Monday, December 21, 2009

1:2:3 improvised christmas cookies

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.)

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