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Lemon-Poppy Seed Sugar Cookies

May 15, 2011

Let me get this out of the way because I can guess what you might be thinking.  Please don’t judge this book by its proverbial cover.  Though the perimeters of these cookies look darker than they should, their overcooked appearance belies their light, bright flavor.  According to Cook’s Illustrated (CI), they are supposed to look like this.  These are sugar cookies infused with the sunny flavor of meyer lemon zest and the nutty crunch of poppy seeds.  My husband has just inhaled a couple as I type and I’m trying to discourage him from eating another two for fear that he will sacrifice a good night’s sleep from a sugar high.  But I’ve just failed.  I must have done something right with these cookies for in the taste department I’ve earned high marks but in terms of texture, I get a big fat, NI:  Needs Improvement.

And so continue my cookie chronicles.

I don’t know what it is with me and cookies–I just don’t get great satisfaction out of making them.  Ask me to bake a cake and, dare I say, now even a loaf of bread and I would have reasonable confidence in my efforts.  But cookies? They certainly look easy enough but I’m never happy with the ones I make.  I’m always one element short of achieving cookie perfection.

I (usually) follow instructions; I even make temperature adjustments based on my oven that I know so well.  Even in my calibrated oven I baked these cookies at 80% of the prescribed time and lowered the oven temperature by 25 degrees.  I rotated the sheets halfway through the cooking time, as well.  I took all necessary precautions.  Still, these cookies were supposed to be chewy but instead they were crunchy.  What could I have done wrong?

As it turns out, I shouldn’t ever second-guess CI’s recommendations.  There is a reason their recipes are never short on details.  They tell you what works and what doesn’t work.  In this case, I looked more carefully at their suggestions and lo and behold–they recommend using a lower-protein flour.  Unfortunately for me, I did not pay attention and used my King Arthur flour instead of the brands they specifically recommended.  According to Cook’s Illustrated, using the right flour will result in a “softer and more tender” cookie.  Wonderful.  Had I been an obedient baker, I might have succeeded here.

I don’t want to give up baking cookies–I do enjoy them and frankly, I’d like to be very happy with the ones I make.  Lesson learned? Follow instructions carefully.  In the chewy to crispy/crunchy spectrum (1 to 10, chewy to crunchy, respectively), these were an acceptable 7–not soft and chewy as I would like but not dry and crumbly either.  So close.

I will keep trying.  As I mentioned earlier, these cookies were delicious–I added extra lemon zest and poppy seeds so they wouldn’t be overpowered by the sugar component.  However, until I unlock the key to baking perfect cookies I leave you with my current cookie sentiments compliments of Cee Lo Green and Gwyneth Paltrow:


♭ 𝄞 Uh, whhhy? Uh! Whhhy?! Uh! 𝄞 𝄫

𝄞 Whhhy…Oh!…[but] I still love you. Oo-oo-oo♭𝄞


Lemon-Poppy Seed Sugar Cookies

* Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

  • 2 cups lower-protein unbleached all-purpose flour such as Pillsbury or Gold Medal (I used King Arthur instead)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup more for rolling
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1  1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F.  I baked mine at 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together–flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds–in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Using a hand mixer, cream the butter, 1 cup sugar and the brown sugar at medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla extract and lemon zest and beat at medium speed for an additional 3o seconds.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined, 30 seconds.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  6. Place the remaining sugar for rolling in a shallow bowl.  Then fill another bowl halfway up with cold tap water.  You will use the water to dip your hands, shaking off excess, to prevent the dough from sticking as you roll them into a ball.
  7. Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a 1 1/2 inch ball between your moistened palms then roll in the sugar.  Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat until you have used up all the dough, about 24 balls.  Moisten your hands as necessary.
  8. Using the butter wrappers, butter the bottom of a drinking glass with a flat surface then dip in the remaining sugar.  Flatten the dough balls until they are about 1/4 inch thick.
  9. Bake the cookies until they are golden brown around the edges and their centers are just set and very lightly colored, 15 – 18 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.  Mine only took 12 minutes to bake.
  10. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 3 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

41 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2011 8:53 PM

    You are too cute with the song! I totally understand how cookies can get tricky – especially when baking instructions can be so unforgiving (which is why sometimes cooking is far easier than baking!). I think these cookies look beautiful as is, no need to explain them. I’m sure I would gobble them up, no problem at all 🙂

    • May 17, 2011 5:43 PM

      Hi Liren! Yes, I agree that cooking is so much easier–precision isn’t as critical. I’ve learned since this post that the brand of flour I use does make a difference so I have the blogging community to thank for the education. Maybe there’s hope for me yet! 🙂

  2. May 15, 2011 9:18 PM

    Oooh these Lemon Cookies are so cute. They must taste yummy. Will try them when my sons come home. Thanks for sharing!

    • May 17, 2011 5:44 PM

      Hi Elizabeth! I’ve learned that in order to get chewy results, you must use Pillsbury or Gold Medal flour. I’ll definitely do this when I make these next. FYI. 🙂 Hope your boys like them. 🙂

  3. May 15, 2011 9:21 PM

    Hi Jean, Hope you had a nice weekend. I enjoyed your last post about your garden, as well as your pasta. I don’t think I ever told you that I’ve never cooked with anchovies although I enjoy a good caesar dressing made w/ them. I have a feeling that my parent’s lemon tree might be a Meyer and I bring home tons of lemons all the time b/c the bebe likes to pick them, but I rarely cook with them w/ the exception of a squeeze of juice or zest here and there, but now I’m inspired! 🙂 I totally understand about cookie perfection – that’s one reason why I rarely have cookie posts although I like to eat them. These cookies look yummy and I think I’d enjoy it, despite the NI on the texture. 🙂

    • May 17, 2011 5:46 PM

      Judy, I’m the same way. I love to buy cookies when I visit bakeries but I don’t have confidence making them myself. Hopefully one day I’ll get better at it but until then, I’m glad there’s no shortage of cookie vendors in the world! 🙂

      Hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

  4. May 15, 2011 9:33 PM

    I will make these as it is my son’s favorite flavor combo! Great recipe thanks!

  5. May 15, 2011 9:48 PM

    I don’t know what’s the secret to perfect cookies, mine taste good but I had better and always look to improve but, just like you I used to make cookies using King Arthur flour and one day I couldn’t find any at the grocery store and bought some Pillsbury. my cookies turned out way better (still there’s room from improvement) and since then I only use Pillsbury to make cookies, for the rest there’s Arthur King
    I had once lemon cake with poppy seeds and liked it very much, I have the feeling these cookies would make my heart beat a little faster too.
    Thanks for sharing Jean, hope you’ll have a wonderful day!

    • May 17, 2011 5:53 PM

      Roxana, thanks so much for your comment. I would never have thought that using the right brand would make such a big difference. Now I’ll make sure to buy Pillsbury for my next cookie experiment. I might even buy it just to try this recipe again. I liked everything about it except for the crunchy part when they were supposed to be chewy.

      Thanks so much for the input! 🙂

  6. May 15, 2011 9:57 PM

    I just broke into song 🙂 As for your dilemma, dude, I’m the opposite! Cookies are fine but oh my, cakes are killing me. I’ve been practicing and practicing on a layered sheet cake for this baby shower that I’m catering at the end of June. It’s just not coming out right 😦 I can’t even frost to save my life. Blah.

    However, these cookies… To me, they look absolutely perfect! Perhaps it’s because I like crispy edges and such. I’m closing my eyes and imagining the way my kitchen and house would be filled with such aromas while I bake these cookies 🙂

    • May 17, 2011 6:03 PM

      Isn’t that funny? I have confidence in you that you’ll find the right recipe in plenty of time for the June baby shower. 🙂

  7. May 16, 2011 3:40 AM

    They look melt-in-the-mouth and can just imagine the lemony touch in there. Love the poppy seeds with them, too. Photos are beauties!

  8. May 16, 2011 4:49 AM

    I think these are perfect just as they are! They look crisp AND light AND flavorful!

  9. May 16, 2011 5:45 AM

    I love Cook Illustrated’s recipes, they seem to have everything covered up. I think your cookies turned out great, I love chewy and crunchy cookies equally 🙂 Happy Monday, Jean!

    • May 17, 2011 6:04 PM

      Hi Yuri! My husband likes crunchy cookies and I like chewy. Needless to say, these didn’t go to waste!

      Hope you’re having a good week! 🙂

  10. May 16, 2011 6:16 AM

    What a great post! I want some cookies with tea right now please! Haha… “I see you driving downtown with my cookies and I say… ” 🙂

    • May 17, 2011 6:05 PM

      Hi Stacey! Glad everyone know the song or I would have sounded cuckoo! 🙂

      These cookies are great with tea, for sure! 🙂

  11. May 16, 2011 10:04 AM

    Yum, I have been craving lemon this spring so much it is crazy. Thank you so much for this recipe it is absolutely divine!

  12. May 16, 2011 10:07 AM

    Never would have put these ingredients together in a cookie, but now that you did it sounds delicious! Thanks! And really, in my opinion taste wins over looks any day!

  13. May 16, 2011 1:01 PM

    I think these cookies look fabulous! Every time I see one of your posts, I think, “You could bring THIS to the food swap.” So in my mind, you’re now bringing 36 things to the food swap 🙂

    • May 17, 2011 6:06 PM

      Azmina, you made me laugh! Don’t worry–one of my problems is that I always want to make EVERYTHING when I know people are coming over. 36 may not be too far off, LOL! 🙂

  14. May 16, 2011 3:50 PM

    Jean, they look perfect to me! 😉 Thank you for sharing this. My day is definitely brighter now.

  15. May 16, 2011 4:29 PM

    At least you were able to figure out what went wrong with the flour. Whenever I bake, without fail, something goes wrong and no matter how many times I read and re-read the recipe, I can’t figure it out. That’s why I just eat other people’s cookies!

    Your cookies look awesome and I love poppyseed!

  16. May 16, 2011 6:54 PM

    Cookies are one of the few desserts I haven’t screwed up yet 🙂 I’ve actually never tried poppyseed cookies, but these look really good, especially with the lemon zest

    • May 17, 2011 6:11 PM

      Ling, the poppy seeds were very nice in this cookie. If you like them in other desserts, this won’t disappoint. 🙂

  17. May 16, 2011 8:23 PM

    Hi Jean,
    If I could offer my $.02 here, I’d say the reason these cookies are crispy is because they are butter heavy for the amount of flour. The flour probably didn’t help either, I like gold medal for all purpose and King Arthur for bread. I think they wrote the recipe that way on purpose. I would try them again, but just decrease the butter 2 tbsp. or so at a time. Hope that helps. These do sound good, if I wasn’t so tired, I’d go throw some in my oven.

    • May 17, 2011 6:13 PM

      Gina, thanks for your comment. I always wonder how individual ingredients affect the final product. In this case, I would never have guessed that reducing the butter would have helped me to achieve a chewy cookie–I would have loved to cut the butter! 🙂

      I’m glad you and Roxana have experience in the flour department, too. Looks like I’ll be adding another bag of flour to my pantry dedicated to cookies! 🙂

      Thanks again for your input! 🙂

  18. May 16, 2011 8:34 PM

    You want to know something? I don’t get great satisfaction from baking American cookies. I love to eat them but baking them….not so much. From time to time I still do it but I always feel there is something not quite perfect. I have much more fun with Italian cookies. Maybe it’s my genes 🙂
    I totally believe you though when you say that the taste was good. Meyer lemon and poppy seeds…what not to love? Are you giving these as swap for our brunch? 🙂
    Have a great week.

    • May 17, 2011 6:29 PM

      Sara, if I can get these to be chewy like they were supposed to be, I’ll make them for the swap! 🙂

  19. May 17, 2011 12:17 AM

    Ha! Perfect musical accompaniment. I think it’s not a fail if you like the end result, and now you know how to alter a recipe to get a crispier result!

  20. May 17, 2011 7:36 AM

    your images are just incredible!! those cookies almost jump off the page and how I wish they would and right into my mouth!! They look delicious!
    Meyer lemons are so much fun to work with and although I’m not a big fan of poppy seeds, blending them with lemon seems to magically change them into a special treat!
    Hope your week is going well

  21. May 17, 2011 8:43 AM

    I’m going to have to make these…I love the flavor combination.

  22. May 17, 2011 4:10 PM

    Beautifully evocative photographs! And I’ve always loved the lemon/poppyseed combination…

  23. May 17, 2011 4:47 PM

    love love adore Cooks Illustrated. Yes….the recipes you have to read (twice) or three times in my case before you actually understand the meaning behind the madness. Beautiful photos! The cookies look amazing – Megs

  24. May 17, 2011 5:18 PM

    Hi Jean, you are too funny;-)
    I think it’s fun to experiment with different flours and that’s how you learn, meanwhile your cookies look delicious- full of all the flavors that I enjoy;-)

  25. May 18, 2011 2:41 PM

    These must be incredible! I want a few of them. Now.
    Lemon and poppy seeds are truly my favorite combination in any sweets.

  26. May 18, 2011 8:34 PM

    Jean – that is so interesting about the different flours. Never thought of that. Regardless, these cookies look and sound amazing, especially since they have tons of lemon. Your lyrical notes at the end made me smile. Beautiful photos!!! 🙂

  27. May 18, 2011 11:28 PM

    Hi Jean! Oh no, sorry my comment to this post is so late! You know, at my house I have like the same amount of lemons shown in one of your pictures. I really don’t know what to do with them. I bought them at Costco to make something, which I only used 2 lemons and got stuck with tons! I should make these cookies as they look so yummy! I love king arthur’s flour… Once I started using it I can’t go back to Gold Medal brand.


  1. Meyer Lemon Infused

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