Note: Because these cookies are made of so few ingredients, it is important to use very fresh butter and a real vanilla bean to achieve best results.
At first we have to brown the butter. This is an important step because it gives the cookies the texture and flavor that define them. I recommend using a stainless steel saucepan for this.
I forgot to take a picture of the butter browning, but I found this on Google and it shows the transition perfectly. Take your time and keep the temperature low. It took about 20 minutes for me.
Also make sure to keep an eye on it to prevent the butter from burning.
This is a picture of burned butter. The taste will be different and you won't be able to use this anymore for the cookies.
Now take the butter off the stove and let it cool for 10 minutes before you put it in the fridge. I recommend doing this in the evening to let the butter harden over night.
When you take butter out the next day it should be solid, similar to coconut oil, and the burned bits will have sunk to the bottom. Take a deep breath of this aroma before you proceed to the next step
Weigh the butter again to see how much evaporated. I lost about 20 g so I will just stick to the recipe. If for whatever reason, you have less then 400 g convert the rest of the ingredients to match.
Add the butter to the mixing bowl.
and make sure you scratch out all the goody flavor bits from the bottom of the pan (which is why I recommend using a stainless steel saucepan instead of teflon or ceramic).
Weigh the sugar.
Add the sugar and the salt to the butter.
Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. You can use the peel afterwards to make vanilla sugar. Rima Mathewson has a good guide for that.
Now beat the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until everything is blended together; for about 2 minutes. If you are using extract you may add it now as well.
This is what it should look like. Notice how the sugar granules are still visible. This is what makes the cookies so crumbly later on.
Now to reassure that the butter won't go too soft and dissolve the sugar, I keep the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes to harden again.
Next step: weigh the flour.
Take the butter out from the fridge and add a cup of flour to it. Knead it until incorporated.
This is a lot easier with a kitchen machine, because the hook and the bowl stay cold a lot longer. But if you are using hands, try kneading the dough on a cold surface and refrigerate it frequently.
Keep adding flour until all of it is incorporated into the dough.
Now it's time to use our hands.
The dough will be very crumbly. Notice how you can still see sugar granules.
Knead everything together until you see no more flour clouds. If the dough won't hold together at all you might have added too much flour. Just mix in a tbsp of milk or two to make up for it.
But You don't want to add too much milk. Remember the dough is meant to be crumbly!
take out a handful or two of the dough and put it on your working surface.
Form them into rolls by squishing the dough with both your hands. No rolling here or the dough will just fall apart. Also try to make sure that both ends are somewhat flat.
If the roll breaks while shaping it, its ok. Just make two little rolls instead.
There we go. That's quite a nice family here. If you wish you may roll them in cane sugar or nuts for aesthetics, but we like ours plain.
Wrap them up and pop them in the freezer until you are ready to bake them or for at least 1h. You can keep them in the freezer like this for two month.
When you are ready to bake them preheat the oven to 350*F/180*C.
Cut them up and put each cookie about a finger-width apart from each other on an ungreased cookie sheet. I like to use parchment paper because it makes the cleaning easier, but it's not necessary.
Shove them into the preheated oven.
Set the kitchen timer to 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, and no longer, take them out of the oven and let them cool on the cookie sheet. DON'T TOUCH THEM, yet! They are very fragile right now and need some time to set.
After ten minutes you can eat them, or store them in a tin box. They keep for up to three weeks in an airtight container.
This recipe is very flexible; you can also experiment using different spices for these cookies. I recommend: ginger, orange peel, lavender or marzipan.
Happy Holidays! And enjoy them responsibly : )