Icebox cookie dough is great to keep on hand for unexpected guests or quick and easy desserts. It also allows for baking smaller amounts at a time. The dough will keep (tightly wrapped in plastic then foil) in the freezer for up to 1 month. I took the basic vanilla icebox cookie from Cook's Illustrated and spiced it up a bit. I blitzed an entire vanilla bean and some pink peppercorns with turbinado sugar in the food processor, then simply strained out the larger bits before using the sugar in the cookies. I've also used evaporated cane sugar, but prefer the texture achieved with the turbinado. I once saw Jamie Oliver make vanilla sugar that way, and I've always thought it was a great technique to speed up the process. The fragrance of the infused sugar is fantastic -- heady with vanilla to start then a hit of spice to finish. The cookies are buttery with a nice vanilla flavor and a subtle citrus-spice note from the pink pepper that makes your tongue tingle just a smidge. —hardlikearmour
Test Kitchen Notes
These sophisticated little cookies, which reminded me of both shortbread and sugar cookies, are addictive and delicious. We couldn’t stop eating them. The buttery cookie’s exterior is delicate but crisp and gets a big boost of flavor from vanilla bean and pink peppercorns, which hardlikearmour inventively has you whiz in the food processor with turbinado sugar, strain, and then add to the dough. The vanilla flavor is front and center, but the peppercorns play a solid, supporting role, delivering a subtle, warm tingle of floral spicy notes. My tasters couldn’t guess what the secret ingredient was. I love the make-ahead factor of this recipe, too: the dough can be stashed in the freezer until needed.
3 ½ to 4 dozen
1 1/2 teaspoons
turbinado sugar, plus additional for rolling dough in
unsalted butter, softened but cool
large egg yolks, plus 1 egg white
less 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
In This Recipe
Use a scissors to cut the vanilla bean into small (1/2-inch) pieces into the bowl of a food processor with the blade attachment. Add the pink peppercorns and turbinado sugar. Process in 15 second increments until the vanilla, pink peppercorns, and sugar granules have been broken down, 60 to 90 seconds. The inner core of the pink peppercorns will remain intact, but the pink outer layer should be pulverized. Strain the sugar through a medium to coarse mesh strainer into a large bowl; the strainer should catch the pink peppercorn cores and any large bits of vanilla bean but let the rest through. (Note: if your strainer is too fine it will catch some of the larger granules of sugar. Measure the contents of the strainer. Subtract a tablespoon to account for the vanilla bean and pink peppercorn, then replace what's remaining with more sugar.)
Add the powdered sugar, salt, and softened butter to the bowl with the sugar mixture. Beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is crumbly and there is no loose sugar left, then increase the speed to medium (high if using a hand mixer) and beat for an additional 45 seconds.
Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract, then beat until fully incorporated, about 15 to 20 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.
Add the flour and mix on low until incorporated. Dough will be quite crumbly at this point. Increase the speed to medium and mix 10 to 15 seconds, until the dough has almost fully come together. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to gently knead the dough into a single mass.
Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Roll each portion into a “log” that is 6 to 6 1/2-inches long and about 1 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325ºF with racks in the upper middle and lower middle positions. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats (or spray with non-stick cooking spray).
Remove one dough log from the fridge. Brush the sides of the log with egg white, and roll in turbinado sugar. Cut the log in half (crosswise), and return half to the fridge. Using a sharp knife cut 1/4 inch thick slices of the dough. Arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheets spaced at least 1/2 inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake until edges have turned a light golden color, 14-15 minutes. Rotate and switch pan positions after 7 minutes, being careful not to let the cookies slide around. Allow cookies to cool on the sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer them to a rack. Cool fully and store in an air-tight container.