Sunday, March 24, 2024

Fresh Apple Cookies: or, Tantalization leads to misfortune

It's been a while since a recipe went straight into the trash.

Fresh Apple Cookies
½ cup shortening
1½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup finely chopped unpeeled apples
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans, if desired
¼ cup milk

Vanilla spread:
2½ tbsp (7½ tsp) milk
1½ cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp butter
⅛ tsp salt
¼ tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 400°. Have greased cookie sheets ready.
Cream together the first eight ingredients, beating well. Then add the flour. When all is mixed, stir in the apples, raisins, pecans, and milk.
Drop by the teaspoon onto the baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes.
While the cookies are baking, make the vanilla spread. In a small microwave-safe bowl, heat milk until steamy. Add the butter, stir until melted. Add remaining ingredients, and beat until creamy.
If you have a large glass measuring cup, it is better than a bowl for making the icing. The pour-spout makes it so much easier to put onto the cookies.
Spread the icing onto the cookies while hot.

Source: Mrs. John Stevens; Metarie, Lousisiana; The Cotton Country Collection; Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana; 1972

I saw the recipe name and was intrigued. Apples don't seem very strange in cookies, but I have never seen anyone use them. Also of note, this recipe uses equal amounts of apples and raisins. With a hopeful heart, I wondered if this was a plate-free version of sticky apple man-bait.

To Mrs. John Stevens' credit, this recipe comes together pretty quickly. After you've dumped the first round of ingredients into the bowl, you're halfway done.

Also, this spiced dough tasted fantastic. Mrs. John Stevens doesn't use many spices, but she uses a lot of each one. Our cookies already tasted like apple pie before we added the apples.

Upon adding the flour, things got unnervingly crumbly in the mixing bowl. But we are next directed to add a small bit of milk, which I figured would make everything right with our cookie dough. It did.

I liked how quick this recipe went. After a pleasantly short time, we were already adding our apples. Mrs. John Stevens expressly tells us not to bother peeling them first, which only made me like her more.

And so, only a few minutes after we first chopped the apples and set them aside, we had the first batch of cookies onto the pan and ready to bake. I should note that the apples kept falling out of my little dough plops as I got them onto the pan. It is never a good sign when your cookies can't hold onto their own ingredients. But I thought that all would be well after baking them.

While our cookies baked, Mrs. John Stevens tells us to make the vanilla spread. The recipe looked a lot like our dearly beloved cinnamon icing, except without the cinnamon and a bit thicker. Just like our cinnamon icing, we are directed to put it onto the cookies while they're hot. 

Upon opening the oven, I immediately regretted the expense of using real vanilla in the icing. I can't say that I've never been so glad I halved a recipe. However, I've never been so unexpectedly glad I halved a recipe. I was very excited about these cookies right up to the moment they were done baking.

First of all, Mrs. John Stevens baked these far too long. Also, these were hopelessly runny in the oven. I had already scooped batch no. 2 onto the pan. But after seeing our first batch come out like single-serving cow turds, I smushed the second batch back into the bowl and worked more flour into them. I don't know how much, but we're not talking "just a spoonful to make things right." Mrs. John Stevens' ingredient amounts were grossly (interpret that word any way you like) inaccurate.

While our heavily-corrected second batch of cookies baked, I tasted one of the less-burnt cookies to see if they were any good. And... they were fine(ish), but you couldn't tell the apples were in them. They tasted intensely of raisins. Imagine oatmeal-raisin cookies, but without the oatmeal. 

This is the first time the title ingredient of a recipe has made absolutely no difference. We've made a few recipes where the title ingredient ruined it (lest we forget the pepper cake), but this is the first time we've encountered a recipe ingredient where the title ingredient was pointless.

Someone else came into the kitchen, stared at the cookie-shaped failures, and was naturally curious about what they were supposed to be. When I explained that they were supposed to be apple cookies, he said "I assure you I smell no apples." He did not stick around long enough to taste one.

I rarely tip an entire pan of cookies directly into the trash. I've even put subpar cookies into a food processor so that they could be salvaged into a crumb crust. But Mrs. John Stevens' cookies were more suited for the city dump than anyone's kitchen.

During all this disappointment, our second batch of cookies was steadily baking. I pulled them out of the oven a lot earlier than Mrs. John Stevens claimed I should. They looked acceptably better than the first cookies, but were already a little burnt.

As you look at the near-blackened spots on these cookies, keep in mind that I removed them from the oven early.

If I hadn't already made the "vanilla spread," I wouldn't have iced these cookies. The icing didn't make them look any better. I don't mind unphotogenic cookies, but a bit of ugliness certainly makes me feel worse when they taste bad.

I cannot recommend this recipe. But as it happily happens, we have recently made cookies that are everything Mrs. John Stevens' fresh apple cookies wish they could be: fruit cookies. If you either replace the dates with raisins (or omit the dates since the recipe already has raisins), you will succeed where the fresh apple cookies failed. 

And maybe you can add apples too. I have no idea if they made a difference or not. It's interesting that in both the fresh apple cookies and the fruit cookies, the title ingredient is relatively downplayed. But in the fruit cookies, the fruit actually makes a difference.


  1. I had to laugh at "single-serving cow turds." My grandma always said grandpa would eat "cow flop" (as she called it) as long as it came in a pie crust. Seeing as how these have no pie crust, he probably would not have been excited about them. (He'd have eaten them, though, and if he REALLY disliked them, he would have said, "You don't have to make that again.")

    1. That is such a polite way to say something is bad! I aspire to be that tactful.

  2. I was imagining barely cooked apple chunks in burned cookies. It seems to me that the fruit would cook at a different rate. I was interested in seeing that she was from Metairie Louisiana. Hopefully she didn't live there in 2005 when that city was pummeled by hurricane Katrina. They got hit a second time by either Rita or Wilma. I don't remember which one it was that got them the second time. I've only worked two call center jobs (both inbound call centers) and have all sorts of horrible stories about what I heard.

    1. I guess that's why we're supposed to chop the apples finely.
      And... yeah, 2005 was not a good year for the Gulf Coast.

  3. Oh, nooo! And apples in baked goods are usually so reliable. :(

    1. To be fair, the apples didn't make things worse. The dough was just hopelessly runny. But I was disappointed that the apples didn't make the cookies taste like apples.