For eating, for decorating and for showing off
Surprisingly, crafting elaborately detailed cookies made with cookie stamps, springerle molds and springerle rolling pins is not as difficult as it appears. Like other well done works of art, a good molded cookies starts with a flawless canvas (the dough), a first-rate design (the mold) and a teacher who is a master at the craft (Anne L. Watson). Watson, as teacher, is phenomenal and her groundbreaking book, "Baking with Cookie Molds: Secrets and Recipes for Making Amazing Handcrafted Cookies for Your Christmas, Holiday, Wedding, Party, Swap Exchange, or Everyday Treat,” the reason why. Watson's recipes for springerle, speculaas, lebkuchen, shortbread and more are tasty, detailed and meticulous. Her joyful recipe for "Creamy Coconut Cookies," for instance, with its "natural coconut taste" and exceedingly pliable dough, makes a nice alternative to traditional anise-flavored springerle. Of course, no matter how excellent a recipe, or workable the dough, the appeal of a molded cookie lies in the character and shape of the cookie mold. If you weren't lucky enough to inherit or be gifted with a centuries-old cookie mold, or aren't wealthy enough to acquire one from an antiques dealer, don't despair -- replicas of historic molds can be purchased at a relatively nominal cost. Companies like Elmhurst, Illinois' House on the Hill offers over 500 molds, along with essential baking supplies and ingredients, books and recipes to turn your cookie molding experience from a baking art into a baking obsession. And, after you bake your molded cookies, you'll surely want to decorate them with adornments such as edible paint and luster dust. A molded cookie is astonishingly beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that some folks would rather display them as art, than to eat them. Showing molded cookies off to family and friends is gratifying, but eating them is better.
Purchase "Baking with Cookie Molds" from House on the Hill (www.houseonthehill.net), 1-877-279-4455), or from book sellers, such as Amazon.com (www.amazon.com).
Special ingredients for baking and decorating molded cookies
Using high-quality ingredients for your baking projects will produce spectacular results you'll be proud of. Whenever possible, use exactly the ingredients a recipe calls for. Old-world springerle recipes, for instance, call for hartshorn (baker's ammonia) and anise oil. Also, it is vitally important to carefully read all the labels that are provided with ingredients and cookie decorations that you purchase to be sure you know how to use them and if they can be safely consumed. Believe it not, some decorations sold as adornments for food are not meant to be eaten. Americolor airbrush paint, lower right, is edible can be directly applied to the cookie surface for consumption, as is and is the Wilton luster dust, lower right, Source notes: Hartshorn and anise oil from House on the Hill (www.houseonthehill.net). Edible airbrush paints, vanilla extract and luster dust can be found in craft stores, such as Michael's, or via on-line sources specializing in cake decorating supplies, such as Bakedeco (www.bakedeco.com).
Should you browse House on the Hill's fascinating website, be sure to check out Connie Meisinger's superlative recipe for "Nini's Perfection Springerle, which also appears on page 148 of Anne L. Watson's "Baking with Cookie Molds."
Creamy Coconut Cookies
Recipe source "aking with Cookie Molds: Secrets and Recipes for Making Amazing Handcrafted Cookies for Your Christmas, Holiday, Wedding, Party, Swap Exchange, or Everyday Treat," by Anne L. Watson, www.annelwatson.com/cookiemolds.
1/2 cup (1stick) unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg
1 cup canned cream of coconut
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Melt the butter and set aside. Beat the egg in a large bowl until yolk and white are fully mixed. Mix the cream of coconut, coconut extract and vanilla. Add the egg and beat until well mixed. Mix the sugar and salt. Add to the egg mixture and beat until well mixed. Add the melted butter slowly and beat until well mixed. Add flour slowly until the mixture is solid enough to knead. Transfer to your work surface and knead in more flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Wrap or cover the dough and refrigerate for up to ½ hour – until it's firm but still flexible. Roll and form the dough with a cavity mold, as follows:
To prepare cookie molds*
Dip a soft toothbrush into flavorless cooking oil and blot of the excess with a tea towel. (Don't ever rub a cookie mold with a paper towel, because it will leave fibers behind, and you'll have to clean the mold and start over.) You want the brush to be oily but not dripping. Apply a light even coat of oil to the mold with the toothbrush, working it into any crevices and corners. Oil the entire face of the mold, including the margin – the flat surface between the cavity and the mold edge.
Molding the dough*
Cut backing pieces of nonstick aluminum foil or parchment paper slightly larger than your cookie mold. Cut enough pieces for the cookies to fill at least one baking sheet. Flour your work surface lightly. Pull off a piece of dough larger than you'll need to fill the cavity of your mold. Flatten the blob of dough and brush flour over the top very lightly with a pastry brush (do not use silicone brushes – those bristles are too coarse to spread flour). With a rolling pin, roll out the dough so it's flat and covers an area the size and shape of the mold or larger. The thickness of the dough should be greater than the depth of your mold's cavity by about 1/8 inch. Turn the dough over and brush flour onto the new top surface if necessary. This is the side that will face the mold. Lift the flattened dough, turn over, and press down into the mold.
If necessary, spread the dough with your fingers so the entire cavity is filled. Flatten the dough a little by pressing down on it with your palm, and then brush flour over the top. Roll the dough firmly into the mold. Lay the backing pieces over the dough. If you are using non-stick foil, make sure the dull side of the foil is toward the cookie. Turn the whole thing over so the mold in on top and the backing piece is on bottom. Set it down and press hard on the mold. (If needed, trim dough as long as you leave a 1/2 inch border.)
Unmolding the dough*
Pick up the "sandwich" of mold, dough and backing piece and hold it vertically. If any dough has curled around the edge of the mold and stuck to its sides, roll it away from those surfaces. With your thumb and forefinger, firmly pinch together and edge of the backing piece to expose the dough edge, then ease it away from the mold with your thumb until there's enough to grab. As the dough begins to peel away, tilt the sandwich with the cookie and backing piece underneath and your hand supporting them, so that gravity is on your side. At some point, the cookie with its backing will start to fall away from the mold under its own weight. Just let it drop into your hand. Keeping the cookie and backing piece together, lay them on your work surface.
Trim the excess dough from around the edge of the cookie with a small sharp kitchen knife or craft tool, or use a cookie cutter if you have one to match the shape.
Put the cookie, still on its backing, on a tray in the refrigerator. It's best not to use your baking sheet (baking tray) for this, because baking on a cold sheet can cause it to wrap.
*Kitchen Ade Note: The techniques described in "Cooking with Cooking Molds" have been slightly condensed in the interest of space.
Set your oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. (For especially thick cookies, you may have to lower temperature to 325 degrees, or even lower – to ensure even baking. Test bake one cookie until edges have slightly browned and the top has begun to firm up. This will take 10 to 15 minutes, or longer, depending on the thickness of the cookie and the baking temperature. Take the rest of the cookies from the refrigerator, place on your baking sheet and bake for the time and at the temperature that is right for your test cookie.
(Bake only one sheet of cookies at a time.) When cookies are done, remove the backing pieces for later reuse and set the cookies on a rack to cool completely.
Kitchen Ade Note: The number of cookies you will get out of this recipe, depends on the size of your mold.
I got about 25 cookies using a medium (2 1/2-inch) size mold.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at email@example.com.