cookie cutters and lemon hearts
Years ago, my Mom gave me a set of cookie cutters. Little heart shaped ones. All different sizes. Some with squiggly edges, others straight. They’ve been sitting in my kitchen drawer for — well — a long time. Untouched.
But cut-out cookies, though beautiful to look at, just seem like an inordinate amount of work for something that won’t make it past the first commercial break of American Idol.
Making the dough, rolling the dough, cutting the cookies, baking them, cooling them and then decorating. Then decorate?
As if I’m going to mix up eight different colors of royal icing and let loose my inner Picasso on 6 DOZEN INDIVIDUAL COOKIES. Yeah, right. I’d rather get a root canal.
But it’s Valentine’s Day. And I found those damn cookie cutters.
I thought, how hard can it be? I took a breath and with renewed zeal, I leafed through some cookbooks and came up with a recipe. Gail Gand’s (remember her?) Thimble Cookies. She describes them as “darling, child-sized crisp butter-lemon cookies that her grandmother cut out with a thimble.” I checked my smallest cookie cutter and though it was larger than a thimble — it wasn’t by much.
I rolled out the dough and began to cut. It began to stick. I began to cuss.
This is a very soft dough and combined with Florida weather (it was 78 degrees when I was doing this) it required repeatedly flouring the cutting board as well as my rolling pin, cookie cutter and an off-set spatula (to try to wrestle the dough from my counter).
Eventually, I found a rhythm. I kept the dough in the fridge and plucked off little palm-sized pieces which I rolled to a 1/4″ thickness and quickly cut into hearts — depositing them on my baking sheet.
Gail uses colored sugars to decorate hers. I used demerara sugar on half the cookies and poppy seeds on the other half.
Then I remembered. It’s Valentine’s Day, which all but requires chocolate.
So I melted some chocolate chunks and jury-rigged a decorating bag out of a resealable sandwich baggie and voil?! Chocolate swirl over dainty lemon-hearts!
- 2 sticks cool, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- demerara sugar
- regular sugar
- melted chocolate
- Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, baking powder, salt and flour. Mix on low speed until combined.
- Cover and refrigerate dough for at least one hour.
- When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mat.
- Very generously flour a work surface.
- Scoop a palm-sized chunk of cookie dough from the bowl and place on the floured surface -- leaving the bowl of dough in the refrigerator to continue to chill.
- Sprinkle flour on top of the dough and quickly roll out the dough to about 1/4" thick, making sure that the dough isn't stuck to the work surface. Dough is very soft and has a tendency to stick. (I rolled the dough once in each direction, then lifted it -- refloured the work surface and flipped the dough over onto the flour to continue to roll.)
- Dip your cookie cutter into flour so it doesn't stick to dough. Press cookie cutter into dough and transfer to baking sheet. If they stick to the work surface, use more flour when rolling them out. You can also use an off-set spatula, dipped in flour to lift the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet.
- Sprinkle with one of the sugars or poppy seeds and lightly press them into the dough with your fingers.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool.
- To melt chocolate, place chocolate chips or chunks in a clean glass bowl. Place the bowl in a microwave and heat in 10 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each nuking. Do not heat on high or for extended time, otherwise your chocolate may seize. (Ask me how I know.)
- When the chocolate is smooth and melted, transfer it to a resealable plastic sandwich baggie and trim a tiny corner off the end. "Pipe" the chocolate over the cookies. Let the chocolate harden before storing them in an airtight container, separating each layer with a piece of parchment paper.
- Use as small a cookie cutter as you can for these. Your yield will be higher or lower depending on the size of cookie cutter you use. I recommend a very small one - about 1 1/2" or smaller.