Arnhem Girls — The Best Sugar Cookies

Arnhem Girls Yeast Raised Sugar Cookies

If you cook and bake a lot, cookie recipes all start to seem the same. Some variation of butter, flour, sugar and eggs, with flavoring to make the cookie stand out — oatmeal and raisins, white chocolate chip and cranberry, chocolate chips and peanut butter (not that there’s anything wrong with any of these). But it’s rare to see a really unique cookie recipe.

I came across this recipe for Arnhem Girls or Arnhem Biscuits, a traditional Dutch cookie, years ago, when I lived in New York, in John Thorne’s Pot on the Fire. The description intrigued me – an unsweetened, yeast-leavened cookie rolled out on coarse sugar, but what really piqued my interest was the source — Roald Dahl’s Cookbook , a memoir and cookbook written by the man who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (i.e., this man knew, and loved, sweets). Dahl described the biscuits like this:

“It was flat and thin and oval, and crystals of sugar were embedded in the top of it. I took a nibble. I took another nibble. I savoured it slowly. I took a big bite and chewed it. The taste and texture were unbelieveable. This, I told myself, is the best biscuit I’ve ever eaten in my life. I ate another and another, and each one I ate only strengthened my opinion. They were simply marvellous. I cannot quite tell you why, but everything about them, the crispness, the flavour, the way they melted away down your throat made it so you couldn’t stop eating them.”

Color me intrigued. With such an evocative description and an unusual method, how could I not be? But, as with most recipes, I set it aside and forgot about it.

Fast forward 10 years, when I was reading Simon Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (a compulsively readable cookbook. I checked it out from the library and promptly bought it) a week ago, and I saw it again. The Arnhem biscuits, the evocative description. This time, I would not forget. This time, I pulled out the stand mixer and got to work.

Arnhem Girls Yeast Raised Sugar Cookies

The dough is quite stiff — really flour and milk, brightened with just a whiff of citrus and leavened with yeast. If you’re afraid of yeast, don’t let that stop you from making this recipe — there’s no proofing, no kneading, and the dough barely rises. The yeast provides just a little puff, and a lot of flavor. After mixing these together, you beat butter into the stiff dough (a stand mixer is definitely recommended) and refrigerate overnight. The overnight rest allows the dough to relax, the flavors to develop. So when you pull it out to roll it, all goes well. You roll this dough out on sugar instead of flour — the sugar crystals coat and become embedded in the dough. Coarse Dutch sugar crystals are the original recipe, but I used Swedish pearl sugar I happened to have (available on Amazon, or at King Arthur Flour, or if you’re in LA, at Surfas) and after tasting them, I’m not sure I’d go another way (if you want to try this and don’t want to buy pearl sugar, I’d recommend a coarse, large crystal sugar like turbinado – and please report back!). You cut them out, place them on cookie sheets, and bake in a low, slow oven.

The flavor of these cookies is wonderful — faintly caramel, with butter and sugar and that yeasty aroma of good bread — but the star here is the texture. The coarse sugar creates alchemy in the oven — some of it melts, creating a crisp, crackly crust on the cookies, and some of it remains intact, creating an irresistible crunch. Couple that with the yeasty chew from the unsweetened bread dough, and you find yourself reaching into the cookie jar again, and again and again. I think these cookies are probably best the day they are made, but in our house, they all get eaten that day again.

Arnhem Girls Yeast Raised Sugar Cookies

Go make them, NOW. Don’t let this recipe languish for 10 years, as I did. You won’t regret it.

Arnhem Girls -- The Best Sugar Cookies
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
These yeast-raised sugar cookies are the perfect cookie. Eat them the day they're made, which shouldn't be difficult.
Ingredients
  • 1⅓ c. flour (I actually used 1 c. all purpose and ⅓ c. white whole wheat the first time I made them, which was nice)
  • ½ c. milk
  • Few drops orange or lemon juice
  • ½ packet active dry yeast (about 1 tsp)
  • 4 ounces salted butter, cut into 5 slices
  • Swedish Pearl Sugar (about a cup) OR turbinado sugar
Instructions
  1. Mix the flour, milk, yeast and citrus juice together until combined. With the mixture on high speed, beat in the butter, one slice at a time, until it's all incorporated. Wrap the dough well, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  3. Scatter the pearl sugar generously on a rolling surface, and roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick, sprinkling the dough with more pearl sugar to keep it from sticking to the rolling surface or the rolling pin. Using a cookie cutter (Oval is the traditional shape -- I used a circle which got pushed into an oval when I transferred to the baking sheet, but I'd also use a pastry cutter to cut these into diamonds), cut the dough into shapes, and transfer them to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat.
  4. Bake for 30-45 minutes until "lightly golden" -- they will crisp as they cool. Enjoy! And while you're enjoying them with tea, get started on your next batch. You wouldn't want to run out.
Notes
Adapted from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken by Simon Hopkinson, who in turn adapted it from Roald Dahl's Cookbook

 

18 comments to Arnhem Girls — The Best Sugar Cookies

  • Ok, these are really talking to me and we are expecting a snow storm this weekend…

    hmmm…stay in and bake sounds like a great idea!

  • I love simple sugar cookies. Sometimes there’s nothing better with a cup of tea or cocoa. And I’m definitely intrigued by this recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  • Emily

    Wow. These sound amazing. I truly hate making rolled cookies, but I may have to give these a try!

  • Between you and Mr. Dahl I know these cookies gotta be great! The whole idea of them is awesome – love that the sweetness comes from those coarse sugar crystals. xo

  • interesting story! thanks for sharing. i’d like to try them.

  • You posted these just when I needed them! I’ve been looking for a great sugar cookie to use as gifts this year. Thanks!

  • A marvelous book! I have several favorite quotes and paragraphs copied down in a Word document that I haven’t looked at in a while — should go back to that now. I, too, am intrigued by this recipe and think I should give it a go.

    Cheers and thanks for the memories/recipe,

    *Heather*

  • Danielle

    These sound amazing and I can’t wait to try them!! Should the butter be cold when it is mixed in?

  • Lara

    What do you do with the rest of the packet of yeast? I would probably just double the recipe, but if there’s another interesting recipe that calls for such a small amount, I’d be interested in that too.

  • Amy

    I used sugar in the raw and it was yummy…would have let the dough warm a little next time, as it was ragged and hard to roll. Used my smallest round cutter and just tasted my first one. YUM! Roald Dahl was quirky to the hilt, had a brilliant imagination and impeccable taste in cookies. Thanks, Kate!

  • Amy

    Update: How do you store these? I put them in a glasslock and they are not amazing like they were out of the oven. SUCH a bummer. Help?!?

  • Amy

    Kate–

    Maybe they’re just an ‘eat immediately’ kinda’ cookie. Foils the plans to give them as gifts, but as long as you know that, you can plan accordingly. I had to beg my husband for a second chance…I raved about them, then he had them after they’d been stored for a few hours. Definite anti-climax!

    Thanks!

  • Hello!

    That’s me above at that trackback – I made these cookies and am quite angry at you now. I can’t stop eating them.

    Most interestingly: I tried both pearl sugar and large crystal sugar, and the pearl sugar made a finer crust on the cookie! Pearl sugar is the way to go for sure.

    Cheers!

  • I mistyped my own URL on the above comment. HA!

  • Hi Kate! I’ve been OBSESSED with this recipe after reading Simon Hopkinson’s cookbook. I’ve been checking it out from the library over and over again for a few years now, it’s embarassing. Anyway, I made the cookies today, from the cookbook, and they are pretty freakin’ amazing. Is it a cookie? Is it a cracker? It’s pretty darn delicious, that’s what. Thanks for your tutorial. Loved it! This is one fun cookie to make. (and eat.)

  • Yup, I used King Arthur Flour’s Swedish Pearl Sugar. I also saw the recipe somewhere else and it had you roll out each cookie individually, which might prove a little less messy. I had pearl sugar everywhere!

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