High Country Baking: Cookie stamp shortbreads (column)
January 17, 2018
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
I gave up on stamped cookies a decade ago. The designs on the baked cookies were usually faint, imprecise and disappointing. Then, I discovered a small change that makes a big difference: Instead of stamping the cookies before they're baked (as most recipes suggest), bake them until they're just set and then stamp them. The designs are much more distinct with well-defined details. Now, I'm always delighted with the result — a crisp, buttery cookie with a pretty, highly discernible pattern. They're delicious unadorned or with an optional rim of chocolate and nuts (see photograph).
For best results, use high-quality butter and vanilla extract and make sure your rolled dough is even and level, so all the cookies will be the same thickness and bake in the same amount of time.
Cookie Stamp Shortbreads
Make on cookie sheet(s) lined with parchment paper
Yields 2 dozen 1 ½ inch cookies
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1 ¼ plus 2 tablespoon bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
1/3 cup cornstarch
½ cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
Scant ¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
Ceramic cookie stamp(s)
Optional Chocolate and Nut Decoration
2-3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon canola oil
¼ cup nuts, finely chopped
1. To make in a food processor: Combine the first five ingredients (flour through salt) in the processor bowl and pulse a few times until blended. Cut the butter into 12 pieces and add them, with the vanilla. Pulse until a shaggy dough forms; stop before it forms a ball. Dump it out onto a sheet of waxed paper, knead gently and form into a disc. To make with a mixer: Cut the butter into 12 pieces, add them to a mixing bowl along with the cornstarch, confectioners' and granulated sugars and salt. Beat, starting on low speed and moving to medium once the ingredients are blended, until the mixture is light, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour by hand or at the mixer's lowest speed, only until blended. Form the dough into a disc.
2. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes so it firms up a bit. Roll it between two sheets of waxed paper to a thickness of 1/3 of an inch, and place it, still between the sheets of waxed paper, on a cookie sheet. Chill until it's quite firm (about 20 minutes in the freezer or 30 minutes in your fridge). While the dough chills, preheat your oven to 300 degrees, with a rack in the upper third of the oven.
3. Remove the chilled dough and carefully peel off the waxed paper. Use a plain, round cookie cutter that is slightly smaller than your cookie stamp (the cookies spread a little once partially baked) to cut out the cookies. Move them to the prepared cookie sheet, spacing them about 1 ¼ inches apart. If they have softened significantly while cutting, chill them again until firm but not hard. Re-roll and chill the remaining dough and cut out more cookies.
4. Bake (one sheet of cookies at a time) until the cookies are set but still very soft, 10-12 minutes (the time will depend on the temperature of the cookies when placed in the oven). Remove the cookies from the oven, (leave it on), let them rest for 1 minute, and then gently but firmly press your cookie stamp straight down on each cookie, creating a design. Return the pan to the oven and continue to bake until the cookies are golden, with slightly darker edges, another 15-20 minutes. Take them out of the oven, cool them on the pan for 3-4 minutes, and transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Store, wrapped airtight, for five days at cool room temperature or freeze for six weeks.
5. Optional: To decorate with chocolate and nuts, place the chocolate (the larger amount if coating the bottoms and side of the cookies; the smaller amount if coating only the sides) in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at a low temperature in a microwave oven until melted with only a few small lumps still visible. Remove from the oven, add the oil, and stir until shiny and completely smooth. If the mixture is very hot, cool slightly. Using a clean, small kitchen brush, brush the sides (and the bottom) of each cookie with a layer of chocolate. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the chocolate (or roll the cookie's edges in the nuts) and set the cookie aside until the chocolate hardens.
The cookie recipe is a variation of one published in "The All-American Cookie Book" by Nancy Baggett.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, "Cookies in the Clouds" and "Baking Above It All" (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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