Cookie of the Month: Imagining carrots in more than cake

There are many mystery recipes in my mom’s little cedar recipe box. The sources of many of the handwritten cards remain unnamed, although I know that if my mom took the time to write down a recipe, it came from someone. More than that mystery, I don’t have a firm recollection of her ever making some of these items. My memory of baked goods is the most vivid of all, so if I can’t recall a recipe being made, I was probably too young to remember.

For example, I found a recipe for “Carrot Cookies,” a drop-style cookie that includes cooked, mashed carrots. If my mom had made these during my waking years, I know I would have remembered. I think I once thumbed through the box and asked her about the recipe. I want to say that it, like many of the ones I asked about, received the response, “They were good.” Or, did she say they weren’t? I tended to remember the few bad recipes that haunted her. These were definitely not on that roster. But if she only made them once, before I was aware of them, just how good could they be?

As I pondered a cookie of the month, I thought of this cookie mystery, as well as gardens and growing things and the early things that popped up in the garden, including carrots. And I have to say, although I’ve seen plenty recipes for carrot cake everything, that include grated carrots and other familiar flavorings, I had yet to stumble across a cookie that had not only mashed carrots, but lemon extract, and a glaze made of the zest and juice of an orange.

It was intriguing enough (along with my wondering about my mom’s review), that I wanted to give the cookies a try in May. I had a generous amount of carrots in the veggie drawer, and I cooked some up to equal a cup.

I mashed the carrots to a fine pulp in my mini food processor. Their deep color made me excited for the color of the cookies to come.

With two teaspoons of baking powder in the dry ingredients, I knew these would be light and puffy cookies. I decided with all the flavors in the cookies, a wee bit of nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon) might be a nice addition.

This drop cookie recipe, like many back in the day, used shortening, not butter. It was tempting to do half butter to see how they would turn out, but I decided that this first run, I would keep with just the shortening.

I creamed the sugar and shortening for several minutes to make sure everything was incorporated and no gritty sugar residue remained.

I also made sure to scrape down the mixing bowl so everything was mixed (sometimes sugar clings on the bottom and shortening on the top if you don’t do this).

I added an egg, the mashed carrots, lemon and vanilla extracts to the mix and combined everything. To this, I added the dry ingredients and blended until everything was mixed to form a very soft dough, slightly thicker than cake batter.

I also decided to add some toasted, chopped pecans to the cookies for a little texture with all the softness I imagined they would have.

I doled out the cookies the way my mom always did — with a teaspoon. The rounded mounds would make small — and irregular — cookies compared to those done with a proper cookies scoop, but I liked doing it this way, pushing off the cookies onto the sheet pan with my finger (or you could use another spoon).

The cookies did puff up a bit and browned just lightly in the oven. The puffy nature of the cookie not only came from the baking powder, but the shortening (I think butter would have cause the cookies to spread). The cookies were a soft golden-orange color.

For the glaze, I took the same bowl that held the dry ingredients and zested in the orange peel and squeezed in the juice. I added enough powdered sugar (probably 1-1/2 to 2 cups) to make a somewhat runny glaze…the recipe didn’t give any measurements, so I winged it.

I took a spoon and drizzled the glaze over the still-warm cookies, as the recipe suggested. They had a thin coating over top, so I added a bit more. I’m not a big glaze person, but this icing had so much nice orange flavor, I felt sure it would be a nice complement to the cookies. The cookies took on a slight sheen with the glaze.

I gave the cookies a little glaze-setting and cooling time, but was really too tempted to not try one. I picked up a smaller (of the small) cookie and popped it into my mouth.

Oh, boy…this had to have received the “Good” rating from my mom. I certainly approved. The cookies were more like small cakes, delicately soft-textured. The carrots gave them mild flavor and moist texture, the notes of lemon and nutmeg were a nice accompaniment, and the buttery crunch of the pecan pieces was a good call. That lovely orange icing added the right amount of sweetness to a cookie that was not overly sweet, which I liked. But the glaze didn’t overpower the cookie at all, probably because it was a thinner coating, rather than a thick frosting. Subsequent tastings of the cookies had them melting in my mouth and into my memory. I was so glad that mystery was solved, and instead of just wondering, I had opted to try.

Carrot Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen small cookies

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mashed cooked carrots
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup toasted pecans

Cream sugar and shortening. Blend in egg, carrots and extracts. Sift the flour with baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Mix into the carrot mixture until all is blended. Fold in pecans.

Drop by small spoonfuls onto parchment lined sheets. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

While the first batch is baking, make a glaze by whisking the zest and juice of one orange with 1 to 2 cups powdered sugar to form a thin glaze.

Glaze the cookies while they are still warm.

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