For those of you aspiring to eat less sugar and more kale, I hear you. I'm with you. But on a cookie-baking roll. Forgive me.
Alice Medrich's "Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies" aren't helping matters. I haven't come across a baker that gets cookies like she does. As you know, I'm a cookie person. Just by looking, I'm able to tell a great cookie from an okay one, and a passable one from a don't-waste-your-calories one. And I'm also aware that cookies baked in most home ovens often don't turn out like the ones you might get at your favorite bakery. If you stick with Alice, she'll help you.
I could say a lot more about cookies and even my philosophy about having them sitting around the house. (The short version is I allow myself one when they are warm and about two more over the course of the batch/days. The rest go in the kids lunches or are given away as gifts.)
For Alice Medrich's pebbly beach fruit squares I had to read these directions carefully to visualize how these cookies are formed, but I found the dough easy to work with and didn't experience any problems. You can use any dried fruit, and she instructs to soak it in water, fruit juice, or wine to soften it. But only for 20 minutes. I soaked my dried cranberries in orange juice. Yum. And I used lemon zest and just mixed the softened butter and sugar with a spoon. Anything to avoid getting out the mixer. The kids and I pronounced these divine.
P.S. Alice is big on refrigerating your dough, which develops the flavor of the cookies, makes them less prone to spread in the oven, and makes your dough easier to work with. This dough requires 2 hours of refrigeration.
Makes 32 2-1/2-inch squares.
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest or 1 teaspoon cinnamon or anise
1 cup moist dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries, apricots, candied ginger, dates, prunes)
1/4 cup turbinado or other coarse sugar
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix together thoroughly.
With a large spoon in a medium mixing bowl or with a mixer, beat the butter with the granulated sugar until smooth and well-blended but not fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated.
Divide the dough in half and form each into a rectangle. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F., and position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let sit for 15 minutes to soften slightly. On a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll one piece of dough into a rectangle about 8-inches by 16-inches. With the short side facing you, scatter half the dried fruit on the bottom half of the dough. Fold of top half of the dough over the fruit, using the paper as a handle if it's sticking. Peel the paper from the top of the dough. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Flip the dough onto a lightly floured cutting board and peel off the remaining paper. Sprinkle with half the coarse sugar and pat lightly to make sure the sugar adheres. Use a heavy knife to trim the edges. Cut into 4 strips and cut each strip into 4 pieces to make 16 squares. Place cookies 2-inches apart on parchment-lined or greased cookie sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, fruit, and sugar.
Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing.