The baker's most awaited magical month is here! The time when compulsive bakers bake more than usual, reluctant bakers bake at least something! And those who don't bake wish they did! Come December, and you can feel Christmas in the air. If you did miss it - a one in a hundred chance, the magical, inspiring blogosphere constantly throws up gorgeous Christmassy reminders saying 'Bake, bake'!
Stained glass window cookies, in my opinion, make fantastic festive edible decorations. Cookies you take delight in making, things your kids squeal over. Though the cookies taste good, what I don't enjoy eating is the stick-to-your teeth candy centers. Not that I can imagine I will relish eating sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. But the decorative part is the best part when we talk about these edible ornaments. Don't you agree? I have made these earlier, crisp eggless whole wheat cookies with candy centers. And this time, some chocolate cookies with caramel centers. These probably don't look as pretty as the non-chocolate ones, but then there are very few things which chocolate can't make up for!
Alice Medrich calls these Winter Solstice Cookies. Crisp cocoa cookies with amber centers letting the sun shine through. The cookies indeed bake up crisp and taste intensely of cocoa. If you are a cocoa lover, you will love these. The dough is pretty simple, a slice and bake one. The cookies puff and spread quite a bit as they bake, so your only choice is to cut of the center after the cookies bake. And yes, you need to be careful when you make the caramel, the slightest bit of distraction or delay can cause it to overcook like mine and look darker (and slightly bitter) than you need it to be.
Winter Solstice Cookies - Adapted minimally from the book Chocolate Holidays
All purpose flour - 130 grams / 1 cup
Unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch process or natural - 1/2 cup (weighs 40 grams aprox)
Baking soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Baking powder - 1/4 teaspoon
Salt - 1/8 teaspoon
Unsalted butter, softened - 113 grams / 1 stick / 1/2 cup
Brown sugar, lump free - 1/2 cup, packed
White sugar - 1/2 cup ( I have used all white sugar, weighed and powdered fine)
Egg - 48 grams / 1 large
Vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon
To make the cookies (I made half of the below quantity)
- Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and the salt. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and the sugar(s) with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy but not fluffy - about 1.5 minutes on speed 3. Mix in the egg and vanilla.
- Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. I used my hand mixer on the lowest speed for a few seconds. The dough will be sticky.
- Form it into a log, 6 inches for the full recipe( 3 inches for half), 2 1/2 inches in diameter. (Do not make the logs thinner as it will be tough to cut out the windows later).
- Wrap the dough well in clingfilm and chill it for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. (I chilled it overnight)
Before you start baking the cookies, keep a sharp metal 1 inch round cookie cutter nearby. If you do not have one, try cutting with the sharp side of a metal piping nozzle as I did.
- Line your cookie sheets with baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
- Using a sharp knife. cut the logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Do bake one test cookie first, cut it out, check the window and cookie size and done-ness, the best way and time to cut out the center and then bake the rest. You are better off baking these in batches of 2 - 3 cookies.
- Place them spaced 1.5 inches apart on the baking sheet (they spread). Wrap and refrigerate the remaining part of the log till your oven is free for the next batch. Or slice and place the remaining slices side by side on a baking sheet, cover well with clingfilm and refrigerate.
- Bake till the cookies puff up and settle down again, 10-12 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheets halfway through. I found that the cookies were easiest to cut immediately out of the oven. Let the cookies remain on the sheet when they come out, too fragile to slip out now. Hold the tray with a small towel, and cut out the centers, using a repetitive turning motion( as you would twist open a bottle cap). Be gentle but decisive. The cookies tend to break as they crisp up quite fast.
- Carefully ease out the centers. The cookies crisp up as they cool. If they are not crisp, it means they needed more baking time.
- Transfer the cookies to an airtight container, placing them in a single layer. When all the cookies are done and you are ready to make the caramel, place them on a sheet of parchment. Space them an inch apart.
Sugar - 1 cup
Water - 1/2 cup
Lemon juice - 1/4 teaspoon
- In a light colored heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, water and the lime juice. Wash down any sugar crystals on the insides of the pan using the brush.
- Over medium heat, stir gently (do not whisk) until most of the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar.
- Uncover and wash down the insides with the brush. Without further stirring, continue to simmer until the syrup begins to color. This will take a couple of minutes, be patient.
- Swirl the pan if needed to distribute the color evenly. Using a skewer or fork put a drop on the plate, the color will go from light amber to reddish to dark very quickly. Be really attentive.
- When you see a nice reddish amber color, immediately take the pan off the heat and carefully plunge the saucepan in the cold water. This will arrest further cooking and help the caramel stay liquid for a few minutes.
- Working quickly, spoon the caramel in the 'windows'. Let cool and harden. Store the cookies airtight.
Caramel tastes way better than candy pieces in the windows for sure, but it still remains hard and sticks to your teeth. That said, they still make pretty pieces on your tree with the sun shining through! So you do have a reason to bake these for Christmas.