Friday, February 20, 2009

Grandma's Sugar Cookies

My Grandma King turns 90 on March 1, and in her honour I'm posting her Sugar Cookie recipe. She was a wonderful baker, and baked many of my birthday cakes growing up--always angel food with strawberry or chocolate frosting. We never lived near her, but when we visited we must have baked together often, because those memories have remained most clear.

Since I grew up eating these sugar cookies, I didn't realize until adulthood that they are quite unique. I've never found a similar recipe in a standard cookbook. I was once told that Grandma managed a restaurant before her marriage, and that these were the cookies served there: in Archbold, Ohio.

About five years ago, I telephoned to request the recipe, so this comes directly from her. As she now suffers from Alzheimers, this recipe, and its provenance, is especially precious. I used to make these cookies for playgroup, where they became known as "muffin-top cookies" because that's exactly what they taste like. In fact, I was inspired to make them today on request from a little playgroup fellow who might be visiting this afternoon; considering I haven't made them for a year or so, it was the first thing he asked when he saw me last time: "Do you have any of those sugar cookies?" I think that's a pretty good endorsement.

The cookies are delicate and cakey and crumbly and must be watched closely in the oven, lest the bottoms burn. They are also difficult to replicate, and I've had the occasional flop, without being able to pinpoint why. I'm pretty sure Grandma's never flopped. The ones I baked today with Fooey turned out very well indeed, though they still aren't exactly like Grandma's. The recipe below is half the size she gave me, and enough for our family (she estimated half would make about 3 dozen cookies). I don't find these cookies keep well, so eat them up while they're fresh.

Grandma King's Sugar Cookies

Beat together 1 1/2 cups white sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 cup of canola oil. Add 1 cup of buttermilk, or substitute 1 cup of milk soured with 1 tbsp white vinegar (let the mixture sit for 10-15 mins. before adding). Beat together well with 1 1/2 tsp vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together 3 cups flour, 3 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. (Optional: add 2 tsp baker's unsweetened cocoa powder). Add dry to wet, and beat together till smooth.

Place rack in middle of oven. Heat to 450 degrees. Spoon one tablespoon of batter per cookie onto lightly greased tray. Leave room because they spread a bit. Bake for FOUR minutes. Watch closely. Cool briefly on tray, scrape off with a sharp spatula, cool additionally on racks.

Note: Today, we added the unsweetened cocoa powder, partly because Fooey wanted a chocolate cookie, and this is not a batter to which you can successfully add chocolate chips, and partly because I used a part-whole-wheat flour and wanted to hide the graininess. Grandma only ever used pure-white flour, which makes a pure-white cookie with a golden bottom. But the chocolate proved to be a nice addition.

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