 oz sugar mixture. Continue to mix until the sugar is entirely incorporated    
  4. Add the egg and beat the mixture until fluffy 
  5. Add the flour mixture, working at the lowest speed and mixing until the ingredients are just incorporated     
  6. Take a piece of waxed paper or baking parchment and spread the remaining sugar over the surface. Place the dough on the sugar coated sheet. Form into a rough log, approximately 8 -10 inches long. Using the paper to help smooth out the log. The sugar will not completely stick to the cookie dough, but should more or less coat it. 
  7. Roll the dough up, twist the end of the paper, place on flat supporting surface (a small cutting       board for example) and chill in either the refrigerator (4-6 hours) or the freezer (2-3 hours). 





8. After the dough is firm ,preheat oven to 360 degrees 
9. Remove the roll from the refrigerator (or freezer) and unroll on a flat work surface. Much of the sugar will fall along the sides.  Press the edges of the log so that the ends are not tapering off.
10.  Using a small sharp knife, make slices approximately 1/4 thick. Press one side of the cookie into the sugar that is on the paper and place the cookie on a lined baking pan with the un-sugared side down. Space the cold dough slices about 1" apart from each other, the cookies will spread a bit while baking 





11, You do not need to slice all of the cookies at once: you can slice off as many cookies as you want to bake, re-wrap the remaining dough, place in a plastic freezer bag and freeze the remaining dough for up to one month
12, Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 12-14 minutes. Check progress of the baking cookies after 10 minutes. The cookies should be just golden, browning a bit along the edge, if they look like they are browning too quickly, lower the oven by 5-10 degrees. The sugar will crystallize on the top of the cookies as they cool

Cool cookies on a rack before storing in a closed container