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in the kitchen with: big girls, small kitchen’s cookies

by Kristina Gill

This week we bring you a recipe that travels well, in your own bag or nicely packaged as a gift. Cara and Phoebe, the “girls” behind the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen, sent us the perfect recipe. Their Giant Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies are easy to make (no special ingredients necessary) and ship, and best of all, easy to eat (too many!). A good, basic sugar cookie provides a solid foundation for so many variations and we’re sure that, armed with this recipe, you can make the perfect batch for someone special in no time at all! — Kristina

About Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Cara and Phoebe have been best friends since middle school, and in November 2008, they founded the food and cooking blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen. The blog started as a respite from dull first jobs and grew into an informal but comprehensive guide for “quarter-lifers” beginning to make use of their kitchens. The food is accessible but not dumbed down, and the posts feature stories about cooking for one, entertaining friends, hosting cocktail parties, improvising at-home dates, cleaning up kitchen disasters and more. The blog has inspired a book chronicling the cooks’ “sophomore” year in the “real world.” Cara and Phoebe’s Quarter-Life Kitchen will be a quirky encyclopedia of terms, recipes, tips, tricks and anecdotes from the girls’ lives in the kitchen. It will be published by HarperCollins in time for the 2011 graduation season. Cara and Phoebe live in Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively.

CLICK HERE for the full recipe after the jump!

Giant Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

2 ¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg
1/3 cup coarse sugar (plain, granulated sugar works if it’s all you have)

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together.

3. Cream the butter, 1 cup of sugar and lemon zest until very smooth. Add the egg and continue to beat until fluffy. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined — you don’t want to overmix.

4. Spread the remaining 1/3 cup sugar onto a shallow plate. Form balls out of the cookie dough 2 inches in diameter and roll them through the sugar. Arrange on a cookie sheet 4 inches apart — these spread!

5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until just the edges are golden. The tops of the cookies should remain pale. Cool completely on the cookie sheets before removing to a plate.

Food photography by Kristina Gill. Small pebble bowl (yellow) and flared dinner plate (citrus) by mud australia; bowl with lemons by Astier de Villatte; yellow and white dish towel by Zara Home; peeler, vintage; ecru napkin by Orskov; paper box by Liberty of London.

Why Cara and Phoebe Chose This Recipe
Cara and Phoebe have known each other since they were thirteen, and they baked together frequently in high school. Cara lived near the campus and Phoebe would come over after school. They’d wind up in the kitchen baking for friends, family, and field hockey teammates. But Cara spent most of her time in the kitchen with her little sister, Kate. Recently, when Cara arrived home early from work and Kate was on break from college, the sisters ended up at home together on a Thursday afternoon. Kate wanted to bake. She had even thought of a reason: their third sister’s boyfriend, Andrew, needed some sweets. No brown sugar, chocolate, nuts or oatmeal could be found in the pantry. Nearly discouraged, Cara and her sister discovered lemons. They zested them, creamed some butter and portioned out giant balls of dough. By the time their mom got home, the house smelled of freshly baked cookies, just like old times.

These cookies are simplicity itself, but they aren’t boring like some sugar cookies. They’re perfect for a regularly stocked cookie jar, but Cara and Phoebe usually give them as gifts. In fact, the first gift batch was so beloved by its recipient that Cara’s sisters have taken to calling them “Andrews.” Their size is impressive and their taste homey. There’s a batch in a tin right now that Cara plans to mail to Kate, who’s back at school in Maine.

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  • A lovely recipe, just what I’ve been looking for! Can’t wait to try it out.

    Just one quick question, hope someone could help – don’t the cookie balls need to be flattened before baking?

    “Form balls out of the cookie dough 2 inches in diameter and roll them through the sugar. Arrange on a cookie sheet 4 inches apart — these spread!”

  • These sound fantastic! I think I have a lemon at home so I may just have to make some this weekend…

    Capa – these are just like snickerdoodles – roll the dough into balls, they’ll spread on their own from the heat of the oven.

    Yummy! Enjoy!

  • I have the same question – since the pic of the finished cookies have fork marks, don’t the balls of cookies need to be flattened?

    Also – does the recipe call for 1 1/3 cups sugar total? The ingredient list says 1 1/3 cups sugar + 1/3 sugar, but when the ingredients are mixed it only says 1 cup sugar initially. Thanks!

  • @Capa – I am sure Phoebe and Cara will answer with their own process, but I did also have the same question when I made them. You will notice that when I made these for the photos, some have the fork marks in them (from being flattened first) and some do not. That was my test! You can do either and they come out the same. You should however heed the advice that they will spread. Because they do. A LOT! Even if you refrigerate the dough first! (I did that test, too!)

    @Kat – the ingredients list is correct, 1 + 1/3 cup sugar. The 1/3 which does not go into the mix is put on a plate and the cookies are rolled in it.

  • I LOVE Big girls, Small kitchen. Definitely on my daily blogroll. Their stuff is SOOO good! Intricate food, with easy to follow instructions. They make the completely novice (ehem me) look like a 5 star chef!

  • Thanks for all the comments!

    @Capa @Jen W you can play with flattening with a fork, as Kristina mentions, but they do usually flatten all by themselves.


  • hey, the ingerdients list says 1 1/3 cup sugar and then there is another 1/3 cup at the bottom of the list. ummm confusing…
    they look good anyway! preheating the oven now!

    greeting from cloudy Leeds, UK.

  • Just made these with my son–we rolled them in pink glitter sugar, and they are both beautiful and delicious! :) BTW, we didn’t flatten them, and they came out perfectly.

  • Made these about 10 minutes ago and the entire batch is in danger of being consumed in the next 5 minutes. These are probably the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had. Light, fluffy, buttery…yum!

  • Great recipe! I made these today and they are delicious – crisp on the outside, soft center, not overly sweet. I added extra lemon zest to the sanding sugar for a bit more lemon flavor. Thanks for the post.

  • Made this today…the cookies I felt were just okay, nothing special. Easy to make though.

  • I made these and everyone LOVED ’em!! I did make them smaller, than the recipe said….so, next time I might go the ‘giant’ route. I recommend making a double batch! Yum!

    P.S. I’m also thinking of experimenting with some lavender in there as well…..could be interesting.

    Thank you Big Girls, Small Kitchen-great blog too BTW!

  • @Mary, I love the idea of using lavender–I think this recipe would take really well to some herbs. Thyme (or lemon thyme) might be nice too.

    @Gonia, yes, you’re right–the total is 1 1/3 cups, 1 cup in the dough and 1/3 to roll in. You can use either granulated or coarse sugar to roll. Check out Kristina’s answer to this, above!

  • Just made these! They were quite a bit more cakey than chewy, so I’m thinking I screwed up the baking powder. Still yummy though!

  • Made these this weekend and they were delicious – especially once i worked out the sugar situation!

    Like others have said, it says 1 & 1/3 cups sugar, but the instructions only say to add 1 cup of sugar and I was presuming the remaining 1/3 to be used for the rolling.

    But I found with only 1 cup of sugar, they were a bit too salty, so I made another batch adding the full amount of sugar (1 & 1/3 c) and then rolled them in a coarser sugar. I also used the zest of 2 lemons instead of one.

    They also didn’t spread they way I had thought, but I may have over mixed at the end.

    Next time I may even try to add dried cranberries or ginger.

    Really fun recipe – these are incredible!

  • You just can’t go wrong with cookie or lemon, combine the two and I’m down for the count!

    Love this recipe!

  • Hi everyone,

    I’m really happy to hear that so many people have tried the recipe.

    I try to prepare every recipe at home before it posts so that I can help answer any questions should the need arise.

    When cooking but especially baking, I’ve found a few simple things can go a long way toward producing the author’s intended outcome:

    (1) Read the recipe through carefully from start to finish at least once before you ever touch anything in the kitchen. (How many times have I skipped stuff in haste because I didn’t do this!!??)
    (2) Use proper measuring tools for the ingredients– a scale for dry goods is failsafe!
    (3) Prepare the ingredients before you start. This is the back up to #1 and helps eliminate any problems/confusion you may have not noticed during your read through.
    (3) Cook/bake at indicated temperature (I have two thermometers in my oven, one in front and one in back)
    (4). Don’t make substitutions unless you’re certain that they will not alter the intended result. This is particularly true in recipes where the amount of liquid or flour or leavening is crucial to a recipe’s success.

    These are the steps I follow when testing recipes for the column. I often send test images to the author to ensure that what I’ve made is how they make it. Sometimes I make it 3 or 4 times because I slack off with one of the steps above and make mistakes.

    We also work through any unclear language. So when we get it up on the column, it’s our best collaborative effort, and hopefully ensures success for you!

  • I made these last weekend and they are easily the best sugar cookies I’ve ever made. They stayed tasty for at least 5 days, although I don’t know how the cookies lasted that long.

  • I made these & they were delicious – and my husband thought so too!

    The only thing I found was that the mixture was extremely sticky which made it pretty time consuming & difficult to roll into balls – did I do something wrong?

  • Hi Cheryl,

    Sounds like you may not have used enough flour. Measuring using volume is sometimes difficult, which is why I prefer to use weight. You can find a calculator at Gourmet Sleuth to help you convert and see if you come up with a less sticky recipe.

    Let us know how it goes!

  • I just made these and a few got eaten before they even had a chance to cool. Delicious, may just become my new go-to sugar cookie recipe. I did up the zest by using the zest of four lemons, I like my lemon cookies and cakes really lemony. I might even zest a few more the next time I make them, which I will be doing!

  • @gastroanthropologist – that’s interesting! I am always scared it will go from lemony to bitter if I use too much zest. That’s not a risk?

  • I LOVE these cookies! I’ve made them several times already and they always get eaten so fast! Looks like I know what to bake for the holidays :)

  • I just made a batch and am playing with the cooking. I did two with a 1″ diameter and two with a 2″ diameter. I did find they needed about 11 minutes with the smaller size and 12 to 13 with the largere ones… but my oven could run a bit low. I think I will now play with the “fork smash” idea for my next two.

    I followed the recipe to the letter (I used unsalted butter since that was not specified) and the flavor is great. I may like a bit more lemon myself, but since I’m going to make a bunch for a bake sale next week, I will keep them subtle for that.

    I rolled them in regular sugar and in the coarse (colored) sugar to see which I liked better and the coarse added a wonderful chew/crunch so that will be the way I go for the sale.

    Thanks for the recipe!! I think it’s a winner!

  • So I just did two of the smaller sized ones with one smash of a large fork and baked them for 11 minutes at 380 degrees… perfection!!

  • These cookies turned out perfectly! I made them for my husband and friend on a whim the other night after dinner -half the batch was gone in 5 minutes. I’m definitely keeping this recipe!

    FYI -I used Meyer Lemon zest which worked perfectly

  • These cookies are awesome! I’m baking my second dozen right now and have already eaten two…need to stop :) The only change I made was switching out the zest for a teaspoon and half of extract and topping the cookies with crystal sugar. They’re just lemony enough and very pretty!

  • Super yummy cookies! I used lavender infused sugar both in the mix & to roll. I made mine 1.25″, baked for 10 minutes until starting to turn golden around edges–came out just like my Snickerdoodles. Thank you for an amazing recipe!