Ever since shortly after we graduated high school, my best friend and I have not lived on the same coast. Luckily we have this thing called the Internet, and in college, much of my extra spending money was saved up for the occasional jaunt to New York to visit and catch up. I know, what does this have to do with the cookies? I’m getting to it.
You can take the boy out of southern California but you can never really take southern California out of the boy. As he moved from cold-weather-state to cold-weather-state, I knew he missed home and the sunshine. One day, knowing of my love for limoncello and baking, he sent me this recipe that had been adapted from an Italian cookbook. In retrospect, I think he was also not-so-subtly hinting at me to send him a care package.
If you don’t have semolina on hand, I discovered that you can substitute Cream of Wheat, 1:1. I also found that being a bit more generous with the limoncello helps the cookies really sing with that lemony goodness. Not to mention that adding some extra lemon zest helps to yield cookies that are just like brilliant rays of sunshine bursting out of a USPS Medium Sized Flat Rate Box.
So here’s the recipe, with my tweaks, for the cookies that are so good that they have been requested for cross-country delivery. (And many thanks to Brian of Clinton Hill Foodie for sharing his recipe for a sweet treat that’s surely cheered up a homesick friend on many occasions.)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of semolina (or Cream of Wheat, original flavor)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons olive oil (if you have it on hand, try the Meyer Lemon oil from Global Gardens!)
1 cup white (granulated) sugar, plus extra for rolling the balls of dough
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 lemon, zested and juiced (plus the zest of 1 more lemon, optional)
3 tablespoons limoncello
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Yields 60 small cookies if making 1-inch diameter spheres of dough
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, semolina, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with the sugar and olive oil. Forget to leave the butter out on the counter to soften? I do that all the time! I don’t have great foresight when it comes to baking. But after the croissant making class we took at Elle A Cooking, we learned a spiffy trick to get straight-out-of-the-fridge butter soft and ready to go. If you’re using the whole stick of butter (we are in this recipe), leave it in its wrapping and whack it a few times with a rolling pin. Alternatively, you can place the butter between 2 sheets of parchment or wax paper and do the same thing. Pounding it out somehow softens it enough for creaming. Probably something to do with kinetic energy, like warming up before you work out. Shrug.
Now add your lemon juice, limoncello, vanilla, and zest. It will look liquidy and the butter may look globby. It’s OK. Just mix together as best you can.
Slowly add the dry ingredients, stirring to combine until you a ball of dough starts to form. Mix well to incorporate all of the lemony goodness into the dough.
Set up a sheet of plastic wrap and pour out the dough to form a disc. Cover with more plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (2-3 hours would be even better, especially if your kitchen and/or house is on the warm side).
One hour later… preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Set up a plate or shallow dish with granulated sugar. Break off pieces of the chilled dough and roll between your palms into cute approximately 1-inch diameter spheres. Roll each sphere in the sugar to coat and then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The sugar will help give the cookies a wonderful crisp and crackle on the outside. The cookies do spread a little so leave about 1.5-2 inches between them. This batch of dough yielded 4 trays of 15 cookies.
Once you fill up 2 trays, place them in the oven and set a timer for 7 minutes. At this halfway point, swap the trays so that the tray on the top rack is now on the bottom one and vice versa. Also rotate the trays so that the side that was closest to the back of the oven is now at the front. Set the timer for an additional 7 minutes for a total of 14 minutes bake time.
I know, I know – who wants to expend the extra effort? I used to skip this step too and bake the cookies for the full 14 minutes in one shot, but for this last batch, I went the extra mile and every cookie was a beautiful, perfect golden brown on the bottom. Totally worth it, so just do it.
Take the cookies out of the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. I initially left them on the parchment and simply moved them to cool on our countertop, but the heat creates a steamy condensation on the bottoms and starts making them soggy. They taste great fresh out of the oven and keep well in an airtight container left at room temperature for a few days… if they survive that long!
PS: We were inspired to whip up a batch after finding some beautiful golden Eureka lemons from Gonzaga Farms (the same people who sell stone fruit from Tenerelli Orchards) at last week’s farmer’s market.
PPS: This is also the first post in a series of alcohol-inspired or infused desserts I’m working on. Stay tuned!