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.)

Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

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I’m not an artsy person. I wish I was….but I just am not.

When I was growing up in elementary school Art Day was one I viewed with apathy at best and dread at worst, because I knew that my creation wasn’t going to be particularly pretty to look at. Most times I just hoped it wouldn’t be the worst of the worst.

I can’t really draw. I can’t paint. Sculpting with clay and the like never really produced much more for me than misshapen blobs.

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I don’t really have much of an artistic eye or decorating skills either, which is why I feel like sometimes my pictures on the blog suffer from not being ‘styled’ as pretty as I’ve seen them on other sites. Maybe I should take a class or something.

In the meanwhile, I do what I can to make art, ‘my way’. I’ve found that way to be through cooking and baking. I get to be creative with many a recipe canvas, and I’d say that on the whole, my results aren’t too shabby.

Case in point, today’s recipe.

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I view shortbread as a blank, albeit delicious canvas. It’s a great thing all on its own, but to be at its best, I think it’s largely dependent on what you can do to elevate it so that it’s your own artistic creation.

The possibilities of elevation really are endless: Herbs. Citrus. Chocolate. Nuts. Cheese. Tea. I’ve even seen booze flavored shortbread recipes. There’s something out there for anybody and any occasion.

So, naturally it makes sense that there should be one that’s geared towards a particular occasion coming up this week, right? You know which one I’m talking about.

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Last year at about this time, I did a riff on Red Velvet cupcakes that I flavored with the Oreo Red Velvet Cookies and Creme sandwich cookies. It was a big hit that got a lot of traffic, with admittedly, for good reason. After a little bit more brainstorming, and some more experimenting I’m pleased to announce I’ve found yet another way to take these yummy flavored Oreos and use them to flavor another great dessert: shortbread.

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Shortbread is, I think, a fail-proof recipe for baking. It’s almost impossible to mess up because there are only two things you have to get right: properly creaming the butter and pricking the holes in the finished dough just before baking. You get that right and you’ll have perfect shortbread every time, guaranteed. Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to see how it could be adapted into a Red Velvet flavor without compromising on the original very much. I took about 12 of the flavored Oreos and blitzed them in my Ninja until they were a very fine reddish powder; it made about 1/2 cup’s worth. I took that and incorporated it into a base recipe for regular golden shortbread, then also added vanilla and a bit of almond extract to that dough.

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I thought about maybe scraping the filling out of the cookies before crushing them because of the moisture affecting the dough, but ultimately decided against it. I’m glad that I did. The filling I think really helps that Red Velvet/Cookies and Creme flavor really come through in the finished product. To solve the issue of the filling adding too much moisture/pasty-ness, I added about 1/4 cup extra flour, which I think easily solved that problem.

I decorated half the shortbread with a simple white icing and some leftover crushed cookie crumbs, but as you can see I left half plain for the simple reason that I think it tastes pretty darn good all on its own without needing it.

Side note, didn’t the red cookies add such a pretty pink color to the dough? I love that. I love this recipe. It makes me feel like in spite of being artistically challenged with a paint brush or modeling clay, I just may be an artiste in the kitchen after all.

Happy Fiesta Friday #158 (co-hosted this week by Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Petra @ Food Eat Love.). Also, Happy early-Valentines Day to all of you who will be doing something special with a significant other. Have a good steak and some chocolate, or something.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus 1/4 cup if needed
  • 1/2 cup crushed Red Velvet flavored crème sandwich cookies (about 10-12), plus more for decoration (optional)

For Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two nine inch cake or tart pans with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or  using a large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and extracts until light and fluffy.

Add 2 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time. Then fold in the crushed cookies. The dough should be able to hold together if pressed with your fingers. If it still seems too sticky, you may add the extra 1/4 cup of flour.

Divide the dough in half. Using your hands, press each half into a pan, using a spatula to smooth out the surface. Prick holes evenly across the surface of the dough. (This will keep it from bubbling up during baking.)

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until deep golden brown at the edges.

Wait for about 2-3 minutes, then turn shortbread out onto a plate. Using a pizza cutter, bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into desired shapes. (Note: you HAVE to cut the shortbread while it is still warm. Cutting it when it’s cold will only cause it to crumble and fall apart).

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

If decorating, combine the powdered together in a small bowl. If the glaze is too stiff, you can add more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon; don’t add too much though, or it will become too runny to set on the shortbread. Dip a fork into the glaze and allow it to drizzle off the tines and on top of the shortbread in desired design. Sprinkle the crushed cookie crumbs on top. Allow to sit for about 20-30 minutes until glaze hardens.

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Sugared Shortbread

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Good things don’t always have to come in big packages. Baking doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process to yield delicious, worthwhile packages. Christmas treats shouldn’t have to always take you a few days to crank out of the kitchen.

And this is coming from someone who will dedicate entire weekends to her baking endeavors if the recipe so calls for it.

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If you’re sitting down at the moment and thinking, “Boy, I’d really love to have a really yummy Christmas cookie right about now but I sure don’t feel like spending a bunch of time in the kitchen.”, then rest easy. There is indeed a solution to this problem.

The solution is shortbread. Sugared Shortbread to be exact.

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I really don’t know how I’ve been baking for as long as I have and *just* now got around to baking shortbread but I suppose Christmas is as good a time as any to start. This recipe is so easy, there really was no excuse for me to try and hide behind anymore. From the time I made the decision to take a stab at the shortbread to mixing the ingredients, baking, then finish was really no more than one hour, TOPS.

It was just SO simple. And the results.

I was skeptical that a cookie with so few and ‘standard’ ingredients could be something worth writing home about at all. But fortunately,even skeptics like me get proven wrong at times. I don’t know what it is about the combination of these few, simple ingredients, but they create a cookie that is really, really REALLY addictive.

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The smell as it’s baking is…wow. I was excited before I even took it out of the oven. Does it *need* the extra sprinkling of sugar on top? Not necessarily. On it’s own, it’s a pretty darn tasty stick of buttery shortbread, but the added sugar does give it that extra sweetness and an added crunchy texture on top. The texture of the shortbread itself is sandy and tender; think a thick sandie cookie that melts in your mouth. Because I prefer the flavor, I used two teaspoons of vanilla extract but this shortbread is so versatile that I could easily see using ANY other extract with excellent results: lemon, lime, coconut, anise, almond, orange. If you wanted to add in citrus zest, that too would be awesome.

Bottom line, if you’ve got about 10 minutes to spare, then you should whip together this shortbread. It’s a perfect bite of Christmas cheer if ever I took one–and I took several.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Stuffing Bread

Day 2: Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Day 3: Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Day 4: Dulce de Leche Hot Chocolate

Day 5: Almond Stamped Cookies

Day 6: Spiced Cookie Bark

Day 7: Demerara Sugar Buns

Day 8: Sugared Shortbread

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Sugared Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from New York Times

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup rice flour*
  • 1/2 cup sugar, and more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted and cooled
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

*You can make your own rice flour by pulverizing plain long grain rice in a high power blender  (like a Ninja or Nutribullet) on the highest setting until grains are very fine and powdery.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with parchment paper.

Whisk the dry ingredients (flours, sugar and salt) together with a fork or wire whisk. Pour in the melted butter and vanilla extract. Stir together until evenly combined.

Press into the bottom of the pan evenly with your hands or  rubber spatula. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with a thin layer of sugar. Bake for 5 more minutes.

Using a bench scraper or a knife, cut shortbread into slices while still warm and sprinkle more sugar on top if desired. Allow to cool completely.