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So, here I was, with almost a quart of buttermilk leftover in my fridge, and I had no idea what to do with it—or even, really, what it was.
There were two things that I learned quickly:
1. Buttermilk does not taste very good if you try to drink it like milk.
2. Despite the name, buttermilk has fewer calories and less fat than milk. While this could seem like a factor in the taste department, I don’t think there’s any relation.
Then, I thought, what does taste good if you try to drink it like milk? Jack Daniels. This is how I came up with Whiskey Buttermilk Cookies.
Even if I’m not sure what buttermilk is, I know what it means—it means down-hominess, and comfort, and grandmothers. In 1952, the New York Times published an article about baking with buttermilk, with a headline that read “Buttermilk Good for Baking; Modern Cooks Urged to Master Technique of Grandma’s Day.” I like to think that generations of women have been looking backwards for inspiration, and then have looked to buttermilk.
I guess that’s why I wanted to find a recipe from the grand dame of Southern cooking, Edna Lewis. This woman wrote the gospel, as far as pretty much anyone is concerned, and her tea cakes testify to this. The recipe below is actually an updated version of the recipe from Gourmet in 2008, which they’ve called “buttermilk cookies”; Lewis’s original tea cake recipe can be found in The Gift of Southern Cooking, which she coauthored with Scott Peacock.
Part of me feels like my addition of whiskey icing is a corruption of something that is otherwise pure and perfect, but everyone liked the results. Plus, it makes more of a splash when you bring a dessert to a potluck if you can be, like, “Hey, you guys, these cookies will get you WASTED.”
For the cookies:
3 c. flour
1 t. grated lemon zest
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1½ sticks unsalted butter
1½ c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
2/3 c. buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the sugar and the butter. Once this is light and fluffy, beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, zest, baking soda, and salt. Add a bit of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix slowly until incorporated; add a bit of the buttermilk and mix until incorporated. Continue alternating between adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk until both are used up.
Drop tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheets with parchment paper. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the edges are golden, and cool on a cookie rack.
For the icing:
3 c. confectioners sugar
3 t. buttermilk
3 t. Jack Daniels whiskey
Whisk together all the ingredients. You can adjust the amounts of each, depending on taste and desired thickness. Spoon glaze over cookies and let them cool until the glaze is set.