Monday, December 15, 2014

Spiced Apple Butter Cookies


Winter's a week away.  Can you believe it?

Central Pennsylvania's been attempting winter in fits and starts for several weeks already.  We had a lovely little dusting of snow back around Thanksgiving.  No sunshine since then, though.  I've had to make my own sunshine by spending my free time either in the kitchen or with friends.  Ahhh, such a life.  

My holiday gift-giving this year is entirely food -- sweet pickles, apple butter, and homemade wine (recipes to follow).  Oh, and cookies!  When I got an email in October about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I just knew I had to be a part.  Cookies in exchange for donating to a great cause, and an excuse to use up some leftover apple butter?  Yes yes yes!  

There was more than once that I nearly chased the delivery truck down the street while waiting for my cookies to arrive.

I was lucky enough to receive jam and hazelnut snowballs Carrie at Fresh from Oregon, red velvet cookies Lynna from Hearts in My Oven, and brown butter shortbread cookies from Sara at Confectionary Tales of a Bakeaholic.  I mean, can you even believe how beautiful these are?



They were a perfect mix.  I'm only a little ashamed to say I lived entirely on cookies for a while there.

How did I pick which cookies to send?  Well, to be frank I was shooting for something that was warming without being too sweet.  I'm not big on sweets and I just happened to have about four quarts of apple butter sitting around, so I tweaked the pumpkin molasses cookies from last year.  The result was chewy, soft, and almost reminiscent of an apple quickbread in bite-sized form.  If you like your cookies to lean to the sweet side, consider rolling them in (or dusting them with) cinnamon and sugar and/or adding mix-ins such as apple chunks or cinnamon chips.  You could also try a maple, ginger, or brown sugar glaze for an extra little sumthin'.  You have my permission to be creative!

Apple Spice Cookies

Total Time: 15 minutes to mix, 45-60 to refrigerate, 12-14 to bake, 10 to cool.
Yield: 45 cookies (1 TBS dough portions)

Ingredients:

  • Wet Ingredients
    • 0.5 cup butter, room temperature
    • 1 TBS cream cheese, room temperature
      • can sub: neufch√Ętel or mascarpone cheese
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 0.25 cup molasses
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 cup apple butter
  • Dry Ingredients
    • 2.75 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • can increase to 2 tsp if you want a stronger flavor
    • 1/2 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tsp cloves
    • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/8 tsp allspice
Directions
  1. Use a large mixing bowl to beat together the butter and cream cheese until they form a fluffy paste.
  2. Add the sugar and cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar together until they form a thick paste.
  3. Add the egg, molasses, and vanilla to the bowl and beat until mixed well.
  4. Beat in the apple butter and set the bowl aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until well-combined and no lumps remain.  
  6. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and gently mix the two together by hand until the flour just disappears.  Be careful not to overmix!
  7. OPTIONAL:  if adding apple chunks or cinnamon chips, stir them in gently at this point.
  8. Wrap the bowl and place it in the fridge for 45-60 minutes.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  10. Remove the dough from the fridge.  
  11. Use a 1 TBS scoop to portion out dough balls.  Place dough balls several finger-widths apart, as they spread out quite a bit (~12-15 per baking sheet).
  12. OPTIONAL:  if desired, used wet fingers to gently roll the balls into a uniform shape and/or dip them in cinnamon and sugar.
  13. Bake 12-14 minutes, turning the tray 180 degrees halfway through.
  14. Allow to cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet.
  15. OPTIONAL: frost or glaze after cookies have cooled completely.

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Let's walk through it step by step!

First off is beating the butter and cream cheese together.


Once they form a fluffy paste, you're all set.


Put the sugar in the bowl next.


It will be difficult to photograph, but don't worry.
Next, beat the sugar & butter mix together until it forms a thick paste.  This process is called "creaming" the butter and sugar, and it's the basis for just about every cookie ever.


Next are the vanilla, egg, and molasses:


I kind of love that photo.  It's such a mess.
Mix all that up into a wet goo.


And then let the apple butter join the party.


I made the apple butter at home, recipe to follow shortly (short version: cook applesauce to death).   Most orchards and a number of grocery stores carry it, usually somewhere near the jams or peanut butter.  

Anyway, mix all that up and set it aside. 
Now, in a separate bowl, whisk together all your dry ingredients.


You can double the cinnamon if you want (or all the spices, for that matter), assuming you like a very strong flavor in your cookies.  I'd love to suggest that you start with the original amount to start and then scale it up according to your tastes, but don't let me hold you back.

Next, the wet ingredients get added to the dry.  


Mix by hand.  Gently!  Only stir it until the flour juuuuust disappears.  You want to almost err on the side of undermixed, though there shouldn't be any flour visible.  If you're putting any add-ins, such as apple chunks or butterscotch chips, do that here.  But again, don't overmix this.  It requires a light hand or you'll end up with tough cookies.

Tough cookies, sweetheart.



I find the dough is too sticky to work with at this point, so I pop it in the fridge for 45-60 minutes.  Ultimately that's optional, I just don't like to fight the dough.  Once it's cool, fire up the oven and use a 1 TBS cookie scoop (or just a measuring spoon) to portion out dough balls onto a greased sheet, parchment, or silpat.

If you like uniform, smooth cookies you can use wet fingers to gently roll them into rounds, but it's not necessary.  You can also sprinkle cinnamon & sugar over them, or dip / roll them if you want.  I'm not big on sugar so I don't, but it's your choice.  (Seriously, it's choose your own adventure with these!)



Be sure to leave plenty of space between cookies, 'cause they spread.  I can fit about 12-15 on a tray.  Whatever doesn't make it into the oven goes back into the fridge between batches, 'cause the dough warms up quickly.

They typically take about 12-14 minutes at 350.  At around 6-7 minutes, turn the tray 180 degrees so that they bake evenly.


They're gonna smell pretty divine, let me tell you.


They're fantastic warm, but do try to let them cool for 10 minutes before burning your mouth on them.  If you're going to glaze or frost them, wait until they're completely cool or you'll end up with a mess.

Voila!  They stay chewy for several days and freeze well.  Or you can pack them up and mail 'em off to your cookie swap partners.