Growing up in a Jewish household always left me with a bit of envy around the holidays. I loved Hanukkah with all of the chocolate gelt, potato latkes, and especially the eight days of presents, but there was always a part of me that yearned for a tree to decorate. Unwrapping boxes of delicate ornaments and stringing lights seemed so appealing to my young mind. Over the years I made a point of inviting myself over to as many friends houses as possible to assist in this festive practice and appease my Christmas envy.
The edible ornaments, strings of popcorn and cranberries, and the intricately iced gingerbread people were always my favorite. It was my love of edible adornments that inspire me to make these Stained Glass Cookies from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion to share with my tree-decorating friends.
These cookies are a two-part process that involves both baking and candy making. The dough is simple enough with a mix of fats including butter, cream cheese, and shortening spiced with nutmeg, vanilla, and ginger. The recipe calls for the dough to be chilled overnight, and that is a step that can't be rushed; the dough needs to be thoroughly chilled so that when it's rolled out it doesn't stick and can hold the decorative shapes made by the cookie cutters.
Once the cookies are baked, the scary, fun, exciting, and slightly dangerous candy making begins. The candy centers are nothing more than a basic hard candy recipe. It's entirely up to you how you choose to flavor and color your candies. I chose seasonal red and green flavored with orange and lemon, but only because I didn't have any peppermint extract on hand. The candy mix has to reach a temperature between 300°F and 310°F—known in candy making as the hard-crack stage—or else it won't harden completely. Making the candy centers requires a lot of handling hot stuff so have those oven mitts ready.
If making candy isn't your thing, The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion advises that you can use store bought candies instead. Just place the crushed candies in the center of your cookies before baking. Not all candies will melt at this temperature so be sure to do a few test runs. Jolly Ranchers and swirled peppermint candies work very well.
I've just finished filling my Stained Glass Cookies and they look beautiful. I cannot wait to see them hanging from the branches of an evergreen sparkling along with the Christmas lights.
Win The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion to give away this week.
- Yield:4 dozen cookies
- For the dough:
- 1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
- 4 ounces (half an 8-once package) cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 4 cups (17 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- For the candy centers:
- 2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
- 1 cup (11 ounces) light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) water
- Food coloring
- A few drops of strong flavoring of your choice (optional)
In a large bowl, cream together the shortening, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the cream cheese, vanilla, and egg and beat well.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating until well combined. The dough will be soft; cover and refrigerate it overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters. Refrigerate three of the pieces until needed. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two or three baking sheets.
Roll each piece of dough to a 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured work surface.
Use a 3 1/2- to 4-inch round cookie cutter to cut the dough, and immediately transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheets, leaving a bit of space between them. Use another shape cutter if you like; just make sure it leaves enough space in the middle to cut out the space for the candy filling. Use a smaller (1 inch or so) cutter in the shape of a circle, heart, star, diamond, or what-have-you to cut out the centers. A bagel or doughnut cutter works well here-it cuts out the cookie and its center hole at the same time. If the dough isn't cold enough, refrigerate the sheets and cut out the centers when the dough is a bit easier to work with. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, or until they're barely firm and still somewhat pale; they'll be just lightly browned around the outer edges. Let them cool on the baking sheets.
Place two or three 1-cup ovenproof glass measuring cups in a 375°F oven to warm. In a medium-sized pan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water, and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Next, without stirring, cook the syrup until it reaches 300°F to 310°F (hard-crack stage) on a candy thermometer. Remove the syrup from the heat and take one measuring cup from the oven. Pour one half (or one third) of the syrup into the measuring cup, depending on how many colors of filling you want to make, and stir in the food coloring and flavor of your choice. Leave the remaining syrup in the pan, set over low heat.
When the syrup in the cup stops bubbling, hold the cup with a very thick potholder and pour the syrup in a then, gentle stream to fill the cookie centers. Stop pouring just as the syrup comes to the top level of the cookie. Be careful; this is an extremely hot process and you may need to take a break halfway through to give your hand a rest. Alternatively, you can use a small (teaspoon) cookie scoop to dip syrup out of the cup and deposit it in the cookie centers; fill the scoop about halfway. This prevents the mild discomfort of holding onto a hot glass for a long time.
Use the second and/or third cup and the rest of the syrup, colored and flavored differently, to fill the centers of the remaining cookies. (If you have any leftover syrup, pour it into small rounds on a piece of parchment or aluminum foil to make hard candies.)