April 1, 2013

Cookies are the No. 1 baked treat in the United States. The No. 1 home-baked cookie is chocolate chip, followed by peanut butter, sugar and oatmeal raisin. Oreo reigns as the best-selling cookie in America.

Most bakers have a special cookie they love to bake for their family and friends. More than half of the cookies baked at home are chocolate chip.

Chocolate chip cookies were actually a mistake that resulted in sweet success. In 1930 at a tourist lodge called the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Mass., Ruth Graves Wakefield chopped a semi-sweet chocolate bar into small bits and added it to a traditional butter drop cookie recipe. The chocolate bits didn't melt completely, but softened instead.

Ruth's chocolate chip cookies became famous regionally and then across the country. The story goes since the chocolate bar was a gift from Andrew Nestle of the Nestle Chocolate Co., Ruth and Nestle struck a deal. Ruth's recipe was printed on Nestle's packaging, and Ruth received a lifetime supply of chocolate. In 1997, Massachusetts designated the chocolate chip cookie as the state cookie.

Whatever your favorite cookie may be, take a little bit of time to share some sweets with the special people in your life.

Lemon Whippers

My longtime friend, Julie (Paup) Knudsen of West Des Moines shared this recipe with me several years ago. She had gotten it from her neighbor who made them for a baby shower. These cookies are super easy to whip up in a flash.

1 lemon cake mix

2 cups Cool Whip

1 egg

powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together cake mix, Cool Whip and egg. Drop spoon-sized dough balls into powdered sugar to coat. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Batch can easily be doubled and any other variety of cake mix can also be used.

Absolutely Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe comes from the book "Cakewalk: A Memoir" by Kate Moses. One of my favorite teachers, Cleo Tilton, of Carroll, sent the recipe to me, along with a little book of devotions called A Chocolate Life. Cleo is a big fan of chocolate and agrees these are absolutely the best chocolate chip cookies ever.

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (optional)

1½ cups salted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1½ lbs high-quality chocolate, coarsely chopped: milk, semisweet, bittersweet, or dark

Optional: 2 cups coarsely chopped, toasted, and cooled walnuts

Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed for a couple of minutes, then add the sugars, beating until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and the eggs and beat again until very light and fluffy. With only minimal strokes of the mixer blade or by hand, stir in the flour mixture in three or four parts, mixing just until it disappears. Stir in the chopped chocolate and nuts, if using. The cookie dough can be used immediately, but it is better if chilled, covered, at least overnight or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On an ungreased cookie sheet, place balls of dough the size of golf balls at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, checking after 10 minutes, until the edges are light brown and the surface is crackly and set but the centers are still soft. Let cool for about 5 minutes on the cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies

Cinnamon Roll Snaps

I have many childhood memories of our home on Terrace Drive in Carroll. On the weekends I explored our large backyard while my mom cooked and baked in the kitchen. My mom has always made exceptional pies from scratch, and if she had extra dough, she would lather it with butter, sugar and cinnamon, roll it up and bake it. This is a cookie recipe that reminds me of that special treat, fresh from the oven.

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

scant ¼ teaspoon table salt

1 egg yolk

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine butter, sugar and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until light. Add yolks one at a time, blending well after each addition then add vanilla and lemon zest. Mix in half the flour until incorporated then add remaining flour and mix.

Pat dough into an 8x6 inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper. Combine sugar and ground cinnamon in a bowl. Sprinkle all but 1 teaspoon over dough. Beginning at a long side, roll dough into a cylinder, using paper to help. Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture over cylinder and roll to coat. Wrap cylinder in paper, and chill until firm (at least 2 hours).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice cylinder into ¼-inch wide round and arrange on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until lightly golden brown around edges (about 10 minutes). Cool cookies on pan for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes about 30 cookies

Blueberry Bonnets

Blueberry cookies may not be as common as chocolate chip, but they are a fruity and delicious treat. The recipe was created by the makers of Blue Bonnet margarine.

1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, softened

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely ground blanched almonds

1/2 cup blueberry preserves

sliced almonds (approximately 40 slices) for garnish, optional

powdered sugar; optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine margarine, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and almond extract. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add flour and ground almonds and mix just until dough comes together and is blended. Using level tablespoon of dough form 20, 1¼-inch balls. Place dough balls, two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Using the bottom of a small, flat measuring cup, flatten each ball into 2-inch circles, 1/4-inch thick. Dip the bottom of the measuring cup into flour between each pressing to keep it from sticking to the dough. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until set and lightly golden around the edges. Remove cookies to wire racks to cool. Reduce oven to 325 degrees.

Using rounded teaspoonfuls of dough, shape remaining dough into 20, 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, 1 inch apart. With fingertips, press balls lightly to flatten slightly. Bake 15-20 minutes or until set and lightly golden on edges. Remove and place on wire rack to cool.

Spoon one teaspoon blueberry preserves on center of each round, flat cookie. Top with ball shaped cookie, pressing lightly to allow preserves to show. Place two sliced almonds into preserves on each cookie and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.