Sparkle-icious

Did you know July 9 is National Sugar Cookie Day? Looking ahead, July 11 is National Blueberry Muffin Day. And the 12th? National Pecan Pie Day. Alas, you already missed National Clams on the Half Shell Day (March 31) and National Cheeseball Day (April 17). But don’t despair; if you can hang on till September 14, you can join the celebration for National Cream-Filled Donut Day—and there’s NOTHING more exciting than that. (Except perhaps National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, December 30).

Where, pray tell, does this information come from, you ask? State Symbols USA, “a nonprofit organization promoting appreciation for our natural treasures and cultural heritage.” Of which National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day (March 24) is certainly one.

I’m not a huge fan of sugar cookies, to tell you the truth. I find them kind of… well, vanilla. I know more than 50% of the U.S. population names vanilla ice cream as their #1 flavor, but I’m more of a chocolate gal. Or butter pecan.

Still, there are those who love sugar cookies. And there are only about a million sugar cookie recipes out there. You’ve got your soft sugar cookies, your crunchy sugar cookies, and your snapping-crisp rollout sugar cookies, perfect for decorating. There are madeleines, vanilla biscotti, snickerdoodles, linzer cookies, stroopwafels, shortbread… In fact, we devote an entire chapter of The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion to sugar cookies. (And now, a word from our sponsor: If you don’t already have this book, give it a look. It’ll be your best friend in the kitchen, come holiday baking time.)

So, sugar cookies—how do I choose a favorite? Get out the dart board? Nope, this one is slam-dunk obvious for me. I’ve loved Crystal Diamonds for years, ever since I ran into their progenitor recipe, John Thorne’s Arnhem Cookies; which in turn are probably derived from Arnhemse meisjes (“Arnhem Girls”), a signature cookie of Arnhem, the Netherlands. (Remember the Presidential Cookie Bake-Off—there ARE no originals.)

If vanilla trumps chocolate in your book, or you’re looking to raise its profile in your baking repertoire, try these crunchy Crystal Diamonds.

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Flour, salt, milk, TWO DROPS of lemon oil—really, just two—and… yeast? Yup, yeast in a cookie. That’s a first, huh? I imagine some of you are wondering, can I make these without yeast? And the answer is—I don’t know, I’ve never tried. Give it a try, report back.

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Mix everything together to make a rough dough.

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Next, cut a stick of unsalted butter into 8 pieces.

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Beat the pieces of butter into the dough one at a time, beating for a full minute after adding each piece. The dough will become soft and satiny smooth. Place it in a bowl, cover the bowl, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or as long as overnight. It needs to be absolutely, thoroughly chilled.

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Sprinkle white sparkling sugar on your clean work surface. Can you use Demerara? Sure; it just won’t be as pretty. Place the cold dough atop the sugar, and sprinkle more sugar on top.

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Roll the dough VERY thin. Though it’s a challenging goal, 1/16” is ideal. Do your best.

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Use a rolling pizza wheel or knife to cut the dough into diamond shapes. This particular pizza cutter is made of acrylic, and is safe for non-stick surfaces—like this silicone rolling mat—so long as you don’t press down TOO hard.

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The diamonds won’t be perfect. The ones around the edge will be ragged. And as you roll the dough it starts to warm up and become a bit sticky, so that the cookies stretch as you work with them. No worries; again, do the best you can. You’re not going to enter these in a beauty contest. (Are you?)

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Put them in the preheated oven. As they bake, you’ll see them puffing up and becoming bubbly. Let them bake till they’re good and brown, a rich medium-mahogany color…

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…like this. If you don’t bake them till they’re deep brown, they’ll be chewy, rather than crunchy. They’ll still taste fine, and if you prefer chewy cookies, go for it. But these cookies, with their crackly sugar coating, are designed to crunch when you bite them.

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Uh, by the way, this is what happens when your timer goes off and you think, “Hmmm, wonder why that timer went off? I must have turned it on by mistake,” and you go on working for about, oh, an hour or so, till you finally smell something burning…

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And here’s what happens when you DON’T forget you have cookies in the oven, and you manage to bake them to a perfect golden brown. Success! I need to reiterate—these should be very dark brown, just teetering on the edge of being burned. I think this picture makes them seem a little lighter than they should be. What you’re doing here is like making caramel—the closer you get to burned (WITHOUT actually going there), the richer the flavor.

Read the complete Recipe for Crystal Diamonds.

Buy vs. Bake

While there’s no exact match for these cookies at the supermarket, the ones they probably come closest to, taste-wise, are Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies; so that’s the comparison this time.

Buy: Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux Cookies, 47¢/ounce

Bake at home: Crystal Diamonds, 16¢/ounce

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Trisha

    I LOVE my King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion book, and look forward to baking all the variations of favorite types of cookies! I am trying to find a recipe that is close to (but better than, of course!) Nilla Wafers. Any suggestions?

    Yes yes yes yes YES! Vanilla Dreams, p. 62… If you can spring for the baker’s ammonia from our catalogue (or find it someplace local), it makes a big difference. Unbelievable melt-in-your-mouth/crisp texture. – PJH

    Reply
  2. Glenn

    This cookie looks good. (And, BTW, hope the good bakers at KA are preparing a recipe for us for Sept. 14, Cream-filled Doughnut Day!)

    Regarding the baker’s ammonia: does it go by another name? Regarding its availability: do I recall (from you or one of the cookbooks) that it is sometimes available from pharmacies? If so, what would THEY call it. Might a local bakery carry it?

    Hi Glenn,

    You may be able to locate the baker’s ammonia locally. It is known as ammonium carbonate. If you can get a local bakery to sell you (or give you!) a small amount, that would be great. It naturally dissipates over time, so once in a while you open your container, and it is empty, so go for the smallest jar you can find. I know you can find citric acid at most pharmacies, but do check there for the ammonium carbonate as well.

    Best of luck in your search, it’s worth it!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  3. Beth

    I can attest to the Vanilla Dreams that PJ mentions. They take you into a higher dimension. (no, not Twilight Zone kind of dimension). They are truly out of this world. I need to make these Crystal Diamonds. These look grrreat!!

    Reply
  4. Amy

    Can I substitute grated lemon rind for the lemon oil? If so, how much should I use to get a subtle flavor?

    Hi Amy,
    Typically you put a teaspoon of grated rind into a recipe. If you want subtle flavor, try 1/2 or 3/4 teaspoon.

    Happy Baking!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  5. Barbara

    I plan to make these delicious cookies at 9,000 ft. above seas level (Colodado) Do I have to adjust anything in the recipe?
    Also, while in Florida recently I tasted some Key Lime Shortbread cookies. Do you have a good recipe for Key Lime cookies?

    Barbara, with the small amount of yeast in the recipe, I wouldn’t think you’d need to change anything. As for the Key lime cookies, try our REALLY tasty Little Lime Cookies, in the recipe section at kingarthurflour.com. The lime powder is essential – you can also find that at kingarthurflour.com. Cheers! – PJH

    Reply
  6. Jana

    Hi, no lemon oil but I do have that lovely flavoring used in king cake, Fiori di Sicilia. Would this work? If not do you have any sugestions for where else to use the flavoring besides king cake/
    Thanks Jana

    Yes, Jana, go ahead and use that lovely Fior di Sicilia in these cookies. AND in cake, icing, cookie glaze, sweet breads, sugar cookies, scones, muffins -anytime you want a hint of citrus and a touch of vanilla (I like to think of it as the Creamsicle effect…) – PJH

    Reply
  7. Madeline Brauch

    Don’t have instant yeast. May I substitute an equal amount of active dry yeast?

    Yes, though you’ll need to dissolve it in a bit of water first. – PJH

    Reply
  8. Trisha

    I have just ordered the baker’s ammonia and can’t wait to try the Vanilla Dreams. Thanks for the tip! A follow-up to Jane’s question: I also have the Fior di Sicilia–do I substitute teaspoon-for-teaspoon in place of vanilla, or do I use less?

    Oh, much less – use Fior like you would a citrus oil. I start out with 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon, then go by taste. It’s pretty strong! – PJH

    Reply
  9. Cleosa Valentine

    I will be trying these cookies very soon for a family reunion. Can they be successfully frozen? I want to mention that anyone wanting to purchase baker’s ammonia, other than the BC might try to find it in a local cake decorating shop. That’s where I get mine to use in Vanilla Dreams, the ultimate sugar cookie recipe.

    Hi Cleosa,

    There is nothing in the recipe that won’t freeze, but because of the sugar content and the original crispness of the cookie, the texture may change some with freezing, and the cookies may be a little less crisp and a little more toothy and chewy. The flavors will still be great!

    Happy Baking!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  10. Rita

    OK, I have a cookie question. I saw someone selling shortbread cookies with real fruit (mostly berries) in them on etsy but they have since closed their shop. I want to try to make them but I’m hesitant to add pureed berries to my recipe without replacing another ingredient, maybe the sugar and/or butter? I would love to try it with a recipe from the KA Whole Grain Baking book (my favorite cookbook). Can you tell me which shortbread recipe and what I should try?

    Thanks!

    Hi Rita,

    First, I would do some research on the web, to see if you can find some recipes using pureed fruits in cookies. Be sure to look on well established sites such as allrecipes.com and cooks.com. Fat Free baking books from the library may also have some good information.
    Next, try making the Scottish Shortbread in pg 332 of the WG cookbook AS IS. This will give you a baseline to shoot for. Then, try substituting fruit for some of the butter. There is no other liquid in the recipe, so you are replacing fat with fruit. It will probably take a few batches to get what you are looking for, but experimenting is part of the fun of baking!

    Be sure to let us know your results!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  11. chanit

    I’ve baked this cookie yesterday, adding less sugar-only few TB.
    I use AP flour,[ I would like to buy king arthur flour here in Israel, but we can’t :( ]
    The cookie is crispy ,golden brown with a wonderful taste.
    I’ll post about it later today,in my Blog .
    Thank you so much for this recipe and for this tasty Blog .

    Reply
  12. catherine

    i just took these out of the oven…..patience is definitely rewarded! (250 degrees for 75 minutes).. and they look EXACTLY like your ‘good’ photo! slightly rustic, but i’d bite if i saw them in a bakery…i really appreciate your visuals accompanying the recipe….i might have panicked once or twice without them (particularly in the dough-mixing stage) THANK YOU! that being said, the dough is a dream to work with (i chilled just over 24 hours)….i used 1/4 t lemon zest and one drop fiori….subtle! i used a different sugar on each cookie sheet (demerara, white, and pastel)…now all i need is a really nice tin and perhaps some little paper liners…..next time i will use a fluted pastry wheel and perhaps experiment with a few small cutters…these will be a staple in my house….

    Catherine – SUCCESS! Glad it all worked out for you. These aren’t the easiest cookies, but they’re definitely rewarding… PJH

    Reply
  13. Barbara

    I can’t wait to try the crystal diamond cookies – they look wonderful. And I HAVE heard of yeast in a cookie dough. My grandmother’s ruggelah recipe uses both baking powder and yeast. I’ll have to send it to you some time and see what you think. It isn’t like any other ruggelah recipe I’ve ever seen.

    Thanks, Barbara, I’ll look forward to seeing it -PJH

    Reply
  14. Donna

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I made a batch for my husband’s birthday (appropriately on July 9, Sugar Cookie Day!), and the whole family fell in love with them. And here’s a tip for those who don’t have parchment paper on hand . . . it’s essential! I baked the first half of the cookies on waxed paper–bad idea. I had to keep the cookies warm in the oven to be able to pry them off the paper. There were about a dozen that wouldn’t release the waxed paper . . . but all was not lost, my teenager ate them anyway.

    A quick run out to get parchment paper made the second half a breeze. These are fabulous with fresh peach ice cream . . . sigh

    Reply
  15. Kim

    I made these for a weekend trip and they are great! I did half the batch on parchment and the other half on my Exopat baking mat and the Exopat baked better and slid off so much easier! I will only bake these on the Exopat for now on. I did find that I needed to extend the baking time, but next time I want to try on convection. You definitely need to keep these cookies sealed. I took them to California where it was pretty humid and left the Ziploc bag open for 15 minutes and they started to get soft.

    Reply
  16. Cheryl

    I made the vanilla dreams yesterday, and they are delicious. Now, what other recipes are there to use up the rest of my baker’s ammonia?

    Cheryl, type ammonia in the search box in our online recipe section, and you’ll find two more recipes. Also, try Gold Standard Cutout Cookies. Glad you enjoyed the Dreams… – PJH

    Reply
  17. May Pedersen

    Could you please provide a cookie recipe called “kaasstengels”? It is sort of cheese sticks. Originally from Holland. I would appreciate it if you would.
    Thank you very much. I am counting on you!

    Hi, May – Not sure when I’d get to this, so here’s a Kaasstengel recipe in the meantime – PJH

    Reply
  18. Kay

    Hi was looking for something simple, appealing to everyone and suitable for the festive season. These cookies look perfect! Was wondering though, would coating the cookies with sugar cause the dough to stick to the tray even more? Does more oil have to be spread on the tray? Thanks for the tip! Hope to try this tomorrow morning! ;)

    You do not need to grease the tray anymore than you usually do. The sugar will actually adhere to the cookies instead of caramelizing on the tray. Kim@KAF

    Reply
  19. pearse

    a major question about substitutions- can active dry yeast be substituted. if so by how much? any substitution for lemon oil and the demarara sugar. will colored sugar or sprinkles work? anybody had tried?
    thanks in advance

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Yes, absolutely you can use active dry yeast. Same amount, no changes. Lemon zest is fine for lemon oil, and any large crystal sugar will work. Sprinkles won’t work; they’re going to melt and make an enormous mess. Susan

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