Spritz are festive, crispy butter cookies that are great for any time of year. They taste like butter cookies, but they have more surface area with their nooks and crannies, giving them a unique texture and pretty appearance. Click through the slideshow to learn tips for making spritz.
Essential tool: dough press
Before making spritz for the first time, I'd assumed that using a dough press would be optional, and that I could probably achieve the same results by carefully piping the cookies with a bag and fluted piping tips. After one pretty frustrating session, I learned the error of my ways. To get really pretty cookies, which is sort of the point of making spritz, the press is essential. It not only gives you a uniform shape each time, but its clicking action helps you dose out the dough in uniform amounts.
Mise en place: sift flour
When setting up, take the time to sift the flour. Spritz are very delicate and the mixing process is light. Sifting beforehand ensures that you won't have dry spots in the finished cookies and makes mixing easier, resulting in a cookie that's tender.
Cream butter and sugar
This is a delicate dough that doesn't contain leaveners (baking soda or baking powder) and it relies on proper mixing to give the cookies their shape and texture. Many cookie doughs begin with the instructions to cream the butter and sugar together. This is an especially important step with spritz; if you begin with butter that is too warm and melty, or if you don't get the mixture of sugar and butter fluffy enough, the cookies won't hold their shape. I like to add the vanilla bean and the salt while creaming the butter and sugar, to ensure that the flavor is fully integrated. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater often, to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated. Be sure to review this post on the proper technique for creaming butter and sugar.
Add the egg, beat thoroughly
Add the egg, then continue to beat well, for approximately 5 minutes, on high speed. Your goal is to aerate and emulsify, which will prepare the butter mixture to receive the flour and improve the texture and structure of the cookie.
Add sifted flour
Add the sifted flour to the bowl, and mix on the lowest speed for only about 15 - 30 seconds. The goal is to just barely bring the flour and butter mixture together. Stop when the flour is just absorbed, but the mixture is far from homogenous. It is important that the dough not be overworked, which will cause the cookies to be tough.
Finish mixing by hand
To avoid overworking the dough and developing too much gluten, finish the mixing by hand using a big rubber spatula or wooden spoon. This will give you more control to stop than you'd have using a mixer. Mix until the dough is even and homogenous, then stop.
Fill the tube of the press
Follow the manufacture's instructions for assembling your dough press, as they vary a bit from model to model. When filling the tube with the dough, the goal is to try to eliminate air pockets, which can cause unevenly piped cookies. Using a spatula, press the dough into the tube, and rotate the tube as you fill it, so there's no one side of the tube getting more pressure than the other.
Using the dough press
Using a dough press takes some practice to get it right. Place the press directly onto the surface of a cold, clean sheet tray (no silpats, parchment, or non-stick surfaces here; the cookies need to be able to stick to the pan when they are piped out of the press) and squeeze the handle for one click to dispense the dough, then pull the press up and away at a right angle.
Practice a rhythm
Dispensing the cookies works best if you do it rapid-fire, so try to get into a rhythm and work quickly. You can always reuse the dough if you're not happy with your first results.
Practice makes perfect
It can take a few tries to get the hang of this, but don't worry. You can remove the dough from the tray using an offset spatula. Be sure to wipe away any residue of failed attempts from the pan, or else the next round will not stick.
Dough press designs
Most presses are designed so you can change the design plates as you work. Each design will require you to use a slightly different rhythm and placing technique. It's a little frustrating, but practice makes perfect!
Decorate and bake
Decorate the cookies with sanding sugar, sugar pearls, or candied fruit before you bake them. Be sure that you've preheated the oven to 375°F (190°C) before putting the cookies in. Baking them in a cooler oven will cause them to melt and lose their shape.
Cooling and removal
It can be daunting to bake without parchment paper or silpats if you're used to them, but these cookies are easy to release. Allow them to cool for five minutes on the sheet tray, then slide an offset spatula under each to loosen, and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
A note on baking times
Traditionally, spritz are baked very lightly which makes them very pale and visually appealing. The length of time that you bake them is us to you; I personally prefer the taste and texture of a cookie that is darker and more caramelized. I baked both options, and you can definitely see the range of color between the lighter, circle shapes and the rest of the cookies on the cooling rack.