Simple Suger Cookies   

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Like many old-time New England favorites, these cookies are plain and simple. We theorize that frugal Yankee housewives saw no sense in using more sugar than was absolutely necessary, to say nothing of adding "fancy" ingredients, like butter, when lard would do. However, being New Englanders but not old-time New Englanders, we "fancied" these up just a bit with the addition of vanilla and nutmeg, a combination that simply sings "sugar cookie." And lard just isn't in our repertoire; vegetable shortening has taken its place.

As Shirin says in her letter, you could probably pat these out and cut them with a cutter. We found it ever so much easier to simply plop them onto a cookie sheet with a cookie scoop, then flatten them with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar (or not, as you please).

We like the degree of sweetness in these cookies: less sweet than a normal cookie, but still plenty sweet enough to plainly say "cookie." If you like, cut the sugar back to 1/2 cup, for a cookie that's probably closer to what Shirin remembers.
1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) vegetable shortening
2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (2 ounces) buttermilk or sour milk*
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, to taste
2 cups (8 3/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

*Add 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice to 1/4 cup milk to make it "sour."
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the shortening and sugar till smooth. Add the buttermilk or sour milk and vanilla, again beating till well-combined. The mixture may look a bit curdled; that's OK.

Add the nutmeg, flour, baking soda and salt to the wet ingredients, and beat until the mixture forms a cohesive dough.

Drop the dough in round blobs onto a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. They should be a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball, a bit smaller than a golf ball. Using a cookie scoop (or, if you have one, a small ice cream scoop, one that will hold about 2 level tablespoons of liquid) makes this task extremely simple. Leave about 2 inches between the dough balls, as they'll spread as they bake.

Bake the cookies in a preheated 350F oven for about 16 to 18 minutes, or until they're just beginning to brown around the bottom edges. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a wire rack. As they cool, they'll become crisp. If you want them to remain crisp, store them in an airtight container when they're totally cool. If you want them to get a bit chewy, store them in a bag with a slice of apple or a sugar softener. Yield: about 1 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies.
Notes

To make 4-inch cookies, make balls of dough about the size of a hand ball (or those super bouncy balls from back in the '60s -- remember them?) Flatten them and bake as directed above. Yield: about ten 4-inch cookies.

We tried making these cookies with even less sugar -- 1/2 cup, instead of 2/3 cup -- but found their "look" started to suffer. Instead of being nicely rounded and lightly fissured on top, they became "gnarly" looking, spreading unevenly and developing deep cracks. This is an example of what a difference sugar makes in cookie spread and texture. Our original recipe called for a cup of sugar, and those cookies spread to become very flat, and their texture was chewy. When we reduced the amount of sugar to 2/3 cup, they spread less, and their texture was more substantial, and crumbly rather than chewy.

We surmise a typical New England housewife may have used lard in a cookie such as this. Lard would make the cookies' texture crumblier still, more like shortbread.

 

Nutritition information per serving (1 cookie, 30g): 124 cal, 5.4g fat, 1g protein, 17g complex carbohydrates, 8g sugar, 68mg sodium, 21mg potassium, 1mg iron, 4mg calcium, 15mg phosphorus

This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet (r) (Vol. XI, No. 4, Spring 2000 issue). The Baking Sheet is a newsletter published six times a year by The Baker's Catalogue(r), P.O. Box 876, Norwich, Vermont 05055. (The Baking Sheet and The Baker's Catalogue are both registered trademarks of The Baker's Catalogue, Inc.)
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