Vanilla Platzchen

Stumbling upon a new recipe is sometimes a grand adventure, starting in one place and ending somewhere you never had even thought of. The cookie-baking bug largely passed me by in December – I watched my friends baking with enthusiasm, but had little desire to do my own crazy baking.

But with New Year’s approaching, and with it my friends’ annual party, I started brainstorming what I wanted to bring. The last two years I have brought my version of a tarte soleil along with an assortment of cookies and sweets. I went looking through my notes for previous cookies I’ve brought, and various recipes I’ve saved over the years.

When I came across this recipe for Black Tea Cardamom Cookies, I was instantly excited. And then I remembered that I have made them. Twice, in fact. The first time they were so crumbly and impossible, but the flavor was interesting and good and I wanted to make it work. So I made them again. I think my notes were on my old phone (which bricked, annoyingly, a year ago) but my recollection is that I added a second egg and dropped the flour, possibly to 2-1/4 cups. I believe they stayed together, and were nice and chewy, but otherwise I don’t remember the final verdict at all.

I was thinking I’d rework them again, and decided to look up similar recipes to help me teak it. So I turned to Pinterest, looking up tea-spiced cookies and spiced cookies where I could add tea to them. While searching, I came across this recipe for Self-Frosting Anise Drops. I was instantly intrigued, and decided to make them that night.

I decided to make them vanilla flavored, not anise (which I like, but I know is not a universal flavor among my friends), and take advantage of my fresh vanilla beans for great flavor.*

I used my vanilla sugar as the base, and added the scraping from one fresh vanilla bean to the sugar. The scraped-out pod went back into my vanilla sugar jar, which was then topped off with sugar to make more vanilla sugar. This sugar was beaten with eggs for about twenty minutes, until light, thick, and at ribbon stage. The dry ingredients were then mixed in.

This fairly sticky dough was then portioned out onto parchment sheets (I used a cookie scoop, like always – it is one of my favorite tools), and left at room temperature for about five hours. This is a very unique aspect of this recipe – the cookies have to dry out on top to make the “self-frosting” aspect of the cookie. The process reminds me a bit of a French macaron, which I love to eat but have yet to tackle in my kitchen, although I’ve read many recipes.

Mine came out lopsided – reading notes on a different but similar recipe suggests that the convection oven was to blame – but were still great. Soft and chewy, with a light vanilla flavor, they taste a little “old world-y” to me in a wonderful way. This is definitely not an Americanized cookie, but it still appeals to an American palate. Everyone who tried them really enjoyed them, including one friend who put in a request for a dozen more and several requests for the recipe.

Other than the long beating time, for which I definitely recommend a stand mixer, they are a relatively simple and definitely a wonderful addition to a cookie tray.

* Many years ago, I read a suggestion (possibly from Food in Jars) about purchasing bulk vanilla beans on Ebay, and decided to buy some. I ended up with a fair number of beans for a very good price, which has been very freeing. It is easy to want to play with fresh beans when you’re not paying $4-6 per bean. When I scrape beans out for use in a dry application (eg, not jam), I place the pod in a quart mason jar and cover it with sugar. This gives me homemade vanilla sugar that I can use to add some subtle flavor.

I wish I had a specific vendor to recommend, but it’s been too long. I do recommend looking for a good bargain and buying a bunch of beans, because fresh vanilla taste is pretty wonderful and aromatic, and for any baker or jam maker it’s definitely worth playing around with (strawberry vanilla jam is freakin’ amazing). Due to crop issues, vanilla bean prices are high right now, so just be aware of that if you’re looking to buy right now. I haven’t heard any reports looking into 2018, so have no idea if the prices are expected to come down this year.

I should also note that my beans were apparently not stored great, and are dry outside. I was a little worried, but the flesh inside is still nice and moist. If this happens to you, just know that it will still work. Instead of being able to scrape along the bean, you’ll need to use the tip of your knife to get at the flecks, but it does work fine.

Vanilla Platzchen

Yield: 40-50 cookies

Recipe slightly adapted from Carole Walter’s Great Cookies as posted at Gin's Kitchen

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar or homemade vanilla sugar (see note)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Prepare three half-sheet pans by buttering and flouring them, making sure to tap out excess flour. Alternatively, the sheet pans can be lined with a silicone liner or parchment paper.
  • Put the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and begin to whip the eggs. Place the sugar in a bowl. Use a paring knife to cut down the center of the vanilla bean, and the backside of the tip to scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod. Place the vanilla seeds in the bowl of sugar. Repeat until all seeds have been removed from the pod. (See note for a tip about the leftover pod).
  • After several minutes of whipping when the eggs have begun to look mixed, begin slowly adding the sugar. The sugar should be added over 2 to 3 minutes.
  • After the sugar has been fully added, whisk in the vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium, and let the eggs continue beating for at least 20 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture should be light in color and thick and glossy in texture, and should be at ribbon stage. When the batter drops from the paddle into the bowl, the mixture should hold its shape briefly before spreading into the batter. The original recipe says that you can't overwhip them, and that it's better to whip longer than shorter, so don't worry if you let them go beyond 20 minutes.
  • While the eggs are whipping, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. When the eggs and sugar are at the correct stage, lower the speed and slowly mix in the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides, and mix for 2 to 3 minutes longer.
  • Using a #60 cookie scoop (or in a pinch, two teaspoons), scoop mixture onto the prepared pans, leaving space between each one as they will spread.
  • Let the cookies dry at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight; the tops should be dry to the touch before they are ready to bake.
  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Bake each sheet of cookies for 6-10 minutes, until the tops are set and the base is a light golden brown (lifting up the cookie with a small spatula if needed). Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets. Remove from the sheet and store the cookies in an airtight container. If baked on a silicone liner or parchment paper, lift the liner up and gently peel the cookie away.
  • Note: To make your own vanilla sugar, take the scraped-out vanilla bean and place it in a jar. Cover it with sugar, and place a tight lid on the jar. Let the vanilla infuse the sugar as long as you want, making sure to remove the pod before you use the sugar. If you have some on hand like I do, use it in this cookie for a little extra flavor, and then place the empty pod back in the container and cover with fresh sugar, making more vanilla sugar for later.
  • Variations: The original cookie is flavored with anise; to make it, omit the fresh vanilla bean and vanilla extract, use regular granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon anise seed that has been ground into a powder (added with the sugar or flour) or 1/4 teaspoon anise oil. For a spiced variation, omit the fresh vanilla bean and vanilla extract, use regular granulated sugar, and add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves to the flour mixture.
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