Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

Less Mess (Because I'm Already a Mess) Spinach Sugar Cookies

by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
December 16, 2020

It's a funny thing: I don't remember much about the first time my mom and I made Christmas cookies together. I don't remember what they looked like, and I don't remember whether we used a mixer or stirred by hand. I don't remember rolling dough or using cutters to make fun shapes. I don't remember licking beaters, or fingers, or smearing frosting in my hair. But I do remember the food coloring.

My first experience with food coloring was – truly, literally – life-changing. I watched my mother dribble the tiniest of drops into a bowl, and like magic, the entire batch (Of frosting? Of dough? These details, I did not deign to retain, and the world will never know.) instantly took on the happiest of hues. Those tear-shaped McCormick bottles were the closest I'd ever come to witchcraft. I was enthralled. I was obsessed. And I was paying very close attention to where they were stored when not in use.

(This, friends, is called "foreshadowing.")

After our cookie baking escapade, my mother had rightfully earned herself a nap, and I was left to my own devices to play and enjoy some Bert & Ernie and apple slices. But as soon as I heard that doorknob click shut, I was off, my trusty toddler step-stool in hand. The results of my efforts have become family lore: I managed to put drops of food coloring into both gallons of milk stored in the fridge; into our bottles of shampoo and conditioner; into a brand-new can of white interior paint on my dad's work bench. I mashed some into my PlayDoh, I painted my nails with yet some more, I even felt generous enough to share a few drip-drops with the gas tank on the lawn mower, stored in the garage. And lastly – the signature upon my masterpiece – I added drops to the bowl of every toilet in the house, and (lest he feel left out!) to the dog's water.

I was so proud of my artistry, and my mother never took a nap during my childhood again.

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My 4-year-old daughter has, thankfully, inherited my love of cooking, but she's also, not-so-thankfully, inherited my predilection for deviant chaos. So when it comes to holiday cookie baking – with all that squirtable icing and sprinkles that sprink like confetti – Mama knows better than to arm her child with those kitchen bombs.

As cookies go, we're big on classics, but since I'm not big on letting my daughter paint my entire kitchen with technicolor royal icing, that can result in cookies that are very decidedly un-holiday, un-festive, un-colorful.

In other words: brown.

Enter a favorite culinary trick of mine: tucking vegetables into recipes unexpectedly, but with the purpose of featuring rather than hiding. I’m lucky my kiddo is a veggie lover (don’t be too jealous – she sucks at sleeping), but even just for the joy of egging on her veg-averse dad, I prefer to showcase. Let them see how good those plants can be! In this case, adding spinach to a an old Christmas standard sugar cookie did just that, while giving the fringe benefit of festivizing them. No gloppy icing necessary. Gild the lily with a Christmas tree-shaped cookie cutter and you're gold.

And if you’re worried that spinach cookies might be a tough sell for some, I’ve included two versions of this recipe – one perfectly chewy-crisp, and one light and pillowy – to be sure to appeal to everyone you might wish to share these with. No word on what Santa’s preference might be, so you might just have to make ‘em both.

Spinach Sugar Cookies Two Ways

Prep time: 30 mins
 | 
Cook time: 4.75 hours including chilling and cooling
 | 
Makes 16 cookies

Ingredients

This recipe for Spinach Pan-Banged Cookies is adapted from Sarah Keiffer’s Pan-Banged Sugar Cookies found in her book, “100 Cookies.”

Note: Using weight measurements instead of volume yields more consistent results when baking, but volume measures have been included here for those who need them.

  • 80 grams of Fifth Season spinach (about 2.5-3oz., or half a box)
  • 324 grams of flour (about 2 cups plus 1/8th of a cup)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (or use salted butter and omit additional salt)
  • 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice (helps retain the bright green color)
  • 2 sticks of butter (salted or unsalted, see above), about 227 grams or 1 cup, at room temp
  • 300 grams (about 1 and 1/2 cups) of granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 tbsp of vanilla
  • Granulated sugar for rolling (optional)
Prep time: 30 mins
 | 
Cook time: 4.75 hours including chilling and cooling
 | 
Makes 16 cookies

Ingredients

This recipe for Spinach Pan-Banged Cookies is adapted from Sarah Keiffer’s Pan-Banged Sugar Cookies found in her book, “100 Cookies.”

Note: Using weight measurements instead of volume yields more consistent results when baking, but volume measures have been included here for those who need them.

  • 80 grams of Fifth Season spinach (about 2.5-3oz., or half a box)
  • 324 grams of flour (about 2 cups plus 1/8th of a cup)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (or use salted butter and omit additional salt)
  • 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice (helps retain the bright green color)
  • 2 sticks of butter (salted or unsalted, see above), about 227 grams or 1 cup, at room temp
  • 300 grams (about 1 and 1/2 cups) of granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 tbsp of vanilla
  • Granulated sugar for rolling (optional)

Ingredients

This recipe for Spinach Pan-Banged Cookies is adapted from Sarah Keiffer’s Pan-Banged Sugar Cookies found in her book, “100 Cookies.”

Note: Using weight measurements instead of volume yields more consistent results when baking, but volume measures have been included here for those who need them.

  • 80 grams of Fifth Season spinach (about 2.5-3oz., or half a box)
  • 324 grams of flour (about 2 cups plus 1/8th of a cup)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (or use salted butter and omit additional salt)
  • 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice (helps retain the bright green color)
  • 2 sticks of butter (salted or unsalted, see above), about 227 grams or 1 cup, at room temp
  • 300 grams (about 1 and 1/2 cups) of granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 tbsp of vanilla
  • Granulated sugar for rolling (optional)

Directions

  1. Separate your butter: place a 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) in your frying or sauté pan, and the rest can go into the bowl of your stand mixer, along with 250 grams of your granulated sugar. Turn on your stand mixer and let the butter and sugar lightly cream (I go for 5 minutes on 4).
  2. Add spinach to your frying pan and sauté with the butter over medium-low heat until fully wilted – this should take 5 minutes, max. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Scrape the warm (not hot!) spinach and butter – be sure to get it all out of the pan! – into the pitcher of a high-speed blender. (The higher the power the better to avoid visible bits of spinach in your dough.) Add your remaining 50 grams of sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and egg plus yolk. Puree until uniform and smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt (if using).
  5. Lower the setting on your stand mixer to Stir, and slowly drizzle in the spinach mixture. Pause 2-3 times to scrape both the bowl of your mixer, as well as the pitcher of the blender, to ensure that everything is fully incorporated. Poorly mixed cookie dough can result in uneven baking and odd shapes!
  6. Once the butter-spinach mixture is fully blended and smooth (it’s ok if it seems a little soft, or even if it looks broken/curdled – although it likely won’t), slowly stir in the flour mixture, again pausing a few times to scrape the bowl to ensure full incorporation.
  7. Once the dough is fully mixed, you can either scrape it into the bowl you mixed your flour in, or leave it in the bowl of your mixer. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 4 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 350°F, and place one rack in the center of your oven. Because you’ll be lifting and dropping the pan (!), for this recipe, you can bake only one tray of cookies at a time.
  9. Portion chilled dough into balls that are approximately 50 grams (for me, this is about 2.5 – 3 tablespoons of dough, but it will depend some on how much air you incorporated into your dough while creaming).
  10. Roll portioned dough in extra sugar (optional).
  11. Place four balls of dough on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, shiny side down. These cookies spread significantly, so if you can’t give them 6-7” of space on your baking sheets, do just three at a time instead.
  12. Bake for 8 minutes, or until the cookies have spread significantly but still have a 3/4-1” dome in the center.
  13. Carefully lift one of the short ends of your baking sheet about 7” into the air, and then – drop it! When your cookie sheet hits the rack, they will deflate significantly, and you should see a ruffle appear at the edges.
  14. Repeat this process 3-5 more times every two minutes until the cookies have baked total of 14-16 minutes of total bake time. Your cookies are done when they stop rising in the center after banging, and when they’ve formed several ruffly, rumpled rings on their outer edge and are just beginning to brown. They should not be shiny in the center anymore, but also not feel fully set.
  15. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the pan for 5-7 minutes. Cookies are very soft when warm, so don’t move them to a rack to finish cooling until you can do so without them tearing.
  16. Repeat steps 11 through 15 with remaining dough.

Sarah Keiffer never made spinach pan-bangers (that we know of!) but she does say in her book that she thinks pan-banged cookies are best cold. However, I like these best at room temperature. These aren’t the best for enjoying warm – while they TASTE excellent, they retain an aroma of cooked spinach until fully cooled that is not unpleasant but also not exactly expected in a cookie.

Yields approximately 16 3.5-4” cookies; will keep covered at room temperature for up to a week, and these refrigerate/freeze and thaw beautifully.

Not a fan of chewy-crisp, but still hoping to wow your pals with a spinach cookie? No sweat -- try a Spinachdoodle instead! This variation will result in approximately the same size and number of cookies, but rather than flat and ruffled, these will dome up and become delightfully pillowy and soft – just like your favorite Snickerdoodle.

To make Spinachdoodles:

  1. Replace the one egg yolk with one whole egg, for a total of two eggs per batch.
  2. Increase the lemon juice from 1 teaspoon to one tablespoon.
  3. Increase the spinach to approximately 142 grams, or 5 ounces – a whole box!
  4. Roll in white granulated sugar only – coarser sugars are too heavy for this lighter cookie. I also strongly recommend rolling the Spinachdoodles in sugar, whereas with the pan-bangers adding the additional sugar to the outside is entirely optional.
  5. You can add cinnamon to your rolling sugar, but it’s optional – while the flavor is welcome, it does dull the bright green color of the exterior, and the cookies are still excellent without it.
  6. Chill, portion, and bake the dough as directed in the pan-banging recipe, just omit the pan-banging steps. They should still take 14-16 minutes at 350°F; cookies are done when the tops are lofty and domed, and they just spring back when lightly tapped with a finger. Start checking at 12 minutes and continue baking until the tops no longer feel doughy and malleable.

About the Author

Jessicarobyn Keyser

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