Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brown Sugar Cookies

I was traveling to New York for a wedding last week and  I made the mistake of showing up at the airport with no personal identification whatsoever. For some inexplicable reason, when my ride showed up to take me to the airport, I grabbed my suitcase and purse and left my wallet behind.  Embarrassing? Um, yes. Lucky for me, it turns out that it is possible to get through security and onto the plane without identification. Also lucky for me, my next door neighbor was kind enough to offer to use her spare key to retrieve my wallet and then mail it to me so that I'd have it for the return trip. To say thank you, I made her some brown sugar cookies. I hope she will taste the pure gratitude that was baked into this particular batch.

In most cookies, the flavors of butter and sugar serve as a backdrop for more exciting ingredients like chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruit. In typical sugar cookies, butter and sugar are the stars of the show. It's true that butter and sugar can be pretty exciting all on their own, and I love sugar cookies for their pale, plain, buttery sweetness. These brown sugar cookies are like typical sugar cookies, but the sugar and butter are replaced with brown(!) sugar and brown(!) butter.  The result is a sugar cookie with deep brown color and warm toffee flavor. These cookies have crisp exteriors and soft, chewy insides. Mmm.

Brown Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Makes 2 dozen cookies.
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar (this should be fresh and moist)
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Start by browning the butter. Melt 10 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, then continue to cook until the milk solids in the butter turn a dark golden brown color. Be careful not to let the butter burn. Swirl the pan as the butter cooks. Use a light-colored so that you can see the color of the butter. Transfer the brown butter to a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to the bowl and allow the fresh butter to melt together with the brown butter. (This step adds some fresh butter flavor to the cookies and helps the hot butter to cool more quickly). Set the butter aside for 15 minutes. Note: if you're going to use an electric mixer, you should put the butter in the bowl of the mixer. However, you can definitely make this recipe without a mixer, if you don't have one handy.

While the butter is cooling, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar. Rub the mixture between your fingers until it is well-combined. This mixture will be used to coat the cookies before they go in the oven. Set the mixture aside for now.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set the mixture aside.

Take the bowl with the melted butter in it and add the remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and the salt. Stir until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps. Stir in the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and mix until the dough is well-combined.

Form the dough into 24 balls, each about an inch and a half in diameter. Roll the dough balls in the reserved sugar mixture and place them on the prepared cookie sheets with about 2 inches between each cookie. The cookies need about 12-14 minutes in the oven. It's hard to tell when the they're done because the dough is dark, so they don't really change color as they cook. Instead, poke the cookies gently to decide whether they're ready to come out. They should be somewhat firm around the edges, but still fairly soft in the middle. If you're not sure, it's better to underbake than to overbake. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes, until they are firm enough to move, then transfer them to a rack and let them cool to room temperature.

Lots of cookies taste best warm from the oven, but these cookies are actually better a few hours later. The cookies come out of the oven with a doughy center and crunchy exterior, but given some time, the center becomes firmer, the edges become softer, and a nice chewy texture develops throughout the cookie.

Store in an airtight container. Note that both the dough and the cookies freeze nicely, if you want to enjoy some cookies now and save the rest for another day.


  1. AnonymousJune 18, 2010

    Father's Day is this weekend - a plate of these would be wonderful as a gift.

  2. Anonymous, that sounds like a great idea!