Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cookies only a mother could love

Several weeks ago, I attended an organized cookie decorating event for fifteen 7 year-olds. This may sound harsh, but being with fifteen 7 year-olds is not my idea of a good time. I once taught a gingerbread house class to a bunch of 8 to 10 year-olds and the fact that I had kids after that experience is a small miracle.

I stayed the hell away from all of them and hid at my cookie rolling station for most of the night. I put my head down and rolled dough while other parents told their children how beautiful their cookies looked.

This brought up the whole self-esteem issue, and the real reason why I retreated. I think kids know when their cookies, and drawings and clay figurines, are ugly. And so, when an adult says, "That is so beautiful!" the kid is thinking, what the fuck? It's ugly and misshapen and not at all pleasing to the eye, so why are you telling me it's fabulous? Confusion ensues, children learn not to trust themselves, and also never learn how to deal with the disappointment of not being perfect all the time.

So when my daughter proudly showed me her work of art cookies, I did what I always do when something she does is frankly ugly: I told her that I liked the color she picked, which I did. She chose twinkly blue sugar (as well as 27 other colors). The rest of the cookie was a wretched mess, an overfrosted blob. In fact, the picture above looks like it was created by Picasso compared to what my offspring produced.

As for the cookies, they were delicious - Nancy Silverton's butter cookie recipe, which I must share. It's in her first dessert book from 1986. This is the kind of dough you become infatuated with, like when you were 13 and you thought Leif Garrett was hot, hot, hot. Decorate them any way you want. I like Nancy's idea of an egg glaze and crystallized sugar - very safe.

Nancy calls them Animal Crackers and that's fine with me.

Animal Crackers

8 oz unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbs. cream
1 Tbs. vanilla extract (use the real stuff, not imitation)
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt

For basic decoration:
2 egg yolks
crystallized sugar (you can get this at King Arthur's Flour website)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside. In an electric mixer, cream the butter until it holds soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar until it's completely incorporated. Whisk together the eggs, cream, and vanilla and add them to the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and then continue beating until combined.

Add the flour mixture in about three additions to avoid the flour flying all over the place. You can even add it by hand if you want with the spatula. Beat until completely combined, but no more.

Form two disks, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Roll out the dough one disk at a time, keeping the other one refrigerated. It should be about 1/4 inch thick. Use whatever cutters you want, but if Nancy had her way, they'd be animal cutters. For added crunch, beat the egg yolks in a small bowl, then brush the tops with the yolks. Sprinkle the top with crystallized sugar.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, rotating the pans in the middle of the bake. The cookies should not color too much. They're done when they've lost their sheen and are completely dry. The bottoms of the cookie will be lightly browned. Cool on a rack and then eat more than one,

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