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My Favorite Back-to-School Cookies

For people between the ages of 5 and 23, going back to school is a standard — and sometimes unsettling — part of life. We’ve put together easy recipes and food tips to help make the entire experience way more appetizing.

One of my favorite family food traditions is that my mom always made a fresh batch of cookies on the first day of school. Since back-to-school fever seems to be in the air, I wanted to share one of the cookie recipes I love most from home. My Pink Lemonade Candy Cookies are a variation of a Lemon Drop Candy Cookie that my mom made when I was growing up. The secret ingredient is none other than classic lemon hard candies (Lemonheads!). They are scattered throughout the batter and every now and then you get a bite with a zing of lemon candy that is crazy delicious. The secret to making hard candies work in a cookie recipe is to pulse them in a food processor. It’s important that they’re a fine crumble and that there aren’t any large pieces throughout.

The most important rule for making these cookies perfect is that it’s critical to not overbake them. When you pull them out of the oven, you might think that they aren’t finished, but they are — I promise. It’s also important to let them cool completely on the sheet tray.

I made a batch this week for the sake of tradition, even though no one in my family is headed back to school. Let’s be honest: Who doesn’t love having an excuse to make cookies?

Pink Lemonade Candy Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen

Cookies:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
one 6-oz. box Lemonhead candies, crushed

Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 drops red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer. Incorporate eggs one at a time, followed by extract, lemon zest and juice. Mix just until combined.

 

To crush the lemon candies, pulse in a food processor until the whole candies (left) are broken down into small, bite-sized pieces (right).

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in candies. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until combined. Chill dough in refrigerator for 10 minutes.

On a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat, portion cookies with a 2-oz. cookie scoop (or 2 tablespoons each). Drop cookies onto sheet tray about 2 inches apart from one another. Bake for 12 minutes or just until the bottom edges start to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the sheet tray. Once cooled, remove and frost with pink buttercream.

Using a mixer, make buttercream by mixing together softened butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and red food coloring. Frost cooled cookies with an offset spatula.

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes posts from Kelsey Nixon every Wednesday, and tune in to new episodes of Kelsey’s Essentials every Wednesday at 8pm ET on Cooking Channel. Find all the recipes from Kelsey’s Essentials here.

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