Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vanilla Sugar Trees

Vanilla Sugar Trees

Last week I asked a co-worker what her favorite Christmas cookie was. She stopped, her eyes took on a dreamy, far away look, and she smiled.

"Sugar cookies. With icing."

I must admit, I've never been a fan of the sugar cookie. Possibly it's the work of rolling them out, then baking, and then good Lord, do I have to decorate them too? It always seemed like too much work. Sugar cookies were for children to slather with sticky bright icing and coat with every candy imaginable until they were an indefinable, sugary mess, right? After they present you with their work and you imagine every licked finger that may have found it's way to a nose, the very last thing I want to do it EAT it.

Not these cookies. I had made them before using vanilla extract and they were just average. THIS time I remembered a stray vanilla bean that I had sitting in the cupboard, and I chose to bake them for my co-worker, but I'd use the vanilla bean instead and the recipe originally dictated. This explains the little black specks in the cookies pictured above; it's not pepper or dirt, but real, delicious, vanilla.


These cookies are the best sugar cookies I've ever eaten. Vanilla permeates right through them, so deliciously that I'd daresay you don't even need to ice them. I would eat them just plain, or perhaps cut them into small rounds and sandwich chocolate ganache, or some equally decadent and worthy filling. You could also try drizzling them with Green and Black's Chocolate. At any rate, they are a permanent resident in my Christmas cookie repertoire from this day forward.

Mostly because yesterday the girl who usually can bake cookies and eat none, ate FIVE.

Adapted from Canadian Living

3/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter until it's light and fluffy. Add in the sugar and continue to mix.

On a cutting board with a sharp knife, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using the knife, scrape out all the seeds inside and add them to the butter/sugar mixture. What to do with the leftover empty pod? Don't throw that baby out, make vanilla sugar with it. What about the leftover half that's still full of vanilla goodness? I saved mine in a ziplock for another week, and then used it to make another batch of cookies.

Beat the egg into the butter mixture until everything is well combined.

In a separate bowl, stir the flour and baking powder together with a fork. Add to the butter mixture and combine on low speed. It will look crumbly, but if you grab a bunch and squeeze with your hand, it will form a clump.

Dump the cookie dough out onto a counter, bringing it together with your hands and forming it into a ball. Divide the ball into two disks.

The original recipe says that you need to chill the dough, but both times I've made these I didn't and they worked fine. Just flour your counter and rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick, and then cut into shapes. Transfer to a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes, until very lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the stove top for just a minute or so before moving to racks to cool completely.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

Icing, if you must....

2 cups icing sugar
2-3+ Tbsp milk or water

Just drizzle the milk or water into the icing sugar and stir, stir, stir until you have the consistency you want. Use the icing immediately, or if you must, just wet a paper towel and place it gently over top to keep the icing from drying out.
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