I love to read cookbooks and food magazines, mostly for the stories--it's what gives my creations their meaning, but occasionally, even I learn something new. I'll be the first to admit, even this old dog can learn a new trick (or technique) so with the holiday baking fast approaching, I wanted to pass on what I learned recently.
This has to do with the way I have occasionally had to soften butter. I've come to rely on the microwave to "nuke" the butter 12-15 seconds, depending on how many sticks I was doing at once. Since I'm always rushing to get the most out of a 24-hour day, this always seemed the best way when the baking-urge hit me...LOL! Well, that's a big NO-NO and I'll explain why. Butter, if you read your packaging, has a fat content of 83-85%, but what we tend to forget is the remaining percentage is water. By softening the butter to a lower temperature than about 66-degrees, we cause the butterfat to separate. Oh, it may not be apparent when you're creaming the butter, but it's why most recipes call for refrigerating the dough or even in the case of cut-out sugar cookies, refrigerating the tray for about 30 minutes before they go into the oven. This phenomenon is why cookies spread, sometimes too much, if you haven't properly chilled the dough.
To alleviate the problem, it will take a change in my habit of microwaving to soften, but since I already do this technique for biscuits and scones, it shouldn't be too hard. Simply, cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces and let it set out about 20 or 30 minutes. (Remember, even when you're creaming it in the stand mixer, the butter is heating up.) And, heed the recipe when it says the dough should be refrigerated.
To test out this theory I have decided on one of my favorite cookies. My mother called these "Russian Teacakes," but when Matt and Kelly had them as gifts for their wedding, they were "Mexican Wedding Cookies." Whatever you want to call them, they're for sure, delicious bites of a shortbread cookie that melt in your mouth and are sure to please your family and guests. Today, I've chosen a couple of flavors that will go nicely on my dessert table for Thanksgiving--Cardamon & Cranberry, but feel free to experiment with your favorite combination.
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened to room temperature (about 20 minutes)
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar (more for dusting after baking)
3/4 tsp. ground Cardamon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt
1 T Vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped finely
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Scrape down the sides and add the next four ingredients. Beat until thoroughly combined. Add 2 3/4 cups of flour to the bowl and mix the cranberries with the remaining 1/2 cup. Mix on low speed just until the dough comes together.
Measure about 1 tablespoon of dough (about the size of a walnut) and roll in a ball, then, a rope about 2 inches long. Curve the ends and place on the parchment lined cookie sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes--until cookies are a light, golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a rack.
|Notice--the cookies kept their shape!|
Let the cookies set several minutes, then, roll in (or spoon over) additional confectioners' sugar. Repeat the rolling again and let set before storing in an air tight container.
|You'll need an additional 1 to 1 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar|
|2nd or 3rd Rolling|
These cookies are a "staple" in our house for the holidays, but honestly, I love baking them anytime. Some of the flavor combinations I've done are: 1 cup of finely diced dried cherries with 1/2 cup of Dutch-process Cocoa substituted for 1/2 cup of flour, 3-tablespoons of molasses, 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed (reduce confectioners' sugar to 1/2 cup) and add 1 tsp. ground ginger with 1/4 cup mini ginger chips, or simply, 1 cup mini chocolate chips, but instead of rolled into a crescent-shape or ball, I flatten the ball, using a criss-cross method with a dinner fork and adding toasted walnuts, pecans or pistachios, finely chopped. These are the perfect cookie to bake for those gift boxes you make up or just to have on hand for family and friends who stop by. They last a few weeks, if stored in a cool, dry place and are a perfect for sending to family and friends far away :(!
Over the next few weeks, in addition to the recipes, I hope to share some baking techniques and what to stock in your pantry (my daughter, Erin's suggestion) to make your holiday baking joyful, as well as, memorable. Enjoy!