I ate a pre-made, previously frozen meal of Palak Paneer for dinner. In between bites and typing out paragraphs, I exchanged text messages with my sister. Her husband had a late meeting, so she stopped at a restaurant, alone, on her way home from work, as New Yorkers are prone to do. Her meal was a definite step up from mine: a salad of two kinds of lettuce with yams and walnuts, Nantucket bay scallops, and a Maker's Mark Manhattan. In one message, she described how someone old enough to be our grandfather had just hit on her. In another, she said someone else had just sent her a drink, so she was heading home. “Who knew that restaurant was such a frisky place?" I finished my meal up with a couple of sugar cookies.
I baked my first batch of holiday cookies yesterday, and as I did so I promised myself I would keep the baking down to a dull roar. December can start to feel like being on vacation in the sense of out-of-the-ordinary eating and drinking for a month straight. At the end of a vacation I’m always glad to come back to my own kitchen and eating habits; this December I want to 'stay home' in that regard.
With this recipe, you get the great shapes that are the major appeal of sugar cookies, but with the addition of a fantastic citrus and spice flavor, and your home smells like Christmas after you bake them.
adapted from the Seattle Times 2005 Holiday Cookie supplement
Chinese five-spice is a blend of star anise, fennel, clove, coriander, and cinnamon that has a warm, spicy flavor.
I wasn’t able to find orange oil anywhere. I ordered it online here.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
Optional: 1 teaspoon orange oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
white sparkling decorator sugar
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, five-spice and cinnamon.
Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, orange juice, orange oil if using, and vanilla. Beat just until blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients, beating until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Divide the dough in half, wrap, and chill at least 1 hour.
Roll out the dough between sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap to about ¼ inch thickness. Place the rolled dough on a baking sheet and chill 15 minutes in the freezer.
Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment.
To cut shapes from the dough, remove the top sheet of plastic and invert dough-side down on a lightly floured kitchen counter. Remove the second sheet of plastic and cut out shapes as desired. Transfer the cut shapes to the parchment-lined sheet. Sprinkle the tops with decorator sugar. Gather the scraps, and roll and freeze them as described above before cutting again.
Bake in the center of the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are golden. Let the cookies cool on their baking sheets a few minutes before transferring to racks to finish cooling.
Yield: about 4 dozen cookies