Pretty simple crinkle cookies

By Scott Greenberg

You know those old-time grocery-store ads where the chicken would look way too plasticky, and there’d be five perfectly atomically lined up sprigs of asparagus next to it? Yeah, you do. There was always that one weird, lonely sprig of parsley on top, hangin’ out and wilting its ass off. And you see this sad-looking green thing and think to yourself, “OK, I’m gonna throw that on the floor because it’s in the way of meat time.”

But wait! That sprig matters. Pretty matters. And not just because Zagat’ll give your restaurant an extra star and a pat on the back, but because it actually makes the food taste better. Seriously, some guy somewhere did a study on it. Even if you have the most amazing brownie recipe ever on your hands, it’s not gonna mean a damn if you vomit it on a plate in some kind of fudge/ice cream oil spill.

Then again, there’s the other side of the coin, the “I don’t know how to make things pretty” side. I’m pretty firmly on this side of the coin. I live on this side of the coin. I live in a world where my pastry-chef ex would come home with intricately carved melon phoenixes, complete with matching watermelon tuxedo, and I’d have a severely abused avocado sitting sideways on a plate marked “froot.”

This, this exact problem, is why crinkle cookies are an absolute thing of genius. You get the easiness of making a cookie. You get the nice, pretty finish when it comes out of the oven. You get to roll things in powdered sugar. And you don’t have to do a damn bit of decorating. It’s beautiful, people. Of course, I can’t just leave this recipe all plain-Jane, so I made my Chocolate Crinkle Cookies with grapefruit and star anise. Don’t know what star anise is? Don’t care. I’m making it anyway.

Here’s what you need:

– 1 cup flour

– 1 teaspoon baking powder

– 1/2 cup cocoa powder

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 3/4 cup sugar

– 1/3 cup vegetable oil

– Two eggs

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder (don’t freak out if you don’t have this; it’s pretty damn tasty without it too)

– 1/2 cup powdered sugar

– 4 tablespoons grapefruit zest (one grapefruit will take care of this)

– Three star anise pods

About that star anise. Star anise is the stuff that makes licorice taste like garbage, or the stuff that makes a Harvey Wallbanger taste amazing (it’s a big boy Screwdriver; look it up and upgrade your life). By itself, it tastes awful. But introduce a little bit to its best friends — chocolate and sugar — and you’ll be much, much happier.

To get to that introducing, just throw the pods into a spice grinder or grind them yourself with a mortar and pestle. You need to grind the CRAP out of these pods, so don’t be gentle. The first time I made this recipe I did a half-assed job of grinding, and I ended up with whole pieces of the anise in my cookies. And you don’t want anise-mulch in your cookies. Or anywhere, really.

After the grindfest, put the anise in a big bowl and whisk it with the rest of the dry stuff: flour, cocoa, salt, espresso powder and baking powder.

Grab the electric mixer and mix together the vegetable oil and sugar for a couple of minutes.

Next, add the eggs, vanilla and grapefruit zest, and mix until they’re combined.

Add the dry stuff and mix that in, too, then refrigerate the dough overnight (yes, you don’t get cookies right away, boo-hoo).

After you’ve waited so patiently (probably passing the time by eating something from a tin marked “shame and regret”), put the powdered sugar in a small bowl, and preheat the oven to 350. Roll the dough into small balls, about an inch wide, and roll them in the powdered sugar. Make sure you get a ton of powdered sugar on these things; that’s pretty much the whole point of the cookie. Put the balls on a cookie sheet, stick ’em in the oven for 10 minutes, let them cool for five, and put them on a cooling rack.

There you have it: magazine-pretty, pre-made-Pillsbury I-cut-it-up-into-squares, that’s-gotta-count-for-something effort.

You do wanna put some effort into this week’s beats, though. This time it’s Planet Asia bringin’ the chocolaty goodness with “Doin’ What We Do:”

Look, people. I don’t want to preach from the surely pentagram-inscribed book of Sandra Lee here and tell you that you can make delicious treats and not give a damn at the same time. You can’t. But sometimes you wanna ease back a little bit and hop off the decorating train, and that, I will concede, is just fine. The look’s important, but you shouldn’t have to wade through a sea of multi-star-laser-colored frosting tips just to get to the pretty. Pretty can be simple, but it matters. And that’s the lesson for this week, kids.

See you next time.