Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

EASTER SUGAR COOKIES

I love ALL things vanilla! It’s my most favorite flavor and smell and when made right, nothing beats a good vanilla sugar cookie. This recipe comes from an amazing cookbook that I picked up a few months back entitled, Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques by Shauna Sever. If you love vanilla this is one cookbook you’ll want to add to your collection. It’s filled with delicious recipes for cookies, cakes, puddings and even candy!

I followed this recipe as is however, instead of just using pure vanilla extract I also used vanilla paste because I really wanted to bring out and highlight the vanilla flavor of this cookie. I used two teaspoons of vanilla paste and one teaspoon of pure vanilla extract in the cookie dough. I did have to restrain myself from throwing the whole bottle in! The combination of vanilla paste and extract really made for an exceptionally flavored cookie! I highly recommend investing in a bottle of vanilla paste if you haven’t already done so. It is a little pricey nowadays but in desserts that are very vanilla forward such as these cookies, it’s really worth using.

While most cookies are incredible when they come right out of the oven, I have found that these cookies actually improve in flavor as they cool and “age“. As they cool the vanilla notes really pop and the texture becomes that perfect combination of sandy, chewy and crispy. I thought that the next day, they were even better and more perfect. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/4 cup vanilla sugar*
  • colored sanding sugar

*If you do not have vanilla sugar, plain granulated sugar is also fine to use.*

Instructions

Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt. In another small bowl, whisk together the oil and egg.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, confectioners sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale in color, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually beat in the oil/egg mixture until smooth. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix on low-speed until smooth. The dough will be soft.

Roll dough into balls, about 1 tbs in size and place them about 2″ apart on the baking sheets. Pour the vanilla sugar onto a plate and dip a flat bottom glass into the sugar to coat, press into each ball to flatten to about 1/4″ thickness. Re-sugar the glass after every cookie. Sprinkle the cookies with colored sanding sugar.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are pale golden and just beginning to lightly brown at the edges. Rotate the cookies sheets from top to bottom and from front to back about halfway through baking. Allow cookies to cool on the pan for about 2 minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

**Tip** – Make vanilla sugar by taking used, scraped vanilla beans and submerging them in granulated sugar. Store in a tightly sealed container and within a few weeks you will have vanilla sugar which is perfect to use in all baking applications.

Traditional Italian Easter Bread

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Easter bread has been a tradition in my Italian family since before I was even born. When I was a child, my Dad would always make the breads right before the holiday and on Easter we’d enjoy it for breakfast slathered in sweet butter. It was my most favorite thing about Easter since it was the only time this bread was made in my family.

There are many variations of Easter bread out there and the one that I make today for my own family is slightly different from the one that I grew up with. The one I had as a child had a drier more crumbly texture that is very similar to a scone. This recipe, which is all that I have used for years, has a very soft and fluffy texture similar to a brioche or Challah bread. Both are delicious, it’s really just a matter of textural preference.

This is a very easy, non-fussy recipe to make. Just make sure to allow your dough to rise in a warm area that is free of drafts. I really love the “PROOF” function on my oven, if your oven has it as well I highly recommend that you take advantage of it. Also, when you warm the milk and butter be sure it doesn’t get too hot, you want to avoid scalding the milk. In addition, if you add piping hot liquid to yeast you will kill it thus resulting in bread that doesn’t rise properly, if at all. Keep your liquid mixture between 100-115ºF which will ensure enough warmth for the yeast to activate without killing it.

Please note, while the colored eggs are safe to eat once the bread comes out of the oven they will not be edible if you store the bread out on the counter. Discard the eggs if you leave your bread out or alternatively, remove the eggs after baking and refrigerate. I always store my Easter bread on the counter to keep it soft and fresh, as we eat each loaf I discard the eggs. The eggs are fine to leave in the bread on the counter, just don’t eat them if left out.

Ingredients

  • 1 package Rapid Rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water
  • 6 colored eggs
  • nonpariel sprinkles

Instructions

In a small saucepan, warm the milk and butter together until the butter melts and the mixture is between 110-115ºF.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the yeast, salt, eggs, vanilla and sugar. Add the warm (not hot) milk/butter mixture. Add about half of the flour and using the dough hool attachment, beat until smooth. Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough. If the dough is still sticky, add a little extra flour and it becomes stiff.

Knead the dough smooth either using the dough hook or by hand on a floured board. Place in a lightly greased glass bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until it is doubled in size, about an hour.

Punch the dough down and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1″ thick rope that is about 14″ long. Taking the two pieces, twist to make a braid, pinch the ends together and form into a circle. Place the formed dough on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Cover and place in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Brush each bread with the beaten egg wash (egg/water mixture). Lightly sprinkle the bread with the nonpariel sprinkles. In the middle of each bread ring gently place a colored egg.

Bake at 350ºF until golden in color, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

**Tip – You don’t have to hard boil the eggs prior to coloring them however, I find they don’t cook all the way through during the baking process if they are raw. I prefer to hard boil them for a few minutes before coloring so that they are thoroughly cooked after baking.**

 

“How-To” Baking – Working With Food Dyes

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Food dye is a great way to bring a little color into your baking. Used in the right amounts it can add visual interest and a bright “pop” into otherwise bland colored foods. Food dyes come in a few different forms: natural coloring, powdered coloring, gel or paste coloring, liquid coloring or liquid gel coloring.

  • Natural Coloring – These colorants are usually plant based therefore, they are a healthier option as they contain no artificial ingredients. The color comes from foods such as blueberries, beets, pomegranate juice, etc. Take note, natural colorants do not produce rich, vibrant colors. They generally have a more dull, light appearance which falls short in baked goods.
  • Powdered Coloring – Typically this colorant is found online or in specialty cooking stores. The number of colors available can be somewhat limiting so a good amount of color mixing is required. Take note, using too much powdered coloring to tint baked goods can result it them having a drier consistency. Use powdered colorants sparingly.
  • Gel or Paste Coloring – These colorants have a thicker consistency thanks to the use of corn syrup or glycerine in the ingredients. They are readily available in stores and because they are so concentrated, they produce very vibrant colors. They are a great option for cookie dough, icings and cake batters.
  • Liquid Coloring – These colorants are readily available in all supermarkets and generally come in tiny bottles. Because they are so watery they can thin out batters and icings so they are generally NOT recommended for use in baking. These are best used for coloring eggs.
  • Liquid Gel Coloring – These colorants are a cross between liquid food dyes and gel/paste food dyes. The consistency isn’t quite as thick as in a gel paste but it’s better than the liquid dyes. These are usually found in a squeeze tube or flip-cap bottles and are a great option to use in baking.

When working with food dyes, it’s important to start small when adding the color. Building the color up over time allows for more control, it’s much easier to darken a color than to take color away and lighten it. When tinting batters, icings, fondant etc. it’s important to note that the color will develop and deepen over time. Refrain from adding more and more dye to achieve the desired color. Instead, allow the batter, icing, fondant etc. to sit for 15-20 minutes so that the color has time to deepen on its own. If necessary, adjust the coloring after that waiting period.

When mixing colors, try to do it in natural light which will provide a more accurate view of the colors. Artificial lighting can give an “off” appearance to the colors so if possible, set up your workspace near a window. Lastly, to achieve the best results when tinting it is essential to use the right ingredients/materials. For example, French Buttercream isn’t ideal for coloring as it is yellowish in color. That yellowish hue will mar the vibrancy of the colors that are mixed with it. However, a great choice for tinting is batters and icings that are pure white such as Swiss or Italian Buttercream .

QUICK COLOR MIXES

Purple – Mix equal amounts of red and blue together

Pink – Add a small amount of red

Orange – Mix red and yellow together

Green – Mix equal amounts of blue and yellow together

Brown – Mix equal amounts red, blue and yellow together