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New Brunswick Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

They say time goes by a little more slowly on the East Coast. The people are calmer, the traffic less hectic, and nobody ever really seems to be in a rush to get anywhere.

The stores aren’t open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – in fact, you’ll be lucky to buy a loaf of bread if it’s past 5 pm on a Sunday. It’s what some people might find inconvenient or old-fashioned, but real Maritimers know that there are far more important things to be doing on a Sunday night than scurrying around supermarkets or shopping for handbags. Things like piling wood into your basement for the coming winter, fixing a pot of tea for your family or taking a drive to see your grandparents.

I always used to think that made the Maritimes boring. The fast-paced cities – the ones that rarely seemed to sleep – were exciting to me, a girl from a town so small it seemed to be in permanent doze mode.

But I’m starting to re-evaluate my scathing regard of Maritime life. I’m learning to appreciate that maybe 110 per cent isn’t the be-all-end-all, that maybe firing on just one cylinder isn’t all that bad.

This occurred to me recently while sitting on a two-hour flight back to Toronto, after a solid two-and-half weeks home on the East Coast.

Being home took some adjusting. The very first night back in my old bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. I tried stacking all the pillows under my head, I alternated between laying on my side, my stomach and my back, and I even tried counting backwards from 50.

Around 2 am, it finally hit me: the room was completely, utterly, disturbingly silent. There were no sirens, no traffic, no central air blowing through the vents. There was just my breathing and the occasional crackle from a stick of wood in the stove downstairs.

Total silence. After months of constant white noise, my body couldn’t handle it anymore.

The next day, I woke up to the sound of the kettle whistling downstairs – my dad preparing his morning tea. A very Maritime thing, tea is. City people would much rather guzzle their caffeine in more concentrated and therefore time-efficient forms, from paper cups labeled with Starbucks.

The remainder of my day, and all the other days I was home for that matter, was spent puttering around the house and going for walks through farmers’ fields along the marsh. That’s another great thing about the East Coast – you can walk freely on another man’s property without a suspicious eye targeted your way or a patrol car sidling up beside you.

I ate supper at an actual dinner table at a reasonable time of day, rather than my 8 pm routine of balancing a plate of supper on my knees as I distracted myself with television. I dialed it back a bit, took a few longer breaths, and actually tilted my head upward to see the stars. And, just once, I swear I actually heard snow fall. It was exhilarating.

But rather than get too nostalgic, I’ve been doing my best to incorporate the things I liked best about being on the East Coast into my life here in the city. I’ve been forcing myself to leave work on time so that I can go home and eat supper at a reasonable hour – at the dinner table of all places. I smile at bus drivers and strangers whenever I can, I say “thank you” as often and as heartfelt as possible, and most of all, I’ve been drinking a heck of a lot of tea.

Because it doesn’t really matter where I lay my head at night – in my heart, the East Coast will always be home.

This recipe is adapted from one my dad clipped out of the local newspaper I used to work for. It’s an even sweeter twist on the classic sugar cookie, incorporating my favourite of all genuine East Coast ingredients, pure maple syrup. A dusting of warm cinnamon really does the trick to make them the perfect accompaniment to a steaming cup of black tea.

Tools

Small and large mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Wooden spoon
Pastry cutter
Large baking sheet
Spatula
Wire rack

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp white sugar, divided
4 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 tbsp pure maple syrup

Instructions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp white sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and remaining 1/2 cup white sugar. Cut in butter and stir in maple syrup. Form into small 1-inch balls and roll in cinnamon mixture to coat (If mixture won’t easily form into balls, drizzle in additional maple syrup and pack well with your hands). Place cookies on a large baking sheet, leaving 1 to 2 inches between each. Bake for 15 minutes, until bottoms are light golden and tops begin to lightly crack. Let cool on sheet for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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Santa’s Favourite Sugar Cookies

I didn’t always like that I liked to bake. Ever since that one fateful day when I disastrously attempted baking blueberry muffins, I’ve been attracted to the idea of making something from nothing, and then sharing it with people.

Maybe that’s why I love writing so much; I can take a blank page and turn it into something that makes me smile, or cry, or brings back a memory that I’d forgotten. If I’m really lucky, that story does the same for someone else.

But baking used to be a sore spot for me. I was never very good at it, and my baking screw-ups tended to outweigh the few times I made something that actually got eaten.

Baking was, and still is, volatile: it’s unpredictable, and following the rules doesn’t fix everything. You need to wing it most of the time, and you need to accept failure and work past it. Neither of those things are my strong suits. I like routine and planning, but in the trenches of the kitchen, even the best planning won’t save crusty dough or watery gravy. You need to deal with the trauma, and honestly, that freaks me out.

I didn’t latch on to the idea of cooking or baking; even though in the moment I loved the serenity and repetition, I couldn’t get over the possibility of failure. After finally succeeding with the muffin recipe, I stuck to it, and didn’t bother trying to make anything else. I made them at least once a month, never straying from the recipe. They were good muffins, mind you, and my family certainly appreciated them, but the fact that I never dared to venture outside of that recipe was emblematic of my own self-esteem issues. I was afraid of failing again, so I didn’t bother trying anything else.

Except at Christmas – there was this one recipe for sugar cookies that came in a kid’s book someone gave me, and for whatever reason, I insisted on making them every December. Truth be told, they were awful. I always burned the bottoms and they were hard as rocks. Everyone knew they were dreadful, too, and they sat in the tin for weeks after I made them, until eventually someone would throw them out sometime after New Years. The only ones that ever left the tin were the few that I dug out and put on a plate beside the fireplace for Santa every Christmas Eve.

The only reason I made them was because I loved to bake, always had, but never had a reason to, other than those blueberry muffins. Christmas was the perfect excuse, because I knew that I had to make those cookies for Santa.

As I grew older, I still baked sugar cookies every Christmas, but I got a little more confident in my baking abilities. Rather than sticking to the recipe book, I played around  a little bit, adding more or less ingredients depending on the consistency of the dough. And rather than sticking them in the oven for the prescribed amount of minutes, I watched them obsessively, pulling them out of the oven the minute I sensed they were done.

Just like the muffins, the sugar cookies improved. I no longer need my mom to help me knead the dough because I mixed it all wrong or didn’t add enough liquid, and I only really use the recipe notes for guidelines; for the most part, I go by what looks and feels right. And best of all, people actually eat them.

Once I got over the sting of my original failure, I was okay. I think I realized that one failure doesn’t mean I’m doomed forever. It just means I have to work harder the next time, and the success will be even sweeter.

Tools

two mixing bowls (medium and large)
wooden spoon
measuring cups
measuring spoons
plastic wrap
wooden cutting board
rolling pin
cookie sheet
spatula
wire rack

Ingredients

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk

Instructions

In a medium size bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until soft, either with a wooden spoon or a mixer. Slowly beat in sugar, egg, vanilla, and milk. When well combined, stir in dry mix, a little at a time. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour, just until the dough is stiff enough to roll into a firm ball.

Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. Once dough is chilled, let sit at room temperature until it softens up a bit to the touch.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out dough on a floured board until 1/2 inch thick. Cut dough with cookie cutters and place on ungreased baking pan. Top with sprinkles and bake for 6-8 minutes, until bottoms start to turn golden.

Let cookies sit on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Enjoy!