Soon after I began dating the man to whom I am now married (a picture of us back then), I asked him to tell me the name of his favorite cookie. I was curious to hear his answer, but more importantly I wanted to surprise him with a batch. Without hesitation, he replied "carrot cookies." I was surprised, not only because I thought he seemed more like a chocolate chip cookie person (back then I thought everybody was a "chocolate chip cookie person"), but also because I had never heard of carrot cookies until that moment. Without asking any followup questions, I went ahead and baked him the best interpretation of "carrot cookies" I could muster.... and he was very sweet about it when I surprised him with something that more closely resembled carrot cake than his evasive favorite cookie. Later in our relationship when he first took me home to meet his family, his mom made carrot cookies for us and suddenly I understood. Because his mother boiled and pureed the carrots beforehand, they were light and textured pillows of carroty goodness unlike anything I'd ever tasted. The cookies themselves aren't very sweet, but they are topped with a simple orange glaze that adds a sweet citrus element. My future mother-in-law, Janet, passed me along the recipe afterwards. Thinking I could improve the recipe, I mistakenly attempted to alter it, but eventually I decided that yes, the original is perfect as is. The cookies are made with shortening, but butter also works beautifully. (Because butter has a higher water content than shortening, if using butter add an additional tablespoon of flour.) Many thanks to Janet for these amazing cookies; I have made them hundreds of times and still have not tired of them one bit. (Here is an adorable picture of Janet on her wedding day. I love everything about this picture... the clothes, the cars, but she and my father-in-law most of all.)
Recipe from my mother-in-law, Janet
Makes ~2½ dozen large (or 4 dozen small cookies)
1 cup shortening or butter, room temperature - 8 ounces
¾ cup sugar - 6 ounces
~14 ounces carrots - peeled and cut into large chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour - 9 ounces (if using butter add 1 tablespoon of flour for a total of 9.25 ounces) - see note on accurately measuring flour here
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 orange - zested and juiced
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
~ 1 ½ cups confectioners sugar, sifted ~ 9.75 ounces
Carrot Cookies: Place carrot chunks into a saucepan of cold water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until fork tender (~15 minutes). Drain and (while still warm) puree in a food processor until smooth (or mash with a potato masher). Allow to cool completely. Set aside 1 cup carrot puree (8.7 ounces) for use in the cookies. This step can be done up to 3 days ahead, as long as you refrigerate the pureed carrots and bring them to room temperature before using.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream shortening (or butter or a combination of the two) and sugar until fluffy. Add 1 cup cooled pureed carrots followed by 1 egg and vanilla. Beat well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to carrot mixture, mixing just until combined. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment lined (or greased) cookie sheets. Bake ~20 minutes until cookies are just beginning to brown on the edges. Ice with orange glaze.
Orange Glaze: Combine ~3 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoons softened butter, and a pinch of salt. Add confectioners sugar until smooth (all of the confectioners sugar may not be needed to achieve the desired consistency). Add additional orange juice if needed to make a spreadable glaze. Stir in orange zest if desired.