One day last week I’d planned to bake the Sour Cream Chocolate Loaf Cake from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. (What a terrific book! A former sister-in-law gave me my copy for Christmas of 1980, and it’s had a lot of use. Read more about it here on Amazon.) It’s a delicious, undemanding cake that wouldn’t have been much trouble to make once I got home from running errands in town. Showing unusual forethought, I’d even set out the required quantity of butter to soften before I left the house that morning. But when I returned home that afternoon and was putting away the groceries, I realized I’d forgotten to buy the sour cream.
Well, crud. Now what? Even the closest grocery store would have taken me 90 minutes for a “quick” sour cream run. I sent a grumpy, self-pitying text message to The Daughter, who bracingly (and with an annoying lack of compassion) replied that she was certain I’d find something else to make instead.
So I started flipping through my cookie recipes. As I did, I asked myself what I was in the mood for. Did I still want chocolate? What about nuts? Or oats? How about crunchy vs. chewy? Really, I could have made almost anything. I keep a plentiful inventory of baking supplies on hand. (Except for sour cream. And almond paste. And candied ginger. Just about anything else I find appealing is always covered, though.) But at this point, late afternoon was approaching, so I needed something easy and quick to throw together. Then I came across a cookie that may be the easiest and quickest of the lot, an old family recipe that was handed down from my mother’s mother. It’s slice-and-bake, warmly aromatic and satisfying, and yes, that really is two tablespoons of cinnamon that it calls for. I hadn’t made this cookie in years, but it’s just as wonderful as I remember.
Cinnamon Icebox Cookies (makes two approx. 11” logs, each yielding at least 18 cookies)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar (I use dark)
¾ c. softened butter
¼ c. vegetable shortening
2 eggs (lg. or extra-lg.)
3 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 c. broken-up or chopped pecan halves, toasted 7-8 minutes in a 350° oven until fragrant, then cooled
1. Cream the sugars thoroughly with the butter and shortening. (This makes a fairly stiff dough, so I use a stand mixer.) If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the mixing bowl.
2. While the mixer’s doing its thing, stir together the flour, baking soda and cinnamon with a fork or whisk.
3. When the sugars and butter/shortening are ready, add in the flour/baking soda/cinnamon mixture, alternating with the two eggs.
4. Add in the cooled, toasted pecans and give everything a final, combining stir-together.
5. Form into two logs, each about 11” long and 1 ½” in diameter, and roll tightly in plastic wrap or waxed paper.
6. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before baking, and keep stored in the refrigerator. If freezing the logs, give them an extra wrapping in foil and then in plastic bags.
7. Cut into ¼” slices, as many at a time as you like, and bake on parchment paper or Silpat (allowing a bit of room for them to spread) in a pre-heated 350° oven for 16-18 minutes. They will be firm enough to plate almost at once.
• My ancient copy of the recipe calls for one cup of butter. But not all butter, mind you. The recipe declares the measuring cup must contain “part shortening,” which is one of my mother’s vague and unhelpful explanations that explain nothing, like the infamous “knifeful of shortening” she calls for in her flour tortilla recipe. Over the years, I’ve defined the shortening portion as one-quarter cup, while the butter makes up the other three-quarters.
• I’ve baked off several logs of these cookies all at once for holiday parties, and they’re delicious. At room temperature they’ve got good crunch, thanks to the addition of the vegetable shortening. But they are truly sublime when they’re hot from the oven: softer and chewier in the middle but crunchy around the edges, with the toasty-rich flavor of the pecans shining through. And of course, they’ll be gently redolent of cinnamon.
• Speaking of cinnamon, don’t be hesitant about the 2 Tbsps. The cookies won’t be over-spiced or acrid. They’ll be perfect. 😉