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Tricks to Trick Out Your Holiday Cookies

By Jason Shriner, The Aubergine Chef

There’s something about the holiday season that just calls for cookies. My family likes to get together and make and decorate cut out cookies from scratch.

The key to a good cut out cookie is that it doesn’t spread during the baking process. There are a variety of ingredients that contribute to spread in cookies such as butter or baking soda, and there are ingredients that resist spreading such as flour and eggs. I could can talk about the ingredients individually all day long but what really matters is how the ratio of ingredients relate to each other during the baking process. If a cut out cookie recipe isn’t working the way you want it to, it’s much easier to find a new recipe rather than trying to alter one. Fortunately the attached shortbread recipe holds its shape really well and has an amazing flavor thanks to all the yolks.

One great thing about this recipe is you can make royal icing with the leftover egg whites. Even though royal icing has only two ingredients, there is a plethora of decorating options. Stiffer royal icing (more powdered sugar than egg whites) is great for piping borders and details while flood icing is great for filling in large areas as well as the decorative techniques used in marrying dessert sauces. Keep in mind that royal icing is uncooked, so the egg whites will still be raw. If that’s a concern, you can use carton egg whites (which are pasteurized) and use the egg whites to make a cooked icing like Swiss buttercream.

I always get asked how to create stained-glass windows in the center of cookies. All you need to do is prepare your cut outs, remove the center of the cut out, crush up a hard candy like Jolly Ranchers or rock candy, and sprinkle them in the center of the cut outs right before you bake. During the baking process, the hard candy will melt together (even if they are different colors) and stick to the cookie. Avoid using purple candies as they sometimes turn brown after baking – a heartbreaking revelation I discovered.

For help with decorating ideas you can visit the video post here: http://www.theauberginechef.com/2012/12/episode-120-shortbread-and-more-cookie-decorating-ideas.

Happy holidays everyone!

Shortbread

1 lb 7 ounces of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cup + 1 ¾ tablespoons of granulated sugar
5 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
5 cups bread flour
½ teaspoon salt

1. With the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium speed alone on mixer for 5 minutes.
2. Add granulated sugar and continue creaming on medium speed.
3. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined. Scrape sides of bowl down.
4. Add the yolks, one at a time, mixing until just combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl in between each addition or as necessary.
5. Sift together the salt and bread flour. Add all the dry ingredients at once and mix on low speed until just combined.
6. Increase speed to medium until well mixed, about 30 seconds.
7. Portion dough into about 1 lb discs and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 15-30 minutes to make the dough firm.
8. Using additional bread flour, roll out a disc of dough to ¼” thickness and cut out desired shapes.
9. Bake at 350-400 degrees F until lightly golden along the edges, they should be slightly underbaked in the middle. Approximately 6-9 minutes, rotate your pans, then 1-3 minutes more.

Keeps at room temperature, in a sealed container, for about 5 days. May taste stale after that.

Royal Icing
3 egg whites (about 3 ounces)
3 1/3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
Gel or powdered food coloring (optional)

1. Place dry ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer with two egg whites
2. Mix with paddle attachment until it forms an icing
3. If too stiff, add the additional egg white
4. If too runny, add more powdered sugar
5. Pipe stiff icing with a piping bag to form a border
6. Carefully add runnier icing to fill in the space inside the border
7. While working with icing, cover unused icing with a damp cloth to prevent crusting
8. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, or overnight, uncovered at room temperature

Jason Shriner owns the baking & pastry blog The Aubergine Chef, which contains free videos and recipes. He also teaches baking classes at the Manassas Park Community Center. You can visit his blog at www.TheAubergineChef.com.

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