Monday, February 9, 2015

Tal Traditions : The Arkansas Sugar Cookie Recipe V.1.0 and V.2.0

Oh I wanted to get this up at Christmas time. I really did. But things got happily complicated 'round the end of December. We got hung up!*  So with no further ado : 

The Arkansas Sugar Cookie (all versions) !!

First, a bit of background on the subject .

While Pop never liked any tampering with his favorites, he would try our experiments with traditional recipes at least once. Mashed potatoes with roast garlic which we thought a remarkable improvement, found no favor with him. From that day forward, he became responsible for all mashed potato production, Thanksgiving or otherwise. All win- win from our point of view. Right Mom?

The Arkansas Sugar Cookie has a similar spot in Streeter family history. They were a Gram Streeter specialty. A tin came by post every December wherever we were living at the time.  She prepared these very far in advance and they could survive pretty much anything. They were always the same size, recipe, color.  Pop thought that they were just as good several months later as right out of the oven. Not many cookies hold up quite as well as these do!

Blanche Waller Streeter ( b.1882 - d.1970).Widowed early in her marriage, she raised one son, Tal's father, Paul. She supported the two of them by taking in lodgers to her two story home on Laramie Street in Manhattan, Kansas.

I spent only one afternoon with her that I can remember. I was nine, soon to be ten. We were leaving to live in Japan that August. She passed away several months later.

She and I were left together in a very dark living room with Victorian furnishings. She sat in a huge Morris Chair, me the sofa. Green Acres on the television. I was given one of these cookies from a large red tin in the kitchen.

Her stern admonition "Don't marry no Mandarin with no long pigtail" were the only words addressed in my direction. No further conversation . Eva Gabor offered the only levity and light to the afternoon.

I didn't quite know what to think of these cookies at the time. They are huge things for one.The ingredients are super simple. LARD, buttermilk, white flour, white sugar and nutmeg. Nothing more, nothing less. They aren't very sweet. Similar texture to a pie crust.

And LARD ? If ever there was an ingredient that has fallen out of favor, this is one! And if you have never had a cookie made with lard instead of butter you won't be able to imagine the flakiness.

I can't tell you anything more about the name. I've looked into it. The recipe doesn't show up anywhere using quite the same ingredients. I can't recall what Gram Streeter's relationship was with the state of Arkansas. As far as I know she was a Kansan through and through.  

When she passed away, Tal decided to take on the AS cookie challenge and he became quite good at it. Mostly for his own enjoyment as he never quite got around to making them in time to send them off like his Gran had. That would have meant preparing far,far in advance. Not a Tal attribute.    

Pop was bold enough to offer his Bennett College sculpture students an A if they could successfully write out the recipe which he passed around the month before final exams. No takers as I recall. So it is Romig that gets the credit for sitting next to Gram Streeter and writing everything down. Once again, she saves the day.    

One Christmas in Paris, I received a box of these dipped in dark Chocolate. Even I screamed sacrilege ! Calling up the Verbank kitchen, I asked what prompted this unnecessary addition? This gilding the lily ? He replied "That was your ever astonishing Mother !" We laughed long and hard as I recall !

Classic style Arkansas Sugar Cookies V.1.0 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

The Ingredients:
1 cup shortening (LARD!)
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 t freshly ground nutmeg

Cream all of the above together. I wouldn't use your hands as one can over heat/over work this dough too quickly. Use a utensil like a pastry cutter or  a Foley Fork .

Then add:
1 cup buttermilk
6 1/2 cups to 7 cups of flour

At this point I divide the dough into 3 balls of equal size and wrap them up in plastic wrap and pop them in the fridge to calm down before attempting to roll them out.

Roll out each ball pretty thin, say 3mm, sprinkle with sugar and an additional grating of nutmeg and roll again. Cut with a Hellman's mayonnaise top. This is the traditional size of an Arkansas Sugar Cookie. But more on that later.
Yeah yeah we did this step a bit later than you are supposed to.

And sometimes we added just a bit more nutmeg.

For this? A Microplane, a real Microplane is the kit to have.  Here, Tiger uses a yellow handled Microplane Home Kitchen version !                                                                                

Yeah, Yeah a bit ass backwards but it still works.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The Microplane you see him using here, doesn't have a big handle like previous one. Why? Because it's a Potters Microplane! They use these too! We got ours at the Santa Fe Clay Supplies Shop! 

Much less expensive and just as good as the kitchen or chef's version.

What does a chefs version look like? Very nice and very expensive. Stainless steel handle is the only difference. We don't have one of those.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

In the oven and puffing up nicely.

Then out of the oven. "Hot stuff! Watch your back!" Pop's friend Peter Moore used to say that.

The finished product :
Classic Style Arkansas Sugar Cookies.

A nice mix of well done ones and less done ones. Thinner and thicker.

The biggest tip we veterans have to offer would be to not overwork the dough. All of you people that like to mix stuff ? Makes one tough cookie.  Not a good idea !

With the extra bits, also try to curb your instinct to put the scraps all together then squeeze the wee out of them with your hot hands trying to make everything come together. Also not a good idea. Like good pie crust, you just want the dough to stick together.

Ditto putting too much flour on the surface of your rolling area.  Dry Dough Alert!  

I also put each batch of cut cookies in the freezer for 5 minutes before putting them into the oven for baking. This gives us even more flaky cookies!

But Pop should have the last word ** :

"My grandmother had a big tin box she had painted bright red, our favorite color. She filled this right up to the top with cookies big enough so children would be coming back for more. She rolled the cookie dough in the kitchen right out on an enameled kitchen work counter, then cut them out; with a four inch diameter cookie cutter ( the top of a Hellmans mayo jar does the trick)

Since childhood, Pop adds that he likes the crispy thin ones best but "a mix of thicker and thinner is just  perfect!" 

This recipe makes about five dozen cookies."

Okay. Got that out of the way.

Now we come to the Tiger/Lissa Arkansas Sugar Cookie V. 2.0

Truth is, I'm a bit of a dog with a bone when it comes to a traditional recipe. I can't resist tinkering with it. I 'd like to think Pop would agree that it is important to his godson Tiger's development that even Arkansas Sugar Cookie Making offers ample opportunity for independent thought, testing a hypothesis and discovery !

So with that in mind, I hope you will all enjoy this 2.0 version of The Arkansas Sugar Cookie. We think we really have come up with a winner ! One that he would have approved of ! Right Tiger?

In our version we wondered what this recipe would be like if we added something other than nutmeg ?

We tried three variations : 1. Cinnamon and orange zest, 2. green cardamon (black inside seeds finely chopped ), and finally 3. fennel or green anise seed.

Then we asked what other thing we might try to make this recipe our own?

Change the size! So off came the top of a gin bottle, the perfect size we both thought!

Our recipe makes too many cookies to count! Those dough balls never seemed to get any smaller !

We decided after much deliberation that cinnamon and orange zest was our favorite combination. Turned out to be our testers prefered V.2.0 Cinnamon/orange zest too!

See what you think ! Are you a tradionalist? Or ready to head out into the great unknown?

Please let us know what you come up with?

V.3.0 anyone?

- Lissa in Paris, sending a little wave to her Tiger pal, veteran AS Cookie maker /designer 

*Mom always said that "I got hung up" was an acceptable excuse for being late to something and needed no further explanation ! So I'll use it here. 
**This comes from his bio. I kid you not. He took this all very seriously.
***Yes yes, the two square boxes with our final product ? All Mompots ! Beautiful.