It’s baking season! It’s baking season! I mean, yeah, the holidays are coming and Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it’s late this year so Christmas is hot on its heels. But whatever. It’s baking season! It’s baking season!
I don’t know why I don’t bake more often. Clearly I enjoy it. And I’m pretty good at it. But, you know. Ovens…measuring. Pfft! Who needs it? (Other than people who want to make accurate recipes or care about things like proportion, but I digress.) My first cookies for the year were these beautiful, rich, citrusy tangerine butter cookies. This is a gorgeous recipe. It’s crisp, it’s satisfying, it’s got a great, round mouthfeel and it’s slightly savory from olive oil (and perhaps an additional thing or two). As it is baking and successful baking relies largely on successful manipulation of chemistry, I deviated only slightly from the recipe. I’ll just fill you in as we sit here and discuss. Anyway. Let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons finely shredded tangerine peel or orange peel
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup white cornmeal
- 4 cups all-purpose (AP) flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
Get out a large mixing bowl and an electric mixer (or stand mixer…or wooden spoon). Gather up the first five ingredients (butter, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt) and have them ready to roll.
The butter should be nice and soft so it will cream easily, which is a pretty way of saying it can be whipped into pillowy peaks; this should only take you about a minute. I used a big bowl and a hand mixer; a stand mixer would also do the trick. If you only have a whisk you’ll face a hearty workout for your stirring arm, but it can be done since your ingredients are so pliant. The butter shouldn’t be liquid, but it should be entirely squishable. Once it’s whipped, add the sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt, then cream all that together until it looks fluffy and the butter’s turned a lighter color. Then get ready to add the flavorings.
I have the shredded zest from two tangerines sitting in a bowl with the orange and vanilla extracts. I thought it would be fun to let those flavors mingle. And, know how I always warn that you should crack eggs into a small bowl and then into a batter so you can easily pick out a piece of eggshell if it chips off? Today I was grateful that I took my own advice. I did, indeed, have to pick out a bit of shell, which is so much easier to spot and retrieve in a small cup than in a large mixture. And who wants sharp, crunchy eggshell cookies? Not this girl. Beat in the eggs and extracts and then…. I knew that things like cornmeal and olive oil were waiting in the wings to get used, so I also knew this cookie could stand up to a little savory manipulation. Here’s where I get all crazy-like. I added a teaspoon of coriander because I think it plays incredibly nicely with citrus (and the orange family in particular) and a few grinds of fresh-ground black pepper. The black pepper flakes look interesting, and it adds a slightly spicy, savory undercurrent. If pressed for a measurement, I’d say it was no more than a (scant) half-teaspoon.
Then beat in the olive oil, followed by the cornmeal and then the AP flour (which, as its name indicates, is general-use, generic building block flour, and I think outside the US it’s called “plain flour”, FYI), which should be added in incrementally. If your beaters start to labor while adding the flour, make sure you mix the rest of it in by hand. You’ll end up with a thick pile of dough that’s surprisingly soft and malleable.
Notice how it pulls cleanly up off the sides of the bowl? Perfect. Cover your dough mound with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. It can sit overnight (like mine did). When you’re ready to make your cookies, set up your mise en place, which basically means get yourself organized to process food efficiently. Lay the recipe nearby for easy reference, set up your bowl with finishing sugar (I used two different colors because…holiday…festive…but you can use regular granulated sugar and that’s just fine), your cookie trays, and take the dough out of the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 350°.
Then stick your impeccably clean, freshly washed hands into the dough and roll roll roll. You want dough balls that are about an inch across.
Line them up on the ungreased cookie sheets (because who needs to grease a sheet when you’re making cookies that are mostly butter and olive oil? No one, that’s who). The recipe wants you to make an X-pattern in the top of the dough by pressing a toothpick flat into the dough; first one arm of the X, then the other. It does look nice. Sounds time-consuming. If you happen to have something–like a wire beater from your hand mixer–with a conveniently-X’ed butt end, press that into the cookie instead.
And bake, 9-11 minutes in the 350° oven. My oven heats unevenly and it’s always hottest in the back, so I have to rotate my cookies once half-way through. It’s always good to check, anyway. When you’re finished…
You’ll find yourself with rich, beautiful, delicious, buttery-zesty cookies that freeze well, so they’re easy to make ahead for the holidays. And this recipe makes a ton of cookies so you can give them to a bunch of people. And it’s easy to mix and adaptable to your lifestyle, so you can park the dough overnight if you realize you don’t have adequate baking and cooling time. Score! This recipe rocks.