Every December, I make you a promise in my head that this, this! will be the year that I share a recipe for classic sugar cookies, the kind that you can roll into any shape your heart desires and sprinkle, then ice, glitter and bauble merrily into the New Year and this year was no different. But then December arrives and my cooking dance card is absolutely bursting with offers to fill your internet quota with cocktails and party snacks and wrappable candies and so, so many cookies. Cookies with butter and chocolate, cookies with puddles of mint; cookies with hazelnuts and blackberries or white chocolate and ginger and butterscotch, people. Is it any wonder that I always lose sight of loftier baking goals each year when faced with the prospect of butterscotch-crunched cookies?
As you can probably tell, I’m having a great time. I briefly wondered when I handed in my manuscript what I would do with all of that free time for the five weeks it is in the hands of some sainted copyeditor. I shouldn’t have worried, in part because I have one of these, and also because of butter; I am actually biding my time with boxes and boxes of butter. My daily vista is whipped butter, faintly sparkled with granulated sugar clinging to a KitchenAid paddle before an avalanche of flour and spices puff their way up from the attached bowl. My freezer is packed with layers upon layers of cookies between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers, eagerly awaiting the party invitations that will surely come flooding in now that, for the first time in the history of my disorganized life, I am actually ready for them.
You’re inviting me to your holiday party, right? Okay, phew. I might bring these. They look really plain, don’t they? But they are a tumble of butter and maple syrup, crackly sea salt and a whiff of nutmeg. They are the exact reason that I cannot bring myself to make ordinary sugar cookies, not when cookies like this exist. There’s a lot of maple syrup in there, which is one of my favorite things on earth and yet I have to retire my Maple Syrup Fanatic Club Card because apparently, I’ve been buying it all wrong. In school, a report card full of A’s (not that I ever saw one) was vastly superior than one cluttered with B’s and so, like most people, I assumed that Grade A maple syrup was the best you could get. I was so misled! Grade B is like maple syrup raised to the most maple syrup power (with math summaries like this, my report cards should surprise you less) — it is loud with the cool, almost smoky sweetness of dark maple syrup and it makes these cookies work. Maple syrup has such a subtle flavor that it’s often lost in baked goods, no matter how much you use. Not here. Here, it lingers and plays off of sea salt and nutmeg in a thin, tender when warm, crisp when cool, intensely buttery cookie. Oh, and I used generic, on sale, store brand butter. Could you imagine what the fancier butters would do for this cookie? I’m almost afraid to find out.
One year ago: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
Two years ago: Cream Biscuits and Coffee Toffee
Three years ago: Pie Crust 102: All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough and Pie Crust 103: Rolling and Crimping, Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and Cabbage, Apple and Walnut Salad
Four years ago: Fennel Ice Cream and Ratatouille Tart
Five years ago: Blondies, Infinitely Adaptable, Fettucine with Porcini and Potato Salad with Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette
Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies
Adapted, just a smidge, from the late great Gourmet Magazine
1 cup (2 sticks or 226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (118 ml) maple syrup (Grade B is ideal here, but the original recipe suggested that Grade A with a few drops of maple extract would also work)
1 large egg yolk
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (because it packs more tightly)
1 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. With mixer running, add yolk and slowly drizzle in maple syrup. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until just combined. The dough will be in loose clumps. Gather them together into a tight packet with a large piece of plastic wrap and chill dough for at least two hours (and up to four days) until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. I like to roll out a quarter to half the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge. On a floured counter, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.
(I started with conservative circles, moved into ridged circles, then maple leaves and then, after reading a fascinating article about the acorn harvest this year, got forrest-ed away with acorns and oak leaves that a reader sent me a few years ago. Not that you asked any of this.)
Arrange cookies on baking sheets and bake for 8 to 11 minutes each, or until lightly golden at the edges. Transfer to racks to cool. Cookies keep in airtight containers for a week, or in the freezer until their dance number is up.