As this sun-drenched summer draws to a close, with a lot more hot days ahead, the idea of having quick-to-bake cookies in my refrigerator has enormous appeal. Icebox cookies, as they were dubbed when I was growing up in the fifties, are one of my favorite homemade convenience foods.
Warm cookies are only minutes away when you’ve tucked cylinders of cookie dough in the fridge or freezer. You can make the dough today and bake them today, tomorrow, or next week. Or if you freeze them, and devour them next month.
Part of their allure is their potential for portion control. When it comes to cookies I have the self-control of a voracious two-year-old. With refrigerator cookies, you can slice off just what you need. Maybe three or four baked in the toaster oven.
Call them slice-then-bake cookies if you like, but don’t confuse them with those double-sealed tubes of cookie dough you find at the supermarket. They’re almost as handy, but have endless flavor, texture and visual possibilities.
Smooth chocolate layered with cardamom-scented vanilla dough, then coiled into showy pinwheels. Dutch almond-spiked cinnamon treats or crunchy coins of melt-in-your-mouth, mint-boosted chocolate. Or rounds of cracker-crisp pecan paradise.
According to “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker (Scribner, 1997, $30), what Irma Rombauer called “icebox cookies” in the 1931 edition, were renamed “refrigerator cookies” in the ’50s by Marion Becker. But “Joy,” along with many other cookbooks, returned to the original nomenclature. Icebox harks back to a bake-from-scratch, bygone era. Somehow it seems homier.
But whether you call them icebox cookies or refrigerator cookies or, heaven forbid, freezer cookies, the dough is made in advance and chilled, then sliced as needed for baking.
Store them up to one week in the refrigerator, or freeze up to six weeks. Then, at baking time, unwrap the roll and slice with a thin, sharp knife. I have a very sharp, serrated bread knife that works really well. Rotate the cookie dough log after every couple of slices to keep it from flattening on one side. Because the dough is cold, they carve into even, neat slices. Most don’t have to be thawed before slicing.
In fact, cold dough maintains its shape because the chilled butter stays firm enough during the baking process.
Some recipes suggest forming the dough into a cylinder on plastic wrap, but I think it’s easier to use wax paper or parchment paper. Either way, twist the ends to secure the log and chill. Once chilled, slip the wrapped cylinders into zipper-style bags. If freezing, use zipper-style freezer bags and push out air before sealing.
Slice and bake to your heart’s content with your cold, but soon to be warm, cookie cache. Label the dough “smoked marlin” — it’ll keep the kids away. Oh, the luxury of homemade cookies whenever you want or need them. Stashed in the fridge or in the freezer, behind the rump roast, next to the rocky road, there will be luscious logs of dough.
Black and White Pinwheels
Yield: About 3 dozen cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, see cook’s notes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce melted unsweetened chocolate
Cook’s notes: Cardamom is an aromatic member of the ginger family. It has a delicate, spicy-sweet flavor that is traditional in Scandinavian cookies. Dried cardamom seedpods are either white (bleached), pale green (oven dried), or brown (sun dried). Inside the pod are tiny seeds. The outer pod is not generally used, but is broken away from the small seeds inside and discarded. Indian markets, specialty import stores such as Cost Plus and most supermarkets carry cardamom.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt; set aside.
2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla; beat until smooth. On low speed beat in dry ingredients.
3. Remove half of dough and set aside. Add melted chocolate to remaining dough and beat until chocolate is thoroughly incorporated.
4. Shape each of the two doughs into 6-inch squares. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate 1 hour or until fairly firm.
5. Roll out the plain dough between 2 sheets of wax paper to a 7-by-14-inch rectangle. Remove top sheet of paper. Roll out chocolate dough to a 7-by-14-inch rectangle and place on top of the vanilla dough, gently pressing the two doughs together. Beginning with the long side, use the paper to help lift the dough and roll it into a tight cylinder. Wrap in wax paper and chill in refrigerator. For longer storage, place wrapped cylinders in a zipper-style freezer bag and freeze.
6. When ready to bake, using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/4-inch slices and place 1 inch apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake about 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer cookies to cooling rack.
Nutrition information (per cookie): 90 calories, 44 percent of calories from fat, 4.5 g fat, 2.3 g saturated fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, g protein, 65 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber
Source: Adapted from “Mary Engelbreit’s Cookies Cookbook” (Andrews McMeel, 1998, $16.95)
Yield: About 55 cookies
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans, divided use
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in single layer on baking sheet. Toast in oven until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily. Cool.
2. In a bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and sugars; beat until fluffy and smooth. Add egg, oil and vanilla; beat until well combined. Add dry ingredients; beat until well blended. Add half of cooled nuts; mix to blend. Cover and refrigerate dough 1 hour.
4. Divide dough in half. Place each portion of dough on a large sheet of wax paper. Roll each into a log 2 inches in diameter.
Roll each log in remaining pecans, pressing and patting them into the surface. Enclose in wax paper and twist ends to seal. Place in zipper-style plastic bags and freeze at least 4 hours and up to 6 weeks.
5. Fifteen minutes before baking, put rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Grease baking sheets with butter. Cut logs into 1/4-inch slices and place 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared sheets. Leave second log in freezer until just before slicing and baking. Immediately place in upper third of preheated oven. Bake 9-11 minutes or until nicely colored all over and slightly darker around the edges. Transfer to cooling racks.
Nutrition information (per cookie): 95 calories, 67 percent of calories from fat, 6 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 60 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber
Source: Adapted from “The International Cookie Cookbook” by Nancy Baggett (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1988, $20, soft cover)
Yield: about 3 1/2 dozen
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
Garnish: 6 ounces coating chocolate or semisweet chocolate or chocolate-mint chips, chopped
Cook’s notes: Mint chocolate chips are available in some supermarkets at holiday time. Disks of mint chocolate coating chocolate are often sold at craft stores such as Classic Cakes in Garden Grove or Michael’s.
1. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend.
2. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in peppermint extract and vanilla extract. Beat in sugar in 3 additions. Add egg and beat until blended. Add dry ingredients and beat just until blended (dough will be sticky).
3. Divide dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. Using plastic wrap or wax paper as aid, form dough on each into 2-inch-diameter log. Refrigerate dough until well chilled, at least 2 hours.
4. Position 1 rack in center and 1 rack in top third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap cookie dough logs; roll briefly on work surface to form smooth round logs. Cut logs crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place rounds on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until tops and edges are dry to touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer baking sheets with cookies to racks; cool completely.
5. Stir chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Chocolate should only be warm enough to melt, not hot. You can either dip half of each cookie in the white or dark chocolate (and allow to harden on a sheet of wax paper) or place melted white chocolate in a pastry bag fitted with a small, plain tip and pipe polka dots or zigzags on the top of each cooled cookie. Refrigerate cookies on baking sheets until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes. If you use coating chocolate (such as Candiquik ) it will harden at room temperature and no refrigeration is needed.
Nutrition information (per cookie): 80 calories, 48 percent of calories from fat, 4.2 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g protein, 60 mg sodium, 0.2 g fiber
Source: adapted from “Bon Appetit Desserts” by Barbara Fairchild (Andrews McMeel, $40)
Dutch Almond Cookies
Yield: about 80 to 90 cookies
Butter for greasing pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons water
2 cups whole blanched almonds, see cook’s notes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cook’s notes: To blanch (remove skin) from whole almonds place in heatproof bowl. Pour enough boiling water to barely cover almonds and let them sit for 2 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Pat dry and slip the skins off. I like to use a paper towel to pinch the skin off (pinching at the large end). Truth be told, I usually recruit a family member to do this while I get the other ingredients measured and ready to go.
1. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil; butter foil. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar, granulated sugar and water. Return to heat and bring to boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar melts. Remove from heat and stir in almonds.
3. Pour sugar-almond mixture into a large bowl and stir in dry ingredients. Press dough into prepared square pan, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight or until firm.
4. About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
5. Prepare topping: thoroughly combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon; set aside.
6. Unmold the “brick” of cookie dough from the pan and place on cutting board. Cut brick into three bars, each 8-by-2 1/2-by- 1 1/4 inches (bars will be just a little more than 2 1/2-inches wide). Wrap 2 bars in parchment paper, wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cut remaining brick into 1/4-inch thick slices. As you cut cookies, place them on prepared sheets one inch apart in all directions. Just before putting sheets in oven, sprinkle tops of cookies generously with the cinnamon sugar. Bake cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden and firm. Slide the parchment with the cookies on top onto cooling racks. Cookies will crisp as they cool. Repeat with remaining bars of dough.
7. Store cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight fitting lid. If freezing the bar(s), it is best to thaw dough overnight in the refrigerator before slicing and baking.
Nutrition information (per cookie): 92 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 2.9 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 55 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber
Source: “Cookies Unlimited” by Nick Malgieri (HarperCollins, $35)