Orange and Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies
At 4 days before the big event I’m finally starting to get my Christmas on. The tree is up, the holiday spirits are infused, and the shopping is….started. Hey, there are days when “30% completion” still feels like a victory. The seasonal stressors are starting to get to me. I came trundling up the stairs today like a shepherd with my three bags full, tripped halfway on a stair that I swear wasn’t supposed to be there (I am famous for falling up the stairs on a surprisingly regular basis), and spent the next half hour spitting out tufts of dirty cat hair and nursing a knee which now looks like plum pudding. It was a rather painful reminder that in addition to holiday shopping and holiday baking, it might not be a bad idea to do some holiday cleaning. At some point. By someone, preferably someone who isn’t me. New gift request: a self cleaning house. If it comes with a closet full of self-washing clothes that would be okay too.
I imagine that most of you are probably now at the point where the tree is trimmed, the gifts are wrapped, and you’re casually sipping on mulled cider whilst flipping through the Food & Wine holiday edition. But if there are others out there who are like me, flying by the seat of their pants this year and imagining that mumbling “There’s still time, there’s still time…” will somehow stretch out the couple of days we have left, if nothing else I can help with the last minute holiday baking. These next few posts will be for crazy-eyed people who are as disorganized as we are and have not yet fulfilled their quota of holiday baking….the week before Christmas.
Many moons ago I had stumbled across a recipe for cornmeal cookies. Maybe they were in Martha Stewart Living or Gourmet magazine? Or Food & Wine. Possibly Food & Drink. It’s hard to say, really, although the original magazine is likely trapped under a heap of others in the bathroom (where I do all my quality reading). I wish I could tell you what was in them, other than the fact that they just looked darn good, but I do remember thinking that they reminded me of a thin butter cookie when I read the recipe. Not that it matters, really, since the chances that I would have followed the recipe are slim to nil, but at least it gave me a good guideline of what I wanted to make: Cornmeal cookies. Specifically, crispy and buttery holiday season Orange and Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies.
Orange and Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies
Makes appx 4 dozen
- 1.5 cups softened unsalted butter (3 sticks)
- 1.5 cups icing sugar *
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, coarsely chopped
- 2.5 tablespoons orange zest (from 1 – 1.5 oranges, depending on size)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
- 2.5 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
* Icing sugar is sometimes sold as powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar. What this means is that the sugar crystals are finely ground and then an anti-caking agent is usually added. Most icing sugar contains varying amounts of cornstarch, which is fortuitous because it means that you’ll have a more finely textured cookie without the granularity of table sugar. If you wanted to substitute superfine sugar instead of icing sugar you would use slightly less and increase the cornstarch to 3 tablespoons total. If all that you have is good ol’ table sugar, that’s okay too – but you might want to use an electric beater when you cream the sugar and butter together to try to soften the crystal’s rough edges.
Cream together the icing sugar with the softened butter until it’s smooth and fluffy.
Add the orange zest, rosemary, and 2 tablespoons of cornmeal to the butter and work it in. Sift the flour, salt and cornstarch into the butter.
Turn and stir the flour into the butter, using a relatively light hand. I sometimes feel that it’s easier to rub the butter gently into the flour using light pressure from my fingertips rather than a spoon, but the choice is yours. What you don’t want to do is work the flour in too aggressively or the cookies will be tough. When the dough is crumbly but the flour has been worked in you can stop.
Divide the dough in half by weight (yes, I am the nerd who brought out a kitchen scale to do this instead of just eyeballing like a normal person) and spoon each half into a large plastic freezer bag.
This is Dorie Greenspan‘s fabulous technique for getting a perfectly formed and firm edged cookie for anyone who isn’t exactly a whiz with a rolling pin. When you roll out your pastry does it tend to look less like a ball and more like a boot? Try this, and you’ll be happy that you did. It’s not exactly the most environmentally conscious approach to baking since the bags can’t be reused, but sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice sustainability in honor of aesthetics. And hey, when you’re feeling the holiday crunch and every minute matters, you do what you have to do.
Zip the freezer bag about half closed, starting at the ends and moving towards the center, but be sure not to fully seal the bag. You want the air to get pressed out as you roll the dough.
Roll the dough out to an even thickness, making sure that you have filled the corners as well. The square of cookie dough should be about 1/8″ thick, and really do try to make sure there are no thicker or lumpy areas.
Lay the dough flat in your freezer to chill and firm up for 15-30 minutes. Although I’m not a snow-bunny by any stretch of the imagination, and I rather tend to think of winter as the price we Canadians have to pay for living in a country that has accessible health care and social programs, around this time of year I start to see the benefits of a big chill. The two flats of pastry were casually tossed onto my frozen back deck, just to the side of the “outdoor beer cooler” (aka, the snowbank).
Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
Cover your work surface with 2/3 of the cornmeal (don’t worry, you won’t use it all up and have nothing left for the second batch). Cut the plastic bag away from the firm dough and lay it flat on the cornmeal, pressing down firmly so that the grit will adhere. If the cookies are slightly softened you will get more of the cornmeal to stick, but the other side of that coin is that your cookies will also stick to the table. Make sure that the dough is well chilled but not frozen, press firmly before you lift each cookie up, and if you notice a bald patch on the bottom of your cookie you can always press it down into the cornmeal again.
Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to slice the dough into 5 equal strips, and then cut each one across to make squares that are about 2×2″. Pierce each cookie 2-3 times with the tines of a fork.
Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and spread the cookies out evenly between the trays. You want to leave about 1″ between each cookie because they will spread as they bake. Work quickly because you want the cookies to stay cold and almost frozen. If the dough starts to get a bit squishy simply tuck them back in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.
If you wanted to prep these cookies in advance you can leave the flattened bags of dough in the freezer, tightly sealed, for 3-4 months. You can also freeze them when they’re cut and cornmeal crumbed, making sure to keep them in a single layer with parchment in between the squares. The cookies cook best from frozen or well chilled.
Sprinkle the remaining cornmeal on top of your rather messy work area and repeat the pressing and cutting process with the second sheet of dough.
Bake the cookies in the center of your warm oven for 20-23 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies are done when there is just a slight golden tinge around the edges – don’t wait for them to brown!
Carefully transfer the cookies to a rack for cooling. They might seem fragile now, but they will crisp up significantly as they cool.
Crispy and buttery, the cornmeal adds a delightful crunch to what are otherwise simple butter cookies. What elegant little beasts, with their neat and trimmed edges! I’m still feeling some residual guilt about the random waste of plastic bags. Mind you, I’m also the kind of person who feels guilty when she “neglects” a shampoo that she bought but hated, and then spends the rest of the day sniffing her own hair with distaste. So, there’s that, and the bags really do such a great job of keeping your cookies flat and even.
First it was the frosted coconut and lime cookies, now the more savory orange zest and rosemary. I have three more recipes for holiday baking which need to filter down the pipeline in the next few days, so I’m thinking that the next write up should be rich chocolate ganache filled tartlettes. Agreed? Perfect, consider it done.