I’ve had this recipe in mind for months. More impressive, though, I’ve had candied citrus peel in my freezer for months and it’s survived snack attacks.
In May I made a Shaker Lemon Pie and a Citrus Pie, from two different cookbooks, to see how they stacked up against each other. At the time I imaged a beautiful picture of the two pies perched on rocks looking out over the fake lake that blooms in our desert valley when there’s heavy rain or snow runoff. (This year it’s mid-August and the lake is still there. It’s not spring fed – it’s actually usually dry; the desert just got that much water this past weird winter.)
However, I misjudged where the big rocks were I was looking for, and found only small rocks, a great view – and a rattlesnake.
When the pies and I made it home, I had a piece of each and then resolutely threw out the rest. This is because I didn’t need two pies to myself, my mother-in-law lives too far away to take her two pies on a whim (and what would she do with two of them?) and we weren’t headed her way anyway. My husband hates lemons, and every friend I know who lives local either never, ever eats flour/grains/sweets, or is protein-dieting heavily. Before I tossed them, I pulled off the toppings and froze them. They were too bright and pretty – and tasty – to toss.
My plan was to top sugar cookies with them and see what happened. But I’ve never been able to make sugar cookies that didn’t turn into crumbs before I got them rolled out. I’ve tried countless recipes. This time, after thumbing through a well-loved red binger that bulges with my own recipes and family and friend recipes, I settled on my friend June’s recipe, because she indicated when she gave it to me a century ago, that it was no fail. (Clearly June isn’t a century old, but I feel that way – perhaps our friendship involves time-travel.)
The recipe didn’t fail. I failed it, a little, by not chilling the dough for 2-3 hours but overnight because I got sleepy and went to bed. When I took it out 20 hours later it was rock hard. By mangling and massaging it, though, the butter won through and the dough became soft enough to roll out.
The results are mixed.
The sugar cookies themselves are fantastic! Light, crisp, and if you like a crisper cookie, give them 8 minutes, watching closely, and a more tender crumb (that still crumbles all over as you eat) 7 minutes.
The frozen citrus rounds were covered in the respective pie fillings. The Build a Better Pie filling is all lemon and a simpler mix. The Martha Stewart Pies is more complex, and uses oranges as well as lemons.
I baked some of the cookies with nothing on them. Just because. (Well, just because of my husband.)
I baked some of the cookies with the rounds of fruit on top, being baked in place.
I baked some of them with nothing on them and pressed the fruit on as soon as they came out.
I already knew the baked citrus was chewy. A sensible thing might be to gently take the rind off when using sugar-dredged citrus as pie toppings, but the aesthetic would suffer. Biting into a piece of the pie means really biting, or cutting first with a knife, or getting an entire citrus round in one bite. It’s worth it!
So after baking the rounds on the cookies, biting into the cookie with a piece of lemon or orange, the citrus piece came off promptly and the cookie stayed behind with one bite taken out of it.
Oh. And the ones that I put on the fruit after the cookies came out, they were softer, and mostly stayed in place, but somehow weren’t as interesting, the flavors not as intense.
There was still a chunk of dough left, warming on the counter because not going through that again, the over-chilling business. Before rolling it out I cut up a bunch of the fruit into ¼ to ½ inch bites, and then when kneading the dough to make it pliable enough to roll out, I kneaded the fruit right into it (and was consequently sticky as hell). Then the rolling out, which was more challenging, and the forming of cookies, which were more bumpy.
But the results of that batch were really good. Kind of like citrons in cookies only so much more bright and tangy (candied peel is often very sweet).
I’m not sure what good this recipe does for anyone who hasn’t baked two Shaker pies and encountered a rattlesnake and had a nice hot summer for several months before making sugar cookies to add the fruit to, but there’s no reason candied lemon and orange slices couldn’t be stand-ins. My own recipe for citrus strips is below. No reason it wouldn’t work for slices.
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream sugar and butter until well blended. Mix in the egg, vanilla and almond extract. Mix well, then add the dry ingredients, blending them into the creamed mixture.
Refrigerate for two to three hours (apparently it means this). Probably best to cover the bowl with some plastic wrap, too.
Divide dough in half. Cover a pastry board with cloth (tea towel tucked under worked nicely) and flour the cloth. Roll out to 3/16 of an inch thick. Cut into 2 to 2 ½ inch rounds or whatever shape you like. I just grabbed a drinking glass which turned out to be 3 inches and ended up with 42 cookies, I think. They’re mostly gone now….
Place some distance apart (but they don’t spread that much) on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake in a preheated 375 oven for 7 to 8 minutes. The bottoms should be turning golden brown.
Should make 5 dozen 2-inch cookies but I’ve never in my life had that happen. I got 42 3-inch. If they were a half again bigger, I should have had 45, I think – math and I are not friends – which is actually closer to the recipe-stated numbers than I usually get. And I didn’t eat more than half a tablespoon of dough, because it’s sweeter than I like. That didn’t stop me from eating the cookies.
Citrus Peel or Rounds
Short of making two variations of Shaker Lemon Pies and tossing out the pie part, I’d try dredging the thin sliced lemon and orange rounds under enough sugar to nicely cover them in a medium sized nonreactive mixing bowl. Chill overnight and let me know what you decide to do with the vaguely crusty lemon and orange flavored sugar that will be left over.
You could take another step and briefly bake these as if they were the top of a pie, following the directions for the pies in the blog entry linked above.
Another option: try making candied peel and using that – this is my favorite recipe for candied citrus peel from Martha Stewart.
If you try them, let me know the results in the comments!