Monday, December 15, 2008

Spritz (Christmas Cookies 4)

This recipe is the only one that has a non-cookbook pedigree (though I suppose it could have been hand copied from a cookbook...). My parents' friends the Hayden's passed along this recipe for Spritz. It was on a green piece of lined paper and it, too, was greasy with butter and sugar stains. Thankfully, I was able to copy the recipe before the ink was too coated to read. Yet again (the reader will be unsurprised), these are my favorite Spritz cookies of all I've tasted. (If you were kind, I guess you could call it loyalty to the tastes of childhood. We won't go into what the unkind could say).

For all I love them, though, Spritz have consistently been the bane of my existence because of the dreaded cookie press. We had electric cookie presses when I was a kid, and I think I may well have learned to swear at my mother's knee because of the pain of dealing with them. In fact, it was only when I was in high school that I learned that one could have non-electric cookie presses. Since then, I've never gone back. I think all went well with cookie pressing in my Europe years (some shop in St Andrews had one that worked decently), but the past few years have been hell. I had a Wilton 'ergonomic' stainless steel on that was fine for a while but that I grew to despise for its refusal to move the dough through well. (Possibly related to my use of whole wheat pastry flour making a thicker dough?) This year, I had had enough and looked to Cooks Illustrated to show me the way. They recommended a Wilton press, but it was different from the one I had and hated. The only good thing I can say about the sorry piece of shit is that it cost us less than $10 (before tax). I know, so far this blog has used only family-friendly language, but I'm telling you that Spritz bring out the worst in me!

Anyway, to make a long and painful story short, I decided in the end to abandon the press altogether. I didn't want to roll and cut out the cookies, either, or smash them as I did the sugar cookies, so I opted for the peanut butter cookie method of smashing with a fork dipped in water. I felt such a failure and worried that the cookies wouldn't be thin enough and wouldn't taste right. It's true that they're not as thin as pressed cookies are, but I can honestly say they taste fine. In future, I think I'll always make them this way. My language might be more fit for Elspeth's ears and I won't have to store a piece of kitchen equipment that is only used once a year!

INGREDIENTS
1 c. (2 sticks, 1/2 lb.) butter
2/3 c. evaporated cane juice granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour (or 12 1/2 ounces)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, make sure the oven racks are in the middle and prepare two baking sheets
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar (using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or your own strength)
  3. Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix
  4. Add the almond extract and mix
  5. Add the flour a little at a time and mix
  6. If using the Laurel-Keeps-Her-Sanity method, do the following. Roll the dough into balls a bit smaller than a walnut and place on the baking trays. Place some water in a small bowl. Dip a fork in the water and smash the dough ball one way with the fork; then smash the other way to make a tic-tac-toe pattern. (If you're a masochist, put the cookies through a press)
  7. Decorate the cookies with colored sprinkles in any combination you like
  8. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until just set (I tend to like mine a little darker than some people do). If you do the fork-smash method, you will probably need to increase the baking time a bit
  9. Cool on a rack and then store in an airtight container. Cool cookie sheets before making next round

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