Repeat after me – ‘Cookies are supposed to be soft’. Again. ‘Cookies are supposed to be soft’. Now, continue to repeat that mantra until you have come over to the soft side of the camp. It’s actually really nice over here; It’s quiet (no noisy crunching) and it’s relatively clean (no nasty crumbs flying around from shattering cookies). Yes, I’m pretty happy to be a part of the soft cookie crowd. However, before I completely and totally isolate the crunchy cookie lovers out there (and there are plenty of you) I do have to say that there are two cookies that are traditionally fairly crunchy (sometimes soft) that I do enjoy: Shortbread and Spritz.
I don’t know what it is exactly that can cause a soft cookie fan to temporarily suspend their passion for all things un-crunchy, but Shortbread and Spritz are just so buttery and smooth, they almost melt in your mouth – at least when done right. Just in case you’re not familiar with Spritz, they are a small butter cookie, typically formed with a cookie press in a variety of shapes and colors and occasionally adorned with a light sprinkle of decorator’s sugar. A well made cookie should be light, slightly crisp, smooth and buttery. If you’ve seen those big tins of Danish cookies that pop up on store shelves every Christmas packed full of cookies in a variety of shapes, you’re essentially looking at Spritz cookies. I must caution you though, homemade Spritz will blow away the dry, overly crunch tin can cookies any day of the week.
While some may debate the origin of these cookies, they are definitely a Scandinavian tradition. Growing up with a grandmother who was born in Sweden, we had Spritz cookies every year at Christmas. As a kid, I was more a fan of iced sugar cookies (soft, of course), but always managed to down a few Spritz along the way (she also made peppermint candy cane shaped cookies that were fantastic). As I got older, I don’t know what changed, be it nostalgia for things past, or a more refined sense of taste and texture, but I got an urgent craving for those cookies. Since my grandmother passed away when I was 15 and no one had chosen to continue the tradition, and the little cookies kind of faded from memory. After my grandfather passed away about 10 years ago, though, I inherited my grandmother’s old cookie press. I didn’t have her recipe for Spritz, but a little investigating on the web turned up a vast variety of Spritz recipes. It was time to revive the old tradition.
I first tried them last Christmas and was quite pleased with the results. The dough is easy to make and easy to work with. The press, on the other hand, requires a bit of skill if you are to pull off perfectly shaped Spritz. Basically, you want to start with the press perpendicular to the baking sheet, actually touching the sheet. You squeeze the trigger, wait a second or two, and when just the right amount of dough has come out, you lift the press straight off the sheet. It sounds easy, but it takes a little practice to make them look really nice. In our family, my grandmother, rather than using the different shaped cookie discs, typically used just a star disc and piped cookies in the shapes of ‘S’ and ‘O’ – we often called them “SOS” cookies for this reason. I’m not certain why she used these shapes, she just did. My mother says she used those shapes because her mother made them in those shapes. I thought maybe the ‘S’ was for ‘Sweden’, but I can’t confirm that.
There are a few simple hints I’ll give you if you decide to bake these cookies:
- You can buy cookie presses just about anywhere. If you don’t have one, and don’t wish to buy one, you can use a pastry bag and a tip of your choice, but with the chilled dough, it can be difficult to pipe.
- Which brings me to chilling the dough. After you’ve mixed your dough, it’s a good idea to chill it for 15 – 20 minutes before you bake your cookies. They will hold their shape better.
- Since your dough is cold, your pans should be too. Don’t try to form your cookies on a warm cookie sheet, they won’t stick to the sheet when you form them and will just sit on the end of the press. I prefer to work with several pans, baking one at a time, allowing the pans to cool sufficiently between batches.
- If you choose to use different shapes and sizes, stick with similar sizes on the same pan so they all bake at the same rate.
- Don’t over bake these cookies. If you wait until you see the brown edges forming, they will turn out really crisp. If you like them that way, fine, otherwise, pulling them out just before they really start to brown will leave you with a cookie that’s just crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. This takes some time and practice to get it right. They go from just right to over done to burned in a very short period of time. Keep an eye on them.
- Be creative. You can add other flavors – lemon, lime, orange, peppermint, rum, anise? – It’s all up to you. The traditional version usually only includes vanilla and sometimes almond extract. I’ve also seen them dipped in melted chocolate!
Click here for my favorite Spritz recipe, which is a compilation of recipes from a number of sources. There is a cream cheese version out there I’d like to try, but haven’t done it yet. Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.