Culinary mishaps have rendered treasured dishes and unexpected ingredients. An accidental fall yielded the Tarte Tatin, the delectable upside-down apple dessert. Toll House Inn’s Ruth Wakefield ran out of baking chocolate, so she smashed a bar of semisweet chocolate as a substitute to create the first chocolate chip cookies.
Recently, Stella Parks, award winning cookbook author and pastry wizard, unintentionally produced roasted sugar, kind of a granulated caramel that can be used in baking just as one would use plain white granulated sugar. I read about it in a post she wrote on the food blog FOOD52, much of the content excerpted from her book “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks (W.N. Norton, $35).
When Parks discovered roasted sugar, she was working in a basement kitchen that was 50 degrees. She warmed her sugar in a low oven to knock off the chill before making cookie doughs and cake batters. One day she forgot that it was in the oven when other issues occupied her time. Several hours later the smell of caramel drifted over to her desk. She expected to find bubbling caramel and a huge mess, but she found innocent looking sugar with a light toasty color and beautiful scent.
She tested it in angel food cake and found, as she described it, “an intriguing sense of richness and gently ivory hue.”
It takes two hours to roast 4 pounds (a big bag) of sugar at 325 degrees (she suggests using an oven thermometer to test oven’s accuracy). It requires some babysitting; a gentle stir every 30 minutes. When I made it, there was a smidgen of molten caramel at the bottom of the pan on one side which loosened when I stirred towards the end of roasting. No problem; I sprinkled the sugar through a strainer to remove those bits. When completely cool, it was stored it in an airtight container.
I gave it a test drive in some holiday cookies. I chose cookie recipes without chocolate, nuts or brown sugar to let the caramelization in the roasted sugar shine through. The results were delicious, but any difference between plain and roasted sugar in these cookies was subtle. It would require an astute palate and perhaps a side by side taste test to ferret out the alteration.
Meringue and angel food cake are my next goals; I think the sugar will play a more prominent role on the palate. Meanwhile, I’ll sprinkle it on fresh berries, and enjoy it stirred into my hot tea.
Enjoy these holiday cookies, whether made with plain granulated sugar or its lusciously-roasted culinary cousin.
Yield: about 9 cups
4 pounds (large bag) refined white granulated sugar, not raw or semi-refined
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (test accuracy with oven thermometer). Place sugar in a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Roast, gently stirring every 30 minutes, until it darkens to a sandy tan, about 2 hours. The color is strangely difficult to judge in the dim glow of an oven, so scoop out a spoonful to examine in better light. But, be cautious! Despite its innocuous appearance, sugar will be dangerously hot, so take care not to touch it.
2. Cool away from sources of moisture or steam until completely cool about 1 hour. If you notice molten caramel around the edges, pour the hot sugar into a heat resistant container, leaving the melty bits behind. (I passed it though a strainer because I had a few small bits of caramelized sugar to remove.) The cooled baking dish can be soaked clean in water. Store airtight up to 1 year.
Source: adapted from “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks (W.N. Norton, $35).
Jam Thumbprint Cookies
Yield: about 48 cookies
1/2 cup seedless jam
2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces) granulated sugar or roasted sugar
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Whisk flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together in medium bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Add cream cheese, egg and vanilla; beat until combined about 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low, slowly add flour mixture and mix until incorporated.
3. Working with about 1 tablespoon dough at a time, roll into balls and space them 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared sheets. Use thumb to make a well in center of each ball. Bake cookies one sheet at a time to set and lightly brown around edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and gently reshape indentation in center of each cookie with greased rounded bottom of 1-teaspoon measuring spoon. Using two spoons, one to scoop and the other to push off the jam, fill each indentation with about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon jam. Rotate sheet and continue to bake until lightly golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Let cookies cool completely before serving.
Source: adapted from “The Perfect Cookie” from the editors at America’s Test Kitchen ($35)
Spiced Shortbread Button Cookies
Yield: about 30 sandwich cookies
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) superfine granulated sugar or roasted sugar, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, softened
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, colored portion of peel
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
To make superfine sugar, place about 1 cup sugar in food processor; pulse 6 to 7 times. Measure out 3/4 cup to use in recipe.
1. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and salt on low speed until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and mix until dough looks crumbly and slightly wet, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, vanilla and lemon zest; beat until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds. Transfer dough to counter; knead just until it forms a cohesive mass and divide in half. Form each half into disk, wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll each disk of dough 1/8-inch thick between 2 large sheets of parchment. Transfer dough rounds, still between parchment to refrigerator for 10 minutes.
3. Using 2-inch round cutter, cut dough into circles and space circles 1/2 inch apart on prepared sheets. Gently reroll scraps once, cut into circles and transfer to prepared sheets. Using 1 1/2-inch round cutter, press cutter halfway through half of cookies and using plastic straw, cut out 4 small holes in centers of same cookies. Twist the straw a little and it will remove a circle of dough. As the straw fills up with dough, simply trim off the end with scissors. You will need 2 or 3 straws.
4. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until edges are light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool 3 minutes on sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool.
5. Microwave chocolate at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, stirring occasionally until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Spread 1 teaspoon melted chocolate over bottoms of whole cookies, then top with cut cookies, pressing lightly to adhere. Let chocolate set, about 30 minutes, before serving.
Source: “The Perfect Cookie” from the editors at America’s Test Kitchen ($35)
Cut-Out Cookies Dipped in Chocolate
Yield: Varies according to cookie size, about 18-24 (4-inch) cookies.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
12 ounces coating chocolate, melted according to package directions (for holiday trees and stars I use green, for snowmen I use “white-white” – but dark chocolate is nice too)
Coating chocolate is sold in craft stores, cake- and candy-making shops and some supermarkets (often stocked next to the fresh berries in the produce section). Most often it’s formed into small discs.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using an electric strand mixer, beat butter and sugar with paddle until creamy and well-blended, 3 to 5 minutes. Add egg and mix until blended.
2. In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, salt and flour; stir with whisk to combine. Add to butter mixture and mix until blended, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Add vanilla; mix until blended.
3. Divide dough and form into two flat discs. Place each disc on a sheet of wax paper. Cover each with a sheet of wax paper. Roll out to a 1/4-inch thickness, keeping the wax paper smooth. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Replace top sheet of wax paper on each disc with a fresh sheet of waxed paper and invert each on work surface. Remove top sheet of wax paper.
Using 3- to 4-inch holiday-themed cookie cutters, cut out cookies and place on prepared baking sheets 1 inch apart. If desired, cut a small hole using a plain, 3/8-inch pastry (decorating) tip or straw, so that cookies can later have a ribbon or piece of raffia tied on them. Roll out leftover dough and cut out more cookies. If necessary, use a thin spatula to remove them from the wax paper.
4. Bake in a preheated oven 9-14 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Bake until cookies are a light tan on top and slightly darker around the edges. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheets. Place on wire racks to cool completely.
5. Place a large piece of wax paper on work surface. Dip half of each cookie in melted chocolate, shake off excess chocolate and place on wax paper to allow chocolate to harden. If desired, tie thin ribbon or raffia on cookie.
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