Someone sent me a blog message the other day requesting more cookie recipes. So, that’s what I am going to work on today; I will go through my recipe files and search for my favorite tried-and-true ice box cookies.
Now, for anyone who doesn’t know what an “ice box” cookie is, let me explain a little. Decades ago, refrigerators were commonly known as “ice boxes”. This is because, before refrigeration, perishable foods were kept in a box (that looked pretty much like an old-time refrigerator,) but without electricity, the food was kept on a block of ice. You bought a block of ice from a man who delivered it to your kitchen door, quite rightly called the ice man. A large block of ice might last as long as a week or if the weather was very hot, perhaps only a few days. You couldn’t keep very much food on this block of ice – there wasn’t enough space inside.
I turned to Google for a little more information. Here, I learned that the icebox was invented in 1840 for use in the home by Thomas Moore. Shortly thereafter, NYC saw the establishment of regular delivery routes for Natural ice.
In 1911, GE, made the first mechanical icebox. It wasn’t until the early 1930’s, that the usefulness of the “electric icebox” was realized when newly discovered Freon was introduced as the refrigerant.
And from Wikipedia that I discovered iceboxes had hollow walls that were lined with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials such as cork, sawdust, straw or seaweed. A large block of ice was held in a tray or compartment near the top of the box. Cold air circulated down and around storage compartments in the lower section. Some finer models had spigots for draining ice water from a catch pan or holding tank. In cheaper models a drip pan was placed under the box and had to be emptied at least daily. The user had to replenish the melted ice, normally by obtaining new ice from the iceman.
Commonly iceboxes were made of wood, most probably for ease of construction, insulation, and aesthetics: many were handsome pieces of furniture. (You can find illustrations of these ice boxes on Google).
Iceboxes date back to the days of ice harvesting, which had hit an industrial high that ran from the mid-19th century to the 1930s, when the refrigerator was introduced into the home. Most municipally consumed ice was harvested in winter from snow-packed areas or frozen lakes, stored in ice houses, and delivered domestically as iceboxes became more common. (What I find baffling is that I remember large blocks of ice being delivered to a few homes, when I was a very young child in the 1940s. It seems odd to me that some homes might have still been using an íce box when the refrigerator had been available for about a decade. We would crowd around the ice man, who would break off slivers of ice with an ice pick, for each of us, on a hot summer day. The term “ice box cookies” has hung on although it is now synonymous with Refrigerator cookies. I’ve tried to pin down when slice & bake cookie dough became available to the public. I don’t remember ever using it in the 1960s or 1970s – it could have been manufactured in the 1980s. If anyone knows the answer to this, let me know!
I have a little ice box cookie story. When I was about ten years ago, my girlfriend Carol and I returned to her house after playing; it was early on a summer evening, and her mother was making ice box cookies and listening to a Baptist minister on the radio. Carol’s mother turned to me, after hearing something the minister said, and she said to me “You see, Sandy, why your religion is wrong on this issue?” I didn’t know how to respond to this—my family was Catholic—so I left and went home and sat on my own front porch steps, feeling sad.
A short while later, Carol came up to me and handed me a brown paper bag containing warm ice box cookies, right from the oven. It was her mother’s apology. That was probably my first introduction to ice box cookies and one I’ve never forgotten.
Meantime, the following are some of my favorite ice box cookies, a kind of cookie I began baking in the 1960s.
Featured in this post are:
Pistachio-Cranberry Icebox Cookies
Lemon Rounds Icebox Cookies
Fruit Slices (Ice Box Cookies)
Maple Pecan Icebox Cookies
BASIC VANILLA DOUGH WITH THREE VARIATIONS
PISTACHIO-CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES
Makes about 3 dozen cookies Oven temperature for baking 350 degrees
1½ CUPS ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
½ TSP GROUND CINNAMON
¼ TSP SALT
1½ STICKS (3/4 CUP) UNSALTED BUTTER, SOFTENED
¼ CUP PLUS 2 TBSP GRANULATED SUGAR
½ TSP FINELY GRATED ORANGE ZEST
½ CUP SHELLED PISTACHIOS (2½ OZ NOT DYED RED) – CHOPPED
1/3 CUP DRIED CRANBERRIES
1 LARGE EGG LIGHTLY BEATEN*
¼ CUP DECORATIVE SUGAR (PREFERABLY COARSE)
Stir together flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
Beat together butter, granulated sugar and orange zest in a large bowl at medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries. Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper as an aid, form each piece of dough into a log about 1½” in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a ball*, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap until very firm, at least 2 hours**
Slice and Bake Cookies: Put oven rack sin upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle with decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper. Cut each bar crosswise into ¼” thick slices. (if dough gets too soft to slice, freeze bars briefly until firm again). Arrange cookies about ½” apart on lined baking sheets. Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks using a slotted spatula, to cool completely.
*Egg does not go into the cookie dough. You won’t need it until you are about to bake the cookies.
**If you are planning to keep the cookie dough in the refrigerator or freezer for a few weeks or a month, don’t use the egg wash until you are about to bake the cookies. I wrap the cookie dough in plastic or wax paper and then use a foil wrap over it. Then you can use a Sharpee pen to write the name of the cookie and the baking time on the foil. Recipe can be doubled! **
LEMON ROUNDS ICE BOX COOKIES
½ CUPS SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR
½ TSP BAKING SODA
½ TSP SALT
½ CUP SHORTENING
1 CUP SUGAR
1 TBSP LEMON JUICE
2 TSP GRATED LEMON RIND
½ CUP FINELY CHOPPED PECANS
Measure flour, baking soda and salt into sifter. Cream shortening & sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon juice and rind and pecans. Sift in flour mixture. Blend well. Shape into 2 long rolls; wrap in wax paper and again in aluminum foil. Chill overnight or until ready to bake. To bake, slice dough ¼” thick and bake on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees 8 minutes or until golden around edges. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks.
FRUIT SLICES (ICE BOX COOKIE)
1 CUP BUTTER, SOFTENED
1 CUP POWDERED SUGAR
1 EGG, BEATEN SLIGHTLY
1 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT
2 CUPS FLOUR
1 CUP PECAN HALVES
2 CUPS MARASCHINO CHERRIES, WELL DRAINED AND CUT IN HALF
2 CUP MIXED CANDIED FRUIT, CHOPPED
¼ CUP FLOUR
Cream butter and sugar, add egg and vanilla. Add 2 cups flour and mix well. Stir in pecans, cherries and candied fruit which has been dredged in the ¼ cup flour. Divide dough into thirds. Shape into rolls each 12” long. Wrap in plastic wrap and then foil, and chill several hours or until you are ready to bake (the dough will keep for a month in the refrigerator, indefinitely in the freezer. To bake, cut dough in ¼” slices and bake on ungreased baking sheets (I always line the baking sheets with parchment paper). Bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven 13-15 minutes. Makes 5-6 dozen cookies.
MAPLE PECAN ICE BOX COOKIES
8 OZ UNSALTED BUTTER (2 STICKS)
½ CUP GRANULATED SUGAR
1 EGG YOLK
2 TBSP REAL MAPLE SYRUP
½ TSP VANILLA
2 CUPS MINUS 2 TBSP FLOUR
1¼ CUPS PECAN HALVES
Beat butter at medium speed on electric mixer until it whitens and holds soft peaks (3-5 minutes). Beat in sugar until well blended. Whisk together egg yolk and maple syrup and beat into the butter with the vanilla. Add flour and mix only enough to combine. Beat in pecans just to mix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm. Shape into 4 logs. At this point you can rewrap the cookie dough logs and cover with foil. Keep in freezer or refrigerator until ready to bake.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice and bake cookies 12-15 minutes until firm and lightly & evenly browned. Must be cooked through to be tender. Cool on wire racks. **
BASIC VANILLA DOUGH
This is a versatile cookie dough with which you can make 30 kinds of cookies. Since we are focusing on ice box cookies today, that is what I will present to you.
To make Basic Vanilla Dough you will need:
3 cups all purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Beat butter and granulate sugar with a mixer on medium high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and beat until well combined. Now you are ready to make one of the following variations:
1) To make Almond Cherry Coins; you will need 1 batch of vanilla dough and ¾ cup each chopped toasted blanched almonds and dried cherries + ½ cup sanding sugar (for rolling).
2) To make Apricot Pistachio Ice Box slices, you will need 1 batch of vanilla dough and ¾ cup each chopped dried apricots and pistachios.
3) To make Almond and Candied Orange Zest Bars, you will need 1 batch of vanilla dough and 1 cup blanched toasted almonds and ½ cup chopped candied orange peel.
Once the flour is incorporated into the dough, beat in the mix-ins. Divide dough into 2 pieces. Shape each piece into a 10” long log. Coat each log with ground nuts or sanding sugar, if using. Wrap in plastic wrap and cover with foil. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, or freeze until ready to bake. When baking, slice dough crosswise into ¼” thick slices. Bake on parchment paper in a preheated 350 degree oven until firm, about 12 minutes.
Want more ice box cookie recipes? Let me know! This is just a sampling of what I have in my collection.
Happy Holiday Baking!