Eric Akis: With icebox cookies, you can have freshly baked treats all week

Eric Akis

It’s March break, and if you’re looking for something to do with your out-of-school kids or grandkids, baking cookies can be a very sweet activity.

Refrigerator cookies, also known as icebox cookies, are an old-fashioned style of cookie that got their name because the dough is refrigerated until ready for baking.

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After the dough is made, you divide, roll and seal it in waxed paper. You refrigerate the dough until firm, keeping it refrigerated until you’re ready to slice and bake into cookies when you feel like a treat.

The fun thing about refrigerator cookie dough is that you can flavour it in all sorts of ways.

In my recipe, I divided the dough into three roughly equal pieces, then flavoured one of them with mini-chocolate chips and chopped glace cherries. The second piece of dough was flavoured with lemon zest and coconut, and the third with pumpkin spice and pecans.

Feel free to alter these flavourings as desired — you can use walnuts instead of pecans, or dried cherries instead of glace cherries. You could also flavour the plain dough any other way you like. Just don’t add large chunks of things, or the cookie dough will be hard to slice.

Making these cookies involves some chopping, grating and slicing, along with the use of a stand-mixing machine. If you’re making this recipe with small children, the adult should take on those tasks, while the young ones help with such things as getting out the ingredients and measuring them.

Store the waxed-paper-wrapped rolls of cookie dough in a tight sealing container to ensure they don’t dry out if you leave them in the refrigerator a few days or freeze them. If you don’t have a suitable container, you could also slip the rolls of dough into a plastic bag.

Refrigerator Cookies Three Ways

This buttery, pliable dough is cut into three pieces, each one flavoured differently before being rolled up, chilled, then sliced and baked into cookies when needed. These light-coloured cookies have an almost shortbread-like quality.

Preparation time: 60 to 75 minutes

Baking time: 12 minutes (per sheet of cookies)

Makes: about 60 cookies

For cookie dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

To flavour lemon coconut cookies

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

2 Tbsp unsweetened medium coconut flakes

To flavour chocolate chip cherry cookies

1/4 cup (about 12) glace red cherries, each cherry cut into 6 to 8 small pieces (see Note 1 and Eric’s options)

1/4 cup mini-chocolate chips

To flavour pumpkin spice pecan cookies

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

• small pinch ground cloves

1/4 cup pecan pieces

Place flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk well to combine.

Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until well-combined and lightened. Now beat in the eggs, one at a time (the mixture won’t look smooth). Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until it’s well combined and smooth dough is created.

Tear three, one-foot-long pieces of waxed paper and lay flat on a work surface (see Note 2). Transfer dough to a cutting board, shape into a thick, six-inch log, then cut into three equal pieces.

Place one piece of dough back in the mixing bowl. Mix in the ingredients for the lemon coconut cookies. Set the dough on one of the pieces of waxed paper. Use your hands to shape the dough into a tightly formed eight-inch-long log. Roll the log of dough into the waxed paper, then twist the ends to seal. Set the roll of dough in a tight-sealing container large enough to hold all three rolls of dough in a single layer.

Set a second piece of dough in the mixing bowl and mix in the ingredients needed for the chocolate-chip cherry cookies. Set that dough on a piece of the waxed paper. Shape, roll and seal it inside the waxed paper as you did for the first dough. Set the dough in the container with the first dough.

Set the third piece of dough in the mixing bowl and mix in the ingredients needed for the pumpkin spice pecan cookies. Set that dough on the last piece of waxed paper.

Shape and roll it inside the waxed paper as you did for the first dough. Set the roll of cookie dough in the container with the other rolls of dough.

Seal the container and refrigerate dough at least three hours, or until they feel firm. The rolls of dough can be kept refrigerated up to three days, until ready to bake. The rolls of cookie dough can also be frozen for up to two months. (If you freeze them, you’ll have to let the dough sit out at room temperature until the dough has softened enough to slice.)

To bake a roll of cookies, preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap and cut the roll of dough into 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices. Set the slices on the baking sheet, spacing each one about two inches apart. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes, or until light golden on the bottom and set.

Let cookies cool to room temperature on the baking sheet.

Note 1: Glace red cherries are kind of like maraschino cherries, but are preserved in thick syrup. You’ll find them for sale in tubs in the baking aisle of supermarkets and at bulk food stores.

Note 2: When transferring the flavoured dough to the waxed paper, be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and paddle attachment with a spatula to ensure you get all of it. If you don’t have waxed paper, you could roll up and seal the logs of dough in plastic wrap.

Eric’s options: Instead of glace cherries, use 1/4 cup of dried cherries, coarsely chopped.

You’ll find them in the bulk-food section of some supermarkets and at bulk-food stores.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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