I know, I know… “lemony bitchet cookies? What the heck do you mean?” Well, obviously there is some reference to the delightful children’s books by the fictional Lemony Snicket wherein an unfortunate batch of orphaned siblings battle and endless string of disappointments, but still I know you are thinking, “yes, yes, but isn’t that a rather lame name for a cookie? Isn’t that a little bit much of a stretch?” And I would agree. Except it was catchy sounding and more, shall we say, ‘family-friendly’ than the alternative title I gave them. Which was “When life gives you lemons… well fuck you” cookies. Uncensored. Because who are those three asterisks after the ‘f’ really going to fool? And why, you ask? Well therein lies the story.
We all know the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Which is all well and good, but sometimes it seems that life is more content to fling sacks and sacks of lemons at you all at once, and even the most optimistic people at some point just want to start flinging the lemons back, because frankly that much lemonade is just bad for your dental work. And sometimes those of us who are more on the more cynical/realistic end of things want to yell out obscenities in the face of flying citrus, since all that lemonade was starting to cause cavities. And they made me think of a couple of friends of mine, who shall remain nameless, but suffice to say they had a horrible year in 2012. Flaming lemons aplenty came pouring out of the sky. A series of unfortunate events, if you will. And they are definitely of the ilk to yell obscenities back at the flaming lemons while grabbing them out of the sky and winging them back at high velocity. Yes, this does relate to the cookies, just bear with me.
The cookies begat their name on a sort of cold winter’s night (sorry, Mother Nature, but this Wisconsin girl thinks you are cheating Chicago out of another winter.) I needed to make cookies that evoked lady-like airs, or at least what I imagine lady-like airs to be, as I was going to a viewing of Downton Abbey (sidebar: I beg of anyone who has already downloaded and watched the 3rd season, do NOT tell me what goes on. I prefer the mystery.) I had plans for a light and delicate shortbread, laced with lemon zest and a hint of orange blossom liqueur. I would pull out the prettily patterned Swedish cookie stamps I had and imprint them all with a pretty little floral motif. It would be grand. Butter and sugar were whipped together, a hit of vanilla here, another hit of a fancy orange blossom liqueur I had on hand (Koval Orange Blossom Liqueur, it is a fantastic local distillery on the north side of Chicago), a bit of flour, and voila! A simple, succulent little log of cookie dough that was swiftly wrapped and set in the refrigerator to chill. And then I poured myself a glass of wine.
This is where things went wrong. Not the wine part. The cookie part. I pulled the log of dough out, and it sliced up just fine and dandy. But then came the stamps. I stamped one into the waiting cookie as it laid innocently on the baking sheet. It smooshed out into an irregular oval, and then decided to exact its revenge upon the cookie stamp by refusing to let go and embed raw dough into the crevices. A small bit of oil was poured out, and a pastry brush deployed to delicately oil the surface of another stamp in an attempt to thwart the clinging phenomenon. Again the oval, and this time a small oil slick, pooling in some vague indentations. Ew. I rummaged around and eventually found the original instructions, which claim you are supposed to warm the damned things first in the oven as it pre-heated. Of course at that very moment the oven dinged, signalling it had finished pre-heating. I took a long, slow pull off of my wine glass and squinted at the cookies. I decided that a more simple form was ultimately more appealing, sponged the offending pooling oil off of the few experimental stampings gone wrong, and shoved the tray in the oven, deciding that the cookie stamps were more lemony than I suspected. I wrote it off to having a Norwegian heritage, and somehow, somewhere, the cookie stamps, which are from Sweden, knew this and decided to mess with me as a part of that age old Scandinavian rivalry. Yes, that’s right, the cookie stamps are sentient. Let’s move on.
But of course in the spirit of making lemonade of a lemony situation, I still felt compelled to try something else. Maybe a lovely light icing would do, made with the lemon juice of the very lemon I had just zested to put in the cookie dough. I pulled out some organic powdered sugar, and I will stop right here to say… never buy organic powdered sugar. Maybe it was the brand, maybe it was my distrust of it from the beginning, but seriously? So bad for the icing I was attempting to make, and so unbelievably clumpy and every so slightly pale grey. I dutifully sifted the powdered sugar, and squeezed the lemon in. It turned… a brownish grey. I grimaced, unsure of what to do. So I kept stirring, thinking that somehow the color would improve as I whipped more air into it. It turned into a slightly paler thick paste. I needed more liquid. I splashed in some of the orange blossom liqueur, hoping its clear properties would help with the color issue. Not really. I hurriedly looked up an actual recipe for such an icing, and it had all of what I had in, and a small pat of soft butter. I threw the butter in and desperately beat everything into a frenzy, trying to eliminate every last little globule. Then I tasted it. And it was horrible. I took another sip of wine to cleanse my palette of the nastily assault it just had. And then poured the frosting down the drain. And did not start again. Because sometimes when life throws you lemons, you can zest them, get a small prize out of them, juice them, decide that was a horrible idea, and just throw them away and move on. Is this a perfect metaphor? Oh heavens no, I think it’s a giant stretch, and in my head this all related to my friends that had bad years last year and would gladly fling lemons back at the universe while yelling obscenities. But it doesn’t really matter, because ultimately, they were really tasty cookies with a vaguely catchy name. And better off with less lemon.
Lemony Bitchet Cookies
2 oz. (1/4 cup) sugar
4 oz. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. orange blossom liqueur (I realize this is a strange ingredient most people do not have lying around. It is not necessary, but definitely tasty. Do not substitute any type of extract for this, or you will have one nasty cookie on hand. I could advise adding in some orange zest, though, or maybe even squeeze in half of that lemon… which is a little fast and loose as far as directions go, but what the heck.)
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. (1 1/4 cups) regular unbleached all-purpose flour
Cream together butter and sugar until all light and fluffy. Add in vanilla, lemon zest, orange blossom liqueur (or orange zest or lemon juice, if using,) and salt. Beat just until combined. Add in the flour, beat until it is fairly well incorporated and the dough is in big soft chunks. Then reach in with your hands and gather the whole mass into a single, solid blob of dough. Roll into a log approximately 1 1/2″ in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper, and set to chill in the refrigerator.
At this point, preheat the oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and slice into 3/8″ thick rounds. If you are feeling particularly festive, you could always roll the log in some turbinado sugar before slicing to add extra crunch around the edges.
Arrange the cookies on your baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges have turned a lovely golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack, and then try to not eat immediately. But you really have to try them while they are still warm. They are good completely chilled, but they are DIVINE still warm and not fully set.