Zero waste DIY part II: Using that homemade brown sugar and powdered sugar

In our last thrilling installment of The Simple Year, we magically turned cane and turbinado sugars into brown sugar and powdered sugar. I was excited that it worked, although I figured I couldn’t actually celebrate it as a true win until I used both in a recipe. If this is going to be something I keep up in the future, it’s gotta actually work as viable replacements for their packaged counterparts.

My brown sugar is pretty! And mimics packaged brown sugar. SOLD.

My brown sugar is pretty! And mimics packaged brown sugar. SOLD.

I had a few criteria to meet as I flipped through just about every cookbook I own, searching for something suitable: I wanted one recipe that would use both brown and powdered sugars, it had to use other ingredients I already had in the pantry, and it had to be something I could take to the Christmas party we’re attending on Saturday, but also something we could sample ahead of time to make sure it tasted okay. Um, and also so I could share the results here.

I finally settled on “Spiced Slices” from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook — which I purchased in 1995, the year Eric and I got married — because it looked like a holiday-esque kind of cookie that could be frosted. It wasn’t until I was up to  my elbows in flour and sugar and eggs and the like that I realized I maybe should have tried a recipe I’d made before so I could compare tastes.

Well, what could happen?

Spiced Slices

1/2 cup butter — Amish butter wrapped in paper

1/2 cup shortening — plastic, yet recyclable, tub

2 1/4 cups flour — bulk

1/2 cup sugar — wrapped in paper

1/2 cup brown sugar — my boss homemade brown sugar!

1 egg — Beth’s chickens

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon — bulk

1/2 teaspoon baking soda — bulk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla — homemade

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg — bulk

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves — bulk

In an electric mixer, beat butter and shortening on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add flour, sugars, egg, cinnamon, soda, vanilla, nutmeg and cloves. Beat until thoroughly combined. Shape into two 7-inch rolls. Wrap and chill for 5 to 24 hours. Cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375º oven for about 8 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute; remove and cool on rack. Makes 60.

Vanilla Glaze

There are recipes out there, like THIS ONE from Better Homes and Gardens, but basically I just toss a few tablespoons of softened butter in a bowl, and a generous scoop of powdered sugar, and incorporate the two together. Then I add a splash/gush of milk and a glug of vanilla and mix until smooth, then keep adding powdered sugar until I get the consistency I want. I mean, we’re talking butter and sugar. It literally can’t taste bad no matter what you do to it.

If your frosting looks like this at first, don't panic.

If your frosting looks like this at first, don’t panic.

I promise it will eventually look like this. Just keep stirring.

I promise it will eventually look like this. Just keep stirring.

TRISHA TRIES IT: First of all, my butter is wrapped in paper and not premeasured. So I eyeball it. I figure it’s probably going to work out, and it generally does. I don’t measure my vanilla either (it’s homemade, I have a quart of that stuff, I am not rationing). Also, I feel kind of bad about the plastic tub of shortening, but I use it so rarely that a tub lasts me a long time and at least it’s recyclable?

I was a tad surprised when I opened up the brown sugar jar and noticed that it was just as light and fluffy as it was the day I made it (which was, to be honest, just the day before). All those spices smelled great. The brown sugar also smelled great. The dough mixed up just fine and fairly quickly too.

Cookies slices! Tell me that one on the bottom doesn't look like Oregon. It's a zero waste miracle!

Cookies slices! Tell me that one on the bottom doesn’t look like Oregon. 

The one part that made me scratch my head for a moment was the whole “wrap and chill” part. I thought about using my Silpat, but then decided to just sprinkle powdered sugar in a kitchen towel and call it a day. I read that tip somewhere — instead of dusting a surface with flour, use powdered sugar (although that’s only a good tip if you’re making something sweet). And because I only wanted to use one towel, I made one big ol’ log.

And then I let it chill in the fridge until the next evening. Fun fact: It was easy to slice the dough, but I ended up with 41 slices because math is hard.

Yadda yadda yadda, I made the frosting while the cookies baked. I didn’t think of this ahead of time, but because I’d used turbinado sugar, my icing ended up being tan-ish. I kind of like it. It tastes a little more … what? More caramel-y than my usual powdered sugar, but is slightly grainy. I could have sifted it again, I suppose, but in my defense, sifting is boring.

Once the cookies were cool, I took it upon myself to seek out a couple of rejects. This is a Walker tradition — you eat the ugly cookies first. And obviously I had to eat two, one with frosting and one without, because how else could I give an honest opinion?

Why you're supposed to place your cookies an inch apart on the baking sheet.

Why you’re supposed to place your cookies an inch apart on the baking sheet.

I taste tested the ugly ones. Oregon sadly did not keep its shape. It was delicious.

I taste tested the ugly ones. Oregon sadly did not keep its shape. It was still delicious.

Well, I ended up eating three because this is a job I take very seriously. The recipe didn’t call for frosting, mind you, I just liked how that sounded — and not to brag or anything about my ingenuity, but that was a good call. The cookies are fine by themselves, but really great with frosting, probably because of the increased sugar content. Anyway, Eric’s assessment was: “That’s awesome!” I worried they looked too plain for a party, and he suggested sprinkles. Um, those are not zero waste, darling, plus then I wouldn’t be able to eat them. (No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives for me if I want to live. And I do.) Plain isn’t so bad. Right?

Kinda looks like toast, huh?

Kinda looks like toast, huh? 

I can’t detect any sort of difference with the brown sugar. The powdered sugar tastes a bit different and is a little grainy even in frosting, but still, I’m happy with these results. I think I just found my bulk sustainable option!

Next up: Plastic bag ban!

6 Responses to Zero waste DIY part II: Using that homemade brown sugar and powdered sugar

  1. Yea, you! My powdered sugar attempt failed (a couple years ago, when I had a friend allergic to corn(!). You say you sift it — does that separate out the not-powdered sugar grains?

    I’m glad the cookies turned out well. I agree that they could use some sparkle, though (they look a little like cheese in my monitor). Could you add candied orange peel slivers, or something like that, for more color?

    On an unrelated not, for Christmas, in lieu of chocolate oranges, I candy orange peels and dip them in melted chocolate. They are super yummy, and zero waste.

    • I sifted my first batch and there were some little “grains” left in the sieve, but didn’t bother with the second. Sifting may not take them all out, but it would help. And it’s not terribly grainy, just a different consistency than packaged. But I think it tastes better.

      Yeah, my poor cookies, so plain looking and yet so delicious. I may end up making something else for the party and just let the fam eat these up. DEFINITELY need more color, although it makes me laugh, how perfectly the frosting matches the cookies. I could not have done that if I’d tried. I probably should have just made them into sandwich cookies. Next time!

      Oooh, I love your candied orange peel idea!

  2. I’ve also heard you can use beet juice to dye food. Although I don’t know what the season for beets is. Probably spring…

    • Beet season is actually late July. 🙂 We’ve used things like cherry juice or raspberry juice (frozen or canned at home) for color, but it also imparts the taste on whatever it is you’re adding it to, which isn’t so bad sometimes and not so great at others. I’ve never tried beets though. It would be fun to see what kinds of colors you can make with various foods.

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