I’m not sure when it started, but I have developed quite the sweet tooth of late. There isn’t a bakery I can walk by without popping in for a granola bar, a piece of rugelach, or an apple turnover. In fact, when Hi-Rise Bakery opened up a new location on Mass. Ave, I declared my new mission was to sample each and every baked good in their case (save the ham-filled things, of course.) I actually spent most of the winter working my way through the cookie shelf – my Tour de Cookie, as Rich put it. Just last week I raised my hands in triumph as I completed the last lap. “Did you win the chocolate chip jersey?” Rich asked. For the record, their best cookie is not the chocolate chip but the cherry oat one. (Don’t bother with the molasses.)
All this desserting led Rich to observe that I have fully become a Parr, since his family is much more about sweet than savory. This tendency starts with the matriarch, Nana Parr, who is a baker extraordinaire. When I first met Rich, he was excited to introduce me to Nana’s sugar cookies. They’re actually butter cookies, but they get their name from the sprinkling of sugar on top. They’re almost impossibly thin and crisp, not unlike a sugary Pringle. And yes, it’s impossible to eat just one. As Rich put it, they’re like crack.
Over the past seven years, I’ve probably munched on hundreds of Nana Parr sugar cookies. Last fall, at my request, Nana brought me into her kitchen sanctum and showed me how to make them. And for Mother’s Day, I tried as best I could to recreate her cookies as a present for her.
Nana introduced me to a pastry cloth, which I’d never seen before. It’s a thin, almost gauzy cloth that she layers between the dough and the rolling pin, and it’s what aids her in getting the dough almost paper-thin. Nana also tells me the cloth is ideal for rolling out pie dough. You can buy pastry cloth, which comes with a matching sock for the rolling pin (think Red Hot Chili Peppers), online at Williams Sonoma. I struck out buying it at the actual store, so I found mine at KitchenWares on Newbury Street for $6.
Nana also had a special sugar shaker, akin to a Parmesan shaker at a House of Pizza — I told you, sweet tooth — but we used a sieve for the same effect. Some of my cookies weren’t as thin as hers, and I have to admit that they do taste better thinner. Although the recipe card I have from Nana calls for baking the cookie sheets for six minutes, then a turn in the oven for another six minutes, the cookies are a much darker brown than hers. Hers actually don’t brown at all, and stay the lightest of yellows. I think the tan ones actually have a bit more body to them, but I have to be clear that that isn’t a genuine Nana Parr cookie.
Nana Parr Cookies
1 cup butter
1 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
Flour for the pastry cloth
Granulated sugar for topping
Using an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar.
Add egg and vanilla.
Stir in dry ingredients and mix well.
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375F.
Sprinkle about a 1/3 cup of flour on the pastry cloth. Roll out the dough quite thin. Cut into shapes. Using a spatula, lay cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the cookies. Bake for 6 minutes (or 4 or 5, depending on your cookie preference and oven), turn the sheets 180 degrees, and bake for another 6 minutes. Remove the cookies from the sheets and set them on cooling racks.
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.
Store in an air-tight container. I have learned from Nana that these cookies stay fresh in the refrigerator and freeze well.