We now interrupt this local food challenge with an word from our sponsor. Cookies.
With the Dark Days Challenge in full swing, I have been working hard to cook local and seasonal meals. However, it is the holiday season, and I hate arriving at a party without a sweet treat to add to the mix. Not to mention the fact that I have to keep up my blogger cred by plying my colleagues with tasty experiments.
And there was this cookie recipe that I’d been eyeing. Super simple. Everyone raves. So I gave it a test run–made one batch of dough, and cooked a couple of cookies to test it out, refrigerating the rest. Wow. Those anonymous internet commenter folks weren’t kidding. This was about 2 weeks ago, and I’ve literally made this recipe or a variation of it at least 5 times, once in a double-batch. It’s that good (and I might have made an impulse purchase at Costco of a 3lb block of cream cheese before I even tried the recipe. But let’s not talk about that).
I am not a “pretty” cookie baker. You wont find royal icing and cookie cutters being used in my kitchen very often. I don’t have the patience for that, and I find that I tend to like the lumpy-bumpy cookies the best, anyway! My favorite cookie is one that is moist and chewy, with a satisfying crunch around the edges. This is my new favorite cookie. To begin, I’m going to send you to Food52, where Merrill Stubbs shares her mom’s recipe for Cream Cheese Cookies. I didn’t do much to the recipe, so I’d recommend starting there. It’s super simple–just 5 ingredients. (Don’t tell my friends at work who think I’m a baking god after tasting these).
I only really changed two minor things in Merrill’s recipe, both of which contributed to the texture in a really positive way. First, I refrigerated the dough prior to baking (I try not to have an entire batch of cookies in my kitchen with no dedicated purpose. These are the kind of cookies where you could eat the entire batch in a day or two with no help. Really). Second, I made the cookies about 50% bigger than the recipe recommends. This combination made the center stay really soft and chewy, and the outside was crunchy, almost like shortbread. I highly recommend that approach, which also leads to a bit longer baking time (more like 16-18 minutes in my oven).
But I can’t just sit here and send you to another person’s recipe. I was inspired to find ways to incorporate the magical ingredient of cream cheese into other types of cookies I love.
I have a secret for you. One of the best parts of these recipes is that the cream cheese replaces the usual addition of egg, so lick the spoon (and the beater, and the spatula, and the bowl…) to your heart’s content–no salmonella!
So here’s the thing. I love ginger cookies. Specifically Heidi Swanson’s Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies. Now that you mention it, I guess they were last year’s cookie obsession. And I did a little mingling. And the magic works! The ginger flavor feels like Christmas to me. The molasses adds a bit of depth and darker color, as does the brown sugar. I tried using whole wheat pastry flour, as Heidi does, and was happy with the result (and felt a bit more virtuous), but if course it will work with regular all-purpose flour. They retain that crispy-chewy combination, and give you another variation on the cream cheese cookie if you want a bit more depth of flavor.
Ginger Cream Cheese Cookies
Makes about 24 small or 16 large cookies
½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 heaping cup whole wheat pastry flour (or you can use all purpose)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp turbinado sugar (to sprinkle on top)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer or hand beaters, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the molasses, salt and ginger, and mix to incorporate. Add in the flour, and mix just until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and give it a quick stir with a spoon or spatula to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each cookie (they will spread a little). Don’t use a silpat for these—they will run into each other—I’d put them directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.
After about 10 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle the cookies with turbinado (or raw) sugar. This gives them a bit of sparkle and crunch. Pop them back in, and let them finish the rest of the baking time. Do not over-bake, or the cookies won’t be chewy! Cool slightly on the cookie sheet, and then remove the cookies with a spatula and let them finish cooling on a rack.
If you really like chewy cookies, I recommend chilling the batter before you bake it, and making the cookies a bit bigger than usual. This will make the inside cook less quickly while allowing the outside rim to get crisp, as explained above. Cook more like 16-18 minutes.