Approximately nine years ago, when I was 14 years old, I decided to try my hand at making cookies for the first time. I found an old recipe card my mom had for California Chews and decided they’d make a good first attempt. So I bought the ingredients I needed and set to work. Part of the way through my baking experience, I realized that I didn’t have any vanilla extract. I was too young to drive, not that there was a car available, and my mom was at work. So I rummaged through our cupboards and came up with the next best thing: almond extract. It turned out surprisingly good and taught me to trust my instincts when it comes to baking. This is the recipe that began it all for me.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I like to use Gold Medal Organic Unbleached)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (I use Real Salt brand sea salt)
1 cup butter (salted)
1 1/2 cups sugar (C&H makes a terrific superfine baker’s sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
Cinnamon and nutmeg
The first thing you’ll want to do is gather together your ingredients and utensils. You’ll need two separate bowls, one for dry ingredients and one for wet ingredients. I recommend a large bowl for your dry mix, as it reduces the amount of flour that can fly out of the bowl while stirring/sifting. You’ll also want a whisk, a mixer, a spatula, and a cookie sheet. And make sure you have a clean work surface.
1. Sift together the dry ingredients. The flour, salt and baking soda will go in a large bowl. Whisk them together until mixed well. Set aside.
2. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. You’re welcome to do this by hand, but it is a bit of a workout. For your first time, I’d recommend a mixer. You can use a standing mixer or a handheld, either one works, but you’ll be pouring the dry ingredients into the wet mix in a few steps so make sure the bowl you use is big enough to accomodate both parts of the batter.
3. Add almond extract and eggs to the butter mixture and stir. When cracking the eggs, use a solid flat surface to deliver a firm but gentle tap to the side of the egg. Put your thumbs at the center of the divot made by the crack and push in and apart. The egg should slide out into the bowl and the eggshell can be disposed of. Make sure you wash your hands (and any surfaces that get egg whites on them) thoroughly before continuing.
4. Add cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as any other extra ingredients you choose to include, and stir. I don’t have any kind of suggested amounts for the cinnamon and nutmeg, mostly because I add much more than most people would probably enjoy. Just eyeball it. Add until you think there’s enough. The nutmeg you can use a bit more sparingly than the cinnamon. The other optional ingredients come from the original recipe for california chews that these cookies started out as. Feel free to add or ignore them.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
6. Separate and shape dough to form small balls (about 1 inch in diameter) and place them on a cookie sheet. Depending on how big or small you make the balls, and how big or small your cookie sheet is, you should be able to fit approximately 12 ‘cookies’ on a pan. Be sure to leave enough space in between them to account for the expansion that will occur during baking.
7. Bake for approximately 9 minutes with cookie sheet on center rack of oven. Whenever I use a new cookie recipe for the first time, I assume that they did not give me a cooking time. The best way to make sure that your cookies are baked to the consistency that you like is to do the following: put the cookies in the oven, set the time for 5 minutes, check the cookies, if they’re not done put them in for one minute more and check on them again, repeat until the cookies are done to your liking. Remember though, cookies will continue to cook after you remove them from the oven so a good rule of thumb is to remove them just before you think they’re done.
8. Remove cookies from pan and cool on wire rack.
*Baker’s notes: Using salted butter in addition to the salt that you put in the dough, keeps the cookies from being too sweet. Baker’s sugar mixes better and dissolves faster giving you smoother, creamier, and better baked goods. Feel free to experiment and have fun with your baking.
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.