Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mother's sugar cookies

Because I have been having fond memories of home lately, plus severe cravings for baked items redolent of vanilla, I decided to dig out my New England Yankee Cookbook. This treasure, published in 1938, is a collection of recipes collected by Imogene Wolcott, others contributed from her fellow New Englanders, and reprints of articles about New England life from Yankee magazine. My favorite among the recipes is one called Mother's Sugar Cookies. It was contributed by Mrs. Jennie Duke, then of 53 Ferry St. in Everett, Mass. (Each contributor's street address was listed along with her or his recipe.)

I used to make these cookies when I was in high school and take them to track workouts. I always had to make a double batch, because they disappeared almost as quickly as I could get them out of the oven. These are plain, cakey vanilla cookies, with no dusting of sugar over the top. I've modified it in a few of ways: I use butter instead of shortening; I use vanilla-infused sugar to intensify the wonderful taste and aroma of this classic flavoring; and now I use a KitchenAid instead of killing my arms with all the creaming of the butter. Last thing about vanilla: in this recipe I used vanilla I'd made myself by soaking vanilla-bean pods in pure vodka for a couple of months.

Tonight this recipe had the same effect it always has: The Hunky Scientist and I polished off eight of them right when they came out of the oven. I've baked two double-pan batches, and I've got two more to go.

Mother's Sugar Cookies
(I've added notes in parentheses.)
1 cup shortening (I use butter)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon soda
2 cups sugar
1 egg, well beaten
5 cups flour, sifted
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk

Combine shortening, salt, vanilla and soda. Add sugar gradually and cream well. Add beaten egg and mix thoroughly. Sift flour with baking powder. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, mixing well. Drop from teaspoon onto baking sheet (I lined mine with parchment). Let stand a few minutes, then flatten cookies (I use a spoon dipped in water to do this). Bake in a moderately hot oven (375 degrees F.) for 12 to 15 minutes (I make large cookies, so it takes 16 minutes to bake mine). Makes about 8 dozen cookies.

Next up: My first attempt at mint chocolate-chip ice cream.