There's nothing better than homemade cookies. Except homemade cookies in a shiny tin, sent from a faraway friend. Just before Thanksgiving, I received a package on my doorstep. Inside was a tin of cookies, sent by Open Salon blogger Lisa Kuebler. This is a tin that has already passed through Lisa's — and Lucy Mercer's — capable hands, as part of the Bake It Forward program.
Opening the lid, I found cherry-cheesecake brownies and Lisa's family recipe pound cake. Makes me almost wish I lived in Georgia. We could sip sweet tea while whipping up cookies by the dozens. But for now, this virtual cookie exchange will have to do.
Unlike Lucy and Lisa, I do not come from a culture with a rich history of baking. However, we did get cookies from a tin. When my grandparents came from Taiwan to visit my family in the United States, they’d unbuckle their enormous suitcases and pull out rectangular tins filled with Taiwanese pineapple cakes. Cake is a misleading name for this treat, yet cookie would not be quite right either. They are more like Fig Newtons: fruit and cake.
Other times, the shiny tins promised more than they could deliver. One of my main memories from both my grandparents’ homes in Taipei is of hub cap sized tins of Danish butter cookies offered to any guests. Under the metal lid, dozens of golden brown shapes nestled in dainty paper cups: five-pointed flowers, half-moons, wreaths, rectangular plaques sparkling with sugar crystals — and my personal favorite — the jelly topped. However, the cookies tended to be rock-hard and rather bland, and despite their fanciful shapes, they all pretty much tasted the same.
Whether I like it or not, this is my cookie heritage, and I have decided to claim it with pride — with a few improvements. Like a white shirt or a haiku, butter cookies, can be sublime in their purity: deliciously tender and just sweet enough. But their simplicity leaves little to hide behind. No chocolate or strong spices to mask less than stellar ingredients. No leavening used to improve their texture, just careful mixing.
I decided to fill my tin with two types of butter cookies: thumbprint cookies filled with apricot-pineapple jam and two kinds of shortbread — traditional and almond. They will be sent off to another Open Salon blogger who I hope will enjoy them...
Jam Thumprint Cookies
Based on Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
2/3 c. butter
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
2 slightly beaten egg whites
1 c. finely chopped walnuts
1/2 c. apricot-pineapple jam
Beat butter until creamed.
Add sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and half the flour and beat until thoroughly combined.
Beat in remaining flour.
Cover and chill about 1 hour or until easy to handle
Shape dough into 1-inch balls
Place on greased cookie sheet and press centers with your thumb.
Bake in 375-degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
Cool cookies on a wire rack. Just before serving, fill centers with jam or preserves.
Makes about 2 dozen.
Brown Bag Cookie molds
I received one as a wedding gift, found its twin at a garage sale
From Brown Bag Cookie Designs (http://www.shortbreadpan.com/)
1/2 c. butter at room temperature
1/3 c. powdered sugar (unsifted)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour (unsifted)
Cream the butter (I used an electric mixer)
Cream in the powdered sugar and the vanilla extract.
Work in almond meal and flour
Knead the dough on a very lightly floured surface until it is just smooth. Do not overhandle the dough or it will become tough.
Press the dough into a cookie mold, or just shape it into a circular disk on a lightly greased baking pan (or parchment paper). Prick all over with a fork. If you are making a freeform disk, you can also lightly score it with knife to make wedges.
Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
Cut into wedges while warm.
1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 c. almond meal*
1 c. less 2 Tbs. flour (unsifted)
see Classic Shortbread. Add almond meal with the flour.
* If you cannot find almond meal, you can use whole almonds and this technique: Place 1/4 cup almonds and 1/2 cup of the flour into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Grind the nuts to a fine meal, using off and on pulses. Add the rest of the flour and pulse to mix.
All Text and Photos © 2010 Grace Hwang Lynch, unless otherwise noted