Friday, December 2, 2011

COOKIE CHRONICLES - Sugar Cookies Secrets and Two Recipes

Crank up the Holiday music, it's time for our cookie bake-a-thon!

Christmas (or Holiday if you prefer) cookies are very special, very magical things....from plain to fanciful decorated cut-outs, Sugar Cookies hold a firm place on the plate; one not to be taken lightly.

Although they may seem easy to make, don't let their simple ingredients and recipe descriptions fool you!  It's ever so easy to overwork the dough, especially when making the cut-out variety!

Hand stirring to avoid over work
How does dough get overworked?  Too much handling.  Everything from your hands' heat to over rolling can cause lots of changes within that complex system of ingredients that are trying to mesh together!  Flour's gluten wants to be sticky, fat wants to attach to everything, sugar wants to dissolve...so does salt but they each do their own thing in the process.  In short, that bowl of stuff sitting before you is alive with interaction!  The trick is to make it work for you, not against you.

One thing that helps is to let your cookie dough rest.  I like to separate the dough into two or three balls after it's been mixed, then put the dough in the fridge for about 1 hour before rolling anything.  When rolling time comes, only take one ball out at a time that way the rest remains fresh and retains its workability.

Read your recipe BEFORE beginning the process.  Gather all your ingredients and tools so everything is right at hand.  If the recipe says, sift...sift!  Some say the alternative to this chore is taking 2 Tablespoons out of the measured flour.  Sometimes this works, sometimes not.
I like to play it safe.  So for me, sifting is a lot less trouble than serving sub-par cookies!

If you want to use something like Splenda please know that it will affect your recipe.  Not to discourage using substitutes if you need them!  I found an article that's interesting and educational...a little food for thought so to speak. They experimented by making marshmallows with regular sugar vs. making them with Splenda.  You can read the article via this link: http://www.sheharaw.com/Files/Splenda%20Paper.pdf


Some sugar substitutes are also available for brown sugar.  I've tried Splenda's version, because that's what the household uses so am most familiar with it's proclivities.  I'd appreciate any input about other substitutions, including natural, vegan and so on.   

CONVERSION INFO -
"Regular" Sugars to Splenda substitutes

Granulated White Sugar - 1 cup   -
Splenda Granulated Sweetener - 1 cup
Granulated White Sugar  - 1/3 cup -
Splenda Granulated Sweetener -  8 teaspoons

CONVERSION INFO -
"Regular" Sugar to Splenda Sugar Blend (sugar/Splenda blend)
Granulated White Sugar -  1 cup - 
Splenda Sugar Blend  - 1/2 cup
Granulated White Sugar -  1/3 cup -
Splenda Sugar Blend - 8 teaspoons

CONVERSION INFO -
"Regular" Brown Sugar to Splenda Brown Sugar Substitute
Brown Sugar - 1 teaspoon -
Splenda Brown Sugar - 1/2 teaspoon
Brown Sugar - 1 cup -
Splenda Brown Sugar - 1/2 cup

Thanks to Splenda's website for the info: http://www.splenda.com

Butter vs. margarine vs. shortening?  Hmmm....depends.  Some people can't eat butter, some can.  Some can't abide by anything but margarine...others could care less.  Some swear by shortening like Crisco, others wouldn't touch it with a ten foot spatula.  Where does that leave me?  I've done it all three ways and usually make my choice based on two things: 1) what results do I want? and 2) budgetary considerations.

Result-wise, something like Crisco Butter Flavored Shortening works pretty good, in most recipes.  However I've had some problems combining it with Splenda.  It didn't work at all well, and the resulting taste was nothing like the Sugar Cookie I was expecting.  This combination requires some additional experimentation.
  
Margarine works fine too, providing it's a type that's labeled "good for baking," or something like that. Some margarine is really just for "spreading," rather than cooking or baking.  Read labels!

Butter may burn easier than margarine, but for something like Butter Cookies I'm a purist.

Sprinkles, icing or plain?  Personal choice wins out here.  Have a good time, that's what counts most.  Some folks make a little intention and add a dab of jam or jelly to the center of each round.  Some like to crumble bits of hard candy into the batter and make drop Sugar Candy Cookies. There are a lot of things to do with a good, basic recipe.  The main thing is to have fun!

I'll start with the Non-Sugar Cookies because that way the household can have some cookies to munch on while the others are baked. 

Splenda
SPLENDA Non-SUGAR COOKIES

1 cup unsalted butter*, softened
1 cup SPLENDA® Sugar Blend
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
           *butter or margarine


Method
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer in a medium mixing bowl until creamy.
Gradually add Splenda, beating well.
Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
Wrapped dough
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate mixing bowl.
Gradually add flour mixture to Splenda/butter bit, beating until blended.
DON'T OVER MIX!
Place dough on a lightly floured work surface.
Divide the dough in half; pat each half into a circle and wrap with plastic wrap.
Chill cookie dough for one hour or until slightly firm.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Take the dough from refrigerator, one portion at a time.
Roll each portion to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut with a cookie cutter, and place on lightly greased cookie sheets.
Sprinkle with decorative candies or colored sugars, if you want.
Bake in preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned.
Cool slightly on cookie sheets; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Not every Christmas (or Holiday) cookie on my plate will be made with Splenda, but it's sure nice to be able to have some available for folks who can't eat sugar!

Okay, now for the "regular" ones.....with a little bit of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" playing in the background....(didn't Neil Sadaka write that one? Rumor has it that Don Kershner wanted the Monkees to record the song, but was ousted from Colgems before that happened.)

Then it's back to holiday music and the continuation of this baking frenzy!

Sugar Sugar
SUGAR, SUGAR COOKIES
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt


Method
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).  
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. 
Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter, round is fine too. 
Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. 
Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely. 

Sugar, Sugar Cookies
 As always, please feel free to share your recipes on this site....just use the comments box!  Naturally you'll receive full credit and I promise to even try the recipes you send.  For now, Enjoy!




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