I wish I could say that these apple cider cookies were inspired by childhood trips to orchards and memories of parents or grandparents simmering a pot on the back of the stove at holidays – but the truth is a lot less glamorous.
My family goes to a tree farm every year to pick and cut our tree, and once we’ve dragged it back to the car and dad has strapped it into the bed of the pickup, we huddle up around the tailgate, sipping hot cider and eating boiled peanuts from the farmstand out of styrofoam cups until we can’t feel our fingers anymore.
The cider, by the way, is almost certainly powdered, but we’re usually so cold by that point that it doesn’t really matter.
These cookies are my way of immortalizing that memory – only with way better apple flavor.
I started with a simple butter cookie base – a recipe I borrowed from the bakery where I used to work – and modified it by adding warm mulling spices and orange zest. The result is a cookie I would eat entirely on it’s own. Buttery and with a tiny hint of crumble, like the best parts of shortbread and sugar cookies smashed together, it’s warm, bright, spicy and not too sweet – the perfect thing to use for an unexpected twist on traditional iced Christmas cookies.
But these are apple cider cookies.
Which meant I needed a little more than just spice.
So I made up a cheater’s apple butter, reducing regular store-bought applesauce with cinnamon and spices until it was rich and thick and dark and my whole house smelled like the most intense apple pie you can imagine.
Sandwiched together, these are my platonic ideal of apple cider in cookie form. They are spicy and not too sweet, with an intense punch of apple that is balanced perfectly with crisp, crumbly cookies. Plus there’s something about a lindser-inspired cookie window that’s just so hard to resist.
I wouldn’t recommend eating these outside in the freezing cold, alternating bites with handfuls of hot boiled peanuts…but I wouldn’t stop you either.
Apple cider cookies
Time: About two hours, including chilling time Yield: About 18 sandwich cookies Source: Inspired by Proof Bakeshop and The View from Great Island
If you want to get more complicated here, you can absolutely make your own apple butter from scratch from whole apples – but who has time for that? If your life is crazy this time of year and you want to keep things simpler, you can totally use pre-made jarred apple butter if you have one you love. Just make sure it’s high quality.
Keep in mind that you are putting a wet filling onto a crisp cookie, and the longer the two are in contact, the softer the cookies will get. I don’t think this is a bad thing – I find the soft cookies delicious – but if you want to preserve the textural contrast, fill the cookies right before serving.
For the cookies:
- 170 grams (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 115 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon (about half a large orange) orange zest
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 260 grams (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
For the apple butter
- 680 grams (3 cups, or one 24 ounce jar) unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
The apple butter takes a while to reduce, so go ahead and get that going. Put your applesauce into a medium saucepan with the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. It will probably spatter a lot at the beginning – I found it helpful to cover it partially with a lid until things settled down. Just let it simmer on the back burner while you get the cookies finished.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Put the sugar and orange zest into the bowl of your stand mixer and beat them together until the orange zest has released its oils into the sugar – it should be insanely fragrant, the tiniest bit orange-colored, and should have the slightly clumpy, clinging quality of damp sand. If your stand mixer isn’t doing a great job of this (mine didn’t), you can also rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers. Add the butter and beat until the sugar is well incorporated.
This is technically a creaming step, but since we’re making a cookie, we don’t actually want to work all that much air into the butter/sugar mixture. In this case, if your sugar is distributed evenly through the butter and there are no big butter chunks left, you don’t have to worry too much about texture or color changes.
Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, then add the egg yolk and vanilla. Beat until well combined.
Now, at this point, you’re going to look at the bowl and say, “Jessi, there’s no way that’s enough liquid.” It’s enough liquid. Trust the process.
Add the flour and spices, and mix on low speed until the dough comes together into a ball. This will probably happen about 30 seconds after you’ve convinced yourself that there’s no way this dough is going to work. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give it one more quick mix to make sure there’s no dry flour left.
At this point, a more traditional recipe would suggest that you park your dough in the fridge for a few hours to firm up before rolling. This is, in my opinion, because more traditional recipes expect you to have the forearms of a bodybuilder.
We’re going to take the easy route.
Plop half your dough onto a sheet of parchment paper, then top it off with the second sheet. Roll your dough roughly ¼ inch thick between the sheets of parchment paper. It does not have to be pretty or rectangular or anything – just get it the right thickness and don’t worry about the rest. Repeat with the second half of the dough. If you don’t have parchment paper, waxed paper or a gallon-sized ziplock bag will work just as well.
Stack your dough sheets on top of each other on a sheet pan, then refrigerate them for at least an hour – you want them to firm up completely. If you’re in a rush, you can also stick them in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
When you’re ready to cut your cookies, pull one sheet out of the refrigerator and peel off the top layer of parchment. I used a roughly two and a quarter inch round cutter for mine, but you can do whatever you’d like. If you want, you can use a smaller cutter to cut decorative windows in the top cookie – I used a roughly one-inch round cutter, but you could use a small star, or a diamond, or a tree…just remember that these are sandwich cookies, so you’re aiming to end up with an even number, half of which have decorative holes.
Space them roughly half an inch apart (they won’t spread much) on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until they are lightly golden around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Cool completely.
At this point, your applesauce should have reduced by at least half, deepened in color, and should hold an empty space that dissolves slowly when you drag a spatula along the bottom of the pot. Take it off the heat, and stir in the bourbon.
To finish the cookies, place about a teaspoon of apple butter one cookie, and top with a second. You can decorate them with a dusting of powdered sugar or cinnamon if you’re feeling really fancy.
The apple cider cookies should keep about a week in the refrigerator, but be warned that they will soften up the longer they sit. You can freeze both the cookies and the apple butter on their own for up to three months.