To make cookies with vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract. In an effort to use up the butter I'd gotten for winter break baking, I decided to make cookies before heading home. With a jar full of vanilla beans I'd purchased earlier in the trip, I knew I wanted to use them. Recipe adapted from Cafe Johnsonia: Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies.
Hypothesis: vanilla beans will give the cookies a delightful vanilla flavor and make for a beautifully speckled cookie.
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (which would be 3/4 stick), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean pod (consider adding up to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla for more flavor)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Sugar (vanilla sugar, sanding sugar, coarse sugar, colored sugar)
1. Cream the butter and sugar until light in color and texture.
2. Add the egg, beating until fully incorporated.
3. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl and mix well. *Save the pod for flavoring liquor or sugar! To make vanilla sugar, stick the pod in 1/2-1 cup of sugar and sit for a week or so.
4. Mix together the dry ingredients and slowly add them to wet ingredients.
5. When the dough is well mixed, shape it into a ball, flatten it, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator until it is firm (I waited 30 minutes. Could wait longer but I find that the dough is too firm to roll-out if I wait any longer).
6. Shortly before baking, preheat the oven to 400°.
7. Roll the chilled dough out to about 1/8" or 1/4" thick (I'm a terrible judge of distance, so I have no idea how thick or thin mine were) and cut with 1 1/2" to 2" cookie cutters.
8. Bake until the edges are starting to brown, probably around 6-8 minutes.
9. Remove from the oven. If you don't plan to frost them, sprinkle the warm tops with sugar (I used vanilla sugar). Move to a wire rack to cool completely. If you want to frost them, see Supplementary Materials for frosting recipe.
The cookies are quite lovely sprinkled with vanilla beans, but not overly flavorful. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies from 1-1/2" cookie cutters (keeping in mind some of the dough went straight to my belly without baking).
Discussion and Future Directions
I'm not a sugar cookie lover. That comes with a caveat: My favorite gluten-free cookies are the Iced Cut-out Cookies from Molly's Gluten Free Bakery in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. I was on a gluten free diet for 3 1/2 years and just over a year ago, went back to eating gluten (and as you can see from my blog--back to baking every glutenous goody I can find a recipe for). I haven't tried Molly's gluten-free cookies since returning to my glutenous lifestyle, but they have a great flavor and a wonderful light texture (which makes them a bit crumbly to eat). I would love to recreate their cookie (with or without gluten), they're that good!
This cookie is fairly dense. You can keep them soft by rolling thicker and baking lessor crisp them up by rolling them thinner and baking them a bit longer. I tried both and liked them both ways. Because I prefer a melt-in-your-mouth, light and airy sugar cookie, I might try this again using half granulated sugar, half powdered sugar, though that might require a bit of additional moisture which could be achieved by adding some oil.
A sugar cookie should be, well, sugary. Without frosting, they were not quite sweet enough for me, even with the sugar on top. If I were to make them again, I would add up to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in addition to the vanilla bean seeds. I think the vanilla bean flavor is most intense when the seeds are cooked in liquid, for example in custard or pastry cream. Baking didn't quite give the vanilla flavor I was looking for. I made the frosting to sweeten the cookie up a bit and give it some additional flavor. Because I ended up frosting them, I wish I'd put the vanilla bean seeds in the frosting instead of the dough for the beauty of the seeds. I'm glad I tried these and even if they weren't quite what I was hoping for, they're disappearing quickly!
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 Tablespoon cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl, beat with a hand-mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in food coloring if desired. Spread onto cooled cookies.