Because everyone should have a cookie recipe in their back pocket: Vacation cookies
Seattle lost its’ collective mind over the last month or so. It snowed, and we lost two full weeks of normalcy. It didn’t snow a lot – probably less than a foot total over the two weeks – and I KNOW, I grew up in New Hampshire. But if you haven’t ever been to Seattle, you really don’t understand: It’s. The. Hills. And the total lack of infrastructure to handle any snow at all, but really, it’s the hills.
So we endured two weeks with only four days of school [I’m pro-Snow Day, really, but it was a lot, and we aren’t in our house, so all our trekking out into the snow involved packing up the backpack with immense quantities of snacks and warm beverages, getting on all the gear, trekking to the park to play, and then reversing it all when we were wet, cold, and grouchy a few hours later. It was a lot.]. And once the snow finally melted away? It was time for midwinter break! And we had already planned to holiday in a confined space in the snow. So there was no escaping it.
And of course it ended up being wonderful, because it’s always wonderful in the Methow Valley. We skied every day, and we skied hard, and we cooked delicious food, and we slept well.
I didn’t bring my sourdough starter, but there is no way I’m buying bread, even the delicious bread at the Mazama General Store, so I tried my hand at the internet-famous Jim Lahey no-knead bread. And it was pretty good! No sourdough, obviously, but good. I upped the salt content on my second go-around, and I skipped all the business about the towel, just letting it rest for half an hour in a lovely little loaf shape on a well-floured counter before popping it into the oven. My first loaf, I baked in a metal roasting pan with a tin foil “lid”, so it’s a pretty flexible recipe. Slathered with butter and jam and a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese? Pretty tasty indeed.
Speaking of the Mazama General Store, I also treated myself to this gorgeous cast iron loaf pan. Did you know that was a thing? I did not know it was a thing but it’s going to revolutionize my sandwich bread. I made my second loaf in this, and it was very satisfyingly loafy.
I made cookies before we left for the Methow, a new-to-me recipe from the Food52 Genius Desserts book, a half-batch of the Nibby Buckwheat Butter cookies. They were good! They spread more than I wanted them to, but they were good and sturdy. But they were also gone shortly into our vacation and then I had a morning at the cabin and so of course I decided I better make some more cookies.
The kitchen in the beautiful Airbnb where we stayed was well-stocked for cooking but less so for baking. What I needed was a very basic cookie recipe that didn’t require any fussy equipment, could be mixed by hand, and that I could pull together with the limited stores I brought from home.
So I did a little research on my maddeningly slow/intermittently non-existent internet service, used a little common sense, and came up with this super easy, super satisfying recipe that we forevermore shall call Vacation Cookies. It comes together very quickly but requires a rest in the fridge, so if you want cookies right now, this isn’t the recipe for you. But there should be no rushing on vacation. Whip these up one evening, bake them the next afternoon, have with tea and joy.
You may not bring flour with you on your usual vacation, but I recommend it for all sorts of purposes (pancakes! Bread! Tortillas! Waffles!). And you may not bring sugar, but you might find it where you’re staying, and you don’t need much. My husband doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, he always puts sugar in his coffee. It’s gross, I know, but it means we always have turbinado sugar on hand, even though I usually forget to pack it and we have to go to the Mazama General Store to buy some. Guys, you have to go to the Mazama General Store.
You can cream together the butter, salt, and sugar by hand – I’ve done it with a mixer and it’s quick, but doing it by hand makes me feel like a master of the homestead arts. There was a particularly useful wooden spoon that had a nice flat edge that made quick work of the job.
You then add in the flour in stages, and mix it together well, until there are no remaining streaks; at this stage you are going to look at this crumbly mess and say “Mollie, what are you making me do,” but trust. There’s a whole stick of butter in there, it will hold together after a good log-shape and a rest in the fridge, I promise.
- 1/3 cup raw cane turbinado sugar This might work with other sugars, I don’t know, but the raw cane sugar gives a delightful texture.
- Very fine zest of 1/2 an orange or lemon
- 1/2 cup good quality unsalted butter One stick
- 1/3 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup flour I’ve made with both all-purpose and bread flour; both work great.
Using your hands, rub the citrus zest into the sugar to release the oils. It should smell wonderful.
Cream the sugar and salt together with the butter, either by hand or with a mixer.
Add flour in 1/4 cup increments and mix until thoroughly each time. It should be crumbly and fairly uniform when you are done. No big chunks of butter should remain. You may need to scrape the sides of your bowl a few times.
Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and gently pour the mixture onto it. Using your hands and the wrap, form the dough into a log about 10 inches long. You need to do this very firmly, you want to really compress it. It helps to push with one hand and pull up on the wrap from underneath simultaneously.
When you have a nice, firm log, wrap again in another layer of plastic wrap; really twist the ends to make it as firmly compressed as you can. If you have one, here’s a trick I learned from Dorie Greenspan: stick your wrapped, compressed log into a paper towel roll. It’s just the right size, makes the cookies super even, and helps hold the dough together in the fridge. You can also push both ends together once you get it into the tube, which helps compress it even more.
Refrigerate your log for at least two hours. I’ve waited up to 36 hours before slicing it and there’s no difference in delicious.
When you are ready to bake, heat your oven to 350°F and line a baking tray with parchment paper. I’ve tried with silipat, but the cookies melted, I’d stick with parchment.
Remove your log from the fridge, unwrap, and slice it into about 20 cookies (slices are a chunky 1/4″). Place the cookies on the baking tray; these cookies don’t spread at all in the oven, so you can get them all on one tray.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating your tray halfway through. The cookies should have a lovely golden brown around the bottom edges. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring to a cooling rack.
Do you have any standard recipes you make while on vacation with limited supplies?