This recipe was born out of an understocked pantry. A small friend came over to "help" bake cookies, and while I was whipping up the dough I realized I was out of white sugar and nearly out of flour. What to do?
Brown sugar and a supplement of whole wheat flour to the rescue! And, it turns out, these cookies are so much the better for the changes. The brown sugar makes them a little softer and more supple, and also more flavorful. The half cup of whole wheat flour gives them just a slight nuttiness without making them grainy or chalky.
And just in case that brown flour should make them too healthy, we piled on a cream cheese frosting, thick and whipped, with a touch of molasses and nutmeg. So delicious!! And yes, it looks like a lot of icing (well, I suppose it is) but it's really good on these cookies. They turn out like reverse cupcakes, with a firm, toothsome cookie bottom and a soft mound of whipped frosting on top. A decadent treat for a special occasion, for sure.
Here's the adapted recipe, with a rough outline of the cream cheese frosting also attached. The frosting is hard to write down; I make it differently every time, but you really can't go wrong with a box of powdered sugar, cream cheese, and a little vanilla! Just whip and add more sugar or milk until you get to the texture you want.
My little friend had a very good time with these, I must say, and we even nodded to the summer season by topping a few of them with strawberries. It was like the classic strawberry-brown sugar-sour cream combo, but in cookie form. Such a sweet treat!
Brown Sugar Cookies with a Touch of Whole Wheat
2-3 dozen, depending on size of cookie and their thickness
1 cup butter, softened at room temperature for an hour
2 ounces cream cheese (1/4 of a standard cream cheese package)
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese with the sugar. Cream until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon zest, and beat until lightened and creamy.
Add the flours, baking powder, and salt to the creamed butter mixture and beat just until well-combined.
Prepare a large cookie sheet (or two) by lining with wax paper. Pat the dough out on the wax paper then cover with another sheet of wax paper and roll to an even thickness. (I've made these as thin as an eighth of an inch, and as thick as half an inch; it's up to you.)
Put in the fridge for about an hour or until the dough is firm to the touch.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Prepare another large cookie sheet (or two, or three) by lining with parchment paper. Take out the dough and peel off the top layer of wax paper. Cut out cookie shapes and lay on the prepared cookie sheet.
Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes, depending on thickness. Thinner cookies will start to brown after about 8 minutes. I find that these are best when cut thick and then just slightly undercooked; they will hold their shape and not break, but they will still be soft and toothsome.
Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 3-5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting and decorating.
(Adapted from my go-to Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies recipe, which makes about three times as many cookies, and is an absolute standby/warhorse/rock solid dependable recipe.)
Cream Cheese Frosting with Molasses and Nutmeg
about 3 cups
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 pound powdered sugar, more or less
Milk, if necessary
Whip the cream cheese and butter until fully combined. Whip in the molasses, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt. Add the powdered sugar slowly, cup by cup, and whip until you get the desired consistency. Add a teaspoon of milk or two if it gets too thick. Spread and enjoy!
(Images: Faith Durand)