Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cookies for grown-ups.

Thumbprint cookies. Some with adult beverages. © Ryan Schierling
It's that after-school milk-and-cookies time of year again, or so I am informed by all the social media pointing back-to-school. Are "kids coming home to milk and cookies" a thing of the past? Is that even still a thing these days? These questions are purely rhetorical, though, because when I think of back-to-school, I really think of parents. Parents relieved to be back into the school year routine, exasperated by the frenetic depth of activities loading their little one's schedules, or just happy to have a few quiet morning moments alone.

I think of parents who need cookies. So, deserving kidful friends, these cookies are for just for you.

The first time I shared these sweet little thumbprint cookies at work, a certain lovely lady christened them "grown-up cookies." I loved that – especially because she wasn't particularly referring to the amaretto flavor in the one she was eating, just the fact that they were something beyond the ubiquitous flavors of chocolate or peanut butter.

Now, don't get me wrong; filling thumbprint cookies with jam or jelly is standard operating procedure. It's not difficult, and even a little bit of messy fun shaping the cool dough and filling them. Where these little gems part from the usual company is by using a soft sugar cookie-type dough in lieu of the more traditional shortbread, and the addition of more nuanced filling flavor profiles. In this week's case, that nuance is courtesy of some embellishment from the liquor cabinet.

For old time's sake, though, there's a variation as retro as your vintage Winnie the Pooh lunch box and a longtime favorite of mine (strawberry rosewater) that the kids can enjoy altogether legally. 

Grown-up Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable or palm shortening
1 cup white sugar (superfine sugar, if possible)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In your mixing bowl, or electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Measure the dry ingredients and sift into a separate bowl (I just measure them into metal mesh strainer positioned over the bowl and shake it through), adding the powdered sugar, baking powder, and salt to the flour. Mix gently with whisk to distribute.

Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in your mixing bowl, incorporating thoroughly.

Separate dough into two portions, spread a layer one inch thick on each of two sheets of wax paper and wrap ends over to cover. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill dough for at least one hour or overnight. (Or even for a few days – if you just want to make a few at a time.)

Preheat oven to 400º F. Unwrap on cookie dough and using a pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into one-inch cubes. Have some flour at the ready for dusting your hands should things get sticky and roll each piece gently between your palms to make a ball. (A light dusting of flour also prevents sticking when making a divot.) Place cookies at least one inch apart on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, flatten slightly, then press your thumb into the center of each one to make a divot. To make a more uniform divot, I like to use a thick handle from a wooden spoon or whatever I can find in my kitchen that is rounded and a similar size. You may also just press your thumb or finger into the cookie from the opposite direction, as this will allow you to get more filling in the cookie.

Spoon one of the grown-up fillings, listed below, into each thumbprint. My favorite tool for this task is a wee demitasse spoon.

Bake cookies for approximately 8 minutes, or until just barely visibly golden around the edges. Remove from cookie sheets to cool completely.

Grown-up Fillings

Note: I try to select a preserve, fruit spread or jam that uses a high ratio of fruit to sugar, and actually uses real sugar to sweeten.

Strawberry rosewater –1/2 cup strawberry preserves with 1 teaspoon rosewater 

Pear bourbon – 1/2 cup pear preserves with 1-1/2 teaspoons bourbon

Blackberry Chambord – 1/2 cup blackberry preserves with 1-1/2 teaspoons black raspberry liqueur

Peach amaretto – 1/2 cup peach preserves with 1-1/2 teaspoons amaretto, top with small pieces of  chopped pecans

PB and "a touch of the grape" (for the grown-up kid in you) – 1/2 cup grape preserves with 1-1/2 teaspoons red wine. Add a 1/4 teaspoon bit of chunky peanut butter to one side of the thumbprint before filling the remainder with fruit mixture.

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