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Posts Tagged ‘Cookies’

Reviving an Old Favorite

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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!

To see some great colored Spritz cookies, check out this recent post on Cooking at the Pacific Outpost.  By the way, her version is Vegan, for those of you who may be searching for that option.

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.

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Spice is Nice

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If I haven’t already said it, I love Fall.  I love the weather, especially the cool days when the sun still shines and the leaves are just starting to fall.  I love the smell of fireplaces being started for the first time in months.  I love how much bluer the sky seems to me.  I love that it’s not 90 degrees anymore.  But most of all, I love the fall food.  Comfort food.  Soups, stews, casseroles, and, of course, sweets.

Fall is that time of year when we depart from the fresh and light of Summer and jump face first into heavy, spicy, creamy and hot.  It’s finally cool enough in the kitchen to actually spend some time in there without an air conditioner blowing full boar.  Yes, it’s finally time for spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and molasses.  It’s time for people to once again celebrate my favorite food fruit – apples.  And it’s finally time again to pop some cans of pumpkin.

I believe it’s required somewhere in the list of Foodie rules out there in the blogosphere that if you are a food blogger, then, come Autumn, you must post about pumpkin at least once.  Really.  I’m pretty sure the food police will come and find you and shove a real pumpkin up your nose if you don’t post at least one pumpkin recipe.

And so it is, for that reason, that I choose at this moment to blog about cookies – Big, Soft, Ginger Cookies.  What?  No pumpkin?  After all that talk about pumpkin?  Yeah, that’s right.  I did talk a lot about pumpkin, and, if you are desperate for something pumpkin, I may actually blog about something in the weeks to come.  Don’t forget, I wrote about spices too.  And spices are what I want to focus on right now.  I’ve seen a ton of blogs on pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin rolls and pumpkin pie, you don’t need another one here.

Let’s keep this simple.  If you like soft, spicy cookies, make this recipe.  If you don’t like them, well, at least read my blog and leave a comment.  I’m sure if I could share one of these with you, I may be able to make you into a convert.  For now, you’ll just have to trust me.

I didn’t capture many photos this time, I can’t say why, maybe I was just being lazy.  Be that as it may, click on any photo below to see a larger image.  If you are tempted and would like to try this recipe, I’ve posted a copy here.

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I haven’t.  In fact, I’d never even heard of a ‘Berger’ Cookie prior to reading about them on the Baker’s Banter blogsite from King Arthur Flour.  I asked a few folks I know if they had ever heard of them and the response was the same almost every time, “A burger cookie?, You mean one that looks like a hamburger?”  Their responses ranged from interest to those few who believed this mysterious cookie contained some form of ground beef.  Thankfully, there is no ground beef in these “Bergers”, and they would be, I believe, somewhat tastier than any meat cookie may be.

Actually, Berger Cookies are a local favorite, found in the Baltimore, Maryland area.  Favorite? That may actually be an understatement.  From what I can gather doing some simple research, people are nuts about these cookies, perhaps even obsessed.  The cookies are named after the brothers who founded what would become the bakery that still operates today, over 150 years after they first came to the United States.  From what I gather, these cookies are very popular in the Baltimore area, and those who leave the area find themselves in the position of having these cookies shipped to them, as they can only be found in a few locations outside of Baltimore. 

On the King Arthur blog, they were recounting their attempt to mimic this interesting cookie, which had been profiled in the May issue of Saveur Magazine.  Reading through the blog, I saw that they looked rather tasty – a soft, puffy cookie coated with a thick layer of fudgy frosting on top, or, rather, the bottom.  Yes, the bottom.  Rather than frost the top of the cookie as would be tradition, the frosting mirrors the dome shape of the cookie, inch for inch, building up from the flat bottom of the cookie into a beautiful chocolaty mound.  The folks at King Arthur actually revisited this recipe after a number of local Baltimoreans contacted them to correct the error of their ways.  The second versions, based on their photos, were nearly identical to the original Bergers.

Since I am a fan of puffy and/or chewy cookies, and a big fan of chocolate, I had to give these a try.  I was going to order some originals over the internet to have something to compare these to, but I didn’t have time as we were leaving town for vacation.  My version would have to suffice for now.

The cookies are not too difficult to make, following King Arthur’s directions.  They are a bit messy, however as the best way to frost to the edge of the cookie appears to be hand dipping each cookie into the frosting, followed by a dollop of additional frosting on top of that to create the mound shape.

The result?  They were quite good (I’ve posted a copy of the recipe on my site here).  My testers were pleased and eagerly consumed them.  The cookie itself is a good basic cookie which I’ll plan on using for other applications in the future.  The big deal is all that fudgy frosting.  I used 1/2 Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chocolate chips and 1/2 Ghirardelli Semi Sweet Chocolate chips as that is what I had on hand.  They were dark and sweet.  I’m curious about the flavor of the originals and whether or not these were close in flavor – I’ll have to wait to get some original Bergers to sample before I know the answer to that.  In the meantime, I think I need to consider a trip to Baltimore…

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