I baked some Christmas cookies today. I love to bake cookies, even though I usually have a lot of "technical difficulties." I try to make detailed notes about each recipe but as the season rolls around again each year I find myself in the kitchen facing a messy bowl of batter, half of which has been used up trying to get the cookie size and baking times just right.
I know, I know - I need to let go of my obsession with wanting all of the cookies in each batch to come out looking the same. I'm not a professional, and I don't really aspire to be, but it would be nice if I could get all the biscotti to be approximately the same length. (Actually, biscotti are one cookie that I've gotten pretty good at; I'll post my biscotti-baking tips later).
Another issue with which I grapple is the need to have a pleasing "composition" on the cookie plate. The cookies have to taste good, of course, but I want that visual appeal as well. That means there can be only so many round, oblong, or square cookies. Ya gotta mix it up! I also like to work in a little "punch" of color.
"Spritz" butter cookies seemed like the ideal answer to both problems - if you use a cookie press, you can make any number of differently-shaped cookies, and you can add food color to the dough. After many batches of those cookies, however, I can state with some authority that those spritz can get you into trouble.
Start with the dough itself - too loose and the cookies spread out, losing the details in their shape; too tough and the cookies don't taste as good. I finally found a recipe that I can work with - the cookies are very rich, buttery and have a nice "bite" to them. It's Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for butter spritz and if I remember, I'll post it later too.
The real trouble began when I tried to spruce up my spritz - which was the reason, you may recall, that I was baking them in the first place. Apparently I do not have an eye for color when it comes to cookies - there's some magic formula involving food color and cookie dough that I haven't quite determined. Last years' batch of hot pink cookies was not terribly appetizing; neither are the grey-tinged green trees I produced today. (See the photo - they actually look more appealing here than in real life. More like green arrowheads than trees, really - maybe I'll save them for St. Patrick's Day...)
Fortunately I've learned from my mistakes and know that the occasional flash of pink on a plate of traditionally-dressed cookies isn't as startling as the whole herd of Pinky Tuscaderos, so I didn't panic (too much) about my ailing trees.
As for different shapes, I've almost given up on that. You know that plate on the cookie press that makes little flower-shaped cookies? And how the center of the cookie just cries out to be filled with a chocolate chip? Well if your cookies dough recipe is one of those that spreads and loses details when baked, the cookies come out being a striking resemblance to, ah, shall we say - a body part that is not found on a man. That's not what I had in mind when I said that I wanted to spice up my cookies!