The best one-bowl cookie recipe you’ve probably never heard of
By Margaux Laskey
Brown-edge cookies may not look like much — and their no-nonsense name certainly doesn’t do them any favors — but don’t let appearances fool you. In the great Venn diagram of cookies, this little wafer lies at the intersection of Christmas sugar cookie, vanilla wafer and French tuile. They are absurdly buttery, crisp at the edges, just barely chewy in the center, and they go with everything. It’s a bold statement, but as far as cookies go, these golden rounds are practically flawless.
In the 1970s, my Aunt Liz introduced these cookies, whose unpretentious moniker comes from the delicate, crisp brown halo that encircles their tender centers, to my family. They must have been a hit because the cookies have appeared at almost every reunion and funeral, and in every college care package and first-day lunchbox, since. If a cookie can be a family touchstone, this one is ours.
The exact history of the original recipe has been lost to the sands of time, but it’s an old one. My aunt was given the recipe by her neighbor, Millie Shea, who learned it from her mother when she was a little girl in the 1930s. For many years, Nabisco sold a similar cookie called brown-edge wafers, but discontinued them in 1996, prompting nostalgic home cooks to develop their own variations, which can be found all over the internet and in spiral-bound community cookbooks.
My practical Midwestern heart will always prefer these cookies unadorned, but they are also great nestled into a bowl of ice cream, sorbet or pudding. Sandwiching a layer of lemon curd, Nutella or berry jam between two wafers would not be a bad idea either. And while I can’t endorse it, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could add a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of almond, lemon or orange extract to the batter. (Pro tip for grown-ups: Nibble one while sipping a bourbon neat.)
As far as recipes go, it’s about as simple as you can get. You need a mixer, a bowl and just six ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and salt. Whip it into a creamy frenzy, spoon it onto sheet pans and bake until the centers puff slightly (they’ll slump when cool) and the edges brown. Some versions call for shortening, or more egg whites, or potato starch, but the simplicity of this version makes it something you’ll return to again and again.
1 pound (453 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (453 grams) sugar (2 1/4 cups)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups (384 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1. Arrange two racks around the middle of the oven and heat oven to 375 degrees. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add egg and vanilla. Beat on medium until incorporated, about 1 minute.
2. Add 1 cup flour and the salt and beat on low to just combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining 2 cups flour and beat on low until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then beat on medium for 30 seconds just until no flour streaks remain.
3. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 3 inches apart as the cookies spread quite a bit while baking.
4. Bake 2 sheets at a time, rotating the pans halfway through, until the edges are lightly browned and the centers are slightly puffed, 10 to 12 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
5. Cool on the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then transfer cookies to the rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.