Bake Happy: My Sumac Sugar Drop Cookie Recipe

Native American inspired sumac sugar drop cookies.
Native American inspired sumac sugar drop cookies.

“Today me will live in the moment, unless it is unpleasant. In which case me will eat a cookie.”

The Cookie Monster, Sesame Street

Oh, Cookie Monster. You are so wise. Let’s bake cookies.

I can’t think of anything more soothing than a little kitchen time – hands covered in flour, measuring cups and spoons strewn on the counter, and a batch of cookies ready for the oven – all while Sinatra croons in the background. It’s a balm to my anxious soul.

An easy drop cookie recipe is something every home cook should have in their repertoire and this one is in mine.

A sugar cookie is one of the simplest cookies to master. It’s not an elaborate affair: sugar, butter, salt, and flour. These are the essentials. From this minimalist canvas of ingredients, you can riff on your own unique variation. My recipe includes a few other ingredients and a generous addition of ground sumac berries – a deep red powder with a woodsy tartness.

Sumac isn’t widely known outside of Middle Eastern cuisine but it should be. It grows in 48 states in the U.S. and was foraged by Native Americans to use in medicine and food for hundreds of years. The berries of this powerhouse plant are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a spice with flavor and health benefits to boot. You can find it at specialty spice stores, Whole Foods (in some locations), or purchase it from Amazon.

The sumac in this recipe adds a speckled, rustic appearance to the cookies. The dough comes together quickly with little fuss. You can have them from bowl to oven in as little as 15 minutes, although I recommend chilling the dough before baking.

Even if you’re not an experienced cook or baker, you can make a sugar cookie, and make it wonderfully. You only need a few tips to avoid common pitfalls. 

Easy sumac sugar drop cookies sprinkled with ghost pepper sea salt.

Tip one: Cream the butter and sugar until it’s beautiful and fluffy. Christina Tosi, a master baker and cooking personality, recommends beating the sugar and butter longer than you think is necessary. I use a hand mixer and I beat the sugar and butter from somewhere between seven to ten minutes, eyeballing the texture and tasting. Once I’ve achieved maximum fluffage, I stop. I also wait to add my heavy whipping cream until the last few minutes of mixing, to prevent it from turning into butter.

My second tip is to chill your cookie dough before baking. I throw my covered bowl in the freezer for between 15-30 minutes while I clean up. Freeze yours longer if you have it well wrapped. This makes the dough easier to handle and allows the butter to firm back up. I use an ice cream scoop to make balls that are roughly a bit larger than a golf ball and space them pretty far apart so they don’t touch when they spread in the oven.

My last tip is to not overbake your sugar cookies. You want to pull them from the oven before they brown. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of your cookie and how long you bake them. Ideally, you want the edges to be set but the center to be soft. They will continue to set and firm up as they cool and you will be rewarded by a chewy cookie center.

As they cool, a light sprinkle of good sea salt is a must. Don’t skip this step. I like to add mine before baking but either way is fine. Those tiny bits of saltiness bring so much pleasure and balance to the cookie. I add ghost pepper sea salt. The result is a sweet, subtly tart, and spicy bite.

Finally, I wrap my cookies tightly in saran wrap and store them in the refrigerator. I love eating them chilled. You might find me by the light of that refrigerator in a dark kitchen late at night, unwrapping one of those sweet, pale discs for a snack.

Bake a batch for yourself or bake them for someone else. I feel certain that the Cookie Monster would approve.

To purchase ground sumac berries or ghost pepper sea salt locally in Oklahoma, you can visit the Savory Spice Shop in OKC or order online at Amazon. Wild sumac also grows in all 48 states and can be foraged, dried, and ground into a powder at home.

Yield: 1 dozen large cookies

Sumac Sugar Drop Cookie Recipe

Native American inspired sumac sugar drop cookies.

These sugar cookies will be a hit when you serve them. Soft, chewy, and buttery with a hint of tartness from sumac powder. They are easy to make and can be stored in the refrigerator after being wrapped tightly in saran or freezer wrap.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

Ingredients to cream with the butter

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 sticks of unsalted softened butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp sumac 
  • 1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream (add the last few minutes of creaming butter)

Dry ingredients

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp of sumac
  • 1 tsp of fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Garnish

  • Ghost Pepper Sea Salt

Instructions

  1. Mix butter, sugar, vanilla, and sumac together with a plastic spatula to incorporate the ingredients before mixing.
  2. Use a hand or stand mixer to cream ingredients for 7 to 8 minutes until fluffy and smooth. Add heavy whipping cream the last few minutes of mixing. If you add it too early it will turn into butter.
  3. Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl with a whisk and sift dry ingredients (optional)
  4. Gently fold dry ingredients into creamed ingredients until incorporated. Don't overwork.
  5. Chill cookie dough in the freezer for 15 minutes and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Use an ice cream scooper or spoon to create large balls (slightly larger than golf ball size) and space a few inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  7. Cook until edges set. The center will not be entirely done but you should remove them to cool. Do not let them brown.
  8. Remove to a baking rack for 15 minutes. The center should set as it cools and be chewy, not hard.
  9. Garnish with a little sprinkle of sea salt. I recommend ghost pepper sea salt as a spicy, salty complement to the sugary cookies.

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