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Cookie magic

Flour, butter, eggs, sugar. Put them all together and you get magic.

Specifically, you get a cookie. And what could be more magical than cookies?

This time of year, cookie consumption only increases. Like Christmas songs on the radio, you can’t escape them — they are all around us, like molecules of air, but crispier and with sugar on top.

Plus, they are almost as much fun to make as they are to eat. And you know how it is about making cookies: Once you’ve made one batch you want to make another. And another. And another. And another.

Credit for these culinary marvels goes to the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, who dedicated themselves to discovering a method to make sugar cookies crisp along the edge and chewy in the center.

As far as I can tell, they achieved this long-desired mix of textures by adding two ingredients to the traditional recipe: cream cheese and vegetable oil. Cream cheese in cookies makes them softer and more chewy. Oil makes them crispy. Put them together and you wind up with cookies that are somehow both at the same time.

Most important, they taste great. Better than great. Amazing, actually.


Yield: 36 cookies

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tablespoon milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (if you don’t have 3 baking sheets, you can reuse a sheet). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place 1-1/2 cups of the sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow bowl or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft, homogeneous dough forms.

Form balls of dough about 2 tablespoons each (or use a No. 40 portion scoop). Working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and space evenly on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, flatten dough balls until they are 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with sugar remaining in shallow dish, discarding any unused sugar.

Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, about 13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

— Recipe by America’s Test Kitchen


Yield: About 60 cookies

12-1/2 tablespoons (just over 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1/3 cup light brown sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, brown sugar and lemon zest together on medium speed until the mixture becomes pale and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon and mix until combined. Then add the oil and water and mix until fully combined.

Place the dough on plastic wrap and roll it into logs that are 2 inches in diameter. Smaller logs are easier to work with than one long one — it may be helpful to use about a baseball-sized portion of dough to form each log. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap as you would to wrap a candy to help you achieve an evenly round log. Freeze for about 2 hours or until the logs are chilled all the way through. You can freeze the logs, well wrapped in plastic and stored in an airtight container, for up to 1 month. Defrost frozen logs before using, but be sure they are still chilled all the way through.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon until well combined.

With a sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies begin to pick up a little color along the bottom edges. Remove cookies from the oven and let them cool completely on the baking sheet or a cooling rack, then store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week.

— Recipe slightly adapted from “Payard Cookies” by Francois Payard and Anne E. McBride


Yield: 36 to 48 cookies, depending on the size of the cutter

4 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1-1/4 cups molasses

3 tablespoons dark rum

Coarse sugar for decorating

Whisk the flour, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda together. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until there are no visible lumps. Add both sugars and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, add the molasses, and beat until the mixture is uniform in color.

Prepare 1/3 cup very hot water. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the hot water, in three parts, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, add the rum, and mix for 15 seconds. Cover the bowl and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust a work surface and a rolling pin with a sprinkling of flour. Roll the dough into a 1/4-inch round. Cut out the cookies with a 2- to 3-inch round cookie cutter and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle a tiny bit of coarse sugar onto each cookie.

Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until they are set (the cookies will be chewier at 8 minutes, crispier at 12 minutes). Place the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

— Recipe from “Baked Explorations; Classic American Desserts Reinvented,” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito


Yield: 48 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

Zest from 2 small lemons, chopped

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar, lemon zest and thyme. Spread 1/2 cup of this mixture onto a counter or other flat surface. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto the mixture (keep the other sheet in the refrigerator for the time being) and spread 1/4 cup of the mixture on top of it, covering the pastry evenly. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 13-by-13-inch square, pressing the sugar mixture into it on both sides.

Fold the sides of the square toward the center so they go halfway to the middle (that is, they fold over to the 1/4 mark on both sides). Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold one half over on the other half, as though closing a book. You will have 6 layers.

Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on the prepared baking sheets. They will spread while they cook, so leave an inch or two between them. Lightly sprinkle the cut sides with a total of 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining sugar. Do not clean up the sugar mixture that remains on the counter or flat surface.

Bake the cookies for 5 to 7 minutes until caramelized and lightly brown on the bottom. Turn with a spatula and lightly sprinkle the new sides facing up with 1/2 tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 3 to 5 more minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture to the sugar that remains on the counter or flat surface. Repeat the process with the second sheet of puff pastry. You can prepare the second group of cookies while the first one is baking.

— Recipe by Jeffrey Deutsch, adapted from Ina Garten

Cinnamon cookies. J.B. Forbes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Chewy sugar cookies. J.B. Forbes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch