The texture of these sweet butter cookies is ultra-crisp, crisper than any cookie you've baked before. Unless, that is, you already know about the cookie-baker's secret weapon: baker's ammonia, or ammonium carbonate. This old-fashioned leavener, originally called hartshorn (because it was ground from deer antlers), gives cookies a snapping-crisp, extra-light texture that's indescribable, until you experience it yourself. The closest comparison might be a Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookie, if you're familiar with that treat. If you don't have baker's ammonia, use baking powder; just be aware that though the cookies will taste good, their texture won't be nearly the same.
This dough comes together quickly and easily, and the cookies lend themselves admirably to all kinds of sugar decorations. They're pretty, they keep well, and like your basic black dress, they go with everything, making them a perfect addition to your holiday cookie gift plate.
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange or lemon extract, optional
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baker's ammonia
coarse sparkling sugar or sugar decorations, for topping
*If you use salted butter, reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets. Place the different sugar decorations you're using into separate small bowls.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, salt, vanilla, and orange or lemon extract. Add the flour and baker's ammonia, and beat until the dough comes together, scraping the bowl once; it'll seem quite dry at first, but keep beating, eventually it'll become chunky and cohesive. Scoop the dough by teaspoonfuls (a teaspoon cookie scoop works wonderfully well here) into the bowls of decorations. Roll the dough balls in the sugar to coat. Put them on the prepared baking sheets, and use the bottom of a glass, dipped in sugar if necessary to prevent sticking, to flatten the balls to about 1/4-inch thick.
Bake the cookies for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they're a very light golden brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Yield: 4 dozen cookies.
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