Friday, December 16, 2011

Recipe: Palm Sugar Butter Cookies – Flavour them as you want!

Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap. – Barbara Jordan 

Mmmm... Butter cookies.... no added flavourings. Still delicious.
Sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been fairly busy at work and haven’t found the time. But I’m back now.

“The Season” is nearly upon us. Because of that fact it behooves me to grace my blog with a cookie recipe. Cookies are a mainstay of the post-buffet table. This is a great one to add to your Christmas repertoire, or any time of the year for that matter.

This is the sugar I used. Product of Thailand.
This is a “basic” sugar butter cookie – about as basic as you can get, actually. It relies on the palm sugar for flavour, but if you add flavouring the possibilities are endless. 

If you wish you can divide the dough and make different cookies from one recipe. I have several listed below, such as vanilla bean seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or grated citrus peel. I think peel would be wonderful, but so would the others. Use your imagination!

Palm sugar is all the rage now as a healthier sweetner alternative to agave. It also is finding its way into many commercial baked goods because it has a low melting point and a high burning point. Those are two desirable characteristics for commercial (or home) baking.

Palm sugar is often used in Thai cuisine so if you can’t find it in your local grocery look in a good Asian market. It will be there. Make sure you buy 100% palm sugar – not a blend. It will probably be in small round cakes, so prepare to get your grater out. 

What is Palm Sugar?
Palm sugar is made from the sap of select palm trees. Palm sugar tastes sort of like brown sugar, but sort of not. It has a gentle caramel/butterscotch flavour.

Palm sugar is nutrient rich and low-glycemic. This means it is absorbed into the blood stream at a slower rate than refined sugars. It is completely natural with no refining therefore it keeps all of the nutrients present from the palm. Even powdered stevia cannot boast this claim. Palm sugar contains many key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6.

Harvesting of palm sugar is accomplished by sugar tappers climbing to the top of palm trees (often palmyra palms, but also date, sago and coconut palms) to collect the sap from the flowers. The collected liquid is then cooked down and allowed to harden, much like maple syrup and maple sugar in Canada. You could substitute maple sugar quite easily in this recipe.

Palm sugar is sometimes referred to as a "green" sweetener. It affords local people employment in areas of the world where clear cutting of tropical forests is becoming an environmental issue.

Palm sugar has such a nice flavour there’s really no need for additional flavouring in these cookies if you’re like me and enjoy a good, homey basic cookie. These are a really nice little cookie. I was impressed. Two of us ate all 36 cookies in one night. Yeah, yeah, I know... but it's not like it happens every night.

After baking let them cool for a few minutes on a rack so they firm up. They’re great cooled but I prefer my cookies a touch warm with a glass of milk!

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 min, or
refrigerate overnight. Can also be frozen for extended periods.
Basic Palm Sugar Butter Cookies
Mix & form: 20  |  Chill: 30 min  |  Bake: 18 min  |  Yield: 36
1 cup butter (227 g / 8 oz)
3/4 cup palm sugar (or light brown sugar or even maple sugar)
1 large egg
2 cups white flour
* Options: seeds from 1 vanilla bean; 1 tbsp grated orange, lemon or lime peel, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg...

If you buy “pucks” of palm sugar you need to grate them. You will find the sugar is very “moist” for lack of a better word. Grate until you have 3/4 of a cup lightly packed. For me that was 3 “pucks.”

Beat the sugar and butter together with a mixer (use your KitchenAid!) until they are well combined. Then beat in the egg. The mixture will not be smooth.

Slowly add in the flour until just combined. The dough will still not all together.

Bring the dough together with your hands. Knead gently for a few seconds. The dough will be very soft.

Roll, flatten, prick with a fork. Done.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let cool in a freezer for about 30 minutes to help it set. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator overnight to chill or frozen for later use.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment. 

Flour your hands well. Roll pieces of the dough into 1” sized balls. Keep flouring your hands as you roll. Place each ball on the parchment about 3 inches apart. Flatten with a well floured water glass bottom. 

Note: if using only one sheet refrigerate the dough wile the first batch bakes. It keeps the dough easy to handle.

Prick the centre of each cookie twice in the centre with a fork or use something else to decorate the top. I sometimes use a meat tenderizing mallet. It makes a nice pattern. If you wish, sprinkle with decorative sugar.

Bake in the centre of a preheated oven at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until just browning at the edges. Remove to a rack and let cool.

* If adding a flavouring mix it in just before adding the flour. If using multiple flavourings, divide the dough and knead it in last. If you do so work quickly. The warmth of your hands will melt the butter.


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