December 19, 2011

Teaspoon Cookies with Lemon Curd

I have long loved the general aesthetic of a thumbprint cookie. So festive! Sugar and jam! Hooray! But I can't get over the fact that the baker must imprint his or her thumb into each freshly mounded cookie. What if he/she didn't wash his/her hands before thumbprinting? Thumbprints also last longer in baked cookies (unless you have big thumbs whose prints will really hold up through the baking) so I can only imagine the variety of underwashed thumbs that make contact with those delicious warm cookies. But is this really enough to turn me off to all thumbprint cookies for all time? Even thumbprint cookies with irresistible lemon curd?

This week, I offer a solution to the thumb-sticking-slightly-non-hygienic thumbprint cookie: the teaspoon cookie. More accurately, the half-teaspoon cookie. Replacing an oily thumbprint with the smooth back of a teaspoon warm from the dishwasher makes me feel great about the soundness of my own winter health, as well as the resurgence of thumbprint teaspoon cookies back into my life. The dough is a basic sugar cookie and the lemon curd is easy, quick, and refreshingly tart. The only very slight modification I might make to this cookie in the future is to add less milk (if any at all) to the dough. I felt like the dough was just a bit too tacky to roll out, even when refrigerated for 24 hours. However, the cookies baked up beautifully and the taste was a bit more cakey than your standard sugar cookie. Try different variations with the sugar base - add nutmeg, cinnamon, or lemon peel for a really standout flavor, or just let the simple sugar be your palette to a really fine lemon curd on top. You really cannot go wrong with lemon cookies, especially during a holiday that is overrun with chocolate and gingerbread. Try lemon for one of these sunny, Southern December days!

Teaspoon Cookies with Lemon Curd
Adapted from Mark Bittman

2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs and vanilla until well-beaten. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift half into butter mixture and beat until flour is incorporated. Add 1/4 cup milk and beat until smooth. Repeat with remainder of flour mixture and remainder of milk, being careful not to add too much milk (I used just a scant 1/2 cup for the whole dough but if you like a wetter dough you may also add a splash more).

Ideally, the dough should be refrigerated for 24 hours, but if time is of essence, add a little less milk to the mixture for a slightly firmer dough. Form dough into 1/2-inch rounds and place on cookie sheet with parchment paper. Bake at 375 F for 12 minutes, until bottoms are light brown.

Cool slightly, then with the back of a half-teaspoon, make a round indentation in each cookie. Add cooled lemon curd while cookies are still warm and let cool to room temperature before serving.

Lemon Curd

1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
Zest of 3 lemons
5 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Melt butter in saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted, take off heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice, sugar, nutmeg, and egg yolks. Return pan to stovetop and heat until thick, about 10 minutes. Strain with a fine mesh sieve into separate bowl and stir in lemon zest. Cool to room temperature or chill in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

I got this recipe from Mark Bittman, who recently wrote a new post in the New York Times. I visit their Dining and Wine section frequently during the holiday season, mainly because I love looking at photographs of cookies and cakes. Whether or not you read the Times, check it out for really solid food photos and holiday baking inspiration!

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