Cookies are my favorite dessert to make. There are so many flavor possibilities, textures, and types of cookies, and, unlike with cakes, pies, and bars, you can bake only a few servings at a time or the whole batch. While pumpkin pie or peach cobbler are very seasonal, cookies cross all seasons and are always an easy and welcome dessert at any occasion. I love the versatility and creativity that they allow. Soft brown butter sugar cookies were the result of an idea and a lot of trials and experiments with different ingredient ratios, but reminded me of how creative and fun cookie making can be.
I grew up with roll-out sugar cookies that you cut with cookie cutters and top with royal icing. Since our family recipe for classic roll-out sugar cookies was so delicious, we never thought to make drop sugar cookies. Now that I think about it, before experimenting with this recipe, I’m not sure if I had ever made non-roll-out style sugar cookies. I’m glad decided to branch out though, because these brown butter sugar cookies are one of my new favorite cookies, especially when I’m not in the mood for chocolate.
I always love a good chocolate chip cookie or a cookie stuffed with rich dark chocolate chunks, but sometimes, especially on these hot summer days, I’m just not in the mood for the inevitable mess of melted chocolate. The idea for these thick, soft brown butter sugar cookies came from those chewy bakery-style cookies that are sold at local coffee shops and small bakeries. Brown butter makes these cookies stand out from other sugar cookies and provides a delicious flavor when paired with the strong vanilla flavor you would expect in a sugar cookie. Most sugar cookie recipes leave out brown sugar and opt entirely for granulated, but brown sugar in this recipe provides depth in the flavor and adds a great chewiness to the cookie.
I nerded out a bit on the science behind browned butter as I was experimenting with this recipe. When you brown butter, the butter loses about 15% of its water content. Without replacing some of that liquid, your cookies end up not spreading at all and holding the tall, rounded shape they have when you scoop them. By adding some of the water back into the recipe, the cookies still benefit from the delicious taste of browned butter, but have the spreadability and texture you want in a cookie.
I love the dense, chewy texture that these cookies have, and found that making even larger cookies (even as large as scooping the dough with a ¼ cup ice cream scoop) gave a great soft, chewy center that we love in cookies from the bakery. I like my cookies a little smaller than that, but still aim for the great dense center. You can make your cookies as large as you like to get that great texture, just adjust the baking time.
Soft Brown Butter Sugar Cookies
1 ½ cups cake flour
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tsp baking soda
18 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned
3 tablespoons water
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
Decorative sugar, for sprinkling on top
In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flours, salt, and baking soda). Set aside.
In the bowl of your mixer using the paddle attachment, blend together the browned butter, sugar, brown sugar, and water on medium speed until the ingredients are combined. Mix in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in thirds until the dough comes together. Be careful not to over mix the dough – over mixing will make your cookie less tender. Place the bowl of dough in the fridge while you clean up and make some space on your counter.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (you will not be baking this sheet). Scoop the dough into 1 ½ tablespoon balls and place them on your tray (I use this cookie scoop). Since you aren’t baking this tray, the cookies don’t need room to spread and can be right next to each other. If you want larger, more dense cookies, use an ice cream scoop or scoop your dough into ¼ cup balls instead. You want the dough balls to be rounded – do not flatten them. Place the dough balls in the freezer for at least 4 hours, or until they are hard.
When the dough balls are hard, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking mats. Place the cookie dough balls about 2 inches apart on the sheet. If you used the 1 ½ tablespoon scoop, bake for 8-10 minutes. If you used the ¼ cup ice cream scoop, bake for 12-14 minutes. The shorter time gives you a more doughy center. The edges should be a very light golden brown when they are finished baking. The cookies will still look fairly pale in the middle but they will continue to cook as they cool.
Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack. To give them a sparkling finish, sprinkle the cookies with decorative sugar or turbinado sugar while they’re still warm. To get the best experience, wait until the cookies are fully cool to enjoy them. They will still be a little doughy in the middle when they come out, but once they cool the centers will solidify to get that soft and tender chew.