When he’s not working, Scott Rohr of St. Paul, Minnesota, is baking. “It’s sort of a joke with my friends,” he said. “I don’t remember a time when I haven’t baked. I grew up in one of those houses where everything was homemade. Some people come home from work and boil water for dinner. I take out eggs and butter.” For his winning recipe, Rohr started with his tattered recipe card for a cream-of-tartar-based sugar cookie, which is a copy of a similarly well-worn card from his grandmother’s kitchen. The filling and the pistachios, however, were all his idea. “I just started messing around,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to follow a recipe. These cookies aren’t complicated, and they come together fast. They look like something substantial, but they’re not hard to make. If you’ve ever baked a cookie, then you can bake these, for heaven’s sake.”
The Great Minnesota Cookie Book by Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson
To prepare cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F and line the baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, in thirds, mixing until just combined.
Shape the dough into 1/2-inch balls (about the size of a chestnut). Roll the dough in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set but not browned, about 11 minutes (the cookies will puff up in the oven, but then flatten). Remove the cookies from the oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare filling: In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse 1/2 cup pistachios until very fine (the nuts should almost clump together in a paste between your fingers), and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter with the orange zest until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the orange extract and vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the powdered sugar, in thirds, alternating with the milk (or milk and orange juice), beginning and ending with powdered sugar, and mix until smooth (you may need another tablespoon or so of liquid to reach the desired consistency). Fold in the chopped pistachios and mix until thoroughly combined.
To assemble cookies: Finely chop the remaining 1/2 cup pistachios and place in a shallow dish. Spread a generous dollop of the filling on the flat side of one cookie. Place the flat side of a second cookie against the filling, as if making a sandwich. Press gently just until the filling is at the edge of the cookies. Roll the filled edge in chopped pistachios. Repeat until all the cookies form sandwiches.
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Reprinted with permission from The Great Minnesota Cookie Book: Award-Winning Recipes from the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cooking Contest by Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson, photography by Tom Wallace, and published by the University of Minnesota Press, 2018. Copyright 2018 by Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson. Photographs copyright 2018 by Tom Wallace.