Buttermilk Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


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Words cannot express how excited I am to be back in the kitchen and hanging with my NCJ Peeps again!  Jamison is now eight months and I sort of have this whole Mom thing down (or at least I’m not pulling my hair out) so I felt like it was the right time.  But I really missed you all!  For a while there it was a major accomplishment for me to take care of my son and bathe myself so I couldn’t imagine trying to bake a cake and take pictures of it!  Yeah right, I thought, but I was determined and so here I am folks.

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I made this cake for my dear hubby’s birthday.  Even though he said, “Oh it’s just another day, don’t do anything for me”, I gave him the side eye and completely ignored him.  We all know guys like to be spoiled sometimes and what better way to say I love you than with some yummy cake.  This was my first time making Spice Cake so I was kind of nervous but it was so good, like really really good!  Luckily I dropped it off at my husband’s office for him and his coworkers so I wouldn’t eat half of it and go into a sugar coma.

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Ingredients

2 cups brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

Roasted Walnut and Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick butter, softened
3/4 pound (about 3 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup roasted walnut pieces

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans or one 13/9 inch pan. 

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium-size mixing bowl. In two small bowls separate the egg yolks from the whites. 

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the brown sugar and butter, about 3-4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the oil in a steady stream. Add the egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.  Alternately add 1/3 of the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the batter, mixing well. With the electric mixer, in another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold them into the cake batter with a spatula. Be careful not to over mix or the egg whites will fall and all that hard work will be for nothing!  

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake until the center springs back when touched, about 25 – 40 minutes.  Your cook time is going to greatly depend on what type of pan you use and how much batter you put into the pan.  The egg whites will cause the batter to rise a lot so only fill the batter about halfway in the pan.  Check cake with a wooden toothpick and remove once toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.  After the cakes have cooled, invert them onto sheets of parchment paper. Slice each cake in half and set aside.

On a cookie sheet, roast walnuts in oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Spread a layer of the frosting over 3 layers of the cake. Place the layers of cake on top of each other and top with the fourth layer of cake. Frost the top of the cake with the remaining frosting leaving the sides exposed.   If you’re like me and want to keep things simple use a 13/9 inch pan, allow cake to cool in pan and spread frosting on top once completely cooled.  Sprinkle top of cake with roasted walnuts and slice the cake into individual servings.  

Roasted Walnut and Cream Cheese Frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the cheese and butter.  Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix well. 

 

 

Recipe adapted from Food Network

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Lamb Meatballs with Cucumber Dill Sauce

 

As my friend says, “It’s not a party without meatballs!”  So for my latest Girls Night In I made these deliciou Lamb Meatballs. I wanted to try something different from the standard BBQ  meatballs, which are pretty darn good in their own right.   However, if you’re looking for something quick and easy to make that will still impress your guests these are perfect.  They only took about 30 minutes to prepare (if that long) and 20 minutes to bake. So if you’re in a rush you can make the meatballs ahead of time, refrigerate them and pop them in the oven right before your party.

These meatballs are tender and juicy with just the right amount of crunch from the onion and toasted pine nuts.  Next time you have a party make these and trust me your guest will love you for it!  They go  perfectly with a glass of pino noir or riesling if you’re not into red wine.

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Ingredients

2 lb Lamb, ground
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 1/2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped and divided
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cup greek yogurt, strained
1/2 cup cucumber dill dressing
Fresh Dill for Garnish

Directions

In a saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes and set aside. Meanwhile in a large bowl thoroughly combine lamb, pine nuts, cumin, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon dill, egg, salt and pepper.  Add onions and combine using your hands.  Line a baking sheet with foil and roll out 1 1/2” balls placing them on baking sheet. These can be prepared ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator for up to a day.  Bake for 20 minutes.

While meatballs are baking, prepare yogurt sauce. In a small bowl, combine Cucumber Dill Dressing, yogurt, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon of dill.  Salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a starter with dipping sauce on the side and garnish with fresh dill.

 

Recipe adapted from Paula Deen

 

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Mexican Drunken Shrimp with Guacamole

Last week a few of my girlfriends and I went to dinner at Cooper’s Hawk.  If you’ve never been there, it’s a winery that also serves some pretty good food.  I will admit that my favorite part of the night, other than sharing some much needed laughs with my girls, was the wine tasting at the beginning.  It was so crowded that we had an hour and a half wait before we sat at our table!  But the wine tasting made it all worth while.  I opted for the “Sweet Wine” tasting which consisted of one ounce pours (yeah right!) of eight different wines.  I liked some and loved most of what was served, my favorite being the Cranberry and Romance Red wines.

 After all that I thought the night couldn’t get any better.  Luckily my girlfriend, Rekia, is a member of their wine club and received two of their newest cookbooks Celebration Recipes From Cooper’s Hawk Family and Friends, one of which she gave to me. Oh happy day! Cookbooks are like dirty magazines to me…I like to read them in private and they give me an obscene amount of joy, even if I never make a thing from them. However, after seeing the Mexican Drunken Shrimp on the menu and getting a complete thumbs up from my friend Monica, I decided to try this recipe for myself.

First, the shrimp is wrapped in bacon.  I could just stop there because you all know how much I LOVE bacon!  But I digress…ok so the shrimp is wrapped in bacon, but then to make the sauce you use some of the drippings and fond from the bacon, add to that tequila (yum) and some chicken broth and butter and you have a killer sauce.  To top it off add some homemade guacamole spiced up with jalapeno peppers that gives it the Mexican feel.  I would suggest serving each shrimp on a small amount of guacamole as an appetizer with some extra guac and chips on the side.  Or they can be served with rice and beans as a complete entree.   I can’t wait to make these again!

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Ingredients

For shrimp:

14 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
7 slices bacon, halved crosswise
2 tbsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tequila
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp unsalted butter

For guacamole:

2 ripe avocados
3 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice (1-2 limes)
1/2 cup and 2 tbsp diced tomato
2 tbsp minced onion
4 tsp minced, seeded jalapeno
3 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Directions

Rinse shrimp and season with garlic powder and pepper.  Wrap each shrimp in with a half slice of bacon, place a plate, cover and refrigerate.

To make the guacamole, cut the avocados in half, remove pits and scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl.  Using the back of a fork, mash the avocados until there are no large chunks.  Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of lime juice, 1/2 cup of tomato, the onion, 2 teaspoons of the chile, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, the salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly, cover and set aside.  To prevent the avocado from oxidizing, cover with plastic wrap by pressing the wrap down into the bowl until it touches the guacamole and completely covers it.

In a large pan heat the canola oil over medium high heat.  Add bacon wrapped shrimp and cook on both sides about 5 minutes on each side until shrimp is completely cooked through and bacon is done.  You may need to rotate the shrimp and cook on all sides depending on how large the shrimp is.  Remove and set aside on paper towels to drain.

Pour the fat from the pan, reduce heat to medium and add the garlic and saute about 15 seconds.  Add the tequila, stir and make sure to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Simmer and reduce by half.  Add the broth and reduce by half again.  Add the butter, remaining 1 teaspoon lime juice, 2 teaspoons of chile and 2 tablespoons of tomato.  Stir to mix well and simmer about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.

To serve place shrimp on a tablespoon size dollop of guacamole.  Spoon sauce over shrimp and garnish with cilantro and a wedge of lime.

 

Recipe adapted from Celebration Recipes from Cooper’s Hawk and Friends

 

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Roasted Turkey Sandwich with Onion Jam and Brie

By show of hands, who here loves onions?  Ok I won’t be able to see you but you know who you are!  I have a love/love relationship with onions that goes way back.  In my humble opion they are the best condiment and can be eaten with almost anything.  Since we’re sharing, here’s a quick run down of few of my favorite onion dishes: onion rings, french onion soup, caramelized onions, raw onions, white onions, yellow onions, red onions…you get the picture!

I know that the title of this post begins with “turkey sandwich” but the real star of this post is the onion jam.  So when my fellow classmate from culinary school made some I thought, “Why haven’t I thought of this before?!”.  We tasted it with toasted baguets and if it tasted that good on plain bread I knew it would be awesome on a sandwich, burger…just about anything!

After a few days of eating the traditional Thanksgiving turkey I came up with this yummy sandwich that I hope you all enjoy!

 

Ingredients

For onion jam:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon dried marjoram

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup dry red wine

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup red wine vinegar

For sandwich

Toasted baguette

Brie cheese

1 tbsp mayo

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Sliced or deli turkey meat

Directions

1. In a medium skillet set over medium-low heat, add the olive oil, Vidalia  onion and red onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and  translucent, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Stir in the marjoram, rosemary, thyme, salt and black pepper and cook for  2 minutes. Add the honey, red wine, balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar and  stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the  mixture is thickened and the liquid is almost evaporated, 35 to 40 minutes.

3. Transfer the onion jam to a bowl and cool completely. Serve at room  temperature, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5  days.

 4. Cut baguette lengthwise and lightly toast cut side up.   Layer sandwich in this order: bread, Dijon mustard, onion jam, turkey meat, brie cheese, lettuce (if desired), mayo and bread.

Turkey sandwich an NCJ Original

Onion Jam Recipe adapted from Tasting Table

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Candied Yams

Thanksgiving is finally here and me, my mom and dad are busy cooking, baking, sauteeing, boiling and grilling and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.  Put two of my favorite things together, family and food, and I’m a happy girl 🙂

Candied yams are a classic soul food dish and I grew up eating them at Sunday dinners with my family and definitely during holidays.  I’ve seen several versions where they’re baked and topped with marshmallows, but in this version the sweet potatoes are lightly boiled and sauteed with a brown sugar butter sauce on top of the stove.  They cook pretty quickly and can be ready to go in 40 minutes.  However, if you have the time allow them to slow cook for several hours.  I think this allows the syrup to caramelize and makes a sweeter (and yummier) dish.

Ingredients

4-6 medium sweet potatoes peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch segments

1 stick of sweetened salted butter

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp real vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

Directions

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch medallions.  Boil potatoes until they pierce easily with a fork but are still firm.

In separate pot melt butter and brown sugar together add all seasonings.  Add sweet potato medallions and cover with brown sugar cinnamon mixture.  Simmer 30-40 minutes with a lid on the pan until potatoes have caramelized.  Be careful not to stir too much or potatoes will fall apart.  Serve warm.

Recipe adapted from The Joy of Soul Food

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Roasted Turkey

When you think of Thanksgiving one of the first images that come to mind is THE Thanksgiving turkey.  Placed at the center of the table with all the trimmings, surrounded by the delicious side dishes and your family sitting around the table waiting expectantly for that first slice.  This is exactly why I’ve avoided making one all these years.  I usually defer to my mom, the turkey maker, to pull off this classic dish with no help from me.  But since I began this cooking journey I decided I needed to be brave and if I could make a delicious turkey then so could you NCJ Peeps!

 

I’m not ashamed to admit it….one of the most intimidating things for me to cook has always been a turkey.  Most cooks have their achilles heel and this has for a long time been mine.  I mean first of all it’s huge and it just looks intimidating;  like it’s daring me to mess up and make a dry burnt bird.  But with the encouragement of my friend Monica and this awesome recipe from Alton Brown I decided I was not going to let this bird beat me…I’m smarter than the turkey, lol!

 

Within the first 30 minutes of roasting I could smell the savory herbs and spices throughout my entire house and I knew this was going to be good.  Soaking the turkey in a brine allows the spices, and yes salt, to penetrate the meat itself so no additional seasoning is needed.  The meat stays moist and no basting is needed as long as you watch the internal temperature and pull the bird out of the oven as soon as it reaches 161 degrees.  If you want you can sprinkle an herb mixture on the skin of the turkey before roasting it but I would advise against using anything with salt.  The meat is so flavorful and juicy from the brine that none is needed.

 

Needless to say I absolutely love this recipe and will be using it whenever a turkey is needed.  I usually make some changes to a recipe to put my spin on it, but this one is good as is.  I was like a proud mama pulling my turkey out of the oven and was even prouder when I saw the faces of my family when they tasted it.  I highly recommend using this recipe if this is your first or fiftieth time making a turkey.

In the spirit of  Thanksgiving, I am thankful for God’s grace & mercy, my family and my friends.  What are you thankful for this holiday season?

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

♥ Nina

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Ingredients

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 gallon vegetable stock

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger

1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:

1 red apple, sliced

1/2 onion, sliced

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup water

4 sprigs rosemary

6 leaves sage

Canola oil

Directions

2 to 3 days before roasting: Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F. Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you’d like to eat: Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket (I bought a cheap one from Home Depot) . Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels. Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

 

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown, Food Network

 

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Baked Mac n Cheese

Every family has their holiday traditions and my family is no different.  My mom makes the dressing, turkey and cakes while my Dad makes the greens, sweet potatoes, mac n cheese and sweet potato pie.  The peach cobbler has become my specialty but this year I decided to help my parents make Thanksgiving dinner with the hopes that when I have my own family someday I won’t burn the house down!

 

I know the turkey is the star of Thanksgiving but in my family baked mac n cheese is just as important.  My Dad tried many recipes and methods before making the perfect version and even though this is not his recipe it’s pretty darn good.  Don’t tell them I said this, but my sisters are mac n cheese snobs and they ate the whole pan, lol.  So I would call that a major success.

This year I’ll be peeking over my Dad’s shoulder to see what he puts in his mac n cheese so hopefully I’ll be making an update to this post in the near future 😉  In the meantime enjoy!

♥ Nina

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Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 (8 ounce) package elbow macaroni

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese

1 cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add onion and saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in flour and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in milk, salt, mustard and pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until mixture boils and thickens.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.  Do not over cook or macaroni will be mushy.

Add the cheddar and American cheeses; stir until cheese melts. Combine macaroni, 1 cup of mild cheddar and cheese sauce in a 2 quart baking dish; mix well.  Sprinkle the top of the macaroni with remaining cheddar and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.   If you like a brown crust on your macaroni, broil on low heat for 3-5 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

 

*An NCJ Original*

 

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Nina’s Top 5 Halloween Treats

Since Halloween falls on my birthday month I’m usually very festive and happy around this time of the year!  I usually get into the mood but this year has been kind of hectic and I wasn’t able to make my own Halloween treats so I picked some of my favorites that you can still make in time to enjoy the holiday.  I did attempt to make some caramel apples but…let’s just say my microwave turned into a caramel nightmare so that idea was out!  Have a wonderful Happy Halloween NCJ Peeps!

♥ Nina

Pumpkin Patch Puffs from Table Spoon

 

Roasted Pumpkin Pasta from Annie’s Eats

 

Caramel Apples from Paula Deen

 

Crisp Candy-Corn Treats from Martha Stewart

 

Candy Corn Martinis from The Slow Roasted Italian

 

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Dean’s Carrot Cupcakes

I’ve always thought carrot cake was so weird, I mean who would think that carrots could be a part of something so sweet?  Well as I’ve gotten older my pallat has matured and when I finally got up the courage to try this recipe I was pleasantly surprised.  This is actually my Dad’s favorite cake (hence the name) so I was happy to come accross this recipe that met his standards 🙂

 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound medium carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups melted butter
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use (or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and finely chopped
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together carrots, eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla seeds, and raisins and nuts if desired. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture until well combined.
  2. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until testers inserted into centers come out clean, 23 to 28 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks, 10 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto wire racks, and let cool completely. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen for up to 2 months in airtight containers.
  3. Frost cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

 

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Lemon & Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

There is nothing more basic than a sugar cookie and if you’re like me they taste best plain and warm straight from the oven!  However, there are times where decorating the cookie can turn a plain cookie from good to great.  Since it is Easter I decided to jazz up some sugar cookies with fun, pretty decorations that I think anyone can do. I came across this awesome recipe from Annie’s Eats that are so good I didn’t change a thing.  They are very simple to make, took me maybe about 20 minutes to prep.  Honestly, before I found this recipe I used the prepackaged stuff (I know that’s horrible coming from a culinary student, lol) but these were so easy I don’t think I’ll ever go back.  The main thing I found most important was to make sure to get the desired thickness of the cookies (about 1/4 inch) when rolling the dough and cutting them.  Also, make sure not to let them brown at all.  This allows the cookies to still be somewhat soft even after they’ve cooled.  This was also my first attempt at using royal icing so I will be posting the recipe for that very soon.  Hope you enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • Zest of half a lemon (or the zest of a whole lemon, if you love lemon)
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt

 

Directions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, seeds scraped from the vanilla bean, and lemon zest until blended.  Mix in the flour and salt on low speed just until incorporated.
  2. Form the dough into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 1-2 hours.
  3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375˚ F.
  4. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll the dough out on a well floured work surface to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters as desired and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.
  5. Bake 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until fully cooked but not at all browned.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Decorate as desired.

 

Source: Annie’s Eats (http://annies-eats.com/2010/04/02/sugar-cookies-revisited/)

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