Some food, some drink.
Better than nostalgia: Lemon Cooler Cookies 2.0
What originally began as a quest to bake some of those boxed Lemon Cooler cookies I remembered from childhood ended up taking me in a bit of a different direction. Where once there was crumbly, now there is a delicate crumb. Though nostalgia said shortening, we used butter. In an attempt to include those pockets of "mystery pucker" that all the copycat recipes seemed to forget, these buttery lemon shortbread morsels got a bit of extra oomph from creamy bits of sour-spiked white chocolate.
Believe it or not, there are times where I don't crave a chocolate-flavored baked good. Some of my favorite cookie recipes don't even flirt with Theobroma cacao, and I chalk it up as a necessary change of pace. Likewise, after surviving the stint with all that friggin' snow and the kick-your-ass wind chill, a baked good with a taste of something fresh and reminiscent of spring is a welcome treat. For me, these little shortbread-style Lemon Cooler cookies are it.
It began when I was looking for a good homemade analogue to the boxed Lemon Cooler cookies I had as a kid. Problem was, I could never find a recipe that replicated those concentrated little bits of sour lemon flavor in the cookie. What the hell was that stuff anyway? Whatever it was, those little toothsome pockets of sour are really what made the cookie.
I found plenty of copycats and knock-offs as I searched around for a decent Lemon Cooler, but none of the recipes properly addressed how to re-create the sour, lemony bits in the cookie. About the closest any of the recipes got was to add powdered lemonade drink mix (Kool-aid if you're name-dropping) to the dough itself. Using the Kool-aid gave me an idea; and although my solution's probably not historically accurate from an ingredient standpoint, I figured you could probably suspend that kind of pucker-power in something relatively inert like white chocolate, and really amplify and showcase what was always my favorite part of that cookie.
After figuring that little bit out, all that was really left to do was to cram those little bits of sour into the proper cookie recipe. Most of the knock-offs and copycat recipes out there use shortening and absolutely no real lemon. That just wasn't gonna work; hell, even the original recipe used real lemon flavor. After a bit of digging, I found this shortbread-style recipe which uses butter (yes!) and plenty of lemon zest and juice to imbue this cookie with a proper fresh lemon flavor.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Preheat oven to 350F
Add drink mix powder to the white chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Whisk to integrate. Spread the mess out over a Silpat or parchment-lined sheet pan until 1/8 inch thick and pop in the freezer 15 minutes to harden. Peel from 'pat and run a knife thru the white chocolate to dice into pieces about the same size as minced onion.
With hand or stand mixer on medium, beat butter and 1/4 cup powdered sugar, for 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary. Add vanilla and salt and mix 30 seconds more to integrate. Slow things down to a stir, add flour, zest & lemon juice. When it comes together, stir in the chopped white chocolate.
Roll cookies into 3/4 inch balls (about a measured tsp of dough) and space evenly on a Silpat or parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the bottom edges just begin to brown. When done, let rest 5-7 minutes on the pan before removing to wire rack to cool completely.
When completely cool, coat the cookies in the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. The cookies are delicate, so use finesse while tossing your cookies. And keep your hair back. :-p
- A double boiler works swell to melt that white chocolate, but if you're gonna use the microwave, Just make sure you don't nuke the stuff into oblivion, and keep out any additional moisture that may interfere with a smooth melt.
- Though you don't necessarily need something fancy to squeeze juice from a lemon (before I got me a juicing gadget, I used my mitts and a small strainer), I will go so far as to say that a microplane grater is absolutely necessary to acquire the best zest.
- You'll want to dice that white chocolate into bits that approximate the shape of minced onion. Too big and you get a bite that's all creamy and no crumbly; too small and you'll totally hose-up a texture that is quintessentially shortbread.
- Don't go and over-mix the dough. We're trying to mitigate gluten formation here, so once the flour is added and it just comes together, cease your mixing.
- You're probably the type of person with a hot body (yes, you're welcome); and if you are, consider letting the dough rest in the freezer for 15 minutes after mixing just to put a chill back into the butter. As you handle your [cookie] balls, your body heat can really put the hurt on the consistency of the butter and white chocolate. Keeping the fats cool will keep the crumb tender, and mitigate cookie spreadage in the hot box.
- Ok, double entendre aside, as the cookies come out of the oven, know that the rest on the pan prior to cooling rack transfer is a requirement. If you can't pick them up with your fingers without either burning yourself or having the cookies fall apart, then it's too soon. This wait is usually about 6 minutes.
- Again with the waiting: these buggers need to cool completely before attempting a roll thru the sweet dust. Handle those cookies prematurely and you'll be shellacking your shortbread (oops, that was probably another one, wasn't it?).
- On the subject of the dusting: Don't go dumping these all at once in a bag of powdered sugar shake-and-bake style; save that sort of anger-management for making puppy chow. These are dainty little cookies. I usually just place four or so face-down in a shallow bowl filled with the powdered sugar and gently agitate so as to cover completely.
Truth be told, this was not the cookie I was looking for when I started, but it's soooo much better than what I was initially intending to make; and as that's coming from a fella whose always trying to manage his expectations, that might be saying something. So, how do I figure that this cookie is better than it's boxed muse? Well, let's just have a bite and see:
The first thing you notice is that this cookie has a cumb, but it's not crumbly. It's buttery, but delicate in a way that's very much like pie crust (yeah, I feel the same way; I probably had you at "pie crust"). As you chew, your tongue experiences not one, but three different lemon flavors: The first is that of the juice we added to play counterpoint to all that butter; the second are those bits of zest that keep the powdered sugar at bay; and the third (my personal fav) are those tart and creamy bits of white chocolate that keep the shortbread interesting. I've never sat down for a proper spot of afternoon tea or anything, but I think if I was going to, this might just be the cookie I'd want on my plate next to the cucumber sandwiches.
Y'know come to think of it, I really don't need the sandwiches; just the cookies would be fine - and maybe we could skip the tea and I could have a double Irish whiskey and soda? Sure, that'd be great.
Yeah... hmmm... probably best I just skip tea time all-together, huh?
More of a visual person? Be sure to check out this video!