Brown Sugar Cookies

Georgians don’t expect to see snow, even at Christmas. Especially not during spring break. But as I left the house this morning, I drove through a whirlwind of soft, swirling, sparkling snow. Unexpected. Definitely not in season. But fun, exciting and nostalgic anytime.

This weekend, with both kids home from college, I went to Cooks Illustrated online to plan the perfect Friday night dinner. Found a menu in their March 19th update – shrimp scampi, rice pilaf, Caesar salad, and brown sugar cookies. It’s not really cookie season. And despite the fact that Dan and I decided our home cooked meals would take on a more healthful bent this year, I was intrigued with a cookie finish to this otherwise elegant meal. In the 20-plus years we’ve subscribed to Cooks, they’ve never steered us wrong, so I got out the cookie sheets and parchment.

Oh, my! I think I’ve found the perfect cookie – one that pulls off simple and luxurious at the same time! They have a distinct, chewy texture in the middle, but are crisp on top and perfectly crusty on the edges. (It’s amazing the difference browning the butter brings to this recipe.) Great butterscotch flavor from both the sugar and the browned-to-perfection butter. Two dozen of these disappeared in 48 hours!

I’m going to tweak the recipe this week-end by withholding the sugar coating in one batch and adding a maple frosting to the second. Both are suggestions from Dani, but it will be hard, maybe impossible, to improve on the original.

These brown sugar cookies were an unexpected find, definitely not in season, but fun, exciting and comforting anytime.

Brown Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 Dozen Cookies.

The most efficient way to bake these cookies is to portion and bake half of the dough. While the first batch is in the oven, the remaining dough can be prepared for baking. Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter. The dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is sufficiently browned. Use fresh brown sugar, as older (read: harder and drier) brown sugar will make the cookies too dry.

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 ounces)
2 cups packed dark brown sugar (14 ounces)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, mix granulated sugar and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, rubbing between fingers, until well combined; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Add remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to bowl with cooled butter; mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.

4. Divide dough into 24 portions, each about 2 tablespoons, rolling between hands into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Working in batches, toss balls in reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart, 12 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but it will take 3 batches.)

5. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone; see photo below), 12 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.

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