cinnamon-sugar cookies & speculoos
I’m cynical but optimistic.
Silly yet overly analytical.
I’m genuine and sincere yet bitingly sarcastic.
A pushover but one whose tough as nails.
I’ll laugh hysterically over a quirky joke but loathe another’s sense of humor.
I love giving gifts but feel uncomfortable receiving them myself.
I long to travel yet never make the time to do so.
I’ll wake up at 5:30 am on the weekend but wear half-pajamas all day and play in the kitchen, never moving more than 10 paces.
I’ll cry over the ending of a movie but never shed a tear at a funeral.
I’m loving but difficult to love.
I seek clarity but sometimes feel like I’m living in the dark.
I’m complicated. In cookie speak, I can be chewy and crunchy. Not to be confused with soft (say, like, lebkuchen) and hard (say, like, biscotti).
When I was young and innocent, I was chewy all the way. Bendable not breakable.
Brown sugar-packed oatmeal-raisin. Peanut butter crisscrosses baked to be more peanut butter than cookie. Fudge drops that are really brownies in cookie form.
As I got older, I gained an appreciation for sandy sablés (and all things French, really) and shortbread. The buttery taste and fascinating texture were too fascinating to ignore. I was becoming more complex (read: complicated).
And when I really lost that sparkle of youth, I started to enjoy an all-out crunchy cookie from time to time. Thin, crunchy chocolate chip cookies that burst with toffee flavor. Fragile lace tuile cookies that are almost too pretty to eat. Spicy gingersnaps that rest rigidly next to my cup of tea, softening when I dunk them and they soak in that hot liquid. These are cookies to savor, not cookies to mindlessly overeat.
To balance these three personalities, I often aim for a cookie of three textures. Crisp rims, a chewy but set middle ring — the mantle, if you will — and a barely cooked chewtastic center with flavors of caramel and butter coming through.
I rarely make cookies. In fact, I only have two cookie recipes on this blog — three if you count this. It’s a shame. Cookies are the anytime dessert. Making them is an easy way to spin staple pantry items into gold. Therefore, when I do make cookies, I try to think beyond the cookie cutter. But these two cookies are rather simple, archetypes of the chewy and the crunchy. Special enough to take a spot on the Holiday cookie plate, but unfussy and warm enough to conjure up notions of all that goes along with the holidays, warmth, fun, childhood joy.
For flavor alone, snickerdoodles have the potential to be one of my favorite cookies. But the texture just isn’t for me, so I never touch them. They’re humped and rounded, soft and cakey. Soft and chewy are two very different things. Soft is devoid of textural interest. So I took this chewy sugar cookie, which I’ve eaten many, many times — it’s the only sugar cookie I’ve tried that actually lives up to its chewy moniker — and snickerdoodled it.
By simply adding some cinnamon to spice up the cookie dough and rolling the balls of dough in cinnamon sugar, you get the flavors of a snickerdoodle with the chew of a perfect sugar cookie. What really seals the deal for me, though, is the use of cream cheese. It was added to the original sugar cookie recipe to cut some of the sugary sweetness that naturally comes with a traditional sugar cookie. Just a little and the cookies take on a subtle tang. Coincidentally, snickerdoodles naturally have tang from the addition of cream of tartar. But the cream of tartar also contributes to the texture. Thus, the use of cream cheese in these faux snickerdoodles gives the cookies all the taste without the texture. Win-Win.
It’s hard to think of a cookie, well besides a gingerbread man or a frosted tree-shaped sugar cookie, that represents Christmas, in a classy, non-shouty way like Speculoos does. Speculoos cookies — similar to biscoff cookies for those who take international flights — are traditional Belgian Christmas cookies. I think more people are familiar with the spread than the actual cookie from which it is derived. Dorie Grenspan’s recipe for speculoos hits all the right marks: super cinnamony and, of course, super crunchy. The cookies’ aroma is only heightened when dunked into the hot beverage of your choice. (I’m usually a tea girl, but these are particularly good with hot chocolate.) Snap, crunch, crumble. The rolling, the cutting, the baking feels like the holidays and the waves that roll out of the oven certainly smell of the holidays. The best part? They keep crunchy and fresh for, I kid you not, over a week, making them great gifts and make-ahead holiday-party cookies.
How do you like your cookies? Whatever you prefer — the chewy or the crunchy — these lightly spiced cookies are a smooth way to start the holiday season.
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Yield: 2 dozen cookies
50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar for rolling
1 tablespoon cinnamon for rolling
315 grams (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 kosher salt
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
56 grams (2 ounces) cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
84 grams (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
67 grams vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine 50 grams sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in dish and set aside.
Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together; set aside.
Pour butter over 315 grams of sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine and melt down cream cheese. Whisk in oil until mixture is homogeneous. Combine egg, milk, and vanilla in small bowl. Whisk egg mixture into sugar mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix gently with rubber spatula until soft dough formsto create dough.
Using a 1 1/2 inch portion scoop (2 tablespoons), divide the dough into equal mounds and roll into balls. Roll balls in the cinnamon-sugar and space 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Flatten balls to 2-inch diameter. (If you have one, a standard 1/4-cup measure is exactly 2 inches in diameter; it makes for a great guide.) Sprinkle tops evenly a little more cinnamon-sugar.
Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just begin to turn faintly golden and centers do not yet appear done, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. (Go against your instincts. Do NOT overbake. They’ll look extremely underbaked. Don’t worry. Pull em’!) Cool cookies on baking sheet on wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.