It was one of those rare times in my days as a young mother when my infant son was finally taking one of his quick catnaps at the same time his big brother, the kindergartener, was playing by himself, pretending to be a sportscaster announcing a basketball game. This atypical occurrence gave me a little time to bake.
I was just pulling a pan of cookies from the oven when my neighbor stopped by. Her jaw dropped. "You're baking cookies?" Her voice was filled with incredulousness. "Where's the mess?"
I'll admit my kitchen looked quite tidy that day, with not a dirty mixing bowl in sight. That's because I had pulled slice-and-bake cookie dough from the refrigerator. It wasn't a cylinder of dough from the grocery store. It was dough I had mixed up one night before I went to bed, rolled into a log, wrapped up and put in the refrigerator until I had time to do some baking. Clean and simple, and just the kind of cookie I needed.
I have been eating "Ice Box" cookies for years. My mom's best friend, Lois, made the best slice-and-bake cookies in the world. I probably started eating them when I was in first grade. That was when we became neighbors and Lois and my mom became best friends.
I learned to make slice-and-bake cookies when I was in fourth grade. My 4-H group met in the kitchen of our leader, who helped us mix, roll, chill and bake Butterscotch Refrigerator Cookies. I still have the recipe scrawled out in my fourth-grade handwriting on a small index card.
I explained to my friend with the wide eyes that this kind of cookie-baking was my relaxation therapy. All I had to do was pull a log of chilled dough from the refrigerator, slice and bake - fantastically simple. My house smelled like freshly baked homemade cookies, and that's a formula that can bring peace and happiness to anyone's day.
I have the card that my mom typed Lois D's recipe for Ice Box Oatmeal Cookies. At the bottom of the recipe she typed: They are delish! ... adding several exclamation points. I've added vanilla to the recipe and often add a secret ingredient I learned from famous pastry chef, instructor and cookbook author, Alice Medrich. She stirs a bit of bourbon into cookie dough for mysterious depth of flavor.
Although slicing a chilled log of dough into rounds is not at all difficult, there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you work to turn out the perfect cookie. Be sure the nuts are chopped quite small so they don't tear the dough as you slice through the log.
Temperature is a key to creating neat, uniformly shaped refrigerator cookies. The dough must be cold. Work quickly with one log of dough at a time, keeping the second one in the refrigerator to stay chilled. If the dough warms up and begins to soften while you are working with it, just pop it back in the refrigerator for a short time.
With a roll of cookie dough in the refrigerator or freezer, you'll always be ready for a picnic, a potluck, a weekend at the lake with friends or a thoughtful hostess gift of fresh-baked cookies. Or, come to think of it, a much-appreciated delivery for a family with a new baby in the house.
Cookies with no mess. Simple and delish. Imagine that!
Lois D's Ice Box Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups dry quick-cooking oats
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
1 cup chopped nuts
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Combine shortening, brown sugar, granulated sugar and oats in a large mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer or a large wooden spoon, beat until well blended and creamy. Stir or beat in the eggs, vanilla and bourbon (if using). Stir or beat in the nuts. Sift flour, salt and baking soda together. Add the sifted mixture all at once to the mixing bowl. Beat on low speed or stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a 12-inch log. Wrap each log in waxed paper and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, and up to one week.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a sharp knife to cut the cold log of dough into ¼-inch-thick slices. Arrange on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
Tips from the cook
--Unbaked logs of cookie dough can be frozen for up to 3 months. Allow the dough to soften at room temperature, about 10 minutes or so, before slicing. They may take a bit more time in the oven, too.
--For a quick, make-ahead dessert, place a scoop of vanilla ice cream on some of the cookies and freeze in a sealed container. At serving time, remove from freezer and glaze the ice cream with your favorite chocolate sauce. Add fresh berries, if desired.