Myrtle Baker is a retired schoolteacher, a woodcarver who creates Swedish folk-art animals, and one of Minnesota’s most venerated cookie bakers. No one bakes sugar cookies to such a perfect buttery crispness.
The secret, says Baker, is to handle the dough as little as possible. “Most people roll the dough out and stamp it,” she says. “I think that’s too rough. I pinch off a little dough, gently roll it into a little ball, and then smush it down on the cookie tray as quickly as I can.”
Known as “The Prairie Home Grandmother,” you can see of two of Myrtle Baker's best cookie recipes below.
Myrtle Baker’s Sugar Cookies
“If you measure out the ingredients, a child over 7 can help combine them. Any child over 3 can grease cookies sheets, help roll the logs of dough in colored sugar and can place the cookies on trays after they have been sliced,” says Baker, a retired elementary-school teacher.
In addition to handling the cookie dough as little as possible, she (and most Swedish cookie queens) recommends using half canola oil. “For some reason it gives more of a butter taste and makes the cookie lighter and crisper,” she says.
Traditionally, this kind of sugar cookie dough is mixed, shaped into logs, rolled in colored sugar, and then sliced and baked. Baker recommends a different technique, which she believes is gentler and results in more-tender cookies.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Colored sugar or pearl sugar for decorating
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the granulated and powdered sugars. Add the butter; using a fork and working quickly, cut the butter into the sugar. Whisk together the oil, egg, and vanilla and stir it into the sugar mixture.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Still using the fork and working quickly, add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the batter and work them in.
3. Pinch off walnut-size bits of dough and flatten each between your hands, making a patty 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Place on a greased baking sheet; flatten again if necessary. Continue until the baking sheet is full, placing the cookies about 1 inch apart.
4. Carefully sprinkle a few pinches of colored sugar or pearl sugar around the very edges of each cookie.
5. Bake until dried and lightly browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Repeat until all the dough is used.
Makes about 50 cookies.
Myrtle’s Chocolate Crinkles
Since the dough is rolled quickly in powdered sugar before baking, the cookies seem “marbleized” or “crinkled” when baked. They are light, crisp, and delicious.
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour (Myrtle prefers Gold Medal)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar for rolling
1. In a large bowl, stir together the oil, cocoa powder, butter, and sugar until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla until smooth.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture in three parts. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the powdered sugar on a plate. Pinch off pieces of dough about the size of a large marble and roll between your palms until round. (Coat your hands in powdered sugar if the dough sticks.) Roll the dough balls in the powdered sugar and place an inch apart on greased baking sheets.
4. Bake until the cookies are deeply cracked and dried on top, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Makes about 90 cookies.
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