cookie ups & downs…

After six months in Australia, I’ve done very little cooking, but this week, it seems like I’ve been trying to make up for it, all at once. A week ago, I made two pumpkin pies and I planned to make another during the middle of the week. As you’ll already have read, I had problems with it, but it still tasted great. But before the third pie, and the day after, I made cookies. And I had both successes and failures, which have made me a bit leery of baking, at the moment. Hopefully, by the time I return from vacation, I’ll be ready to have another go.

On Tuesday (before the pie crust problems), I started making cookie dough for cut-out cookies, as my family calls them. Officially, they’re just sugar cookies, and though we primarily make them at Christmas time, we often make them for Valentine’s day and sometimes for Halloween, when we use appropriate cookie cutters and icing colors. Just on a random note, here in AUS, they eat biscuits for dessert, but they use “cookie cutters”. At least, I haven’t heard them call them biscuit cutters, yet. Maybe Americans invented cookie cutters… I don’t know.

The making of the cut-outs went well, even though a few flies had to be swatted away. As we mixed up the dough, I let all the kids try the dough, and they enjoyed that. As I recall, they were watching Pete’s Dragon (I introduced them to that movie, I absolutely love it) at the time, but Sadie finds the Gogans to be scary, and came over to visit me in the kitchen. Actually, she wanted me to come sit with them for the “scary” part, but I was covered in cookie dough and not about to abandon my post. Instead, she stayed to cut out a few cookies, and then went back for her favorite part of the movie (when Doc Terminus gets sent through the roof, with his foot attached to a rope that’s tied to a harpoon). She laughs hysterically, whenever she watches that part.

The cookies came out fine, but I discovered that we didn’t even have enough cooling racks for all of them, so I’m afraid I went on another shopping trip before dinner, to pick up another cookie tray, cooling rack, spatulas, and a few other things. I really need the proper tools to work with, you know. When I arrived back, there was a glorious sunset shining through the clouds, so I ran outside to take some pictures. Later, everybody got to try a piece of a cookie, and voted them wonderful, but since there were so few of the cookies (I only made 1 or 2 batches, I forget exactly), I insisted they save the rest for the next day, to put icing on them.

As you’ll already have discovered, I got a serious knock to my cooking confidence, when the pumpkin pie crust started giving me trouble, but I eventually recovered. It was also suggested to me that pie crust can react differently, depending on the temperature and humidity. So, remember that… pastry can be moody.

Before I forget, here’s the recipe, with American measures.

~

Cut-out Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup margarine (or butter), softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

3/4 tsp vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter, add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mixing well. Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture, blending well. (Dough will be very stiff)  Roll portions to 1/8 inch thickness.

Bake at 375°F for 8-10 min.

Notes: Don’t be surprised if you have to hand mix the last bit of flour into the dough, whether with a spoon or your actual hands. Also, if you like your cookies to be soft, then make sure you keep an eye on the oven and don’t even let the bottoms of the cookies get brown. We pull them out before they even get lightly tan on the bottoms. These can turn into crackers, fast, if you overdo them at all.

Serves: 5 dozen (not sure I agree with this)

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The following morning, I intended to make up some press cookies, let the kids see what a cookie press is like to use, and then I’d have both cut-outs and press cookies all ready to ice. And the results would be that I could take both kinds of iced cookies to the Wed. night party, along with the pumpkin pie.

Things started out well, with the margarine and sugar going together just fine. But Kit was helping, so I’m still debating whether she could’ve possibly miscounted the eggs, but I don’t think she really did. We planned to double the recipe, though, so we had to pay close attention and make sure we didn’t miss something.

Then we got to the end of the recipe, where it called for mace. I’ve been over this several times on this blog, so I’m not going to explain what mace is again. But I haven’t been able to find any here in Australia, so I would half to replace it with nutmeg. 1/4 teaspoon of mace is equal to 1 teaspoon of nutmeg. So, the recipe called for 1 teaspoon of mace, so we would have to put in 4 teaspoons of nutmeg. And then I remembered that we were making a double recipe, so yes, you’ve got it right. We put in EIGHT teaspoons of nutmeg. Used up all the rest of the nutmeg in the bottle, and I’m afraid I was giggling the whole time, I thought it was so funny how much we were using. The dough ended up looking like I’d used whole wheat flour.  : )

The last item to put in is always the flour, so I started counting carefully, as I needed seven cups and each one takes a while to mix in. This dough is supposed to be quite stiff, too. I am sure that I counted them correctly, so which is it? Did I miscount, or was it the weather, or perhaps I guesstimated wrong on the margarine? Or it could just be that the flour is slightly different.

But rather than leave out extra flour, I was sure I could mix it in, when I really should’ve left some of it out. And the result was, I packed the cookie press and prepared to show Mrs. B and the kids how a cookie press works. I explained as I went along, turned the “knob” on the top of the press and… crumbly dry pieces of dough came through. After several tries, the same thing happened, and I was in danger of breaking my hand, or at least worsening my carpal tunnel issues.

Mrs. B had to take them somewhere, so I was left alone to wrestle with the dough and see if I could fix the problem. I was frustrated and infuriated over the problem, as you can imagine, because I’ve been making these cookies for, what, fifteen years or more? I don’t recall ever even burning a pan of cookies in my life, but maybe that’s because my mom would never let a batch go to waste, just to teach me a lesson, or anything like that. But here I was, with dough that was too dry and unworkable, and what was to be done.

Yes, I knew my experiments were unlikely to work, but I tried. Obviously, I should’ve stuck with one batch of cookies, and then I wouldn’t have wasted an entire bottle of nutmeg, either. That part of it really annoys me, despite the fact that nutmeg isn’t THAT expensive.

So, I added a little water to the batch, and got rid of the really dry parts, but it was still too thick. I managed to get out about 16 cookies before my wrist was in danger of breaking again. But the ones I got, they wouldn’t separate from the machine, I had to rip them off the bottom of the press. It just wasn’t working.

I then added a little more water, risking making the mess worse, but it was worth a try. Of course, the result was a rubbery, sticky mess that I could barely get into the press, much less out. Then, I decided, for kicks, to see if I could roll the dough out and use cookie cutters on it. But the rubbery mess wouldn’t roll thin, and the attempt at baking some of them, well, that didn’t work either. So, to my great annoyance and regret, I had to throw all that dough away. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like it, before. It just about killed me to do it.

Just so you know, this press cookie really is very easy, and if you live in the U.S., you shouldn’t have any trouble finding mace with the spices, next to the nutmeg and ginger (I’ve also found out that my Christmas package is on the way, with a bottle of mace included, for future cookie attempts). But if you don’t like the taste of nutmeg, then don’t try ’em, because you won’t like the taste of mace, either. I use an old-fashioned aluminum press, made by the Mirro company. You can often find them in thrift stores or even antique stores. I know, because though we inherited two from my grandmothers, I bought several more (for my brothers’ someday-wives) from those places.

But you can use a more modern type of cookie press, that will have a cool button, instead of a twist knob, kind of like the ones you’ll find on a glue gun. My cousin has one, as I recall.

Again, don’t let my experience keep you from trying out this recipe (if you have a cookie press of some kind), as I said before, I’ve NEVER had trouble with it before.

~

Press Cookies

1 cup margarine

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 1/2 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp mace

Pack cookie press, press out cookies, bake at 450° for 6-8 minutes.

Notes: Again, underbake them. Or stalk the oven while they’re in there. If they even start to get the least bit brown on the bottoms, pull them out of the oven.

~

After that, I had to wait a few hours before I was even willing to consider using the mixer again, to make icing for the cookies. But it had to be done, and I wasn’t going to be beaten by whatever brownie or pixie was determined to jinx my cooking.

Having promised that we’d ice the cookies, I looked in the fridge and… suddenly couldn’t remember whether we usually use butter or margarine for it. Yes, total brain fart. I decided to go ahead and use butter, and halfway into making the icing, I remembered that my family uses margarine. Why? Because our icing always starts off white, and obviously, if you use butter, the icing will be pale yellow.

It’s a simple recipe, but I thought my kids would find it unusual, because no matter whether they’re making cakes or cookies, their icing always seems to be on the liquid-y side. Of course, before making it, I had to translate my recipe.

~

Icing

1 stick to 2 lb sugar

1 tsp vanilla

milk to consistency

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Notes: That’s confectioner’s sugar in the U.S., icing sugar in AUS.

I know, fancy recipe, isn’t it? As any American knows, our butter and margarine comes in 1/2 cup sticks. So, this recipe works with either butter or margarine, your preference as to color or taste. If you’re icing cut-out cookies (or cake), you want the icing to be pretty thick, while if you’re icing press cookies, you want it a little more runny. We usually make icing for the cut-outs and then “water it down” with milk, so we can dip the press cookies into it.

As the butter comes in long blocks (not a square, but not a stick), and then the bag of icing sugar wasn’t full, nor did I know how much a full bag would translate to in pounds, I just played it by ear. And my first guess had too much milk, so thankfully, I found another bag of icing sugar to add to the mixture, eventually reaching a consistency that would allow me to spread it with a knife. Maybe I used a little too much icing sugar, because the sprinkles didn’t stick very well at first. We added green food coloring to one bowl and left the other bowl white. I hadn’t realized, but all we had were pink sprinkles or sprinkles that looked like metal ball bearings. Hence, the cookies that look like Christmas occurred on Valentine’s Day.

After all the cut-outs were iced, I milked down the green icing and dipped my fifteen press cookies into it. I think I added too much milk, so they didn’t get a lot of icing on them. Anyway, the family was able to get a good idea of what press cookies are supposed to look like. And they taste great, though I can tell by their taste that it must be that there’s too much flour in them. They should be lighter. For their size, I think they’re too heavy. Or something like that.

Finally, I wrapped up the cookies I was taking to my party (which ended up getting cancelled), and did my best to cover all the cookies with lids or plastic wrap, as the flies were VERY interested in these treats. But in the end, they were boxed up and put away, where we’ve all enjoyed eating them. I hope to have another go at some of them, some time in the New Year.

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