Mouths to Feed: Sweet Sunshine

Suddenly the afternoons fling open like little packages, releasing extra hours of bright daylight into our busy lives. Surely this warrants some kind of celebration — a welcoming ceremony?

Sugar Cookies with Olive Oil, Orange, Almond and Cardamom

Sugar Cookies with Olive Oil, Orange, Almond and Cardamom

Yet in my corner of the world, the successive appearances of daylight saving time and spring equinox align with the kids’ spring breaks, so a certain young-adult lethargy pervades the household, counteracting nature’s bounce. Perhaps that’s why I found myself wanting to bake sugar cookies this past week: to inject a little pep into our days. Or maybe it’s because the longer afternoons allow time for a mini-meal between lunch and supper, an afternoon tea, perhaps, or a milk-and-cookies snack, depending on your predilection. Sugar cookies fit that bill, too. 

Or maybe the real reason is this: I want to put on an apron and play stereotypical Mom for an afternoon. Because the truth is, as the kids’ lives evolve, I sometimes find myself feeling off balance, and few things offer comfort and stability like clinging to an old cliche. 

I remember when I was in college and would come home for vacation, I always felt as if I was being squeezed back into an identity that no longer fit. No matter how much I had changed (or thought I had), being with my family felt like reverting to an old, outdated self. 

At the time, I had no idea that my mother and father might be going through a similar adjustment. But now I know that we parents also have evolving lives. We have work selves, social selves and private selves in addition to our family selves (to name just a few). And we, too, are different people when our kids are not around. And when any one of us changes, the whole interlocking puzzle shifts and shuffles and rearranges itself.

All of which makes me appreciate my own mother, who has always kept an impeccable household — at 89, she still cooks and cleans with astonishing grace and ease — and who punctuates each day with her own personal ritual. Every afternoon, for as long as I can remember, she takes a post-lunch nap (because she is from Scandinavia, she doesn’t call it a siesta, but that is what it is), after which she has a cup of tea accompanied by something sweet: a cookie, biscuit or small slice of cake. Often this is her only sweet treat of the day, and she brings to the moment a lovely sense of presence and relish — what we might these days call “mindfulness.”

My mother loves cardamom, a staple of Scandinavian baking. So when I got ready to bake sugar cookies, I thought I might try flavoring them with cardamom. No sooner had I latched onto that idea than I started imagining other complementary flavors: almond, sure, and why not a pinch of cinnamon? For that matter, how about a little orange zest? Before long, I’d come up with a kind of evolved snickerdoodle (structured on a recipe I found on the King Arthur website). It turned out to be the perfect treat for these restless, joy-filled days.

Sugar Cookies with Olive Oil, Orange, Almond and Cardamom

The ingredient list looks long, but the dough comes together quickly in one bowl. Note that the batter should chill 2 to 3 hours before baking. 

  • ½ cup (one stick) butter, melted and cooled (see note)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of one orange
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

For coating: 

  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • Grated zest of one orange

1. In a medium bowl, gently mix together the melted butter, olive oil and both sugars. Stir in the orange zest, egg and extracts. Add the cardamom and cinnamon and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and mix just until combined. 

2. Cover bowl and transfer to the refrigerator. Allow to chill for 2 to 3 hours; overnight is also fine. 

3. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment or a silpat liner. Prepare the coating: In a shallow dish, mix together all the ingredients, using your fingertips to break up and integrate the zest if needed.

4. Using a tablespoon-size scoop or kitchen spoon, scoop out the batter, roll it into a ball, then roll it in the coating. Place on baking sheet, flattening slightly with the heel of your hand. To make a sunburst pattern (optional), press the tip of a small wire whisk into the surface of the cookie dough, rotating slightly. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until just beginning to brown at edges. 

Note: To quickly prepare melted, cooled butter, place cut butter pieces in a small pan over low heat until about half melted. Turn off heat and allow the remaining butter to soften in the warmth of the liquefied butter, stirring occasionally. The solid pieces will cool the mixture as they melt.

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