Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Button, Button, Who's Baked the Buttons?

My young friend Asteroidea came over, with her younger brother, for the afternoon.  And, while the boy wanted nothing but peanut butter and honey sandwiches, of which he ate copiously, she was inclined to cook a plateful of her new favorite easy treat, banana pancake buttons.

These are astonishingly simple to prepare: mash a very ripe  medium banana until it becomes a smooth paste, thoroughly mix in one medium to large egg, and fry in lightly-buttered nonstick pan over medium heat, turning once when bubbles start to appear along the edges.  (They're very tender, and flipping is sometimes tricky, so always keep them "button-sized," about 2 - 3 inches across, by dropping them onto the pan using a tablespoon or soup spoon). They're very sweet on their own, so they need no topping, but Asteroidea indicated they were very tasty with a tiny bit of cinnamon sugar sprinkled on them, if you want a little extra kick.

Still, I'd promised that today would be a day for baking, so when she finished with the pancakes, we started in on the spice buttons (a variation on a German holiday cookie, the Speculatius – spiced windmill cookies – of which my father is deeply fond). These are freezer cookies, so you don't just mix them up and throw them into the oven. It took a whole afternoon of waiting, first.

In the end, they are similar to ginger snaps, and, if you want, you can boost the amount of ginger and chili powder to make them more zippy, but these are quite addictive enough. Also, when the holidays roll around, these are durable enough to ship, as well as to poke a hole or two in them before baking, so you can string them up with ribbons or licorice strings/red vine candy, as decorations on a Christmas tree.

This is a small sample of what she took home with her, so nobody in our house would be too tempted (toothpick included for scale).

Spice Buttons


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg white
sanding or decorative sugar


In a medium bowl, sift or whisk flour, salt, and spices. Set aside.

In a separate medium mixing bowl, mix butter on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars, beat at medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes, then add vanilla and egg, mixing until slightly fluffy. Reduce the speed to low, gradually add in dry ingredients and mix well.

Scrape dough from the bowl, divide into thirds. 

Roll each portion of dough out to an average diameter of about 1 to 1 1/2 inches (it will make a roll about a foot long). Wrap tightly in plastic and place in freezer. If you want to prevent it from getting a flat bottom, slide each dough roll into a cardboard tube (an old, clean paper towel roll will do) before you put it into the freezer.

Allow to chill at least three hours.

Once the dough is chilled stiff, place oven racks near top and bottom of oven, and preheat to 375º F.  When the oven is nearly hot, prepare egg white by lightly beating it in a small bowl. Have ready a large cookie sheet covered with either a prepared silicone non-stick sheet or a sheet of cooking parchment.  

Remove a roll of cookie dough from the freezer and carefully unwrap it from the plastic (if you want the edges of the cookie to be precise and smooth, you may want to roll it again just a little). Brush lightly with egg white, then sprinkle on decorative sugar, all the way around.* 

With a thin, sharp knife or a wire cheese slicer, cut dough off in 1/4 inch (or slightly thinner) slices, place close together on the cookie sheets (they will not grow much bigger, since the only leavening is the egg). 

Bake 8 - 12 minutes, until the cookies are browned to your preference in crispness. Cool on rack, if you can stand to wait that long before eating them all.** 

Makes over 100.

 *This step is optional. Pop likes his cookies plain and simple, without extra sugars or icings, because you can eat them almost immediately out of the oven without worrying about the hot sugar burning the roof of your mouth. 

** If, on the other hand, you like lots of sugar, you can make a thick, stiff icing for these, using 2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar and 7 teaspoons of warm water (you can bump it up a notch with 1/8 tsp. or so of cinnamon, but don't get crazy).  Mix completely, put into a zippered bag, cut a small piece off a corner off the bag, and pipe the icing onto each cookie, starting by drawing a perimeter, then filling in the circle. Once you have it iced, you can further decorate with colored sugars, sprinkles, or dragees, if that's your style.  Allow at least a half hour for the icing to set up before serving these.

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