Citrus Sugar Cookies

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.


Cold dough is not friendly.


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.

The Cookies

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter

1 egg

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!

Antioxidants, Heart Health, and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My husband sometimes makes me look like I have a healthy diet, and that’s saying something, because one of my daydreams is to wake some morning and discover that pizza and cheesecake are health food and leafy greens are, like I’ve always maintained, rabbit food.  Or better yet, green will be recognized as nature’s way of telling us food has gone bad.

When Rick worked construction, before the abrupt and insane rise of residential construction in Nevada and then complete and total fall of it with the last great recession, he ate terrible breakfasts on the run.  He’s not a coffee guy but he’d pick up a Dr. Pepper and a chemical-laden, fat-and-carbohydrate-filled muffin the size of his head and eat it on his drive.  Thinking that I’d like to be with him for a good many years, I scrounged around for alternatives.  Neither of us is ever going to leap out of bed (or even crawl, groaning) early enough to make breakfast.  Not even a semi-healthy cereal, which wouldn’t have lasted him all morning anyway.  Getting him to actually eat oatmeal – as oatmeal – was what I figure asking your average 8-year-old to eat broccoli would be like.

So I dredged up an old family recipe for oatmeal cookies.  Because the family member who loved the recipe liked them big and soft, with crispy edges, they’re made enormous – the entire batter turns out eight or nine cookies. These had always been made with walnuts, so I started fiddling with them to see what I could do to turn them in to a not-hopelessly-bad breakfast alternative to the commercially produced muffin.

Oatmeal is generally considered fairly healthy.  So I started with that.  Then came the welcome news that dark chocolate is a powerful antioxidant and good for high blood pressure, which runs in Rick’s family.  There’s an article in Web MD that explains the whole healthy chocolate thing. 

In addition, walnuts are heart healthy antioxidants so I started throwing walnuts into the mix.  They’re still cookies, but I cut the sugar – which was kind of at egregious levels – by a third.  There’s also two eggs and a stick of butter in the recipe.  I suppose I could go one more step and use half whole wheat flour, but he eats these and I feel pretty good about that.

Since the recession Rick works in a totally different, non-construction job and two big fat cookies aren’t enough to keep going for five and a half hours before lunch.  He’s been eating Jimmy Dean biscuity things that remind me of a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin® which I find a lot like two stones surrounding a couch cushion and some tasteless sausage.  I’m hoping to experiment with actual Jimmy Dean sausage, the kind that comes in the roll and is cut up, and floury Scottish Baps, which are lovely with an egg and some sausage or bacon in them.  The meat could be cooked the night before, the baps made and frozen to be microwaved, or made on Sunday and tossed by Wednesday.  Just, no idea how to get the egg cooked.

Because we’re still not getting up any earlier than we have to.    

The Dough

2 eggs, room temperature

1 stick salted butter, softened (13 seconds in the microwave will do wonders for softening butter)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, uncooked 

1 handful walnut pieces

1 handful dark or bittersweet 60% cacao chocolate chips (we love Ghirardelli)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper, or use nonstick cookie sheets, or grease the sheets.

Break eggs into a separate bowl to avoid getting eggshells into the batter.  Transfer to a mixer bowl with the butter, vanilla, baking soda, salt, brown and white sugars.  The baking soda for some reason doesn’t mix well into the batter and will sit about in little lumps if added with the dry ingredients.  I add the salt at the same time because if I don’t and the soda’s already added, I’ll forget.  Mix well on medium speed, until ingredients are blended.


Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the flour, then the oatmeal.  This is a really, really thick, sticky batter, which will stand a spoon straight up with no problem.  Dig the spoon into the bottom of the bowl, because dry ingredients in this one tend to accumulate there.  Add the nuts and chocolate chips and mix well.


I make these big, about the size of the palm of my hand when flattened out, and maybe half an inch thick.  The entire batter usually yields about nine cookies.  Bake for 17 minutes at 350, then remove and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

 It‘s possible to feel almost virtuous when having these for a snack.


Desert blooms on baking day.


Brown Butter Cookies

So I did everything wrong while creating this recipe and ended up with a delicate, crispy-bottomed, soft-topped little cookie.  Go figure!

Not sure what I was even aiming for.  I love butter.  My Grandmother used to nibble it, just butter, and I tend to do that also.  In the long run, I suppose it cuts down on the carbs.  No middleman necessary for our butter.

I also love salted sweet cream butter.  Many, many recipes advise not using salted butter.  I only use salted butter unless whatever store I’m in is totally out of the good brands of it.  My favorites, in order, are Land o’ Lakes, Challenge, Tillamook, and out of order, Costco’s brand is really good and really inexpensive.

I browned the butter first, and did that wrong.  Because it’s salted butter, the milk and salt solids rose to the top in the pan, and stayed a frothy cream color.  I kept stirring and picking the pan up and swirling until I looked beneath the froth and discovered my brown butter was deep brewed tea brown.  I thought I’d have to start over, but it just tasted stronger, and sweet, and lovely – and burned my lips thoroughly.  (Patience is not my strong suit.)

Let the butter cool, then broken two large eggs, room temp, into the bowl of the standing mixer, poured in the butter and one cup granulated sugar.  Beat until frothy, then mixed in the dry ingredients alternately with what ended up being 1 cup milk (also room temp).  Probably should have had a teaspoon of vanilla, but I’m always, always out of vanilla, and I quite like these cookies without. 

The resulting batter was so liquid-y I added another half cup of flour to the one-and-a-half I already had.  It was still so soft the half I wrapped in wax paper to try chilling was a pancake in the fridge.  If I bake it at some point, I’ll check back with how it did.

The half of the batter I baked I doled out in goopy one tablespoon ice-cream-scoops onto a parchment paper-lined sided cookie sheet and baked at 350 for 13 minutes.  They’re actually pretty amazing. 

 1 stick salted sweet cream butter, melted and brown, cooled

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

 Break the eggs into a mixer bowl.  Add the sugar and melted butter and beat until well mixed. 

 In a small bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda and salt.  Add alternately with one cup milk until well mixed.  Drop by tablespoonsful onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  Set wide apart – they spread.

 Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until bottoms of the cookies show golden brown and the tops gently set.  Cool on the pan on a rack for five minutes, then transfer to the rack to cool.


The injured looking cookie is one I poked to see if they were set at that moment.  They weren’t.



Spring Equinox


Welcome to High Desert Bakery, a virtual bakery imaginarily nestled

in the very real Sierra Nevada foothills.

Spring in Nevada is ephemeral, there one minute and buried under eight inches of snow the next.  The sky pales from the hard blue of winter before hitting the electric blue of summer.  Robins return, cliché harbingers of the season.  Rabbits begin courtships in our cul de sac.  On the foothills, tiny yellow, pink and white flowers bloom among the sage.

On the Equinox and the days surrounding it, day and night are supposed to be of equal length.  I always imagined the equinox itself meant exactly 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, but it’s not quite that neat. The closest Reno is coming is day length of 11 hours, 59 minutes and 5 seconds on the 16th and 12 hours, 1 minute and 42 seconds on the 17. I thought maybe there would be some place on Earth where the days and nights were exactly even and the variations were because of location, but apparently not. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac,

“Day and night are not exactly equal at the equinox for two reasons.  First, daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.'”

That we’re only coming close to being perfectly balanced seems just right.  The seasons change because Earth’s relationship to the Sun changes as our tilted orbit spins us.

Today is the last of the days the Equinox could have fallen on.  Spring and fall the seasonal change can vary anywhere from the 20th to the 23rd; the Solstices only happen on different days because a time zone is far enough out from UTC.  I like that fit, too, the uncertainty of spring and fall, the dead certainty of winter and summer.

High Desert Bakery is opening for virtual business today, celebrating spring with Black & Whites to represent the Equinox in all it’s mostly even glory.  The recipe is from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (2001).  Mine are a little less glossy and a little more lumpy looking than hers.  This is due to my running out of time (a constant in my life) and thinking that surely sifting the powdered sugar was for bakers in climates with more humidity than my high desert.  But they did come out roughly half black and half white – Equinox cookies!

There’s also a recipe for ginger cookies I made during the last insane snowstorm, eight inches in our mountainous valley.  High Desert Bakery is high desert – located in Reno’s North Valleys, we’re at 5000 feet, cooler than Reno year-round.  Two days after the snow came down it melted off in 60+ degree days.  For that, the celebration is a summery sharp lemon tea bread.  Following that is my take on a bread pudding using the last of the tea loaf.

I’m hoping High Desert Bakery becomes a place to hang out and talk about baking, drink tea and share outrageous successes and abject failures – there are plenty of both in my kitchen (some day I’ll share the Balleymaloe Brown Bread from two weeks ago and whether or not it would have been thrifty and economical to save it in case I needed a brick for something), what works for high altitude baking and for tricky recipes at sea level.  A place to ask questions of each other and offer suggestions and share recipes and a love of baking.

Welcome!  Pull up a cookie and stay a while.

Celebrating the Equinox with Black & White Cookies, the recipe taken from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (2001).  Mine are a little less glossy and a little more lumpy looking than hers.  This is due to my running out of time (a constant in my life) and thinking that surely sifting the powdered sugar was an instruction far more important for bakers in climates with more than 14 percent humidity on any given day.  Still, the cookies came out roughly half black and half white – Equinox cookies!

I didn’t make significant changes to the recipe as it stands, and high altitude baking doesn’t really apply to cookies – I made these to celebrate the Equinox and balance of light and dark.  Here’s how I did the Black and Whites:

The Cookies

3 cups flour (all purpose)

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 1/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup salted butter

½ cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening

2 eggs

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

¾ teaspoon lemon extract

1/3 cup sour cream


The Fondants

¼ cup light corn syrup

5 cups powdered sugar

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate


Mix flour, salt, baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, mix butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well.  Add corn syrup and lemon extract and mix well.

Add flour and sour cream alternately, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until ingredients are just incorporated.

The dough should now stand for a few minutes.  I was in the middle of multiple projects and gave it 20 minutes rather than the suggested 5 and it survived quite well.

Preheat the oven to 350 with racks in the middle.

These are big cookies.  Line 2 or 3 cookie trays with parchment paper.  The recipe I followed suggests ¼ cup of dough per cookie.  That’s what I followed, and rolled them into balls before placing them well apart from each other on the tray.  On the largest cookie sheet I think I had 6 cookies.  Let them stand while you’re shaping all of them, then press them gently flat with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms are gently golden brown.  Mine took 14 minutes.  Cool on cookie sheet on wire racks for a couple minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

Making the base/vanilla fondant:

Mix the ¼ cup light corn syrup and ½ cup water in the same measuring cup if you ever hope to get all the corn syrup out of the measuring cup.  Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla, and then the 5 cups of powdered sugar (yes, sifted!).  Stir until smooth.

For the chocolate fondant:

Break up the 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate in a small to medium sized bowl.  Pour 2/3 cup of the vanilla fondant over, followed by another ½ cup as the chocolate melts.  Mix until smooth.

Let the fondants sit until thicker and cooler.  Place waxed paper or parchment paper under the wire rack and spoon the vanilla fondant over one half of each cookie and the chocolate fondant over the other half of each.  Let the cookies sit until well set or they’re really messy to eat.  I speak from experience.



Being short on time I tried icing these when the cookies were cool but the fondant wasn’t.  They dripped and broke and bent and acted obnoxious.  Finally I made myself stop messing with them and ran some errands, coming home to stir the fondants (covering them with cling wrap would have prevented the slight crispiness of the surface, but stirring it back in worked, and besides, I am forever running out of cling wrap which usually only clings to me anyway).  This time I iced the cookies by dripping the cooled fondant over each half, making sure the edges were covered.

They’re sweet, very lightly lemony, with a very sweet icing, and they’re nice big soft cookies – and evenly balanced black and white, for the moment the Northern Hemisphere stands between winter and spring.


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