I wanted to make some Christmas cookies today, but I didn't want to go to the grocery store. I had butter, sugar, and flour: what could I make?
I got out a book I got last summer: Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. The premise of this book is that you--yes, you!--can invent recipes. In fact you don't need recipes. You just need ratios.
Most of the ratios in the book are on the order of x parts butter, x parts flour, x parts egg, x parts liquid. With these ratios, you have a basic recipe for bread, pasta, pie dough, biscuits, all kinds of cakes and quick breads...and cookies. The cookie recipe is one of the easiest to remember: 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour.
Note that these "parts" are parts by weight, not by volume. I have a little digital scale that I got at Walmart. So for each batch of cookies, I weighed out 30 grams of sugar, 60 grams of butter, and 90 grams of flour. This made a little batch of about 10 small cookies.
Cookies made with this ratio are shortbreads: they are not terribly sweet, and there is no egg in them. A plain cookie of just butter, sugar and flour is.. very plain, but good. I could actually taste the butter, and I realized that getting good butter might make these cookies a lot better. (I was just using Land o' Lakes unsalted butter.) I am going to try that soon.
After trying the recipe first plain, I ground the sugar for the next batch with some candied orange peel in the blender, before creaming it with butter and mixing it with flour. I put an almond in the middle of each of these cookies. Nice!
I realized I had a little bit of a chocolate bar left, so for the third batch I melted that in the microwave and mixed it with the butter and sugar. You use 1.5 parts chocolate to every part of sugar. (Actually I should have mixed the melted chocolate with the flour first to keep it from melting the softened butter.) To decorate those, I put a walnut in the middle of each one. How cute!
For the last batch, I really went wild. I put left-over vanilla seeds in the blender with the sugar, along with some cloves and 30 grams of walnuts. (You can substitute ground nuts for a third of the flour.) Also a bit of dried ginger. Ground that up, and creamed it with the butter. Added a little lemon extract, and some salt. (A pinch of salt was added to all the batches.) Then the flour. This made a crumbly cookie, which I decorated with a bit of blueberry jam when they came out of the oven.
Ruhlman suggests chilling the dough before shaping it into cookies, but I thought it was easier just to do it without chilling.
Wow. I used up a lot of left-overs in the kitchen and I sort of invented two cookies! (The other two were suggestions in Ruhlman's book.)