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December 5, 2006

Granulated sugar (Recipe: Drop In & Decorate sugar cookies)

Sugar

Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls — and cookies, and pies, and cakes, and tarts, and ice cream, and candy bars — are made of.

True enough, Mother Goose, but cookies, pies, cakes and tarts weren't popular in the Weight Watchers home of my childhood, though my mother considered ice cream and Hershey bars, in particular, to have infallible medicinal qualities. I always thought she was cuckoo, but as my hormones careened through adulthood, I actually began to understand her philosophy.

Sugar plays a more complicated role in my own household. When Type-1 diabetes came into our lives, all of a sudden, sugar in all forms was not just fattening, but dangerous. I became a label reader, and found sugar everywhere. Twenty-five years later, though, we've learned to live with sugar and to recognize the important roles it plays in the kitchen, especially in baking.

The granulated sugar found in every perfect pantry comes from either sugar cane or beets; it's 99.8% pure sucrose, a complex sugar composed of both glucose and fructose.

As a notorious bake-o-phobe, I've never really understood the role of sugar in the whole baking equation. Sugar adds volume, texture, color and tenderness. Because sugar holds moisture, it is also a preservative, extending the shelf life of baked goods; that's why many artisan breads, made only with yeast (or a biga), flour, water and salt do not last more than a day.

I learned on Joyofbaking.com that when a recipe calls for creaming butter and sugar together, the idea is to get air into the batter. Mixing causes sugar granules to rub against the fat, producing little air pockets. When a leavener is added, the leavening gases enlarge the air pockets and cause the batter to rise with the heat of the oven. The length of time you cream the butter and sugar determines the amount of air incorporated into the batter.

By the way, one pound of sugar equals, approximately, 2-1/4 cups. One pound of flour is close to 4 cups. One pound of cookies is a pound added directly to your hips, no matter how you look at it.

Drop In & Decorate sugar cookies

Makes 16-20 large cookies; see note below for making multiple batches.

Ingredients

3-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups best quality unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp milk
2-1/2 tsp best quality pure vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a couple of baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt.

In another large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar, until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla, and continue to beat until well blended and smooth. Beat flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth.

Divide dough in half. Place one half on a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper; cover with another sheet and roll to 1/4 inch. Repeat with second half of dough. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes, or up to a couple of days (or, if making far in advance, you can freeze at this point. Wrap sheets tightly in plastic wrap).

Remove one sheet from the refrigerator; peel off the top wax paper, then replace paper and invert dough. Peel off and discard what is now the top sheet of paper, and cut out the cookies. (cookies will spread, so do not place too close together on the baking sheet). Reroll scraps, refrigerating if necessary to firm the dough.

Bake for 6-9 minutes, or until just lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges. Rotate sheets halfway through for even browning. Remove pans from oven and let cookies cool 2-3 minutes. Then remove cookies to a rack and let cool completely. (At this point, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks, in layers separated by parchment or wax paper.)

After the cookies are completely cooled, decorate with Royal Icing. Place the decorated cookies on a tray and leave out overnight, uncovered, to harden. The next morning, package in food-safe cellophane bags or cookie tins.

*Note: to make multiple batches, do NOT double the recipe. It’s hard to control proportions. Instead, make multiples of the original recipe, one batch at a time, for guaranteed success!

*Another note: Rolled sheets of cookie dough can be made ahead and frozen (or, if you're going to use them within a day or two, you can stack the rolled sheets of dough on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator). Let defrost until dough is pliable enough to be cut without breaking cookies, but not necessarily completely defrosted.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

I did not know about the air pockets, but the way you put it, it does make sense.

I used to love sugar and butter together — sugar cookie dough was my favorite.

Got to dig up my grandmother's rolled cookie recipe one of these days....

Mimi, I chose sugar cookies for Drop In and Decorate because they have a long shelf life (up to 2 weeks, if stored properly), hold the icing well, and have no nuts or chocolate. But, really, they do taste delicious, especially made with very creamy butter!

The FDA will have you think that cane sugar and beet sugar are identical, but they are not. The purest sugar is cane sugar and I believe the FDA should require sugar producers to distinguish on their labels whether the source of the sugar is from sugar cane or beets.

A reader on my blog wrote a guest post after an email exchange we had on that very subject.

Tom, I'd love to read that discussion. What's the link?

I'm test driving for a future Drop in and Decorate event -- with my family this Saturday. There will be 30 or so of us at my sister's house hanging around for a couple of hours until dinner is served. I went to Michael's last night and found everything I need in the baking section -- including meringue powder. Looks like Wilton makes the complete line. Add butter and a few other ingredients and voila -- seems doable though I'll be paying close attention to how those bags of frosting are put together and used.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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