Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Saffron Vanilla Cookies

I found this recipe on 101 Cookbooks, where it was originally referred to as a saffron-vanilla snickerdoodle. However, these cookies don’t have any cinnamon, and they are not rolled into anything (sugar, cinnamon sugar or otherwise), so they aren’t really snickerdoodles. I think that describing them with their dominant flavors is enough! I must say that I used vanilla bean paste instead of a vanilla bean, so perhaps the vanilla was stronger than intended in my version and drowned out the saffron… Next time, I’d consider more saffron, but I’d also add the vanilla only after heating the milk. Note that the cookies were softer but tastier the next day. This recipe makes a small amount, but I still recommend portioning out the dough and keeping some of it in the fridge until you are ready to bake another batch. I thought they had a great je-ne-sais-quoi that would surprise guests, but as is often the case with sugar cookies, I don’t find them very filling, so I really have to stop myself from eating them hand-over-fist!

about 30 threads of saffron (to yield 1/8 tsp. ground saffron) (or more, to taste)
½ vanilla bean (or ½ tsp. vanilla bean paste; see note below)
2 Tbsp. lactose-free milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (or cold margarine)
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (see note below)

Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle until powdery or grind them in a clean spice grinder; alternatively, you can finely mince the saffron. The finer the powder, the more intense the saffron color and flavor in the cookies!

Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the pulp into a small saucepan. (If you’re using vanilla bean paste here, or even vanilla extract, I would consider adding the vanilla with the egg later in the recipe, so as not to overheat it. I actually think that in that case, you don’t need the vanilla extract called for at the end of the recipe.) Add the vanilla pod, milk, and saffron and cook over very low heat, just until bubbles begin to form at the edges, between 180 °F and 190 °F. Alternatively, combine the vanilla pulp, pod, milk, and saffron in a small microwavable bowl, and microwave just until the milk is hot, 20 to 30 seconds. (This was my preferred method, just because I didn’t feel like fiddling with a thermometer.) Cover and let steep for about 10 minutes; the milk should have a sunny yellow color.

Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and kosher salt and mix on low speed until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the vanilla pod from the milk, squeezing off any liquid or pulp clinging to it back into the milk. In a medium bowl, combine the milk mixture, egg, and vanilla extract (and/or the vanilla from the beginning of the recipe, as my note above suggests) and whisk vigorously until well blended.

With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg mixture very slowly, in a steady stream, and mix until well-incorporated and very smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium speed for 30 more seconds.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed just until uniform in texture. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dough out into an airtight container or onto a piece of plastic wrap. Cover the container, or, if using plastic wrap, shape the dough into a rough disk, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 5 days.

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Roll ¼-cup portions of the dough into balls, and place them on the baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches (5 cm) apart. (In my case, I made much smaller cookies, using closer to 2 tablespoons of dough.) Bake for about 16 minutes, until golden but not too dark, rotating the pan midway through the baking time (10 minutes did the trick for my standard-size cookies). Ideally, the baked cookies will be tall and slightly undercooked in the center, and will buckle shortly after coming out of the oven, as evidenced by the pictures below. Let the cookies cool on the pan for at least 10 minutes before eating them.

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