Last Christmas I went on a gingerbread cookie binge after finding a surprisingly good recipe in Baking Illustrated. The only problem was the only cookie cutters I had were circles and hearts. There are few sights sadder than a tray of gingerbread cookies cut into circles and hearts, believe you me. Adding insult to injury was the memory of the awesome cutter set we had when I was a kid. It had at least one cutter for every season, including shamrocks, turkeys, pumpkins, flowers, and… a hatchet. I didn’t put the hatchet together with President’s Day until much later in life, so to me it always seemed so delightfully absurd. Circles and hearts? Are no hatchet. The time had come (some six months later) to remedy this by investing in some more exciting cookie cutter shapes. Several trips to Wilton later, this was what I ended up with:
That’s four or five (I lost count) sets of seasonal cookie cutters crammed into one plastic tub. No more circles and hearts for me! I’ve got gingerbread men, snowflakes, angels and bells for Christmas; pumpkins, turkeys, schoolhouses and leaves for Autumn; witches, ghosts, haunted houses and spiders for Halloween; sheep, flowers, chicks and watering cans for Spring. Sadly, there’s no hatchet, but I can’t win them all. These cookie cutters had been burning a hole through that plastic bucket, just waiting for me to take them for a spin. The perfect opportunity afforded itself in the form of the latest Martha Stewart Magazine: Red, White, and Blue Stars.
The jam-filled butter cookies looked so beautiful in the magazine, I couldn’t resist.
Not only would I get to try a new kind of cookie, but I could use my new cutters. The result would surely be as beautiful as Martha’s!
Making the dough was easy enough (and I learned a new skill — separating yolks from whites) which was good because the rest of the recipe sounded fussy. (Schnookie reminded me about four hours too late that Martha’s recipes are always notoriously fussy. Information that would have been useful yesterday!) I was to refrigerate it for three hours, then roll it, freeze it for 30 minutes, layer the dough with jam, freeze it for 30 more minutes, cut the shapes out, brush with cream and sanding sugar, then freeze it again for 15 minutes, then bake. To me this just seemed like a few steps mixed into an otherwise restful afternoon of doing needlework and watching MacGyver DVDs. Not so.
Thing started to fall apart (literally) when I took the dough out of the fridge for it’s first rolling. The dough was impossible to roll. When I finally did manage to make some headway, huge chunks would crack completely off. I had wanted to roll it on the granite countertop, but it stuck too much, so I had to roll it directly on parchment paper which moved around too much while I was rolling. The whole thing was a disaster. The dough was supposed to be rolled into rectangles that I could layer them and have them line up perfectly so as to offer me enough surface area to get 40 sandwich cookies. HA! I was just happy to have four misshapen blobs when I finished. I will say I was pretty impressed with how uniformly 1/8″ thick the misshapen blobs were. I won’t, however, lie and say I didn’t have a pretty ugly meltdown over how frustrating the experience was. I believe the phrase, “I don’t care how good these are, I’m never making them again” might have been uttered.
The layering of the jam was pretty easy, although it did look very much like something out of “Semi-Homemade”. Cutting the cookies was a blast. I used as many cutters as I thought seemed seasonally appropriate (or fun to try); I made some flowers, some half-moons, some sheep, some umbrellas. Everything seemed to be fine except for the fact that there was no way this was making even close to 40 cookies. There was so much wasted dough. So much. I put some scraps on the tray to bake up but for the most part, they were too small and thin and the jam was too oozy to make transfering them worth it. Moreover, some of the cookies cracked when I moved them, letting jam seep onto the face of the cookie. I didn’t help things at all by leaving the second dough sandwich out while cutting the first. Lessons learned, as they say. (Another lesson learned? Gene the Wonder Fridge runs really, really cold. If a recipe asks for dough to be frozen for 30 minutes, the fridge will do. If it asks for dough to be refrigerated for any amount of time — I need to cut that amount of time in half.)
Anyway, once they were all cut and cream-washed I sprinkled them with sanding sugar. Martha’s look so glossy and sparkly in her picture. I knew I couldn’t get that same look because Schnookie couldn’t locate the clear sanding sugar, meaning I had to use the fun-fetti colored sanding crystals. A good craftsman never blames their tools unless they’re stuck with just fun-fetti crystals.
Finally, into the oven they went! They baked up like a charm (with some extra time than the recipe asked for; like Gene, the oven runs a little cold, I guess). I had succeeded in creating a lovely, Martha Stewart-esque cookie:
See that pretty cookie there! What cookie, where?
Look at it, all sparkly and fun, and perfectly star-shaped! Look at it’s neat little layer of raspberry jam! Look at it’s perfectly browned edges! It’s a thing of beauty!
Could I keep up this extraordinary show of baking prowess?
Dear God, what is that thing?!
OK, so plated up, they’re not exactly magazine material. We have a joke here at Maple Hoo that when something is adorably imperfect (for example, a wrapped present that’s more than a little rumpled) we say that it’s what would happen if Craig Biggio, the famously dishevled ex-Astro, made it. These were clearly cookies that Bidge would make.
Looks aside though, these cookies taste delicious! They are rich and buttery with a nice saltiness in the dough that’s balanced by the sweetness of the jam. In the end, they were worth the effort! And I got to try out my fun cookie cutters. Christmas is going to be so much better this year, freed from the shackles of boring circles and hearts!
Recipe for Red, White, and Blue Stars
Source: Martha Stewart Living July 2008
5 cups of flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 sticks of softened butter
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons heavy cream (plus some extra for brushing on the cookies before baking)
3/4 raspberry jam
3/4 blueberry jam (I used blueberry/currant)
2 tablespoons sanding sugar
Stir flour, power and salt together. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Add the flour in three parts, alternating with the tablespoons of cream. Split the dough into four hunks and shape into disks. Refridgerate for three hours or up to 3 days (or less depending on how cold your fridge runs).
Roll into 1/8″ rectangles. You may need to let dough warm up a bit before attempting to roll. Refridgerate for one hour or freeze for 30 minutes.
Spread the raspberry jam on one layer and blueberry on the other. Cover each with the remaining dough so you have to jam-dough sandwiches. Refridgerate for one hour or freeze for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into shapes and lay on trays 1″ apart. Brush with heavy cream and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Refridgerate for 15 minutes.
Bake 16-20 minutes. The edges will brown, but the tops won’t so be careful not to burn them. Plate attractively and admire Bidge’s work.