Cookie Corner: One-batch Snow Squares

12/18/2013 12:00 AM

12/17/2013 11:53 AM

Time is running short for holiday preparations, and a quick and easy cookie recipe seems just the ticket.

But one person’s “easy” is another person’s “why bother?” So a test run of the recipe is even more important.

For the final week of the Cookie Corner this year, I chose another recipe, Snow Squares, from “European Cookies for Every Occasion” by Krisztina Maksai (Running Press, $22, 198 pages).

The photo of these cookies had caught my eye when I first looked through the cookbook. With a thin meringue topping, they’re light, include lemon and have no nuts or complicated ingredients. Their pretty appearance make them perfect for a party or potluck.

I wouldn’t call the result really easy, since the cookie requires two rounds of baking, similar to lemon bars. But these treats certainly are quicker than rolling out and decorating dozens of sugar cookies.

I baked an adaptation of the original recipe for the newsroom holiday potluck, as well as my own chocolate mint variation. Both went over well.

Snow Squares

Prep time: 30 minutes plus at least 45 minutes for dough rest time and cooling time for baked cookies

Cook time: 18 minutes

Makes 6 to 12 dozen, depending on how small the baked dough is cut.

This crunchy, lemony cookie is adapted from a recipe in the “quick and easy cookies” chapter of “European Cookies for Every Occasion.” The chocolate mint variation is at the end of the recipe.

Note: Vanilla sugar is made ahead by putting 2 cups of granulated sugar in a tightly sealed container (glass jar is ideal) with the pod and seeds of 1 vanilla bean, then storing it for 2 weeks or more, shaking occasionally. As a quick substitute for the recipe below, use 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.

INGREDIENTS

For dough:

2  cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2  sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4  cup confectioner’s sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2  egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons water

For topping:

2  egg whites

1/3  cup granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1  tablespoon vanilla sugar (see note above)

2/3  cup confectioner’s sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

For the dough: Combine the dough ingredients in a bowl and, using the dough hook of an electric mixer, knead until the dough is smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Form the dough into a small loaf, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 320 degrees.

Place parchment paper on a working surface and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness.

Line a large baking sheet with more parchment paper and then transfer the uncut dough to the sheet and prebake it for 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the oven and let it cool on the baking sheet while preparing the topping.

For the topping: Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they are semi-firm. Gently pour the granulated sugar into the beaten egg whites and beat it together with a whisk. While continually whisking, add the lemon juice, vanilla sugar (or substitute) and confectioner’s sugar. Keep whisking the mixture until it is shiny but firm.

Using a rubber spatula, spread the egg white mixture over the cooled prebaked dough. Bake for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the baked dough from the baking sheet (by sliding the parchment paper) and place it on a cooling rack (or counter or flat surface) to cool completely.

Use a sharp knife to cut the baked dough into 1-by-1-inch squares. Since the topping is semi-hard, the edges will be uneven and break while you cut them, creating the “snow” effect. Cookies are good for about four weeks stored in an airtight container.

Chocolate mint variation: Don’t use the lemon zest or juice. To the dough, add 1/4 cup dark cocoa and 1/2 teaspoon mint extract, and increase the water to 2 tablespoons. For the topping, add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla (or use more mint extract if you really like mint).

Testing and tasting

•  I didn’t use a dough hook, just my regular beaters on my mixer, so getting the dough smooth probably took longer. I added the water to the recipe because the dough mixture was very dry and sent up a cloud of flour initially; using a deep bowl is a must.
•  I put the dough in the refrigerator overnight, which required letting it warm up a bit the next day before I could roll it out. As with any butter dough, it’s pretty stiff, but also holds together really well. At 1/8 inch thick, it wound up being about 13 inches by 14 inches, just fitting on my widest cookie sheet. Don’t worry about the edges being a little ragged.
•  Speaking of cookie sheets, use one that has at least 1 flat side, so it will be easier to slide the baked cookies off to cool. Just out of the oven, the topping is very fragile, though it hardens up later. Insulated and regular sheets both work in the recipe.
•  My cooling racks weren’t wide enough to hold the dough, so I put 2 of them the same height side by side. If you have a tile or granite countertop, you could also slide the dough (on the parchment) right onto the counter to cool.
•  The original recipe says it makes 3 dozen. Really? Do the math: Even after trimming the ragged dough to make clean edges, you could have as many as 12 dozen 1-by-1-inch cookies. Mine were a little larger, but I wound up with more than 6 dozen.
•  The sharp knife gets pretty sticky; you’ll probably want to wash it off at least once while cutting the cookies.
•  The chocolate mint variation was an idea created on the fly; next time I might add some espresso powder with the cocoa, skip the mint and use more vanilla. Or, hmm, maybe some raspberry extract. Lots of possibilities.
• Tasters who reported in liked one or the other version, with the lemon disappearing a bit faster at the potluck. It would go well with tea, one taster said. Another person said she’s usually a chocolate fan, “but those lemon ones are really good.” The chocolate mint, a natural with coffee, was likened to Andes after-dinner mints. Both versions taste “guilt-free,” someone noted – as long as you don’t eat nine or 10.

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