For me, these cookies are a sort of proto-cookie. The cookie that came first and against which all others shall be judged. The taste instantly hit a sweet spot in my memory: ‘Ah yes, this tastes like the first and best sugar cookie I ever ate.’ Not that I have any specific memory of that first sugar cookie, except for the certainty that it tasted just like this: buttery, sugary and crisp. I love these cookies.
But there was a moment of panic whilst making them. Irma’s description says that these cookies are like Sand Tarts but easier to make. And as I stood over the bowl of the driest cookie dough I had ever seen I thought I knew why she was calling them sandy. I was certain they would be horribly dry and was already planning to add a second egg to the next batch. My skepticism didn’t last past the first warm, sweet mouthful. They may not have looked like much, but they tasted so good.
There are two other reason to love these cookies. One is you make this cookie dough, keep it in the ‘ice box’, and cut off cookies to bake as and when. Which means warm cookies on demand for days or even weeks.
And the second is they can also be the basis for many variations. There are three more in the 1931 Joy and a few dozen running around in my head. This cookie is hands-down the centerpiece of my holiday baking and I will share the best variations with you, but I thought that, first I would give you the original thing: the cookie unadorned. Because, as Irma’s description of this recipe reminds us, ‘the cookie unadorned is mighty good.’
Pistachio Ice Box Cookies slightly adapted from the 1931 Joy of Cooking
Makes approx. 24 cookies
4oz. unsalted butter (= 8 Tbs)
1 C sugar
1 & 3/4 C all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 C pistachios (measured before chopping)
Set out butter to soften whilst you collect the other ingredients.
Finely chop the pistachios and set aside.
Cream the butter & sugar in a large bowl. I start with a wooden spoon and mash the butter for a bit. Then switch to a whisk and try to get the butter totally soft and creamed with the sugar. It takes a little while and is a good arm work out. You’ll notice that the butter clumps in the whisk. Just push it out with the spoon and keep going. After a few goes it will stop and you’ll be able to whisk more effectively. (N.B. This process will be easier if you have let the butter soften totally. I rarely manage this foresight and so go for the elbow grease method as above.)
Whisk in the egg. Then add the flour, baking powder and mix it all together with a wooden spoon. The batter will be very clumpy and will seem too dry. Not to worry.
Add the vanilla and pistachio nuts and mix a bit more with the wooden spoon. The batter will be very dry. Use your hands to mix in any bits that aren’t incorporated and then smush together to form it into a roll whilst in the bowl. When you can grab the whole roll lift it onto a chopping board and finish shaping into a cylinder about 2 inches round. Below you can see how imperfect this roll will look. Don’t panic.
Wrap it in plastic wrap, then foil – or just parchment/wax paper – and freeze for at least 2 hours. If you don’t have a freezer, put the roll in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
When you want to bake them, let the roll warm up for 5-10 minutes on the counter and preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Then slice off as many cookies as you like, aiming to make them about a quarter of an inch/half a centimeter thick. Don’t worry if they are lopsided, you won’t notice once they’ve baked.
Place on a baking tray and bake for about 8 minutes, depending on thickness, at 200C/400F. Remove to a rack to cool. Start checking these early as they cook fast. I love them crisp so 8 minutes is perfect, but you can do a shorter time for softer cookies.