Alabama: Southern spice – Turtleback cookies make great Christmas gifts

Our 50-state Christmas cookie challenge continues.  Between now and December, Jeremy and I are trying to bake on cookie representing each of the 50 states, with the idea that these will make excellent personalized gifts. I’ve baked c0okies representing Alaska, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado.  I drew Alabama this week.

Let me digress a minute.  In second grade, I had to produce the dreaded “science fair project.”  My mom and dad helped me to combine my love of baking with science.  I made the traditional Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe, but each time I baked them, I left out one ingredient.  My final display explained the chemical influence of each of the ingredients in the cookie.  I was proud of the project and remember sharing my display in the cafeteria/gymnasium of our elementary school.

Fast forward to Saturday. I was in a hurry, and I decided that Turtlebacks would be a great cookie to make for a party I was hosting a few hours later. With my grandson, we began mixing and measuring.  I was temporarily thrown off by the 20 tbsp. of unsalted butter required but continued mixing with my typical abandon.

I was stopped in my floury tracks when I read that the dough had to be refrigerated for 24 hours.  Oh well.tra I put the dough in plastic wrap, cleaned up the kitchen, baked two trays of chocolate chip cookies from a boxed mix and went out the door.

On Sunday, I returned to the cookies, determined to finish them.  The frosting began with the instruction, “Whisk REMAINING cinnamon and salt. . .”  That’s when I realized that I had not measured several of the main ingredients correctly the day before–I put ALL the cinnamon, salt, butter, brown sugar and vanilla in the dough.  That was an epic error. Remembering my elementary school project, I knew that my cookies would be flat, dark brown, and inedible.

So I doctored the dough with flour and baking soda and moved on.

The frosting for the cookies is out of this world delicious.  I could have eaten it with a spoon out of the pot. Ok.  I confess.  I ate it with a spoon out of the pot.

The cookies–if you mix the ingredients correctly–are delicious.  What I like about them, too, is that they are not your average oatmeal, chocolate or sugar cookie.  The flavor is maple and spice.

I shared the cookies with family and friends.  My German teacher friend, Joanne, remarked that they taste a lot like the traditional spice cookie, lebkuchen.  Lebkuchen means “gingerbread” in German.  That gives me more reason to believe that these cookies would be an excellent gift at Christmas.

Turtleback Cookies

(based on the recipe from Traeger’s Bakery in Demopolis, Alabama).

MAKES 32 COOKIES

Ingredients

1 12 cups all-purpose flour
12 cup chopped pecans
1 14 tsp. ground cinnamon
12 tsp. baking soda
12 tsp. ground cardamom
12 tsp. kosher salt
34 cup brown sugar
12 cup granulated sugar
20 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 12 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 12 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tbsp. heavy cream

Instructions

(Ingredients in bold are the ones I didn’t measure correctly–pay attention!) Combine flour, pecans, 1 tsp. cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom, and 14 tsp. salt; set aside. Combine 12 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 16 tbsp. butter, and 1 tsp. vanilla in a large bowl; beat on medium-high speed with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition; add dry ingredients; beat on low speed until just combined.
Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, whisk remaining cinnamon and salt, plus the powdered sugar in a bowl; set aside. Place remaining butter and brown sugar in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium, stirring constantly; boil. Remove from heat and stir in remaining vanilla and the cream. Using a mixer, add the powdered sugar mixture and blend until icing is completely smooth.
Heat oven to 350˚. Roll dough into 1 12” balls and flatten into circles about 12” thick. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned around the edges; cool. Top each cookie with a thin layer of icing, spread almost to the edge (about 1 tablespoon of icing should suffice). Allow the icing to harden completely before serving.
Traeger’s Bakery is no longer in business, but it was the mainstay of Demopolis, Alabama for over 70 years.  A description of the cookies and the bakery appeared in Saveur online magazine in April 2015.