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Can’t Miss Vanilla Shortbread Cookies and A New Sweetener

There are some people who will turn up their nose if a baked good has cardamom in it. Or raisins. Or coconut. Or even chocolate (if you can believe that).

But nobody ever shuns vanilla.

Nope, not ever.

It’s the most popular flavor for so many things because it is the pure taste of childhood memories.

Of ice cream dripping off cones on a hot summer day. Of birthday cake with candles to blow out. Of cupcakes with a mountain of frosting to get all over your face.

That’s why I guarantee nobody will turn down one of these “Vanilla Shortbread Cookies.”

The recipe is from “Bon Appetit Desserts” (Andrews McMeel) by the magazine’s former editor-in-chief, Barbara Fairchild.

European butter makes these cookies extra rich. Powdered sugar and cornstarch makes them very tender, yet nicely crumbly. With a teaspoon of vanilla extract, the dough gets rolled into logs to chill until firm. Then, slices are baked until golden on the edges.

The recipe calls for granulated sugar, too. But I used a new sweetener instead, of which I had received a sample. Organic Samovar Sweet Crystals are made from organic evaporated coconut palm nectar. Farmers in Bali climb palm trees and tap the fruit for nectar, which is then dried and crystallized.

The resulting crystals look a bit like Muscavado or Demerara sugar, but have a drier consistency. The smell is of graham crackers and the taste is buttery, malty and molasses-like.

You can stir the crystals into tea for a softer, more complex flavor than regular sugar. In baked goods like this shortbread, the crystals add little amber speckles of color, turning the dough a warm beige color. The crystals add a slight browned-butter, toffee-like note. When baking, use 1 1/2 cups of crystals for 1 cup of granulated sugar.

The Sweet Crystals are available at Samovar tea lounges in San Francisco or through the company’s online site. A 14-ounce bag is $14.

If you don’t want to spring for the Sweet Crystals, these cookies turn out just fine with granulated sugar.

Remember, they’re vanilla — you can’t go wrong.

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

(Makes about 3 dozen)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted European-style butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar (or 1/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons Samovar Sweet Crystals)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing until just blended each time. Gather dough into a ball; divide in half. Roll each half into a 6-inch log; wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in center of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Cut each log crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices on 2 heavy large rimmed baking sheets, spacing 1/2 inch apart (cookies will spread very little). Bake cookies 9 minutes. Switch baking sheets on racks and bake just until cookies turn golden brown at the edges, about 9 minutes longer. Cool cookies on sheets 1 minute. Using thin metal spatula, transfer cookies to racks and cool. (Cookies can be made 3 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

Adapted from “Bon Appetit Desserts”

More Can’t-Miss Cookies: Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies

And: Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks

And: Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares

And: Orange Butter Cookies