Saturday, October 31, 2009
The Case of the Spurious Sprinkles
What’s cooking? Best Rollout Cookies and Powdered Sugar Icing
After Christmas, I believe Halloween must be my favorite holiday. Candles everywhere, the heady, fall smell of slowly charring pumpkin in the jack-o’-lantern, and the kids in their costumes – just thinking of it makes me want to bake cookies. I’m a huge fan of roll-out cookies, mostly because I enjoy decorating them, and the Halloween shapes are among the most fun. (You’ll notice here that I’ve included stars, which aren’t particularly Halloween, but to my mind, stars belong in every holiday celebration.) But what to do with them? I make them for any group of friends getting together – my book group, a dinner party – and then I spend an obscene amount of money sending them to my two sons, because even if I bake them with enough time to spare (the cookies, not my children – the children are still in process), that effort to package them up and get them to the post office is more than my feeble brain can schedule, so I end up at FedEx with an overnight need. Just ridiculous, but there it is. My husband, bless his heart, doesn’t bother complaining. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
My obsession with sprinkles is well-known among my friends. My builder even constructed a special “sprinkles cabinet,” recessed into the kitchen wall between studs. The door is painted just like the wall, and it closes with a press-latch, so there’s no knob or handle to stick out; it just about disappears when not in use. The shelves are only three inches deep, and the inside of the door is covered in pegboard, where I hang my cookie cutters.
Decorating the cookies is an all-day task, but with any luck, I can find a marathon of one of “my shows,” as my husband refers to them. CSI, NCIS, Murder She Wrote, Monk,... the list is fairly long and always involves a murder mystery, which I’ve been hooked on since fifth grade when I discovered Perry Mason. Something about stories in which the bad guys always get caught and the mystery solved gives me a sense of order and purpose in the world. Strange as it may seem, I’m not really into violence. By the time the story line in my shows starts, the violence is often over – at a minimum, it happens off-stage – so I can be absorbed in the solution process. This love of mystery extends to my reading habits: I started with Nancy Drew as a child, and have since devoured the entirety of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Lee Sayers, Rex Stout, P. D. James, Ngaio Marsh – and the list goes on.
This week the marathon was Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which ran most of the day until that magical time when the USA channel runs NCIS for three hours. Sitting at my kitchen island, surrounded by sprinkles and sanding sugars and edible glitter and gold and silver dragées, with the members of the Major Case Squad making the world safe, I am a happy camper indeed.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Lee’s Best Rollout Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen.
1 cup sugar
½ cup Crisco
½ stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2½ cups flour (use the dipping method to measure)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Cream together sugar, Crisco, and butter, letting the mixer run for a couple of minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. (I know, Crisco is that bad kind of fat, but let’s remember, folks: these are cookies. And you need a fat with a higher melting point to keep the cookies from losing their shapes.)
Add eggs, mixing in one at a time, and vanilla and lemon juice. Sift together the dry ingredients and add them to the wet. Mix until the dry is completely incorporated, then wrap the dough in a sheet of wax paper and refrigerate at least a couple of hours. (I try to let this be overnight.) Have a glass of wine.
The dough rolling part is what always put me off until my mother-in-law suggested I roll it between two layers of wax paper dusted with flour. What a difference. And the dough is more manageable if you divide it into two parts, refrigerating the scraps in between working with each half. I like my cookies crisp, so I roll the dough to a thickness of about one eighth of an inch, but you should experiment and see what works for you. Bake 8 minutes at 400º.
Kitchen Goddess note: By all means, invest in a roll of baker’s parchment – you don’t have to grease the cookie sheet, and you can re-use the parchment for the whole batch of cookies. Let the cookies cool completely on racks before icing them.
Powdered Sugar Icing
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water
This is the best icing I’ve ever worked with, and you can use more or less water depending on how thick you want it to be. Add food coloring to suit your mood or the holiday. Add sprinkles to the cookies while the icing is still wet.