Everyone should have a great sugar cookie dough (or two) in their kitchen arsenal. The perfect sugar cookie bakes up crisp, sweet and able to handle a bit of icing without getting soggy. I’ve baked dozens over the years and Sarah Kieffer’s Olive Oil Sugar Cookie is one of my favorites, along with her Lemon Sugar Cookie recipe, both you can find in her best selling 100 Cookies book. It’s also where you’ll find her famous Pan-Banging Chocolate Chip Cookies and the amazing Peanut Butter Marshmallow Swirl Brownies (amazing!!!)! This is a must have book. You can watch my son, Henri and I make these Valentine’s Day Sugar Cookies with Blood Orange Glaze from Sarah’s book on his YouTube Channel “Baking with my Mother!”
Amber Wilson’s cookbook, For the Love of the South is a delight. It is one of the most strikingly beautiful books I’ve seen recently. The photography and recipes are romantic, sultry, so Southern, and yet, they are entirely approachable.
When I first flipped through the pages, I wanted to make everything, but these jelly doughnuts grabbed me the most. I adore a great doughnut and she delivers. Her dough is scented with lemon zest, then filled with blackberry preserves, but there are a number of other homemade fillings to choose from. I’ve since made these doughnuts several times and filled them with everything from pastry cream (vanilla and coconut), lemon curd, whipped milk chocolate mascarpone, and coated them in ganache, all from my Zoë Bakes Cakes book. So, I turned them into the cake they were meant to be! 😉
We went from 16″ of snow to 80 degrees in two weeks. My mind spun into summer mode in about 10 seconds flat. We Minnesotans can’t adjust to the warm slowly or we may miss it. So, in my mind it’s summer and that means ice cream season.
My friend, Sarah Kieffer, from the Vanilla Bean Blog and the fabulous The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, has been talking about no-churn ice cream for years. She’s one of my favorites (baker, blogger, book creator, photographer and human) and yet, I wasn’t listening when she said it was SO easy and delicious. Ugh, sometimes I’m just too wedded to the traditional ways.
Well, I’m here to tell you that I should have paid attention earlier, but at least I am on board now. I won’t give up my ice cream maker, just because it’s super fun, but Sarah’s no-churn ice cream will play a major role in this summer’s desserts.
I also made her deep, dark, chocolate sugar cookies to sandwich the coffee ice cream between, which made for the perfect ice cream sandwiches. The cookies are incredible all on their own, but with the intense coffee flavor of the ice cream they are sophisticated, a touch edgy and a perfect grown-up dessert that kids will love too, but make it with decaf! The cookies have enough body to hold up to the ice cream, but they don’t turn to stone when they are frozen, so they are perfect for this marriage.
My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.
Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.
You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.
These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.