Monday, November 26, 2007

Visions of Sugar Cookies


The good news is, my Thanksgiving Day coconut cake with lemon cream filling turned out great! (Thank you, Southern Living.) The bad news is, my weekend attempt at making Madeleines, those classic, scallop-shaped teatime treats, was another colossal failure. The good news is, during the six or seven hours total I spent with the Madeleines -- it takes a while to butter a pan and freeze it three times before baking -- I had time to read and absorb the great new book "Cookie Craft" by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer.


Most of us who bake have our specialties. I'm good with cakes and bar cookies, not so good with pies and sugar cookies. I predict this is going to change. All my baking life I have dreamed of making delicious and perfectly formed sugar cookies perfectly decorated with royal icing. My cookies have almost always spread, and decor-wise, I never had much success with anything but colored sugar sprinkles. Thanks to "Cookie Craft," visions of teacup- and teapot-shaped sugar cookies are now dancing in my head. Wouldn't these be cute in red and green as Christmas gifts?


And speaking of Christmas, aren't their Christmas cookies just gorgeous? Reading this book was a lot of fun, because it told me about some cookie-baking tricks I'd never heard of before, and the authors kindly share some of the mistakes they've made over the years. (One baked candy corn to represent "tailfeathers" on a turkey-shaped sugar cookie, and the candies basically exploded.) There are four basic sugar cookie recipes the authors recommend, and they include a helpful list of needed (and blessedly inexpensive) items for baking the cookies, as well as a list of resources for finding specialty items and hundreds of new cookie cutters. I still want to master the Madeleine (I'm now convinced I began with a bum recipe), but next up: the sugar cookie!

5 comments:

gwendol said...

Angela, my recipe says nothing about freezing anything. So if the recipe is the problem, I'll copy this in for your next try. From 1961 The New York Times Cookbook,edited by Craig Claiborne:

Marcel Proust immortalized these plain French sweets in "Swann's Way" when he wrote of the evocatively in a poetic passage that begins:
". . .my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea. . . . She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon . . . I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake."

4 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

1. Grease well and flour pans for four dozen madeleines. If only half this many are available, cut the recipe in half and make it again. This is because the butter, on standing, settles to the bottom and causes a heavy rough layer. Place racks near the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to hot (400 F.).
2. Beat the eggs with the salt, adding sugar gradually, until the mixture stands in very stiff peaks. Add vanilla.
3. Sift about one-quarter of the flour at a time over the egg mixture and fold it in until no flour shows.
4. Add the butter about a tablespoon at a time and fold it in as quickly as possible. Fill the prepared pans about three-quarters full, place in oven immediately and bake until brown, about ten minutes.

Notes:
flour is one cup after sifting...so I sift, then measure, then sift once more.

Good luck.

(Whether you use the recipe or not, isn't the Proust quote just fabulous!!!?)

Angela McRae said...

A huge thanks, Gwendol! I can already see this recipe is QUITE different than the one I used, so I'll be trying these again soon! And yes, the quote is just lovely!

Valerie Peterson said...

Hi, Angela!

Just wanted to say thanks for "having tea" with Cookie Craft--and for your kind, thoughtful comments about the book! So glad you enjoyed it! Happy holidays!

Ginger said...

Angela, I checked out Cookie Craft from the library Saturday. Thank you for telling us about this great book. After I turn the library copy in, I'm buying myself a copy from Amazon.

Angela McRae said...

Ginger, I'm so glad to hear you liked it, too! I am here to report that this book can be trusted! I made my first-ever perfectly-shaped sugar cookies last night (I used the basic recipe with the lemon zest), and I just marveled at how easy it was using their techniques. My piping and icing weren't bad either, so with a little practice I'm expecting great things.