Brown-edge cookies may not look like much — and their no-nonsense name certainly doesn’t do them any favors — but don’t let appearances fool you. In the great Venn diagram of cookies, this little wafer lies at the intersection of Christmas sugar cookie, vanilla wafer and French tuile. They are absurdly buttery, crisp at the edges, just barely chewy in the center, and they go with everything. It’s a bold statement, but as far as cookies go, these golden rounds are practically flawless.
In the 1970s, my Aunt Liz introduced these cookies, whose unpretentious moniker comes from the delicate, crisp brown halo that encircles their tender centers, to my family. They must have been a hit because the cookies have appeared at almost every reunion and funeral, and in every college care package and first-day lunchbox, since. If a cookie can be a family touchstone, this one is ours.
The exact history of the original recipe has been lost to the sands of time, but it’s an old one. My aunt was given the recipe by her neighbor, Millie Shea, who learned it from her mother when she was a little girl in the 1930s. For many years, Nabisco sold a similar cookie called brown-edge wafers, but discontinued them in 1996, prompting nostalgic home cooks to develop their own variations, which can be found all over the internet and in spiral-bound community cookbooks.
My practical Midwestern heart will always prefer these cookies unadorned, but they are also great nestled into a bowl of ice cream, sorbet or pudding. Sandwiching a layer of lemon curd, Nutella or berry jam between two wafers would not be a bad idea either. And while I can’t endorse it, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could add a ¼ to ½ teaspoon of almond, lemon or orange extract to the batter. (Pro tip for grown-ups: Nibble one while sipping a bourbon neat.)
As far as recipes go, it’s about as simple as you can get. You need a mixer, a bowl and just six ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and salt. Whip it into a creamy frenzy, spoon it onto sheet pans and bake until the centers puff slightly (they’ll slump when cool) and the edges brown. Some versions call for shortening, or more egg whites, or potato starch, but the simplicity of this version makes it something you’ll return to again and again.
Recipe: Brown-Edge Cookies
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