Brown Sugar Cookies – Speedy, Simple, & Superb: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 16

The easiest recipes are often the best.  This four-ingredient recipe, from my grandmother’s recipe files, which I recently discovered, is quick, straightforward, traditional,and toothsome.

I am a big fan of brown sugar, especially dark or demerara, so I was glad to have found this recipe, among my grandmother’s hand-written and typed cards.  While it is not the brown-sugar-beurre-noisette cookie which ranks among my very favourite cookie recipes, this version is much faster and a classic shortbread or sablé.  I remember well my grandmother’s tubular aluminum cookie press, which made fancy beribboned butter cookies.  I can picture only the plain melt-in-your-mouth white butter cookies, which Jessie often adorned with glacé cherries.

In thinking about brown sugar, I thought about “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and jazz, which Jessie liked.  This led me to think I might find a picture of my grandmother Jessie at the Stork Club in New York City (I remember she had matchbooks from there but no such luck in the photo realm).  At various nightclubs, Jessie liked the many-layered and coloured liqueur drink, the “pousse-café” (she unfortunately pronounced this confection-concoction as “pussy café” – I kid you not…) , with layers of brandy, green chartreuse, white crème de cacao, crème de cassis, yellow chartreuse, and grenadine, as Wikipedia describes one variant, though there were many other versions.  This depends on the specific density of each liqueur to float on top of the previous one.  It was all the rage in the early 20th century.

Jessie and Louie - cocktails at a race track press club, 1950s

For the description of the cookie and the recipe …

As I do not have a cookie press – I must be on the lookout for one now – I decided to roll the dough and cut out small round cookies.  This was easy to do and perhaps a bit less fancy than a pressed cookie.  I decided to add a sanding” of demerara sugar on top before baking, for appearance and an extra crackly-crunch.

The cookie is tender, has a sandy crumb, and features deep molasses undertones from the brown sugar.  It is a perfect accompaniment to a “pousse-café”, espresso, tea, or even a glass of milk.  I think the brown sugar cookie could go well with ice cream – coffee, chocolate (of course), or butter pecan come to mind.

For a classic brown sugar cookie which needs no jazzing up, try Jessie’s recipe.

Brown Sugar Cookies, from My Grandmother Jessie’s Recipes

Yields 3 1/2 dozen two-inch cookies


  • ½ pound salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups AP (yes, that’s “all-purpose”) flour, with additional for flouring cutting board, if making rolled cookies
  • ½ cup dark brown (or demerara sugar), with additional for optional“sanding”
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla


  1. Cream butter on medium speed in bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream with hand-held beater, or cream by hand with your favourite wooden spoon.
  2. Mix in brown sugar, beating until thoroughly blended, on medium-speed.
  3. Add vanilla and blend in completely.
  4. If using a stand mixer, add flour on lowest speed in three additions, mixing just until blended.
  5. Refrigerate dough for one hour, minimum (dough could also be frozen at this point for future use).
  6. Roll out dough on floured cutting board until ¼ “ thick.
  7. Cut out with small round cookie cutter of your choice (or use a cookie press, as Jessie did).
  8. “Sand” cookies with additional sugar.
  9. Place cookies on parchment or non-stick-mat-lined cookie sheet.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
  11. Cool on wire rack.
  12. Enjoy this blast-from-the-past classic cookie with pousse-cafe, tea, coffee, or ?

13 responses to “Brown Sugar Cookies – Speedy, Simple, & Superb: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 16

  1. Welcome back, Dan (and Jessie)! Was Maine all you hoped it would be?

    I’m so in love with the woven mat and earthenware serving pieces in these pictures. The sunlight and cherries, too, make your home look so…homey. Sometimes the simplest things (like a four-ingredient cookie) make the most impact, you know?

    • Thanks, Maddie. Maine was beautiful, as usual, with fine weather and lots of lobster (chowder, rolls, and even on a special pizza with mascarpone).

      The china is “Homespun”, by Vernonware, from California in the 1950s, so I thought it would go well with Jessie’s vintage recipes. I collected it at flea markets and garage sales years ago. It does go well with the mats we bought from the National Museum of Fiji – of all places!


      • i love this blog and love hearing and reading all of these recipes! I am making them! Can you share your Grandma’s life story?

  2. I love reading about Jessie! The Brown Sugar Cookies sound (and look) wonderful!

    I really enjoy seeing the photos of Jessie’s original recipes. It was another era…before we could click on the “print this”. Recipes were written by our moms and grandmothers in a shortened version with just the essential information.

  3. Thanks, Kath. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series on Jessie’s recipes.

    You’re right about the recipe short-hand, assuming that the reader (the mothers and grandmothers, as you point out, and perhaps their friends, neighbours, and relatives) would know all the techniques and directions for the dishes as they all had the basic training in cooking and baking.


  4. These cookies look awesome, Dan! But y’know, when I first saw them, I thought they were slices of banana with brown sugar on top. Isn’t that weird? I think I should bake some of these this weekend to bring into work on Monday to go with my morning cup of coffee! Shall let you know how they turn out =)

    Jax x

    • Hi, Jax. I’m not sure what Freud would have said about your banana interpretation – do you eat sliced bananas with brown sugar?!? It’s very amusing to me, too.

      Reports from those who have tried my attempt at these cookies do indicate that this is a good recipe to try. Please tell me what you think!



  5. I need a new cookie recipe to try out this weekend and I think I just found it! Glad to have you & Jessie back! 🙂

  6. Hi, Rachel. What I like most about this recipe is its simplicity and use of staple ingredients – I always have butter, brown sugar, flour, and vanilla on hand.

    I’d appreciate your feedback, once you try it out!



  7. I certainly have a lot catching up to do on your Jessie series. I’m amazed by the amount of patience she had for typing up her recipes.

    I think this would probably taste even better with muscuvado sugar and would give it that caramel-like flavor.

    • Thanks, KM. You’re right about the sugar. In this recipe, I still want to try demerara sugar – which is similar though not the same, obviously, as muscovado – for more crunch and depth of flavour.


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