There are cookies, and there are cookies. There are melted toffee bits and pound-of-chocolate brownie-like discs that require half a glass of milk for a single bite and there are snappy little sables called Punitions. There are peanut butter cookies with chocolate pieces, peanut butter pieces and tiny chunks of peanuts in them and there are toasty little twice-baked shortbreads with scraped vanilla beans inside. There are pecan squares on shortbread bases boasting nine sticks of butter and two pounds of pecans and there are these: brown butter, brown sugar shorties.
Some cookies are packed into tins with truffles and orangettes and shipped to friends around the country and you have other cookies with tea on a cold, windy day. Some are indulgences to bring to a holiday party and others should be baked on a Tuesday, just because. Some cookies are for others; these should be just for you.
Why? Because they’re not the prettiest cookie and they’d never be an easy sell on a table full of frosted and snowflake-shaped and red, green and white stacked jam filled, chocolate coated cookie compatriots. But if you had one in front of you right now — and I do, not to rub it in or anything — you’d understand. They’re all flavor and fragrance, the kinds of things you need make yourself to really understand: nutty browned butter, dark brown sugar, a pinch of salt, a splash of vanilla and a tumble in coarse raw sugar. They’re spectacularly easy to make for all that you get out of them, which is, in short, heaven in an unforgettable 1 1/2-inch by 1/4-inch disc.
Need I say more?
One year ago: Ratatouille Tart
Two years ago: German Pancakes (Dutch Babies)
Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties
Adapted from Gourmet
If you’re worried you’ll eat the whole batch — and you would be, I think, if you had one in front of you, too — the greatness that is the slice-and-bake cookie is that you can just bake off a few at a time and then hide the rest in the fridge (for a week) or the freezer (for a month) until the craving strikes again.
The back story behind this cookie, by the way, is that a few weeks ago, I had lunch with some food bloggers, two of whom were in town for the Gourmet Institute and we were joined by the nicest Gourmet editor, Ian Knauer. When I came home, I immediately looked up recipes with his name attached to them and found this gem. What can I say? Awesome people clearly cook awesome things.
Makes about 32 cookies
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (flaky salt would be great in these)
Demerara sugar (Sugar in the Raw) or sanding sugar for rolling (optional)
Cut butter into four or five pieces and cook butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it has a nutty fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a light brown, anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes. It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Transfer butter to a bowl and chill until just firm, about 1 hour.
Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then mix in flour and salt at low speed until just combined. Transfer dough to a sheet of wax paper or parchment and form into a 12-inch log, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill, wrapped in wax paper, until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Unwrap dough and roll it in coarse sugar, if using, and press the granules in with the paper you’d be using to wrap it. Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, arranging 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until surface is dry and edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes. Let sit on sheet for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool. (Cookies will quite fragile at first, but will firm up as they cool.)
Dough keeps, chilled, up to 1 week, or in the freezer, up to one month. Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.
Update 12/8/08: I am going to go ahead and put a yellow/yield light on this recipe. Although I have tested it twice, and had dreamy results both times, as have the majority of respondents, enough commenters are speaking of “spreading” or “falling apart” cookies that I want to warn you to approach this recipe more cautiously.