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.

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

1907485_10205864099114987_4364540783430086374_n

There are few ingredients that are as delicious smelling and widely used in baking than vanilla. A good vanilla extract will enhance your baking and really make it sing. When it comes to vanilla extract you have the option of using pure vanilla or imitation vanilla. Pure vanilla is made by extracting flavor from real vanilla beans using 35%+ alcohol. Pure vanilla should be dark and rich just like the beans it was extracted from. Imitation and “clear” vanilla extracts are made from artificial ingredients.

If you’re making a recipe where it’s very vanilla forward meaning, the vanilla flavor is meant to stand out, then it’s highly recommended that you use pure vanilla. Examples of vanilla forward desserts are pastry creams, custards, sugar cookies, and vanilla cakes. If you’re baking something where the vanilla won’t stand out and isn’t meant to be the “star” then go ahead and use imitation vanilla if you wish. You can save your pure vanilla extracts, vanilla pastes, and vanilla beans for when it will really count. I prefer to use strictly pure vanilla in all of my baking however, that is simply personal preference.

When making your own vanilla extract you can use either premium or Grade B vanilla beans. The premium beans will be the most plump and flavor rich and because of that they will cost you significantly more money. Grade B beans are less expensive so they tend to be smaller, drier, and contain imperfections however, they will still work in a homemade extract. I like to use Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans but feel free to use Indonesian, Tahitian, or Mexican Vanilla Beans as well. Depending upon which bean you choose the extract will have a slightly different flavor.

Vanilla extract will take about 8 weeks before it’s ready to use however, the longer you leave it the stronger and more pronounced the vanilla flavor will be. Make sure to store it in a cool, dry, dark place and give it a shake a few times a week. Once it’s ready you can use it in your baking just like any store-bought version.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz glass bottle or jar
  • 7 vanilla beans, split
  • 1 cup of 70 Proof/35% alcohol Vodka (you can also use Bourbon, Rum, or Brandy)

Instructions

Run a knife down the length of each bean slicing it open. Place the vanilla beans into the jar. Pour the alcohol over the beans making sure they are fully submerged. Place in a cool, dry, dark space (such as the back of a cabinet) and give it a shake every few days. Wait at least 8 weeks and then the extract will be ready to use. Enjoy!

**Tip** – A great place to buy vanilla beans and vanilla products is Beanilla.com . They usually have the best prices, offer free shipping, and the quality of their products is top-notch.

“Shrewsbury Cakes” – aka Sugar Cookies

shrewsbury1

Years and years ago back when I was in college, my husband (then boyfriend) took me to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg for a few days one summer. It was hotter than Hades the week we were there. I am talking stifling, sweltering, oppressive heat and humidity. Colonial Williamsburg was particularly torturous as there is very little shade, dust kicking up everywhere, and the smell of hot horse poop everywhere. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been more cranky that day. After a few hours I had enough so we decided to grab a snack, take a break, and relax. That is when I discovered not only the best ginger ale I ever tasted but also, “Shrewsbury Cakes”.

Shrewsbury Cakes are really nothing more than sugar cookies but with a slight citrus note to them. They are absolutely delicious and I was in love at first bite. I ended up going back to the “Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop” where we found them and buying a whole bunch more to take home with us. They were THAT good! I also came across a little cookbook as well which contained all kinds of colonial era baking recipes and as luck would have it, the Shrewsbury Cakes were in there. Score!!

shrewsbury3

The below recipe is taken right from, “Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop” by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The only changes that I made to the recipe was to replace vanilla extract with vanilla paste and I decided to use vanilla sugar instead of plain granulated sugar. Other than that I followed the recipe as written, increasing the baking time by 8 minutes because I made larger sized cookies than what was called for. The recipe listed a yield of 36 cookies, I was able to get 24 cookies using my medium cookie scoop.

The cookies are light, slightly crisp on the edges, and absolute perfection. You will not be disappointed with this recipe. They would be a terrific addition to your Christmas cookie list, just use some red and green colored sugar to roll them in and you will make Santa Claus one happy little elf!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel (or 1/2 tsp dried orange peel)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbs milk or half and half
  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar.

Add the orange peel and vanilla extract.

Add the egg and milk.

Combine the sifted flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar then sift together. Slowly incorporate to the wet ingredients. Mix until well combined.

Scoop the cookies into 1″ balls and then roll them in sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until very light golden brown. (Remember to increase the baking time for larger sized cookies)

Cool the cookies on the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Enjoy!

shrewsbury2

 

Brown Butter Chocolate and Vanilla Krispie Treats

18922607_10211713243859950_2446532969217654658_o.jpg

Although a super simple, age old recipe Rice Krispie Treats remain one of the easiest and yummiest desserts out there. It’s also one of my favorites!! Like most everyone, I use to default to making the traditional Rice Krispie Treat recipe that was always on the side of the box and while they were good I knew they could be better. I find the original cereal box recipe to be a little too dry and by the next day the treats were usually pretty hard.

A few years ago I came across a recipe for Brown Butter Krispie Treats and I jotted it down on a napkin and tossed it in my recipe binder. It’s since become my one and only “go to” Krispie Treat recipe and everyone always loves them. The brown butter and fresh vanilla bean is what really sets these treats apart and makes them sing!

I’ve tinkered around with the recipe over the years and this version is one that I thought would make for an interesting twist as well as a nice presentation. I used equal parts Rice Krispies and Cocoa Rice Krispies but feel free to play around with the ratios to find the balance that pleases your palate.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 18 oz of large marshmallows
  • 4.5 cups Cocoa Rice Krisipies cereal
  • 4.5 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. As the butter cooks it will begin to foam and then it will bubble and crack. Cook until it’s fragrant and brown, about 5-8 minutes.

Turn the heat to low and stir in the vanilla bean.

Add the marshmallows and continue to stir over low heat until completely melted.

Remove the pot from the heat and add the Rice Krispies, in three batches, to make it easier to stir and mix.

Lightly spray a 9X13 dish with cooking spray. Pour the mixture into the pan. Using a piece of wax paper, lightly sprayed with cooking spray, press down the mixture into the pan.

Allow the treats to cool 1.5 – 2 hrs before cutting and serving. Do NOT place in the fridge, they will become hard and dried out. Store at room temp in a covered dish and they will keep nicely for 3-5 days.

**TIP** – Do not throw out your vanilla bean pod. Scoop 1-2 cups of granulated sugar into an air tight container, bury the vanilla pod, and in a few weeks you’ll have “vanilla sugar” which is excellent in place of plain sugar in all of your baking recipes. Every time you have a used vanilla pod, throw it into the sugar container. The more pods, the stronger the vanilla flavor that will be imparted into the sugar.