Christmas Elf Bites

Every year for the 12 Days of Christmas I try to include at least one recipe in the series for any of the followers or visitors to this blog who don’t like to cook or bake, or those who want to cook or bake but just don’t believe that they can.

You’ll notice that I specifically did NOT say that they *couldn’t* cook or bake–that was on purpose.

Take it from someone who not too long ago, couldn’t do much else but scramble eggs and boil water for pasta: you can cook. You can bake. You really can. Yes, even without the help of a cake mix or pre-made cookie dough. It’s possible. This holiday, you can bake 100% from scratch without messing it up, and come out with something you’ll not only enjoy, but be able to share with others who are definitely going to enjoy it too.

I don’t want to shame anyone who doesn’t like to bake or thinks that they can’t bake at all. It’s not something that everyone is going to love to do. I get that. But honestly, today’s recipe is about as easy and basic as you can get for baking without using a frozen dough–and I guarantee that this is going to taste better than ALL of those. (Baked goods made from scratch always do.)

This starts with a very simple, straightforward shortbread. Because it is so simple, I recommend your using a good butter for it. Generic butter has a much higher ratio of water in it, and therefore has less flavor. Name brand butter (especially the European ones) is far more cultured than generic. I don’t mean ‘culture’ as in sophistication–I mean that is has been churned longer in order to have a higher ratio of fat in it. More fat = flavor. You’d be surprised the difference it makes.

This is a rather whimsical themed recipe, and because I think almond extract gives a ‘whimsical’ flavor to baked goods, that’s what I used to flavor these. Vanilla will work just as well, as will citrus extract or zest you add to the flour as well. I also hand kneaded in some sprinkles to give them some color (don’t use a mixer to do this, it will make them bleed prematurely and they may stain messily while baking). The dough is first pressed into a square baking pan and chilled. From there, you lift it out of the pan in one block, cut it up into mini bite sized pieces, then bake.

And that’s literally it. 15 minutes later, you’re done. Sound easy enough?

These cookie bites are a delicious idea for gift giving & stocking stuffers. They’re easy enough to do with the kiddies. They’re small enough to have dessert without feeling guilty. Plus, I just find them cute to look at, so I gave them a cute “Christmas-y” themed name to match. Ho ho ho.

We just started the 12 Days of Christmas a few days ago, so go back and check out Day 1’s recipe if you haven’t seen it yet!

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

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Christmas Elf Bites

Recipe Courtesy of Land O Lakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon multi-colored nonpareils

Directions

Line a square 8 or 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl combine the flour with the salt and stir together with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the almond extract.

Slowly stir in the flour, mixing just until combined. Use your hands to gently knead in the nonpareils. Press the dough into the pan, doing your best to make the top smooth and flat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the corners of the paper to lift the dough out of the pan. Use a sharp knife, pizza wheel or a bench scraper to cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares. Gently place the squares about 1/2 inch apart on a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they’re just beginning to turn golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Vanilla-Red Pinwheels

Hey, everyone. If you’ve been following me for a while, then you’ll know that this is the time of year where I start the 12 Days of Christmas–an annual series of twelve baking recipes I post during the month of December that remind me of the holidays. Growing up, my mom and my grandmother baked a LOT of delicious things at Christmastime.

Apart from loving to eat it, I also just loved the overall atmosphere that all of their baking created in the house. Now that I’m an adult, I guess this series is my way of recreating that atmosphere for myself, and for the people who I love. I look forward to it every year, and I hope y’all enjoy it too. (Also, if you’re interested in viewing the series from past years, you can search the 12 Days of Christmas tag to find past recipes for the past few years.)

I knew even in the early days of planning this years series that I was going to make these. They’d been on my radar for a while for two reasons: first, I just can’t resist a butter cookie. Second, pinwheel cookies are so pretty, they’re nearly hypnotizing. I remember the first time I saw one. I just stared at it, becoming more and more determined with every passing minute that I was going to figure out how it was made asap and make a batch for myself.

I know that pinwheels look like they’re super elaborate, but the actual construction of them isn’t that difficult. Honestly, the ‘trickiest’ part is making sure the dough is at the right temperature for when it’s time to combine & roll the two different colored doughs together. Too cold and it will crack when you try to roll it. Too warm and it won’t hold the pinwheel design of the two colors. Don’t worry, though: because this is a basic butter cookie dough, it is very forgiving. If you think the dough is too cold, simply leave it out for a few extra minutes before you try to roll. It you think it’s too warm, leave it in the fridge for a little bit longer. You’re going to find that happy medium, I promise.

A lot of pinwheel recipes are either a vanilla-chocolate mix of doughs. Some are a single vanilla dough where one half has just been dyed with food coloring. For mine, I went with a vanilla dough and a red one that I flavored with a Red Velvet Emulsion from LorAnn oils. I also flipped the order of layering in my second log so that there is a vanilla wrapped cookie dough AND a Red Velvet flavored one. Also, don’t you dare throw away the scraps from when you trim the doughs! Those pretty tie-dye patterned cookies you see below are made solely from my scraps. I gently kneaded them together with my hands into a log, then wrapped it up with the others. When you cut it, you can see that the colors marble together and hold their design even after baking. Nothing wasted.

These cookies are excellent; like a classic butter cookie, they’re slightly crisp with a crumb that melts in your mouth. The two flavors work beautifully together. And (of course), they make one heck of an impression when presented on a plate. Not too shabby a start for the 12 Days of Christmas, eh?

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Vanilla-Red Pinwheels

Recipe Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of LorAnn Oils Red Velvet Emulsion (you can also use a strawberry or raspberry flavoring. A combination of 1 of these flavorings with Red food coloring will also work)

Directions

In a medium sized bowl combine the flour with the salt and baking powder. Stir together with a fork, then set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld one), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, stirring just until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in batches, stirring just until combined.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a plate. Divide it in half. Set one aside, and place the other back into the bowl. Add the the 1 teaspoon of Red Velvet emulsion and stir until it’s uniform in color. Remove the Red Dough from the Bowl.

Divide the Vanilla Dough into 2 portions. Divide the Red Dough into 2 portions. You should now have four balls of dough. Roughly shape each one into a rectangle, then wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate them for about 30 minutes, or until firm.

Remove one of the vanilla doughs from the fridge. Sprinkle a clean surface (like a pastry mat or a piece of wax or parchment paper you’ve taped to your counter) with powdered sugar. Lay a piece of parchment paper down, place the dough on top of the paper, then place a second piece of parchment on top of that. Roll out the dough until it’s about 6 x 12 in size. As your roll, occasionally move it around/flip it, just to make sure it doesn’t stick. When it’s the right size, (keeping it sandwiched between the parchment paper)transfer the rolled out dough to a baking sheet.

Repeat this process with the other doughs. Place the baking sheet with the doughs in the freezer for 15 minutes. It should be firm, but not stiff–too stiff and it won’t roll properly.

Remove one of the vanilla doughs and one of the red doughs. Peel away the top parchment paper from them both. Flip the red dough on top of the vanilla dough so that they are sandwiched together. Peel the bottom paper from the raspberry dough. Trim the edges so that the 2 doughs line up. Carefully and tightly roll from the long end into a log, peeling away the bottom layer of parchment as you go.

Repeat this sandwiching and rolling process, but this time put the red dough layer on the bottom so that when you roll the dough, the red dough is on the outside.

(There is an excellent step by step pictured process of this, located here.)

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Don’t throw away the scraps from the trimmings! I gently kneaded them together with my hands and formed a tie-dye patterned log that I also refrigerated with the pinwheel cookies.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to slice the cookies into slices 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Place them about 1 inch apart on the sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until they begin to just turn golden brown on the bottom & at the edges. Allow to set up for 60 seconds on the baking sheet before removing to a wire rack 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.)

I’ll be linking this post up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #252, co-hosted this week by Alex @ Turks Who Eat and Zeba @ Food For The Soul.

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

Chewy Ginger Cookie Bars

Y’all, do me a quick favor. Look to the right of your screen and locate the search bar.

Type in the word ‘ginger’. Hit the search button.

What do you see?

My guess would be that quite a few posts are going to pop up.

The reason for this is very simple: I love ginger. I have a very strong appreciation of it. I look for ways to throw it into dishes that may not have originally called for it. Whether you’re using it for a sweet or savory dish, both ground and fresh ginger are fantastic stuff to have around.

I’ve mentioned before that I make my own ginger syrup to help with my stomach issues. The only thing about making ginger syrup is that after you’ve made the syrup, you’re left with quite a bit of candied/crystallized ginger that’s been simmered in the sugar syrup.

Not that I’m complaining. Apart from being delicious to snack on it by itself, candied ginger is one of my favorite things to bake with. Today’s recipe features a double whammy of both ground and candied ginger.

Sometimes I want cookies, but also just don’t feel like making the dough, letting it rest & chill in the fridge, then rolling or scooping it out into individual portions. What I love about cookie bars is that they take the extra labor out of making actual cookies. There’s no chilling time required. You don’t have to portion the dough out individually. After the dough is made, it all gets pressed into one pan and baked off together. You can seriously make this in less than 10 minutes, and have it baked & finished in less than 1 hour. It couldn’t be easier.

This recipe started out from a basic sugar cookie bar that I altered. I swapped out some of the white sugar for brown sugar, then added molasses, ground ginger and candied ginger. Apart from the warm, spicy flavors of these bars, I  think that the texture is my favorite part.

They have a well balanced density, but it’s not so much that it’ll get stuck in your teeth. It’s like that perfect sweet spot that you get in the center of a drop cookie–except, here it’s in the whole thing. I ate mine still warm with whipped cream and caramel. To say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement.

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Chewy Ginger Cookie Bars

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup crystallized ginger, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides; coat the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium size bowl combine the flour, ground ginger and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugars and molasses into the melted butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring briskly. Add the vanilla.

Fold in the dry ingredients into the wet, stirring just until combined. Fold in the minced crystallized ginger. Spread the dough into the baking dish with an oiled spatula.

Bake until the edges are set but the center is soft, about 25-30 minutes. Allow to sit in pan for about 10 minutes, then use the foil to lift out of the baking dish and transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into square bars.

Sharing at the Fiesta Friday #248, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

Honey Sugar Cookies

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I’ll go ahead and say it again: I have a mild obsession with sugar cookies.

I use the term ‘mild’ rather loosely. The reality is, I adore them. I think they’re the best dessert that there is. I could eat them every day (I don’t, but I could). I’ve shared more than a few recipes for them on the blog already. I do have my favorites, but there’s honestly something about each one that makes them different and delicious in their own way.

Take it from someone well practiced in eating them: all sugar cookies aren’t created equal. They don’t all come out the same way. Part of this comes down to personal preference. Part of it comes down to the ingredients. Some people are on Team Crispy Sugar Cookies. Others (like me) are on Team Soft Sugar Cookies. Some prefer them unfrosted/un-iced and others won’t take them any other way.

While I do like a good hardened glaze, I will say that I’ve found that a truly good sugar cookie won’t need it. It just won’t. The cookie texture itself will be soft enough to where it doesn’t need the moisture from frosting or glaze. The flavor of vanilla, almond or citrus will be strong enough to not need the added sugar in a frosting or glaze to make it sweet enough to taste like something besides flour.

(And you would be surprised at how often that happens. Like I said: they ain’t all created equal.)

Typically I only try new sugar cookies recipes if there’s something about them that appeals to me. I was flipping through Food Network Magazine one day and I saw this one. It appealed to me, not just because the cookies were pretty, but because they included an ingredient that I had never used in a cookie dough before: honey.

I’ve used honey before in gingerbread. It functions as both a sweetener and a way to keep the final product moist. Because I liked the results with gingerbread, I thought it would be worthwhile to see how it would affect sugar cookies, which are typically sweetened with just…sugar. These do have sugar too, but they also have about 1/4 cup of honey.

Because it’s autumn, I decided to use a pumpkin cookie cutter for these. They hold their shape very well so just about any cookie cutter you wanted to use will work great.

I really, really liked how they turned out. The honey gives them a special sweetness and flavor–you can definitely tell the difference between this and regular sugar cookies. They’re soft and slightly chewy. They’re delicious. Have a good weekend, everyone.

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Honey Sugar Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the honey and egg, mixing just until combined and yellow disappears. Add the vanilla.

In a small bowl combine the flour with baking powder and the salt, stirring together with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 1 cup increments, mixing just until combined.

Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie cutter into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess and transfer to cookie sheets. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.*

Freeze cut out cookies for 10-20 minutes.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with a little bit more sugar. Bake in the oven on the middle rack until just golden brown, about 18-20 minutes. Allow to sit on the pan for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack 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.)

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #244, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes.

Vanilla Wafers

This week’s episode of the Cooking is My Sport show is entitled “But Jess…Is It Really Worth It, Though?”

Thank you for tuning in. It’s going to be a good one.

Over the past few years on the blog, I’ve shared recipes for things that many of us could, theoretically buy from elsewhere rather than make ourselves. It is easier and more convenient go to our local grocery store and buy something with little to no trouble.

I could buy quite a few of the things that I post here–if not from a grocery store, then from a bakery or something. And though even EYE I am not going to go to the trouble of making something like, puff pastry, for the most part, I really do cook or bake most of what we eat. Why do I do this?

Because I believe it’s worth it. I really do.

If you ask, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake Christmas cookies rather than just buying some in a store, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Ask “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake your own cake from scratch, then go to the trouble of making your own buttercream and skip the store bought cake with that greasy, lardy crap, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Come to me with, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to make biscuits from scratch when they’re available at the local chicken joint, I am DEFINITELY gonna say, yes. It’s worth it.

(My biscuits are better than any others that you can buy anywhere else anyway. Including Popeyes. Yeah, I said it.)

I shared the recipe for my grandma’s banana pudding on the blog years ago. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever made–but up until recently I had always made it with store-bought vanilla wafers. I’ll be honest and admit that is the way that she makes it, and it tastes fantastic. But recently, I decided to see what it would be like if I went the extra mile and made the pudding with vanilla wafers that I made by myself. Any guesses on how it went? Anyone?

OHMYGODGAMECHANGER.

From the beginning, I had two major concerns for the recipe as a whole: the short, crisp texture of store-bought wafers and the intense vanilla flavor. If I wasn’t going to get a comparable or superior result to the store-bought version, it just wouldn’t be worth it in the long run to make them. I’m pleased to report that this recipe delivers on both. They are crisp, but the butter keeps them from being too crunchy or crumbly. They’re not too sweet, and that vanilla flavor is spot on. Even if I had no intention of making banana pudding at all, I still would’ve considered this time well spent–it’s that tasty a cookie.

Go ahead and ask me: “But Jess…is it REALLY worth it, though?”

Yes. It’s worth it.

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Vanilla Wafers

Recipe Adapted from Williams Sonoma

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour with the salt, stir together with a fork and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a hand-held one) cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Stir the flour into the butter mixture, just until blended. (If it’s a little dry, you can add a few tablespoons of milk, one at a time, just until it holds together.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Sprinkle a rolling pin and clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper) with powdered sugar.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Keep the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the 1 portion to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a small (1 1/2 inch), round cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Place the rounds on the sheet pans.

Refrigerate the cookies on the pans for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle each one with white sugar, then bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges and bottoms are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks and let cool completely.

(Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #242, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Jen @ Apply To Face Blog.)

Perfect Butter Cookies

Some of you may have noticed that there was no new post last week–or maybe you didn’t. I took a break last week from posting for no particular reason, but as I’m going to be taking a trip this coming week, I wanted to make sure I got one up today so that I didn’t let another week go by without updating the blog. I’m a stickler for consistency.

Having said that, because I am getting ready to travel, the theme of today’s post is short, simple and sweet.

Although I do like taking on hefty baking projects like layer cake, they do take a lot of time and effort. There are some times when I don’t have the time or energy to put in all of the work–but I’ll still want dessert. A good one.

So, what do I do?

I keep it simple. I keep it sweet. And I make butter cookies.

I don’t know, y’all. There’s just something so special about a butter cookie that’s executed perfectly. They have practically no embellishments at all, which means there’s no room for error and no other components to hide mistakes. Either that butter cookie is going to taste good, or it isn’t.

These do. In fact they’re more than good; as I’ve chosen to call them in the recipe, they’re perfect. You can call that choice over-confidence. I prefer honest. Tomato tomato.

You ready to find out how to make them? It couldn’t be easier.

There are several things that make these the ‘perfect’ butter cookie to me. The flavors are simple, but pronounced: vanilla with hints of a citrus of your choice (I chose orange.) The flavors are also going to improve in the next few days after the cookies are baked. They’re not overly sweet, but if you’re using a good quality butter you’re not going to need them to be.

The texture of these is also what I was going for. I do like soft, cakey cookies but when I want a perfect butter cookie I do prefer it to have a light crispiness. These have got it. If you’d prefer them not to, just take them out earlier.

Lastly, if y’all have been following this blog and seen a good number of my cookie posts before, you know that one of my baking petty peeves is when the cookies spread too much and become warped. I hate that. Because butter cookies are so simple, I like mine to look as clean and neat as possible. The cookies in this recipe hold their shape perfectly which means they’ll work for ANY cutter shape you want to use (hint, they’d make perfect Christmas cookies).

Okay. I think my work here is done. Have a good weekend y’all. Try the cookies–you’ll like ’em. Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #228.

R.I.P to Anthony Bourdain.

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Perfect Butter Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Land O Lakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (preferably LorAnn’s Butter Vanilla Emulsion )
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • White sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

In a medium bowl combine the  flour with the baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg, orange juice and vanilla and combine until just combined. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing until just combined.

Scrape the dough out and onto a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the one.

Sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper or a cutting board) with powdered sugar or flour. Roll out the quarter of dough to your desired thickness (I wouldn’t go thinner than 1/4 inch) Cut into whatever desired shapes you like. I used a 2- to 2 ½-inch cookie cutter, cut the dough into shapes and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. I then used a ¾- to 1-inch  cookie cutter, and cut out the centers from half of the cookies. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary. Also don’t throw away the centers, as they make delicious mini cookie bites.

Place the sheet pans in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with the sugar, and bake for 6-10 minutes.  Let cool on pans for 3 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks.

Honey Cardamom Cut Out Cookies

I’ve been making a lot of cookies lately. The reasons are varied, but as that’s just where things have been at in the kitchen, y’all can expect a few of the next posts in the coming weeks to be cookie-themed. Personally I think it’s impossible for there to be too many cookie-anything, but that’s just my opinion. And while you’re here, I might as well give another one:

Cut out cookies are the best kind.

What ARE cut outs?

Cut out cookies are cookies that are baked with the intention of holding a particular shape. Mostly, they tend to fall on the sugar cookie flavored spectrum. This is different than say, a drop cookie (like chocolate chip cookies), where the dough is dropped from an ice cream scoop or teaspoon. Most cut out cookie doughs are sturdy and durable in order to be able to withhold being rolled out by a rolling pin and pressed out by cookie cutters.Drop cookies are undoubtedly less laborious than cut outs, as you don’t have to bother with cutting out the shapes. Because sugar cookies tend to be my favorite, I still prefer cut outs. Provided you have a tasty flavored dough, I feel that they are worth the extra effort.

I’ve said it dozens of times before and I’ll keep saying it for anyone who may be reading this post and thinking that cut outs are too hard to attempt: it really does come down to how you treat the dough. Cut out cookie dough (heck, MOST cookie dough) requires very specific treatment in order to get the pretty, magazine quality aesthetics that you want. I’ve baked hundreds (maybe even thousands at this point) of cookies at this point in my baking adventures and I’ve been truly mortified to find that too many of the recipes out there omit what I believe is the most important step in cookie baking:

Chilling the dough.

I just don’t understand it. SO many cut out cookie recipes I’ve seen instruct you to bake the cookies just minutes after putting the dough together.

This is just…not good advice.

In the first place, the fat (butter) in the dough should be thoroughly creamed and softened by the time that you’re finished mixing it. This is what makes the dough sticky. Room temp, sticky cookie dough WILL produce cookies that spread, and spread a lot. This completely defeats the purpose of cut out cookies–the more that they spread, the more that the shapes you spent all that time cutting out will be warped by the heat of the oven. Even drop cookie dough that is baked when too warm will produce cookies that are flat as pancakes instead of puffy, craggy cookies that at least resemble domes. Ask me how I know.

Cookie dough should be VERY cold when it hits the oven. Not warm and sticky. Not cool. COLD. The colder it is, the easier it will be to cut out, and the better your shapes will hold up.Therefore, In almost every single one of the cookie recipes I share, I will tell you to refrigerate the finished cookie dough for at least one hour (but preferably overnight) in order to give the butter in the dough plenty of time to firm up. Additionally, whenever I make cut outs, I take it a step further and chill the cookies for a few minutes after I’ve cut them out. Excessive? Maybe. But I’d prefer to let the results speak for themselves.

I made these primarily because they were a departure from the usual vanilla sugar cut out cookie that I make and I was curious as to how they would turn out. They’re sweetened with both white sugar and honey, and spiced with cardamom and ground ginger. After cutting them out, I also sprinkled the tops with cinnamon sugar to give them a bit of texture. You don’t necessarily need to cut out the middles if you don’t have a tiny cutter, or if you just don’t want to. Just please give your dough the proper amount of chilling time in the fridge so that the shapes you cut them in will hold up.

These aren’t overly sweet, and the spices do most of the work flavor-wise. I also found that they also improve in flavor the longer that they have to sit, so they may taste even better on the second or third day after you make them then they do on the first. Just place a slice of bread in the container you store them in, and they’ll be sure to stay soft (that’s a tip from my bag of tricks that works for any baked cookie, actually).

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #222, co-hosted this week by Antonia @ Zoale.com.

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Honey Cardamom Cut Out Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Bake from Scratch

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

In a medium bowl combine the  flour with the cardamom, ginger, salt and baking soda with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolk, honey and vanilla and combine until just combined. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing until just combined.

Scrape the dough out and onto a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the one.

Sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper or a cutting board) with powdered sugar or flour. Roll out the quarter of dough to your desired thickness (I wouldn’t go thinner than 1/4 inch) Cut into whatever desired shapes you like. I used a 2- to 2 ½-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds and placed on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. I then used a ¾- to 1-inch round cookie cutter, and cut out the centers from half of the cookies. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary. Also don’t throw away the centers, as they make delicious mini cookie bites.

Place the sheet pans in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar, and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Let cool on pans for 3 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks.