Saturday, June 01, 2013
Sour Cream Twists
I have a fairly predictable response to stressful life events. I become insomniac (because 5 am is always a good time to mull over your worries), I forget to eat, and I become surly and short-tempered with those who are only trying to help. I am well aware that these strategies could use a little work. But, on the somewhat more productive side of things, I do try to make some time to exercise and clear my head. And I bake.
Baking is perfect stress relief. It's mindless yet productive, helping pass the time while you wait for events outside of your control to unfold. It's comforting. It's delicious. And, as a bonus, you end up with a batch of cookies to, say, gratefully share with the surgical team who fit your dog in for a last-minute Saturday appointment. And really, how can things be bad in the world when there are cookies as perfectly delicious as these?
I've been baking batches of rugelach lately, inspired by some time I spent at a local Jewish retirement home recording a recent audio project. And so, looking for a change of pace (yet still in possession of leftover sour cream), I came upon this recipe.
As best as I can tell, these cookies come from a long-ago Pilsbury bake-off (though some sources say the recipe was printed on a yeast package). Like rugelach, it starts by cutting butter into flour, then binding everything together with a plop of sour cream. But it's also got an egg, for a bit of cookie-like structure, and yeast for a surprising bit of loft. After rising, the unsweetened dough is rolled out with vanilla sugar, folding in flaky, flavorful layers (which, as with rugelach, leaves sugar that caramelizes deliciously around the edges).
The resulting cookies are ridiculously addictive. They've got a bit of the feel of a sugar cookie, but with a softer lightness from the yeast and layers, a caramelized crispness around the edges, and a slight tang from the sour cream. They're rich yet airy, perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea or coffee, or setting out with a dish of those juicy little strawberries that have just come to market. If you're looking for a delicious way to process your anxiety (or just looking for a delicious treat to accompany your coffee break), these cookies are highly recommended.
Sour Cream Twists
adapted from what, if the internet is to be believed, are the Starlight Sugar Crisps from a long-ago Pilsbury Bake Off
yields 32 cookies
1/4 cup room temperature water
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar (I tried both regular and coarse sugar, and they each worked nicely)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pour the water in a medium bowl, and sprinkle in the yeast. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the yeast to soften and bloom.
In a large bowl or food processor, whisk or pulse together the flour and salt. Cut or pulse in the butter until particles are the size of peas (don't overwork!). If using the food processor, dump into a bowl at this point.
Whisk the eggs, sour cream, and 1 teaspoon vanilla into the yeast mixture until well combined. Pour this liquid into the flour mixture, and using your hands or a wooden spoon (and then your hands) mix until the flour has been moistened and the mixture forms a cohesive dough (you still want to see smears of butter — the mixture will be rolled out many times, so no need to overwork). Form the mixture into two equal portions, and cover the bowl (or transfer to a bag), and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours (and up to four days).
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375º Fahrenheit. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and line two cookie sheets with parchment. In a small bowl, combine sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla, stirring well to combine.
On a clean counter top, sprinkle 1/2 of the vanilla sugar mixture. Take half the dough, place it on the vanilla sugar, and press it down. Flip the dough over, then roll out to a 16-inch x 8-inch rectangle (if needed, flip it again, or sprinkle sugar from the counter onto the top to keep the dough from sticking. Fold the sides into the center, like an envelope. Rotate 90º, and roll and fold again. Fold and rotate a third time, and roll out a final time into the 16-inch x 8-inch rectangle. All of the sugar should have been worked into the dough during this process.
Trim the edges of the rectangle, to neaten off the ends (and reveal the layers in the folds). Cut the rectangle through the middle, to form two 4-inch high rectangles, and then cut each one into 4-inch x 1-inch strips. Take each strip, twist twice, and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet, with a bit of space between them. You may need to press the ends of the cookies down to the sheet a bit to keep the fold (I found it easiest to shape the cookies, place them on the sheet, then then flip them all after I finished shaping the last one — maybe this is unnecessary, but it seemed to help them keep their shape).
Bake 15-20 minutes, until the cookies are light golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer immediately to a rack (before the caramelized sugar solders them to the sheet, or they darken too much. Repeat the entire process with the remaining dough.
These cookies are best within a day or so — they're nice and crisp on the edges as soon as they cool from the oven, then soften a bit but are still delicious. If you want to keep them more than a few days, I'd recommend freezing them.