January 09, 2011

Chewy Citrus Sugar Cookies

I wrote awhile back about my having tried out the Foolproof Sugar Cookies recipe from the November/December 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated to make Chewy Coconut-Lime Sugar Cookies.  In discussing that, I noted that the first time around, I didn't find the lime flavor to be strong enough for my tastes, and being more pleased with a second batch, in which I used more zest and lime juice than called for in that recipe.  Lately I've been revisiting that recipe and that concept, and have been applying it to some citrus flavors other than lime.  I've also been experimenting with glazing the cookies. 

This time around, I decided to really boost the lime flavor.  I added all the zest (a heaping tablespoon) and two tablespoons of juice from one lime to the batter.   The resulting cookie had a pronounced and pleasant lime flavor without being tart.  Don't get me wrong, it still tastes like a sugar cookie with lime flavor, as opposed to a lime bar or something like that, but the lime definitely stands out in this variant.   The boosted lime flavor does reduce the coconut flavor to a subtle undercurrent, but I was okay with that, as I was going for a cookie with a strong lime flavor more than one with strong flavors of both lime and coconut.  The ground-up coconut did provide a pleasant chewiness to the cookies, though, so I decided to keep it around.

I tried to boost the lime element of the cookies even further by adding some lime juice to a simple glaze I made with powdered sugar, cream cheese, milk and food coloring, but I found that the addition of the lime kept the glaze from setting up well, so I decided to just use the glaze (and a bit of colored sugar) to give some additional sweetness and visual appeal to the cookies.  Pleased by then with what I had done with lime, I turned next to lemon.

The first time around, I tried pretty much the same thing described above, but using a whole, fresh lemon in place of the lime.   The results were not as pleasing.   In the first batch I tried, using a whole lemon's zest and two tablespoons of lemon juice, the lemon flavor was barely notable.   The cookies had a hint of citrus flavor and a slight bit of tartness, but the lemon just wasn't distinct enough for my tastes. 

The next time around, I added an extra tablespoon of lemon juice.   These ones tasted more lemony, but the texture of the dough, and of the cookies, suffered.   The dough was so wet that it was hard to shape into portions, and the cookies flattened out so much they resembled wafers more than sugar cookies.  Clearly just adding more lemon juice wasn't the key to success.

I considered doubling up on the lemon zest, but then I recalled that we had some lemon extract in the cupboard.   I made a new batch, and this time I dialed back the lemon juice to 1 tablespoon and bolstered it with one teaspoon of lemon extract.   That did the trick... these cookies had a pleasant, but not overwhelming, lemon flavor, on par with the lime flavor of the other cookies.   Having figured out the trick to a tasty chewy lemon sugar cookie, it was time to turn to give oranges a try.

I knew from experience that one has to use a fair bit of orange juice in a recipe to impart a very distinct orange flavor, and I also knew that using too much orange zest tends to bring along a bit of bitterness, probably from the bits of orange pith one gets along with the zest, so I skipped both of those ideas and went right to the extract route.  Once again I went with one tablespoon orange zest, one tablespoon orange juice and one teaspoon orange extract.   That didn't give me quite enough orange bite, but the dough was still less wet than the lime cookie dough had been, so I decided to add just a bit more orange juice - one teaspoon.  That did the trick.  These orange sugar cookies had a distinct flavor and aroma of oranges, and were good enough to hold their own with the lemon and lime versions of the recipe. 

I always try to give credit where due, and I fully and readily admit that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere - or had anything to work from - if not for the Cook's Illustrated recipe I started with.  At the same time, I feel the amount of work I put into this experiment, and the distinctly different flavor of my cookies compared to those made with the original recipe, warrant me claiming what I've written below as a distinct recipe (or set of recipes, I guess).

Chewy Lime Sugar Cookies

yield = approximately 30 cookies

2 1/4        cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2           cup sweetened shredded coconut, chopped or processed fine
1              teaspoon baking powder
1/2           teaspoon baking soda
1/2           teaspoon table salt
1 1/2        cups granulated sugar, + 1/2 cup for rolling
2              ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into 8 pieces
1              heaping tablespoon lime zest
6              tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3           cup vegetable oil
1              large egg
1              tablespoon whole milk
2              tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2        cups powdered sugar
2 1/2        tablespoons whole milk
1              tablespoon softened cream cheese
                green food coloring (to preference)
                green decorative (crystal) sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position.  Preheat to 350 degrees.  Line three rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.  Whisk flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl.  Set aside

Add 1 1/2 cups sugar, cream cheese and lime zest in a large bowl.   Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar into a pie plate and set aside. 

Pour warm butter over sugar mixture and whisk to combine, leaving some small lumps of cream cheese.  Whisk in oil until incorporated, then whisk in egg and milk.  Whisk until smooth, then whisk in lime juice. 

Add sugar mixture to flour mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until all ingredients are blended into a soft dough.

Divide dough into portions of approximately two tablespoons and roll each portion into a ball.   Working in batches, roll some of the dough balls in the reserved sugar to coat.   Evenly space 12 dough balls on a baking sheet in three rows of four balls.  Slightly flatten the dough balls with fingers or the bottom of a drinking glass or mixing cup.  Sprinkle a pinch of the reserved sugar atop each flattened dough ball. 

Bake one tray at a time.  Bake for 7 minutes, then turn the baking sheet and cook for another 5-6 minutes, until the edges are set and just starting to brown.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for five minutes, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. 

Using a stand mixer, whisk together powdered sugar, whole milk, cream cheese and food coloring into a thin, spreadable glaze.  Brush a bit of the glaze over each cookie, then sprinkle with decorative sugar.  Allow the glaze to dry before serving.

Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies

As Chewy Lime Sugar Cookies, but with the following substitutions:
*  One tablespoon lemon zest in place of the lime zest
*  One tablespoon lemon juice + one teaspoon lemon extract in place of the lime juice
*  Yellow food coloring and decorative sugar in place of the green coloring and sugar.

Chewy Orange Sugar Cookies

As Chewy Lime Sugar Cookies, but with the following substitutions:
*  One tablespoon orange zest in place of the lime zest
*  One tablespoon + one teaspoon of orange juice and one teaspoon orange extract in place of the lime juice
*  Yellow and red food coloring to make desired shade of orange in place of the green coloring, and orange decorative sugar in place of the green sugar.

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