High Altitude Baking: Buttery shortbread snowflakes for winter
High Country Baking
High altitudes make 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.
Waking up to fresh powder on a day you can get out and enjoy it. Does it get any better than that? Oh, how we treasure snow days in the mountains and here’s a cookie made in their honor — a snowflake made of sweet, buttery shortbread.
I’m delighted with the snowflake cookie stamp I used to make these. It’s made of plastic and has two parts: an exterior, which makes the snowflake shape, and an interior that provides detail to the design. The interior is spring-loaded so it creates a very precise pattern when pressed into the cookie dough. It’s available at several online sites; I got mine on Amazon.
This is my favorite shortbread recipe for this type of cookie. It maintains the stamped design very well without forfeiting a tender texture and rich taste. For best results, use high-quality butter and pure 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.
What’s vanilla paste? It’s wonderful stuff! It can be used 1:1 for vanilla extract but it’s thicker and flecked with real vanilla beans so it gives a more pronounced vanilla flavor to whatever you use it in. It’s like you used a vanilla bean but you don’t have to bother with the pod. I’m sold on it!
Snow Day Shortbreads
Make on a shiny metal cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
Yields 1 dozen 2-inch snowflakes
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
2 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
¾ teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
Spring-loaded plastic snowflake cookie stamp
1. To make in a food processor: Combine the flour, cornstarch, powdered sugar, granulated sugar and salt in the processor bowl fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times until blended. Cut the butter into 12 pieces and add them with the vanilla extract. 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, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat, starting on low speed and moving to medium speed once the ingredients are blended. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour by hand or at the mixer’s lowest speed until blended. Overbeating will result in a tough cookie. Form the dough into a disc.
2. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes so it firms up a bit. Roll it between two sheets of waxed paper to a thickness of ¼ of an inch, and place it, still between the sheets of waxed paper, on a cookie sheet. Chill it until it’s quite firm (about 15 minutes in the freezer or 30 minutes in your fridge). While the dough chills, preheat your oven to 315 degrees, with a rack in the upper third of the oven.
3. Remove the chilled dough and carefully peel off the waxed paper. Dip your cookie stamp in flour or powdered sugar (this will prevent the dough from sticking to it) and shake it to remove any excess. Too much will blur the design. Press it into the dough until the outside edge cuts all the way through and then firmly push the spring-loaded handle down to make the interior design. If the dough is sufficiently chilled, the dough will remain in the stamp when you lift it. Move the stamp to the prepared cookie sheet, press the handle again so the cookie drops out. Continue making snowflakes, spacing them about 1¼ inches apart on the cookie sheet. If they have softened significantly while cutting, chill them again until firm, but not hard, before baking. If they’re chilled before baking there’s less chance they’ll spread in the oven. Re-roll and chill the remaining dough and cut out more cookies
4. Bake until the cookies are set and light golden, 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 5 days at cool room temperature or freeze for 6 weeks.
This recipe is a variation of one published in The All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks Baking Above It All and Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. 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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