For about two weeks now, Chris has asked, begged even, for a dessert with cardamom. Why he became obsessed with this particular spice, I have no idea. After he treated me to a wonderful seafood dinner, I decided to indulge his obsession. I took out our ground cardamom, opened it, and inhaled its complex aroma. The lemon smell hit me right away, so I decided to go with a lemon cardamom cookie. I based the dessert of this recipe: Meyer Lemon Cardamom Crinkle Cookies, but made several substitutions to work with what we had available.
For this recipe, as with any cookie, cupcake or muffin recipe, the first step involved mixing all the dry ingredients together. This time, I thankfully remembered that I needed to save the sugar to cut the butter, and did not include it as a dry ingredient (by accident I added the sugar to the dry ingredients when baking banana cupcakes). For the lemon flavor, the recipe suggests the zest of 4 Meyer lemons. We don’t keep lemons on hand, and it would be rather difficult to grow a lemon tree on the patio of our apartment, so I had to make do with something else. I looked through our fridge and pantry and found lemon juice, lemon extract, and dried lemon zest. I surveyed Chris, and he chose the dried lemon zest. This substitution required a bit of math:
1 lemon yields about 1 Tbsp of fresh lemon zest. As you can imagine, dried lemon zest is smaller than fresh lemon zest, so you can’t just do a straight conversion. I looked it up and most sites suggest that you use 1/2 the amount of dried zest. Since 1 Tbsp equals 3 tsp, that means that you need 1/2 Tbsp or 1 and 1/2 tsp of dried zest.
After figuring out how much to use, I measured the zest and added it to the mixture only to find that I had enough to cover just 1 lemon. My choices were to keep going and risk creating a rather bland cookie, or to come up with a second substitution for the remaining 3 lemons. I opted for dried orange zest to complete the citrus flavor. This choice was rather lucky, as I read later on that Meyer lemons taste like a cross between oranges and lemons. I then looked at the recipe for the salt, but hesitated before proceeding. Sea salt! Another item that I did not have on hand. Besides the absence of the ingredient in my pantry, I was a bit concerned about the use of sea salt in a cookie. Sea salt has larger granules, and while great in cooking, it isn’t often used in baking. After some consideration, I decided to go for a 1:1 substitution with kosher salt. The granules of kosher salt are slightly larger than table salt, but slightly smaller than sea salt, which generally makes it a better option for baking. Last but not least, I added the cardamom with my favorite copper-colored, fish teaspoons – no substitutions needed.
Next, it was time to whip together the butter and sugar. This usually calls for an electric hand mixer, and sometimes a paddle attachment. I don’t have a paddle attachment, but my mixer always seems to do just fine as is. A couple of notes here:
If you have the foresight, you can put the butter out in a bowl while you mix the dry ingredients. That way the butter will be closer to room temperature and softer when it comes time to whip it. Also, these cookies should have a fluffier, cake-like texture, so the recipe really emphasizes this step, explaining that the sugar cuts little holes in the butter that will expand from the baking powder when heated.
Once I whipped the butter and sugar to a creamy texture, I added the eggs and vanilla. The last step before scooping the dough to a cookie sheet, involved mixing the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. This is also an extremely important step:
During this mixing process, it’s important to keep the mixer on low. Mixing flour with the rest of the ingredients, results in the formation of gluten, the protein that holds it all together. The faster and longer you mix the ingredients, the more gluten you get. You want just enough gluten for a cohesive baked good, but not so much that the texture becomes tough or dry. The key to this is to mix the ingredients together until just after you see the last bit of flour disappear. Any more than this and you risk losing that moist, fluffy goodness.
I mixed the dry ingredients into the wet, dividing it into 3 sections, to keep lumps to a minimum and make sure that everything was evenly dispersed. Note: You can add ingredients in this order for cookies due to the small amount of liquid in the batter, but wetter batters like cupcakes are best mixed in the opposite order to avoid lumps and prevent over mixing. I also made sure to keep my mixer on low and to stop mixing the moment that I could no longer see the white of the flour.
Besides the cardamom and Meyer lemon, this recipe appealed to me for it’s cracked, powdered sugar covered exterior. The recipe recommends sifting the powdered sugar to make sure that there are no lumps. With my love for baking, you might think that I have a sifter in my cupboard, but I don’t. Instead of sifting the powdered sugar, I used the shaking method. I vigorously shook the powdered sugar in its container for a few minutes, and then measured out a cup. The result was smooth, lump-free powdered sugar.
Finally, I rolled the dough in the palm of my hand (I also have no clue what a number 40 scoop is), covered each one in powdered sugar, and arranged them on 2 cookie sheets. As with most icings, toppings, and coatings, there was a ton of powdered sugar left at the end (I really need to remember to cut these ingredients in half to start). I took some of the leftover powdered sugar, sprinkled it over the balls of dough, and put the sheets in my 350 degree preheated oven.
For those of you that think that I spoil Chris, you should see the mess that I leave for him to clean up after. That’s the deal. I bake him goodness, he cleans up. The mess I made with the powdered sugar in this recipe made our kitchen look like it was hit by a snowstorm. Once the cookies were in the oven, I called Chris over with my sticky, sugar covered hands. He kept a safe distance while taking a picture to document the moment.
Twelve minutes later, we pulled the cookies out of the oven. They smelled fantastic, but they didn’t look quite ready. We decided to put them back in the oven for an extra 2 minutes. We pulled them out, and then put them on a couple of cutting boards to cool (I also do not own cooling racks). The recipe mentions that they will not brown, and this is absolutely true. Trust your nose, not your eyes on this one.
We sampled the cookies a bit later, and we both loved them. Chris even went back for seconds. They turned out light and fluffy, and the cardamom citrus flavor really came through. The substitutions, save the salt, were great successes. In hindsight, due to the size of the granules, we should have cut the amount down a bit when using kosher salt instead of sea salt. The salt flavor, while a bit strong, still balanced out the flavors well. Besides the slight salt error, the color of the cookies was also a bit pale and unappealing. Perhaps a bit of yellow dye would liven them up. All in all we count this as another yummy baking adventure. If one or both of us ever becomes obsessed with cardamom again, this cookie could certainly sate the craving.