Thursday, December 22, 2011

Decorating Cutout Cookie Dough

In an episode of Family Ties, Mallory predicts that heaven is like an enormous mall which never closes. I remember thinking that was a frightening concept (long before it was possible to lose an eye over the latest Xbox). As a cookie lover, I envision heaven as one big bakery with a vast variety of sprinkles and cookie cutters.

This time of year, I always set aside time out to make cutout cookies. I love decorating them with royal icing, but know it's possible to create exquisite cookies without ever pulling out a piping bag. All it requires is some cutters, sprinkles, and your untapped creative juices. The first step is to cut a basic shape from your cookie dough. Here, I used a snowflake. Then think about ways to embellish the basic pattern. Reach for your smallest cutters, but also other objects (thinking outside the box).

I've long admired the intricately decorated snowflake cookies that are displayed in high-end home goods catalogs. This year, I set out to recreate them. Using a tiny star cookie cutter, I marked the center of each cookie. Then, I pressed piping tips around the star shape to produce a delicate circular pattern. You can also make circles using the tip of a straw. Look around your house and find a way to re-purpose other objects. Create patterns with the tongs of a fork. Use the tip of a knife.

Once you have cut patterns into the cookie dough, use sprinkles to add texture and color. I pressed shimmery dragees into my snowflake cookies to catch the light.

A few years ago, I bought a patterned rolling pin at a super sale. The design reminded me of Dr. Seuss's books. I'm pretty sure it's meant for imprinting fondant, but I decided to test it out on cookie dough. I coated it with a dusting of flour and pressed in over some dough I had rolled out. It left a wonderful, whimsical pattern. I used cutters to shape cookies out of the patterned canvass. The lesson? If you have any tools for decorating fondant, don't overlook them!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Browned Butter Cardamom Cookies

By the end of November, I begin nudging my parents to buy a freshly harvested evergreen from the local hardware store. That may seem awfully early, but I know it will take several weeks for them to act. In the meantime, I drag a 50 pound box out of storage and construct a fake spruce in my living room, branch by lettered branch.

Ever since I left for college a tree has become optional in our family Christmas celebration. When I spent a year in Japan in my early 20s, my parents decided not to bother with one at all. Miles away, I celebrated Christ's birth with a tiny artificial tree that I found while wandering around Kamakura. When I returned to the states, I bequeathed the tree to the American teacher that replaced me.

I can do without a single present at Christmas, but somehow the idea of not decorating a tree makes me despair. I love the ritual of clearing a space for one in my parent's kitchen and the debate that follows about whether it's standing upright or not. I also love passing homemade cookies around the table while the tree's lights flicker softly in the background.


Years ago, a kitchen savvy neighbor told my mom that some of the best recipes are the ones that food companies use to promote their products. So when I found Land O' Lakes recipe for
Brown Buttered Cardamom Cookies I rushed to try it. I love the rich caramel-like aroma of browned butter so preparing the cookies was almost as enjoyable as eating them.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fudgy Rocky Road Bars

When I was in high school, it was cool to cruise the mall. It had a movie theater, an arcade, and a Baskin Robbins store across from a circular fountain ringed with seating. I often made my way there with a friend on Friday nights. We would treat ourselves to ice cream at the end of the evening

Despite the choice of 31 flavors, my friend always ordered a single scoop of vanilla. I, on the other hand, was slowly working my way through every concoction they offered. Pink bubble gum, strawberry cheesecake, orange sherbet. Admittedly, there were some doozies along the way (thankfully nothing with bacon). But I believed all great adventures come with some missteps.

Exasperated, one night I urged my friend to try something new.

When we got to the counter she paused for a moment.

"Could I have a scoop of French vanilla?"

I have no memory of French vanilla, but over the years I delighted in cone after cone of Rocky Road.

I loved uncovering the squishy marshmallows and crunchy almonds buried beneath the decadent chocolate. When I saw this recipe for Fudgy Rocky Road Bars, I found myself longing for the mall and mullets and the gentle give of marshmallows.

My two cents worth on this recipe...

I swapped a bar of Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate for the chocolate chips and, it was delicious.

I had trouble spreading the marshmallow cream over the almonds and graham crackers and, advise dolloping it on top instead. The recipe calls for swirling the marshmallow cream and chocolate at the end so you'll have a second chance to spread it out evenly.

This is a rich fudge-like dessert. (It calls for nearly a pound of chocolate so I made half the recipe to test it out). I suggest cutting the bars into small pieces. Heat a sharp knife by dipping it in warm water, dry it, and then use it to form the bars.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cardamom Coconut Cookies

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)



Makes 30 cookies


1 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 large egg
1/2 cup raisins, chopped
1/3 cup cashew nuts, chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)


Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat butter with a hand mixer until smooth. Slowly add granulated sugar and brown sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.

Add vanilla extract, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Beat for 1 minute.

Add egg and beat until incorporated.

With the hand mixer on slow, gradually beat in flour mixture. Add raisins, cashews and coconut. Beat until just incorporated.

Spoon dough onto baking sheets two inches apart.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

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