Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cut-Out Cookies

This is the first posting of recipes from my beloved late Aunt Millie's collection. She typically made these at Christmas, but they can be made at other holidays or just for fun.

There are many recipes and many names for cookies that you roll and cut into different shapes, depending upon the season and your preference. This recipe makes very rich tasty cookies that can be made thin or thick to your liking. The frosting recipe that follows dries hard and shiny, and looks great. With Valentine's Day just around the corner and St. Patrick's Day on the horizon, I thought it best to post this, but promise that my next post will be devoted to Italian Easter bread.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, brought to room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (not imitation)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon salt
About 4 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour

Cream butter and sugar together until light. Add eggs and blend until thoroughly mixed. Add vanilla, then the milk with the dissolved soda. In a separate bowl sift about 3 cups of flour with the cream of tartar and salt and add to the first mixture (bowl with butter, sugar, etc.). Add enough more flour to make a dough that may be easily rolled. I find it easiest at this point to use hands to mix the dough. You may chill the dough if desired, but if mixed properly, this step is not mandatory. If you do chill the dough, wrap it tightly in clear plastic wrap and put in an airtight plastic bag. You can store this in the refrigerator for a day or so if you want to make it ahead of time.

Roll dough in small amounts on a lightly-floured surface to desired thickness (if you make them too thick, they will lose their shape when baking). Use cookie cutters of your choice -- of course, for Valentine's Day there are all sizes of heart cutters, and for St. Patrick's Day the traditional shamrock. One idea is to use large heart cutters for Valentine's Day and then after frosting, with more icing write the name of your Valentine on the cookie. Place cut-out shapes on cookie sheets (I use parchment paper to line the sheets) and bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness. Mine usually take 8 minutes so set your timer to 8 and then go from there.

To decorate prior to baking, you can use colored sugar sprinkles as follows. Spread each cookie very lightly with egg white diluted with a little water and whipped to break up the white. Using a large spatula, lift each piece over a bowl or paper, and sprinkle with the different colors of sugar. Place on cookie sheet and proceed as above.

If you opt for a more traditional frosted cookie, the following spreads very smoothly and dries to a nice gloss. You can divide the frosting into several bowls, leave one white, and add your chosen food coloring to the others.

Frosting Ingredients:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 cups of confectioners sugar
Food Coloring (optional)
Colored sugar and other decorating sprinkles (optional)

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Add vanilla, then gradually beat in sugar until frosting stands in firm peaks. If desired, divide and add colors.

These cookies can be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container. If given as gifts, do likewise, and put wax or parchment paper in between the layers. Enjoy and have fun being creative with the decorating!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sesame Seed Cookies

This is the last of the four traditional cookies made for Christmas and other special events throughout the year, such as weddings, graduations, etc. The other three have already been posted: Italian White; Fig; and Chocolate Spice Balls. This recipe makes a lot of cookies. I have never counted them, but they fill the top of a large dining room table. You may want to try making half a recipe to see if that is enough to meet your needs.

5 lb. flour
2 lb. sugar
1 lb. Crisco
2 lb. lard
6 tblsp. baking powder
2 tsp. real vanilla extract
12 large eggs
Sesame seeds (a couple pounds)

Cut Crisco and lard into dry ingredients. In a separate bowl beat eggs and vanilla together, then add to the dry ingredients mixture. Mix with your hands to make a nice dough. Add a little milk if needed to make the dough go together.

To form cookies, pinch off a piece of dough and roll into a rope the width of a finger, about 1" wide. Roll the rope into the sesame seeds (see "how to prepare the sesame seeds" below). Cut into 2" pieces on the slant. Bake on lightly greased cookie sheets at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes until the bottoms are a nice tan color.

Preparing the sesame seeds: In a small bowl or pan pour some milk -- maybe one or two cups. Place the sesame seeds into the milk and add a little sugar -- about 1 tblsp. or so. When ready to roll cookies into the sesame seeds, drain some of the seeds through a small-holed sieve. Dump the damp seeds onto the table and roll each rope of dough into the seeds until thorougly covered. Drain and dump more seeds onto the table as needed.

Aunt Mil stressed that these cookies, when cool, must not be stored in plastic bags because the seeds will fall off. She used to store them in single layers in a large roasting pan with tin foil or wax paper in between each layer, but you can also store them in single layers in air tight plastic containers or tins. Aunt Mil only used a plastic baggie when making up boxes of cookies for gift-giving, because if the sesame seed cookies are left uncovered amid other cookies, they get soggy. However, they are usually eaten so quickly that bagging them is not really necessary.