Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kansas Cookies

It's January. The days are short and often gray, but I don't have classes to teach for a few weeks. Normally that would be a good thing (time to read! bake! go to Paris!), but I end up frittering away my time on the Web and/or working on what I'll be teaching next semester. 

Good thing I made a baking date for myself this week, giving me permission to spend time puttering around the kitchen. And this recipe is a splendid way to putter around.

 It seems like many or most of Maida's "other" cookies, at least towards the end, are the project kind. Last week I had the stack of eight layers, and this week I had the roll, fill, and cut recipe.

 It's an interesting recipe, one which, like so many of these recipes, I was skeptical of. Cinnamon-molasses dough around a lemon-coconut curd? Lots of flavors going on.

 But as with most of these recipes, I'm glad I soldiered on and tried it. There's a reason this recipe won a prize at the Kansas State Fair--they have a great moist, chewy texture, and the lemon flavor really takes over and shines. I don't think I've ever had a cookie quite like this one, and that's really kind of a shame.

They're not the prettiest cookies ever, but they're fun to make and delicious to eat. Here's the recipe with some process photos to make it easier to understand.

Kansas Cookies

1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon (I used a bit less)
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar (I went down to 6.5 oz. and these were still quite sweet. 6 oz. is probably plenty)
1 large egg
1/4 c. (2.8 oz.) light molasses
2-1/4 c. (9 oz.) flour (I used about 3 oz. whole wheat)

Cream the butter with the baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the sugar and beat a minute or two longer. Add the egg, beat until well incorporated, and then the molasses. Finally, stir in the flour. You'll end up with a sticky dough as you'll see in the unattractive picture near the top of the page. Scoop the dough out onto a long piece of waxed or parchment paper and form into a log about one foot long. Wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight, or if you're impatient like me, freeze for about 15 minutes and then refrigerate for at least an hour. While the dough is chilling, make the lemon curd:

2 large eggs
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1/4 t. salt
Grated rind of 2 (organic) lemons
1/4 c. (2 oz.) lemon juice
1 c. (3.5 oz.) coconut--I used the very fine unsweetened stuff that seems to be standard here

In a small, heavy pot, whisk the eggs until well mixed. Gradually beat in the sugar and then the salt, lemon rind, and lemon juice. Put the coconut in a medium bowl and put a fine sieve over that bowl.
Place the pot with the lemon mixture over very low heat and cook, whisking and scraping the bottom and sides almost constantly, until the mixture thickens "to the consistency of a soft mayonnaise". This will take 5-10 minutes. Note: Before cooking, my mixture looked nasty and curdled, but it smoothed out nicely while cooking.
When the curd is cooked, pour it into the strainer above the coconut and use a rubber spatula to force most of the curd through, leaving behind any congealed egg and lemon rind (Maida doesn't include this step, but I like to strain my custards). Mix the curd well with the coconut--this will be a thick mixture--and set aside to cool and even chill. You can use this mixture room temperature or cold.
OK, now it's time to shape the cookies. Preheat the oven to 350. Have ready a floured surface, rolling pin, ruler, and probably a bench scraper. You'll also want some cookie sheets--Maida says unbuttered, but I used silicone liners.
Cut the log into four equal pieces (you could use the ruler to measure out 3-inch lengths). Take one for right now and put the rest back into the refrigerator.

 On your well-floured surface, roll the dough out into a 15-inch snake. It'll be pretty thin, as you see.

Carefully roll out the dough to make it wider (3 inches wide) but no longer. Use your bench scraper to make sure the dough isn't sticking to the surface.

Divide the lemon mixture into quarters. Use a small spoon to distribute a narrow strip of filling down the middle of the dough. (By the way, this is a lot like making the Apricot Strip.) Fold each side of the dough over the filling. It may meet, it may barely meet, it may even overlap a bit. It's all good.

 Now use your ruler to measure out 1-1/2-inch lengths of the dough. If you measured correctly, you should get 10 cookies per log of dough.

Place the cookies on your cookie sheets: Maida says 1-1/2 inches apart, but these don't spread much, so you can crowd them a bit more if you like. I baked 3 sheets for the 40 cookies.

Bake the cookies, two sheets at a time, for 15 minutes (check after 10). They'll be a bit darker around the edges, and any gaps on top will have filled in. The dough may crack on top if there isn't a gap.
When the cookies are baked, transfer to a rack to cool. They are at their best when they're warm (not hot) or at room temperature. They seem to keep well--we're on day 2 and they're still delicious. We'll see how many we have left over by tomorrow.

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