Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pretty Little Things

Baking is not my forte (my university buddy still bugs me about my dry ass muffins and cookies). I have a reputation for impatience, and a tendency of messing with recipes to create things that merely resemble baked goods, but could easily be mistaken for playdough upon eating. My excuse is that I do not have much of a sweet tooth--oh how things have changed since the breakfast candy days-- so I bake just to have it, and hardly care of the results.

Lately though, I do care. And I get cravings. For sweet things. The whole idea is strange to me. What I want chocolate...cookies without borderline healthy oats...cake...not for dessert but in the afternoon...no, right now, this morning.

The most recent of such needs was for cookies. Something simple and bite size, lemony, maybe vanilla-y too. Nothing with raisins, not biscotti, my usual go-to cookie, but something different, and yes, something sweet.

And then I stumbled upon Molly Wizenbergs recipe for Buttermilk Cookies with Lemon Zest. The picture alone made me want to eat them, they were so pretty. Dainty little things, pale yellow with a touch of frosting. I thought of how I might feel eating such splendid little things, possibly just as pretty as them.

So I set to baking, tweaking what Molly had tweaked from the original Gourmet magazine recipe, to--yes--cut the sugar a bit, and jazz up the lemon (if there is one dessert I can never resist it is double lemon flan, not even the flan, actually, just a big ol bowl of lemon curd.), and lace the frosting with vanilla bean because there is nothing quite like those tiny little flecks to make somehting sweet seem real and cared for. Hell, I so badly wanted these to turn out perfect that I bought a bag of icing sugar just to use three tablespoons of it for that frosting.

Success! They were everything I imagined them to be. Not to sweet, petite, and as pleasureable to look at as they were to eat. Almost scone like in texture because of the buttermilk, which, paired with all that lemon gave them a little zing, they were not too tart for the mellowing vanilla glaze. So good that I ate fourteen of them that night. Fourteen. Granted, they were small, so it was more like six regular sized cookies; that is borderline gluttony, but only borderline. Besides, I felt too elegant eating them to even consider feeling like a pig.

I have, since, made the cookies again...twice. Once more because of a visit to a Farmers Market where I was inspired by some lavender shortbreads to add the flower to my cookies (and, admittedly, to use up more buttermilk). The second, upon request from my girlfriend Megan, after she tried them on an impromptu picnic while visiting me.

First I must tell you about this picnic. It was perfect. Both my ma and Megs were out from Alberta, I had booked the day off and we set out on a ladies mission of shopping and wine. Well, we didnt make it very far before hunger set in and, oh how perfect, a bakery right on the way that had been raved about to my mom on her flight over here, right on a small, grassy area by a rocky beach. Two pulled pork buns and a raspberry coconut walnut tart accompanied the cooler of just in case snacks I brought, and we found a spot on the grass to munch. And so we did, on hummus and bread, a rainbow selection of carrots, fresh ricotta, apricots, iced mint tea, and those pretty little cookies. Well that was it. One of those was all it took to get to two, three, four cookies and a subsequent raving to her family about my baking.

So flattered was I that when Megan, hmmm, casually mentioned that she had told her family about the cookies and that they were dying to try them, I whipped up my third batch and brought them the next day to her campsite. Dropping by for a quick hello the next day I learned they were gone in moments, and Megs was not alone in her enthusiasm. Tell me you wouldnt be flattered too.

Anyways, this is not to brag (well, maybe a little bit, I am quite proud to have found what I now like to consider my signature cookie) but also to share, as I did with Megan and her family, the recipe for the cookies that look almost too pretty to eat, but insist that you eat them, many of them.

Lemony Lavender Buttermilk Cookies
adapted from Orangette

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together:
1 1é2 cups AP flour
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1é4 tsp each baking soda and salt
1é2 tsp dried culinary lavender, crumbled

In a seperate bowl, beat til creamy:
6 Tbsp (3 oz0 butter
When creamy add:
2é3 cup granulated sugar
Beat until light and fluffy then add, beating well:
1 lg egg, preferrably free range

To the wet ingredients, alternately add dry ingredients and:
1é3 cup shaken buttermilk
Dough should be smooth and pale yellow

Spoon onto prepared sheets in Tbsps. Bake 11-15 mins, cooling on the tray for one minute before removing onto wire rack and glazing, while still warm, with:
3é4 cup icing sugar
1 1é2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds sprinkled in

Just so you know, these cookies are meant to be enjoyed the day they are made (no problem there), so pop the rest in your freezer. Also, expect to have lots of glaze left over, to dip your cookies in if they are not sweet enough, or to dress other bakings such as pound or cup-cakes. And if you dont have vanilla bean, add 1é2 tsp vanilla extract in after the egg, theyre just as good, and still quite pretty.

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