Summer as a kid was full of riding bikes around the block, tons of sunscreen, helping Grandma and Grandpa weed their enormous garden, days at the swimming pool, reading under the shade of the Hackberry trees, family cookouts, and our annual family reunions in my small hometown in Wisconsin.
I loved family reunion time … growing up, it meant I got to play with so many cousins my same age – most of whom I only saw that one time a year. I got the best hugs in the world from my great aunts and uncles who were always so happy to hear how I had been and what was new in school. And who could forget all the delicious food?
The reunions were always “bring a dish to pass.” We would line a bunch of picnic tables together as the main buffet table for all the goodies. There was always way more food than we needed, but that just made for a great variety of options from which to choose. There were slow cookers full of goulashes; casseroles filled with hot dishes; platters stacked with sandwiches; bowls brimming with all sorts of salads; and more desserts than you could shake a stick at. Everyone wanted to show off their latest, greatest creation or recipe find.
There were a few dishes that I knew would be there every year – I always looked forward to them, and I still remember them to this day. Great Aunt Ines made the most amazingly light, fluffy, and slightly sweet corn souffle with fresh corn from her garden. There were usually a couple of giant pails of freshly picked blueberries from my cousin Kevin’s orchard. And my family always contributed some of my favorites – open-faced sandwiches with cheese whiz and sliced green olives (don’t laugh – give it a try!); “Slime Jello” (seriously, so good ... lime Jello with pineapple and walnuts – it was originally a lime Jello dish that my uncle Rick re-named, just to lovingly irritate Grandma); and the family staple, “Old Settler Beans,” loaded with molasses, bacon, hamburger, and butter beans. My plate never seemed big enough to hold everything I wanted!
To me, though, the highlight was always the giant table full of desserts – everything from brownies of all types and sizes, cookies galore, rhubarb everything (it was Wisconsin after all), cakes and pies, and best of all, a collection of different types of lemony desserts. Some were cakes with fluffy frosting. Some were bars with a super lemony layer on top or dusted with powdered sugar. There was even the occasional meringue pie or bar, which never fared well in the summer heat. I always had to sample several, just to see what the differences were and which one was best.
To this day, I still reach for the lemon “whatever” when I see it on a dessert tray. I want my lemon dessert to have a great lemony tang with just enough sweetness to take the edge off, but not lose that lemon punch. Oh, and don’t get between me and a good lemon meringue pie! I am always on the search for a new lemon dessert recipe. To that end, I started experimenting with lemon cookies a couple of years ago. I wanted to find one that was super lemony, but not overly soggy; one that was just the right amount of crisp and tender, and one that was a little lemon colored without using food coloring; one that caught your eye and begged you to take a bite. I tried oodles of recipes and finally combined a few different concepts to come up with the most amazing cookie (if I do say so myself!) that I call “Lemon Drop Cookies.” I am sharing the recipe with you as an homage to my childhood summers growing up and my love of a good lemon dessert.
I am super excited to say that I just bought my airline ticket back “home” to Wisconsin this summer. It has been a few years since I’ve been back and I can’t wait to see some family I haven’t seen for ages … and, of course, to sample some delicious dishes, too! I plan on loading a batch of these cookies into my suitcase. I figure they will taste good, even if they end up as crumbs ...
Lemon Drop Cookies
– 1 cup butter, softened
– 2 cups white sugar
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– Lemon zest (typically 2 large or 3 small lemons)
– 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (typically 2-3 lemons, depending on size)
– 3 cups flour
– 1½ teaspoon baking powder
– ½ teaspoon baking soda
– ¼ teaspoon salt
Wash lemons and remove any stickers. Measure sugar into a mixing bowl (either the one from your stand mixer or into the bowl in which you will use your hand mixer). Set up the zester over the bowl containing the sugar and zest directly into the sugar. Stir the zest into the sugar. Add the softened butter and set the bowl aside. Measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a separate bowl, and set aside. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and add the vanilla. Cut the lemons in half and juice them using a handheld juicer or squeeze them into a bowl fitted with a colander to catch the seeds.
Cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed. Mix until they are light and fluffy. Measure out the 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and add to the bowl with the creamed butter and sugar. Reduce the speed to low and mix to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until they are completely incorporated. Then, add the contents of the flour mixture and mix on low until all of the flour has been incorporated.
To bake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees before making the dough. Drop by the spoonful onto parchment-lined sheet pans. Flatten slightly with your hand (they will spread during baking). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until done. These cookies will retain all of their flavor if you wish to bake them a little longer for extra crispiness; but know they won’t retain their light, lemony color. Let cool. Leave plain, or dust with powdered sugar.
To freeze: Drop by the spoonful onto parchment-lined sheet pans and freeze. Once they are completely frozen, place them into a freezer container and seal up. When you want to enjoy them, simply remove from the freezer and let them thaw. Then bake as instructed above.
Holly has spent many years working with food, starting off at her Grandma’s elbow, making wedding cakes and cookies galore. Since then, she has been a manager and business owner and is thrilled to be combining her passions for high quality food and superior customer service at Chef Mario’s.