Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thoughts of cookies and Cardamom Butter Squares

Today, I am not blogging about one person's favorite cookie. I decided to give family hearts a break and just blog about a cookie I happen to like. My cookie favorite would be a molasses or gingery type cookie or a cookie that's based in butter with frosting. Nothing fancy or sophisticated there. Just full of taste and texture. But first I have to write a little about this season of cookie baking and what it means to me.

When I started baking cookies for family I developed a process that brings me immense pleasure. I make a list of all desirable cookies. This is a large and cumbersome list and would scare the faint of heart. I won't bake each cookie but I am developing a list to assure the best will be included. I include family favorites as the base then cull my cookie recipes for additions. I have 5 cookbooks exclusively for cookies, 6 cookie magazine collections and then a stack of cookie recipes that I collect throughout the year. So part of the pleasure and process is reading and eliminating, noting some as maybes, others as musts and compiling the initial list. Then I code the cookie list as to type of cookie - bar, rolled, drop, sliced, etc. The second coding is for chocolate, nut, frosted, fruit, butter, citrus, fruit, spice or some other standout ingredient. The final step is to cull the list to develop a list of cookies that are balanced by type and ingredient. I try to make sure that there is a balance of flavors and textures so we don't have an over abundance of any one type or kind of cookie. While some may see this whole process as pretty picky or even anal or perhaps compulsive it is a critical time for me.

The process is so much more than making a list. It gives me a sense of what the platter will look like and the variety of tastes. But mostly it starts the anticipation and excitement of the reality of cookies and baking and smiles. As I've written before, I have thought about each person and their cookie and them. I think about my memories of them through the years and the more recent past memories. I have hopes and dreams and gratitude for the presence of each person in my life. I think about the history of the cookies in my list. There are always some made from a recipe from someone who has passed on. Making those cookies allows me an opportunity to connect with all of them and bring so many happy memories back to the present. This is a most spiritual experience for me and without meaning to offend I see this process and baking and sending and enjoying cookies when they reach their destination to be a unique form of communion among the generations and the ones loved so well. Communion in shared meals is one of my beloved rituals of life and when family and dear ones are so far apart it brings everyone a shared experience to mark the time until we can unite at our summer vacation.

Today's cookie is a cardamom butter square. The recipe was developed by the McCormick Spice Company. Cardamom is an exotic spice and in my mind underused in cooking. This cookies combines several favorite flavors - spice, butter, espresso and bittersweet chocolate. They are rolled into a log and chilled. When ready to bake they are sliced and baked then decorated with drizzles of bittersweet and espresso frosting. They are very contemporary looking and just delicious.

Cardamom Butter Squares

3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp gr. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 C softened butter
1 1/4 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl.

Beat together sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixture for two minutes until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Form dough into two 12 inch logs wrap each in plastic wrap. Use your hands to roll, press and square the sides of each log. Chill logs on a baking sheet until slightly firm, about 1 hour then smooth logs with plastic wrap and flat side of ruler to achieve straight sides. Chill until firm, 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut scant 1/4 inch slices from a log to fill two ungreased baking sheets. arranging slices about 1 inch apart. (Chill remaining dough in plastic wrap.)

Bake cookies switching positions of the sheets midway during baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on sheets 3 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining dough.


1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 - 2 T milk
1 C confectioner's sugar

Mix the above together to make a thick but pourable frosting. Spoon into a sealable bag and snip 1/8 inch from corner. Use the bag to drizzle thin strips of espresso icing on the cookies.

3 oz melted bittersweet chocolate

Put 3 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate into another sealable bag, snip 1/8 inch from the corner and drizzle over the cookies. You have a two layer drizzle on each cookie. Let cookies stand on the racks until the icing is set about 2 hours.

This makes 6 dozen cookies.

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