Sugar Skull Butter Cookies

I really do need to chill with this preoccupation I have with collecting cookie stamps. I can admit that it’s starting to become an obsession. To my own credit though, I will say that I’ve kept it an inexpensive one. Most of the ones that I’m finding, buying and using are inexpensive and the results that they’ve been yielding are so great that I justify it to myself that it was too good of a deal to pass up.

Secondly, I also think that I just may be addicted to the actual process of making them. There’s something I’ve found to be very therapeutic to being alone in the kitchen, rolling out cookie dough, stamping out the design, transferring them to cookie sheets, chilling them, then baking them and seeing how pretty they turn out, all while music or a podcast plays in the background.

Third, whenever I’ve found a new stamp/mold and tested it out with stellar results, I’m always excited to pull out my camera to take pictures and write up a post so that I can show it off to all of you. That’s always lots of fun.

I’ve known I was going to do this post for months, which is when I first bought these cookie cutters/stamps from Amazon. They’d been on my wishlist for a while but they were at a price that I found to be….excessive. Fortunately my patience paid off because eventually it lowered waaaaay down to where they were practically a steal and I ordered them straightaway.

I’ve been baking for Dia de los Muertos for a few years on the blog. Both of those recipes were variations on the Pan de Muerto, which is a traditional bread that’s typically made and eaten for the holiday. Skeletons and elaborately designed sugar skulls are a huge part of the celebrations and overall aesthetic as well. So when I saw these cookie cutters, I knew at once that I would want to make them as both a Halloween and Dia de los Muerto post.

Y’all I’m so happy with these cookies. They came out EXACTLY like I wanted them to, and I have to attribute it to the consistency of the dough. As I’ve mentioned before, when making any stamped cookie, it’s important to work with a dough that isn’t going to spread or puff up so that the intricacy of your design will be preserved. Shortbread is perfect for this, as are most standard butter cookie recipes, like this one.

I really wanted the design of the cookie to be the star here, so I kept the flavor of these simple: two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste did the trick. Although, I could see almond, lemon or orange extracts working well too. The consistency is thick and soft, just how I like my sugar cookies to be.

Let me also say that although I did provide the link for where you guys can buy these cutters for yourself, this cookie recipe will work great for ANY cookie stamp/mold that you have. You also don’t have to use one at all; either just roll out the dough, cut out any shape you want or shape the whole thing into a log then cut off into rounds, and follow the directions for baking as usual. Either way, I guarantee that you’re going to love the cookies. Happy Halloween, Dia de lose Muertos and Fiesta Friday #195 co-hosted this week by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Sandhya @ Indfused!

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Sugar Skull Butter Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Springerle Joy

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Ingredients

  • 2 sticks, plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened (250 grams)
  • 150 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 450 grams all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

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

Add the egg and the vanilla and mix until combined.

Stir together the flour and salt in a small bowl. Add it to the wet ingredients in small increments until thoroughly combined. Scrape dough together into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least for one hour.

Sprinkle a clean surface (like a pastry mat or wax paper) with flour. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the dough you’re not using in the fridge while you work. Roll out each quarter to about 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle the surface the dough lightly with flour. Dip your cookie cutter into flour, then tap out to release excess. Firmly press the cutter into the dough, wiggle it around a little to release the excess, then lightly tap it down on counter to release the cookie.

Place stamped cookie onto a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment paper. Keep the sheet pan in the fridge while you repeat the above process with the rest of the cookie dough. (Note: You MUST flour and tap out the excess of each mold, EACH time you stamp out a new cookie. If your dough is too soft, place it in the fridge until it hardens back up enough for you to cut it out.)

Allow the cookies to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take the sheet pan out of the fridge and bake on the middle rack for about 14-15 minutes, until the bottoms of cookies are just turning beginning to turn golden. Allow to sit on sheet pan for about 60 seconds before removing to wire racks 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.)

Pan de Muerto- Day of the Dead Bread

Pan de Muerto1

Last night was (as we all know) Halloween. However, it was also the start of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It was something that I hadn’t even heard of until I was in middle school, and a traveling performing arts troupe did a short dramatization for us. To this day, I still remember being intrigued by it, and that started what continues to be a mild fascination with the Day of the Dead.

For those that haven’t heard of it, don’t freak out. It’s not a morbid, gothic thing exactly. In fact, after studying the history behind the holiday itself, you find out that it’s actually a very meaningful part of ancient Hispanic culture.

Pan de Muerto2

So let’s take it back. Way back. Back into time. When the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs around 1521, they tried to force Catholicism upon them in an attempt to try and eradicate their ancient religious rituals. In Catholicism, there are holidays called All Saints Day and All Souls Day that takes place November 1st and 2nd of every year. Although a large part of the Aztec culture was suppressed by the Spaniards, they still managed to preserve bits and pieces of their culture even in the midst of their oppression and cultural suppression. The Day of the Dead was one of those results.

Celebrated from October 31st to November 2nd, it’s a shortened version of the Aztec Mictecacihuatl festival that gives honor and memoriam to loved ones who have passed away. One of the most common practices for the Day of the Dead is to build beautiful altars with flowers, candles, pictures of dead loved ones, as well as various Mexican foods. One of the most important of these foods is the Pan de Muerto- or in English, the Bread of the Dead.

Pan de Muerto3

I’ve been waiting for months now to make this bread, not just because I thought the ingredients sounded great, but also because I think it’s just really cool to look at. The bread’s shape is representative of the Day of the Dead itself, with the dough being shaped into bones that are topped with a skull.

I’ll be honest, this reminds me a lot of the Jewish egg-based Challah bread, with the very notable exception of the anise in the Pan de Muerto that gives it a slight licorice aftertaste, as well as the delicious cinnamon sugar that gets sprinkled on the top just before it goes into the oven. It’s very tender and soft on the inside, and would also be perfect for later use in bred puddings or french toast.

Plus like I said: isn’t it just SO cool to look at?

Oh yeah, and those people in the picture? My great-grandparents, Isaac and Lily-Mae Haynes. They’ve passed away, so in a way I guess this bread is for them. Happy Día de los Muertos!

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Pan de Muerto- Day of the Dead Bread

Recipe Courtesy of “Bake” by Edward Gee

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 1/3 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Put the yeast into a large bowl with the water, stir to dissolve, and let stand for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the milk into a saucepan set over medium heat, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and add butter, 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt. Stir until dissolved. Add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture.

2. Add one egg and the flour to the liquid ingredients, mix to combine, then knead until a smooth, silky dough forms. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into four pieces. Set one piece aside. Using the palms of your hands, shape each of the remaining pieces into three ropes of equal length.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper. Weave the three dough ropes into a braid and join the ends to make a round loaf. Take the reserved piece of dough and shape it into 2 bones and a skull. Arrange these on top of the loaf and press lightly. Put on the prepared baking sheet and let rise for 45 minutes, to an hour.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix together the anise, cinnamon, and the remaining sugar in a small bowl. Beat the remaining egg and brush it onto the braided dough (do not brush the skull and bones), then sprinkle with the anise mixture.

6. Bake the bottom of the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden. If it’s browning too quickly, cover with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and put on a wire rack to cool.