Pillowcase Cookies

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2018 is off to a good start for all of you, and that you’re feeling at least a little optimistic for the year.

Okay, so…I try to stick to a pattern in my posting schedule so that I’m not posting more sweet than savory or vice versa–variety being the spice of life and all. The 12 Days of Christmas series is usually enough of a sugar rush/overload for me where I need a break from making & eating sweets and for a while stick to savory and relatively healthy recipes on the blog.

Having said that, you all should know that I did intend to hold off on posting any sweets or baked goods for at least a few weeks, but well…here we are. Thing is, I’ve had this post sitting in my Drafts folder since August and I just couldn’t put off sharing it any longer.

You guys need to see (and make) these. You REALLY do.

If you know anything about my food preferences, you know that sugar cookies are in my Top 3 of favorite desserts. A good sugar cookie–one that is so good it doesn’t even need any embellishments from icing or glaze– just can’t be beat.

Some people like their sugar cookies crisp. Some like them chewy. Some like a combination of the two. Some like them to have a vanilla flavor. Others prefer almond.

I make my stance on this highly contested, divisive issue, loud and clear: I love and must have my sugar cookies thick and soft. I don’t mind almond extract in the dough, but the vanilla needs to be the star flavor for me.

The sugar cookies that I’ve posted on the blog thus far have met all of the above criteria. The first (and also, the most popular post on the blog to date) were these cut-outs. I’ve also shared two vanilla sugar cookies that are good for cookie stamps and molds, here and here.

As delicious as all of these recipes are, they do fall short in one area.

Although they’re all thick and soft, they’re still missing what I think of as the ‘cloud’ factor; where the texture of the cookie is SO light and soft that when you’re biting into it, you feel like you’re biting into a fluffy cloud of pure heaven. I’ve tried a lot of sugar cookie recipes that claim they deliver these goods, only to be disappointed because they just didn’t.

Guys. This recipe de-LIVERS.

I had my doubts before I made these just because the method is unlike any method I’ve ever done when putting together cookie dough. Rather than being creamed or melted, the butter actually gets cut into the dry ingredients just like it is when making biscuits and scones.  The eggs get beaten together with the vanilla and a little milk, then folded into the butter-flour mixture. I have no idea why this is. I have no idea how it works together with the rest of the ingredients. All I know is that it works. It works so well.

As a Southern recipe, this one supposedly gets its name from when the cookies would be given out to journeymen to store in their pillowcases by their families as they traveled around doing work. I’d certainly be a happy camper (or journeyman) if I had a pillowcase full of these to eat.

My favorite thing about the cookies is their texture. It’s just perfect. They rise with a perfect dome and have that thick, soft, fluffy center that practically melts in your mouth. And, no: they absolutely don’t need any help from icing or glaze. These are delicious enough to eat all on their own. This is THE sugar cookie of my dreams, the one I’ve been searching for–which is why I just had to share it with all of you now.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #205, co-hosted this week by Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau and Petra @ Food Eat Love.

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Pillowcase Cookies

Recipe Adapted from LouisianaCookin.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking power
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk, plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1 cup of sugar and baking powder and stir together with a fork.

Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. (If you don’t have a box grater that’s okay. Just cut the butter into small cubes and stir them evenly into the dry ingredients with a fork.)

Stir the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Use a rubber spatula to make a well in the center of the bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract with a fork, then pour into the well you made in the dry ingredients. Flour the rubber spatula and mix together, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed and it forms a slightly sticky dough. (You may need to add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time to make it all stick together; that’s fine.)

Generously sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, a cutting board or wax paper you tape to your countertop) with flour. Dump the dough out onto the surface and knead together with your hands just until it forms a large ball. It will get messy, but that’s okay; just keep sprinkling with either flour or powdered sugar until it’s relatively easy to pick up in one mass.)

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at LEAST one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray, set aside. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough cookie dough out to about 1/4 inch thick, then use a 3 inch cookie cutter to cut out circles. Place the cut cookies on the sheet pans. Either refrigerate for about 45 minutes, or freeze for about 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar, then bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden brown on the bottom & slightly puffy on the tops. Allow to cool on the sheet pan for 1 minute, then remove to wire racks to allow to cool completely.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Honey Gingerbread Cookies

I’m very honored by the compliments that I get on my baking. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into my practicing and I do have to say I think that that practice has paid off. I’m good at it.

However, if I’m being completely honest with myself and all of you, then I have to admit that my baking skills wouldn’t be half of what they are now without a little…help.

That ‘help’ is modern amenities–specifically, automated mixers. I can’t imagine my kitchen life without my KitchenAid standing mixer, and I really don’t want to try.

It makes me sound like such a young, first-world brat to say that, but it’s true. Me and that mixer are joined at the hip. I think I might love it. I think of how women used to make cakes with nothing but the strength of their wrists to whip enough air into the batter to make them rise and be moist on the inside, and I’m just in awe.

Cause, no. I’m good…but I’m just nowhere near on that level.

Biscuits, brownies, pie crust, quick breads and muffins are all exceptions to the rule–you kinda SHOULD make those by hand. Breads are tricky–there are some recipes that I think I could get away with going without my KitchenAid, but others like brioche sure aren’t one them. Even most cookie recipes require the butter in them to be whipped up pretty good with the sugar before you add anything else to it.

Notice that I said MOST. Why?

Go ahead and guess.

Yep. This is a from scratch cookie dough recipe where neither a standing mixer or hand mixer is needed. You really can put this all together with a wire whisk using nothing more than your hands. Rather than being softened and whipped with the sugar, the butter is pre-melted and cooled. The dough is sweetened with a combination of honey and brown sugar.

Since it’s a dough that can be made sans mixers, you can guess that it’s a cinch to put together. You really can’t mess it up.

Apart from being so easy to make, I think one of my favorite things about making these was that the dough was very good for making cut out cookies that hold their shape and stamp impressions even after baking. I had a set of three Christmas themed ones that I broke in with this recipe and they came out just perfect. However, if you don’t have cookie stamps or they’re just not your thing, then you really don’t have to use them. If you wanted to just roll these out and cut them out with a gingerbread man cutter, it would still be great. The ‘spice’ factor isn’t as strong in these as it is in other gingerbread cookies, but you’ll definitely still be able to taste a gingery, caramelized flavor. They’re delicious plain but they’d also taste great iced if you prefer that too.

So, now all you mixer-less folks have no excuse: get baking, will ya?

Just one more recipe left in the 12 Days of Christmas. Be on the look out for it, and be sure to check out the other recipes in the series if you haven’t seen them all yet.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

Day 7: Winter Spice Peanut Brittle

Day 8: Christmas Tourtiere

Day 9: Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

Day 10: Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

Day 11: Honey Gingerbread Cookies

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Honey Gingerbread Cookies

Recipe Adapted from The Monday Box

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Special Equipment: cookie stamps/molds of choice

Directions

In a small bowl, melt the butter and cool slightly.

In the bowl of a standing mixer,or using a hand mixer, (or a in a large bowl using a wire whisk) combine the beaten egg, honey, milk and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Beat into the egg mixture, then slowly beat in the melted butter.

Add the flour in 1 cup increments, mixing until it forms a soft and slightly sticky dough.

Collect dough into one mass, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide dough in quarters and keep the other 3 in the refrigerator while you roll out the first. Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie stamps into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess. Press firmly into the dough, then gently remove stamped cookie and place on sheet pan. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 25-30 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until bottoms start to turn golden brown. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: You don’t HAVE to use cookie stamps for this recipe. I think it would work just as well without it. Use whatever cookie cutters you have, or shape the dough into a log, freeze for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices and bake as directed. Also,  no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

When I was a kid, the Keebler  company used to make these things they called Rainbow Cookie Stix. They came in a square blue package and were a crisp, buttery sugar cookie with sprinkles mixed in the batter and shaped in tiny little stick shapes, with about the thickness of my finger.

I thought they were sooooo good.

They weren’t overly sweet, but definitely had that buttery vanilla flavor that reminded me of sugar cookies. I most liked to eat them dipped in those cannisters of pre-made vanilla frosting–you know, the ones I absolutely cannot stand now because they taste like overly sweetened paste.

The Rainbow Cookie Stix have been discontinued for what I’d guess is at least over fifteen years now, but every now and then when I get the munchies I’ll remember them. When I was putting together the recipes I would make for this years 12 Days of Christmas series, I thought of them again and how cool it would be to be able to recreate them somehow.

I think I might have come as close as I could to doing just that at home. What it really comes down to is making a cookie dough that first of all, won’t spread too much and second, will bake up crisp but not overly dry on the inside. This dough is not only simple to put together, it’s simple to work with when the time comes to roll out into strips for your ‘fries’, which brings me to another point:

Crinkle Cuts are the best type of fry there is–don’t debate me on this, there’s just no point. You’ll lose the argument every time. I knew that this dough would work fine if I just used my bench scraper to cut them into strips, but since this was Christmas I knew I wanted to give them a special, ‘festiv-y’ look.

If you’re like me and you love kitchen gadgets (especially inexpensive ones), then I’m positive that you’ll love this pastry wheel I found on (where else?) Amazon. It has a dual wheel that can cut both straight and fluted edges on doughs–pie and cookie. The scalloped edge on my cookie fries come from using the fluted wheel. It’s larger than I expected it to be, durable and easy to use. I found it a very worthwhile buy. If you’d rather not get it, that’s totally fine; you’ll just have shoe-string fries rather than crinkle cuts.

Because I wanted to recreate the flavor of the Rainbow Cookie Stix, I kept the flavors of this simple and only used sugar and vanilla bean paste to flavor my dough. In the future I can certainly see myself experimenting with different flavors and extracts as this is a very versatile recipe.  A few teaspoons of the Winter Spice Mix I’ve used in other recipes in the series would work very well for this, as would pumpkin pie spice or apple pie spice. I sprinkled white sugar on top of the fries just before baking to give them added crunchy texture. They baked up perfectly golden brown.

These would be perfect for a cookie swap party, or just a regular Christmas party in general–not just because there’ll be plenty to go around, but because you can serve with them so many different dips and sauces: frosting (REAL frosting, not that crap in a can for God’s sake), jam or fruit preserves, melted milk or white chocolate, Nutella spread, or even peanut butter. I really couldn’t have been more pleased with how these turned out.  They were exactly what I was going for and they gave me a nice feeling of nostalgia.

Only two more days left of the 12 Days of Christmas series–yikes, how did that happen? Stay tuned for our last two recipes–you’re gonna love em.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

Day 7: Winter Spice Peanut Brittle

Day 8: Christmas Tourtiere

Day 9: Cranberry Spice Layer Cake

Day 10: Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries

Recipe Adapted from Delish.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 Sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c. granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Special Equipment: Fluted pie cutter wheel, optional

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, or using a handheld one, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 1 cup increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Gather the dough together in one mass, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide dough in quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the other on a clean work surface that you sprinkle with flour. Roll out dough into a large, thin rectangle. Using a fluted pie cutter wheel (or sharp knife) cut dough crosswise into 3/4″-1″ thick strips. Cut the strips in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with sugar and transfer cookie cutouts to baking sheets.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 25-30 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until bottoms start to turn golden brown. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cookie fries with frosting, Nutella or fruit jam for dipping.

(Note: No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Chai Spice Shortbread

I’m annoyed.

For years, YEARS I tell you, of living in the Mitten I could and did boast that I had an iron clad immune system. I hardly ever got sick. *Ever*. If I did, it was a bad stomach bug but I was able to rally and get over it in 2 days, tops. Didn’t matter if someone around me had a cold and was contagious–I knew I wasn’t catching it. I knew.

But since moving out here? Tuh. Let me tell you something.

My immune system has me its match in whatever is in the air outchea. I’ve caught a rather nasty…something in the past week. I guess it’s a cold, but I don’t know. All I know is that not only have I been feeling icky, but I’ve been feeling icky for longer than 2 days and I’m irate. I’ve been taking over the counter medications, cough drops, using vapor rub and even running essential oil diffusers in my house to try and clear it up. While the combination is helping, it’s not squashing this thing like the miserable bug it is.

And I’m over it.

Do y’all know how disgusting Oregano spirits are? Do you KNOW, tho? It’s gotta be up there with the top worst, most disgusting things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Yet it’s supposed to great for killing infections and since I’m over here struggling with sore throat, sinus congestion and a runny nose, at this point I’m willing to try just about anything to get rid of this cold or whatever it is that has my immune system shot to Hell.

But still, I rise…through baking.

I’ve done shortbread several times before on the blog. I think one of the main reasons I keep coming back to it is that it is such an easy versatile recipe to do. I want people both comfortable and uncomfortable with baking to be able to try recipes out for the 12 Days of Christmas series and I think this is another one of the ones that can be for both groups.

Don’t let the pretty design fool you. I mean, you can and should love it (I know I do), but don’t let it make you think these were hard to make. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a very basic shortbread recipe that’s been flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves– flavors that when put together strongly resemble the taste of chai spice.  The smell of these as they bake is just wonderful. They’re crisp on the outside, yet have that fine shortbread crumb on the inside.

Although it is a very simple dough, as you can see it holds an impression and shape very well so if you have some fancy cookie cutters or stamps you want to put to use with a simple recipe that won’t give you much trouble then I think you ought to give this one a try. I think these are also sturdy enough to ship very well too.

We’re halfway through the 12 Days of Chrismas. If you haven’t seen the first six recipes yet, feel free to check out the links below. Still plenty of time to join in on the Christmas baking. And now, unless y’all have some fool-proof cold remedies you’d like to share, I think I’ll wrap this post up and go make myself some more hot tea. ‘Ta.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Day 4: Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

Day 5: Honey Spice Madeleines

Day 6: Chai Spice Shortbread

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Chai Spice Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Special equipment, cookie stamp or cutter of choice, optional

 

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, or using a handheld mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and the extracts until light and slightly fluffy.

Combine the flour with the spice in a small bowl, then add to the butter mixture in batches and mix until it forms a stiff dough that holds together when you gather it one hand. If it’s too dry/crumbly, you can add 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until it does hold together.

Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at LEAST one hour, preferably overnight.

Sprinkle a work surface, like a pastry mat, cutting board or wax paper with flour. Remove dough from fridge and divide in quarters. Keep the other 3 pieces in the fridge while you use a rolling pin to roll out the quarter of dough to a thickness of about 1/2- 1/4 inch. Dip your cookie stamp or cutter in flour and cut out shape. Remove to a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment paper and keep the sheet pan in the fridge or freezer as you repeat process and have stamped/cut out all of your dough. The cookies should be VERY cold and solid before baking (this will help preserve the design).

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bake cookies on middle rack for about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Allow to cool for about 60 seconds on sheet pan before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Note: You don’t have to have cookie cutters. If you want to make ‘drop shortbread’, drop the shortbread by teaspoonfuls onto the sheet pan, the use the tines of a fork to press a criss-cross pattern on their tops. Refrigerate or freeze for about 15 minutes, then bake as directed.  Also, no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.

Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Since it’s Christmas time, you guys had to know two things were going to happen: first, gingerbread was going to make an appearance in this 12 Days of Christmas series. Second, I was going to find a way to sneak a stamped cookie into it. Stamped/printed cookies are still a minor obsession of mine. I’m always up for trying out a different recipe for one, and I’m also on the lookout for cookie stamps and cutters that can give me the intricate, pretty designs that I want. Ideally, I’d just buy all the wooden Springerle molds that I wanted–and there are many.

However, as I’ve mentioned multiple times before, those suckas aren’t cheap. Nor should they be–I do own two, and I must say that you get what you pay for in quality and longevity. It’s just that wanting to build up a collection of the molds is a lot harder and more expensive to do than with a cookie stamp or cutter collection. If I wanted to widen my Intricate Stamped Cookie Collection without breaking the bank, I figured that I’d have to get creative with it.

You guys have already seen some of the fruits of that labor through my discovery that pie crust cutters could double as cookie stamps. Now, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve found yet another way to circumvent the ‘system’ of pricey Springerle molds that I just cannot afford at this time, while still getting the results that I want from my cookies. My newest solution came in one word: mooncakes. Y’all know what those are? That’s alright, I didn’t at first either.

Mooncakes are a Chinese pastry that are typically served during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The first time I saw one it caught my attention because of the intricate, beautiful design on the top of the cake and I wondered how it was made. I later found out that the design comes from moon cake molds: wooden or plastic contraptions that are designed to not just sculpt and seal the outer skin of the moon cakes, but also to imprint the pretty design on the top.

The wooden ones, like Springerle molds, aren’t inexpensive. The plastic ones however, are. I looked on Amazon and found a set of 4 moon cake molds, each with 3 different ‘plates’ that you could switch in and out.I bought the set and immediately wanted to try out the stamps on a cookie dough to see if it would give me the same pretty design as it did on the mooncakes. These were the results. Was it a worthwhile investment?

You guys tell me. I know that for now you can only comment on how they look, so I’ll spill on the actual taste.

The spices here are *very* strong. That warm, typical gingerbread smell and flavor is given a huge, added punch with the addition of both cocoa and garam masala. The aroma in the dough was so strong that I could smell these even before they were baking. You might worry that the chocolate would overpower everything else flavor-wise, but it doesn’t. Although you’re definitely going to know it’s there, in this case what it most does is enhance the other flavors; the cookies taste ‘richer’, if that makes any sense. The kick from the garam masala is going to hit your taste buds afterwards. At first you don’t taste it, then you swallow and suddenly think, “Oh wow, *there* it is!”

I love my new mooncake molds–I mean, my new cookie cutters. I love these cookies. I think y’all will love both if you choose to give them a go. DO IT. (P.S. If you’d like to find the set I bought on Amazon, it’s here) Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #201, co-hosted by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

Day 3: Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

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Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

Recipe Courtesy 0f Springerle Joy

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Ingredients

  • 180 grams butter (softened)
  • 125 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 125 grams molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 50 grams cocoa
  • 350 grams (pastry or all-purpose) flour
  • pinch of salt

Special equipment: cookie stamp or cutter of choice

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, spices and cocoa with a fork and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer using the paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and slightly fluffy.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until just combined. Fold in the flour mixture in batches (don’t add it all at once) until the dough comes together smoothly.

Shape into a disk and refrigerate for a few hours until slightly firm. If you’re in a hurry, you can freeze it for about 40 minutes to an hour.

Divide the dough in quarters. Keep one quarter out, while keeping the other three in the fridge as you work. Sprinkle a work surface like a pastry mat, cutting board or wax paper with flour. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness and sprinkle the top with flour or powdered sugar. Dip your cookie stamp in flour or powdered sugar, then firmly press it into the dough. Remove, then cut out the cookie and remove it to a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment paper. Repeat until you’ve cut out all the dough.

Refrigerate the sheet pan(s) of cookies overnight.

Preheat oven to 320°F. Immediately place sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on cookie size), rotating the pans halfway and checking regularly.

Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.

Brown Sugar and Spice Shortbread

My interest in experimenting with stamped cookies began about two years ago when I saw a recipe in a Christmas magazine for a particular kind of German cookie called Springerle. The design came from intricately hand-carved wood molds that are only sold on select websites & sparse authorized retail dealers. As such, and because they are hand carved, they’re not cheap. I found this out pretty quick and this is the reason why my Springerle mold collection is currently at a grand total of…two. It’ll probably stay that way for a while.

For a while I accepted this.

Then after a little while longer, I…didn’t want accept it anymore. I’m just that stubborn (and cheap) So, I started looking up alternatives to wood molds and found that there are a number of options. They may not be as intricate or elaborate as some of the springerle wood molds, but they still can create a pretty nice product. You just have to know where to look and what to look for.

I had success in just looking up rubber cookie stamp sets, like the one I bought (very cheaply at that) and then used for these Vanilla Sugar Cookies.I also started looking outside of cookie cutters and stamps and into other baking gadgets & gizmos. Turns out that quite a few of the plunger fondant and pie crust cutters you can both online and in stores can double as cookie cutters & stamps. What’s more, since fondant is a decorative element to cakes, the designs that you can find the cutters in are virtually limitless.

Perhaps most importantly, as the majority of them are plastic, they are very inexpensive.

I found a set of four small plunger fondant crust cutters on Amazon. They were in the shape of leaves. They set me back $3.93. I decided to see if they could and work the same way as my springerle molds did. I was pretty sure they would, but if they didn’t, well…it was only a $4 risk.

Here’s a pro-tip I’ve come to notice/learn when wanting to make cookies that won’t spread or lose the intricacy of their design: cookies with very few, (if any) leavening in their dough turn out the best. The more leavening agents that are in them (like baking powder, baking soda, eggs) the more likely they are to puff up & rise which is bad news for cookies that you want to have a noticeable design.

Shortbread is a great choice for just about any printed cookie you’d want to make. It has no baking powder, baking soda or eggs in it and has a very tight crumb which will help to preserve the design as it bakes. Shortbread was the way I knew I wanted to go to test out my new leaf cutters and should you guys get some for yourselves, it’s where I suggest you start.

I think the warm, rich spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves work nicely for a cookie to eat in autumn. They’re certainly good for dunking in coffee, I can attest to that personally. Plus, how about the results of the fondant cutters; turned out pretty nice didn’t it? I think I may have started something here. Stay tuned for more.

Sharing at the Fiesta Friday #192, co-hosted this week by Zeba @ Food For The Soul and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

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Brown Sugar & Spice Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from Sweet Paul Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1/2 packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

In a small bowl combine the flour and the dry spices together and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.

Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a disc. Wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Sprinkle a clean work surface (like a cutting board, wax paper you tape down to the counter, or a pastry mat) with flour. Separate the disc into quarters. Flour a rolling pin and roll/pat each quarter out to about 1/2  inch thick. Use whatever desired shape cookie cutter you wish (I used leaf fondant cutters) to cut out shapes. Immediately place the shapes on a half sheet pan you line with parchment paper, and place the half sheet in the freezer as you cut out the remaining dough. If the dough becomes too soft to work/cut out, just place it in the freezer and let firm up until easily rolled again, about 10 minutes.

Let the finished, cut shape dough firm up in the freezer, about 10 minutes. (This will keep them from spreading.) Take out the tray.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 10-12 minutes, until they are just turning golden brown at the edges. Allow to cool for about 3 minutes on the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: You don’t HAVE to use cookie stamps for this recipe. I think it would work just as well without it. Use whatever cookie cutters you have, or shape the dough into a log, freeze for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices and bake as directed. Also,  no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Checkerboard Cookies

I’d be lying to you guys if I said I wasn’t kinda ready for the summer to end. In the first place, I don’t much care for extreme heat and as I’ve said in a couple of recent posts, the heat here has been unnecessarily extreme to the point where I’ve retreated to whole different cities for the day because this desert valley we’re in feels too much like a…desert valley. In the second place, the sooner the summer ends, the sooner we can get to the autumn which is my favorite season. The sooner autumn comes around, the sooner we can get to December and my favorite holiday of Christmas.

Because yes, my thoughts are definitely already drifting towards Christmas.

To be honest, I usually start getting the ‘itch’ for Christmas in July. It’s like a Christmas in July effect takes over and suddenly I’m listening to my holiday playlist again and planning what new stuff I’m gonna try to cook and bake for my family and the blog. As some of my followers know, I do a yearly Christmas series of recipes and although it’s a heavy undertaking, it is one that I still look forward to doing. I’ve already got a few pegged in my mind for the series, but one of them in particular was one that I thought would be a good idea to practice with first, as it is one I’ve never done before and would require a little bit more effort.

When I was little, I loved checkerboard cookies. I thought they just had to be some kind of food wizardry that could only be done in a huge Keebler-Elf style factory with a fancy machine.How else could they arrange those two different colors/flavors in such perfect patterns? I also may as well as admit that until only recently I had no idea how it was done or that it COULD be done by a home cook/baker in their own kitchen.

But I learned. And then after studying the technique a bit, thought “Well, might as well try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?”

(Waste of dough and ingredients was the answer, but that’s kind of obvious.)

I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be necessarily easy and I will keep it one hundred with you guys: I wouldn’t recommend trying this recipe if you don’t genuinely like to bake, have some experience with working with cookie dough and are willing to be patient with yourself and the process. I’m a decent baker with quite a bit of experience working with cookie dough, I love doing it and (as you can see) my first try at checkerboard cookies still wasn’t exactly perfect.  Nevertheless, I’m still pleased with how these turned out and that I decided to do a test run before trying to make a ‘Christmas-themed’ version for the 12 Days of Christmas series.

I tried to make the directions for these as clear and detailed as possible. So, should you want to make these for yourself (and I do think you should), a few pointers: a ruler is a must here. You’re making two different cookies doughs and when you cut them, you want the portions to be as straight as possible so that when you arrange the strips, they actually look like squares. It doesn’t have to be fancy invested in a regular old blue plastic ruler that measures inches/centimeters that I bought from Target and use strictly for baking; it does the job just fine. Also, when you’re putting the doughs together to create the pattern, don’t beat yourself up if your squares don’t line up perfectly in a row. Mine don’t and I still think the integrity of the ‘checkerboard’ is preserved in the overall aesthetic of the cookie. I plan to get better the more I practice this and I’m sure you will too.

You don’t have to make the two outer ‘wrappings’ for the cookies. I just thought it looked prettier so I decided to go ahead and make some. All you’ll need to do after making the cookie recipe is halve the base recipe and use the two different doughs from the halved recipe to wrap the cookies. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Just read the recipe closely ahead of time and you’ll do fine.

Finally, don’t you dare throw out those scraps after you trim your dough logs! Cut them into mini pieces like I did and bake them off so that you get ‘bite sized checkerboards’ like the ones you see in the picture above. Aren’t they just as cute?

The labor alone involved in making these cookies make the finished product worth it–but I gotta say, the taste wasn’t a letdown either. Checkerboards have a close texture that’s slightly crisp on the outside, then buttery melt-in-the-mouth tender on the inside. The real dilemma here is going to be deciding which flavor you like better: the one where the vanilla dough is dominant or the one where the chocolate one is. I think I’m partial to vanilla, but that could very well change by Christmas time. We’ll have to see.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #186, co-hosted this week by Colleen @ Faith, Hope, Love & Luck and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

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Checkerboard Cookies

Recipe Adapted from “Classic German Baking” by Luisa Weiss

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Ingredients

  • 20 plus 1 tablespoons (300g) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 18 tablespoons (150g) powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/3 cups, minus 2 tablespoons (400g) all purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat butter until it is light and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and salt and continue to beat about 1 minute more until creamy again. Add the vanilla extract and beat until just combined. Add the flour in 1/2 cup increments, until just combined. (Use a rubber spatula throughout mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing)
Scrape out half of the dough, form into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining dough in the bowl and mix until combined. Form the dough into another flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place both in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Remove dough from the fridge. Unwrap one of the discs, then place in between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll out into a rectangle, about 8 x 5 inches long. Repeat with the second dough. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and milk. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the bottom rectangle of dough. Place one rectangle on top of the other. Press to adhere them to each other. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and save the striped strips in the fridge. Divide the rectangle lengthwise in half. Refrigerate the halves for about 15-30 minutes to allow to get firm.
Divide each of the halves into fourths, lengthwise. (A ruler or bench scraper works GREAT for ensuring straight lines) Use the four layers to make TWO checkerboard logs: Brush the tops of two of the layers with the egg wash, then place the other two on top of them. Make sure that you flip the top layers upside down before adhering so as to create the checkerboard pattern. Use your fingers or a spatula to press the logs together and smooth out the edges/corners, try to make them as square as possible. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°.

(If you would like to create the ‘outer wrapping’ for the cookies: halve the original cookie recipe and follow the same instructions, dividing the two colors, wrapping them in plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator. After you’ve finished creating the two checkerboard logs, roll one of the reserved dough discs out between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper into a long rectangle. Place one of the chilled logs on the rectangle, on the edge closest to you. Wrap the dough around the log, press lightly on the bottom to seal and trim any excess. Repeat with the other color and log. Refrigerate both for about another 30 minutes to allow to firm up.)

Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the log cross-wise into slices. Place sliced cookies on prepared baking sheets lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes, until just light golden brown. Allow to sit on baking sheet for about 60 seconds removing to wire racks to cool completely. Cut the reserved trimmings into bite sized nuggets and bake for about 13 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

(No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)