In Germany at holiday time, any visit from friends or family calls for a tray of tiny, elegant cookies. They’re made in a surprising range of colors and shapes, from intricate meringue-based confections to simple butter-based spritz cookies. Spritz cookies are made from a very soft and delicate dough that’s piped from a pastry bag, or, more recently, from a cookie press. During the holiday season, when time is at a premium, this makes them a very practical option for busy bakers. With a minimum of practice, even a novice can quickly fill several sheet pans with spritz cookies in a variety of inviting shapes.
The key is using butter that’s been at room temperature long enough to be very soft. Cream 3 cups of butter with a pound of icing sugar until it’s very light and fluffy, approximately five or six minutes. Beat in two teaspoons of vanilla, then six whole eggs and three additional yolks. You may add food coloring at this point for colored cookies. Sift two teaspoons of ground cardamom into 2-½ pounds of cake or pastry flour and mix it by thirds into the butter mixture. This is a holiday-sized batch, enough for six to seven dozen cookies.
The dough is very soft and pale golden, with a subtle European flavor from the cardamom. You can use it in a cookie press if you want to, but it’s soft enough to be piped easily from a pastry bag.
Spritz Cookies With a Pastry Bag
Fit a bag with a large #6 star tip and fill it no more than 1/3 with the soft cookie dough. Press the dough firmly into the bag with a flexible spatula, to eliminate air pockets that can spoil the look of your cookies. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats and preheat the oven to 375 F. Press the tip of the piping bag to the parchment and begin piping a rope of cookie dough. Pipe the dough in 2-inch circles to make Christmas wreath cookies, or create Christmas tree cookies by piping the dough in a triangular zigzag. A traditional shape that’s widely used in Europe is a tight “S” shape with the ends curled in tightly to make a loop. The ends are filled with bright red jam or jelly before baking.
Spritz with a Cookie Press
For the most part you will use the directions on your cookie press, as each one is different. However, one big tip is to NOT grease the cookie sheet, or use parchment paper or a baking mat. This is one application where you actually want your cookies to stick to the sheet: the raw dough must stick in order for the cookie to form. Once baked and cooled slightly, the high butter content will ensure that your cookies will release easily from the baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for approximately 12 minutes, until they’re set and dark golden at the edges. Let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing them from the sheet, because they’re very delicate and prone to break when warm.
If you’re pressed for time or not confident in your piping skills, pipe out the cookie dough in straight 2-inch lines and bake them. Instead of shapes, vary the cookies’ appearance with decorations. Dip one end in melted dark or milk chocolate and let them cool on the sheet pan. Drizzle the cookies with melted chocolate, or white glaze. Decorate with carefully-placed silver and gold dragees, or with colorful candy sprinkles or jimmies.
Spritz cookies are much quicker than the traditional butter-cookie method of rolling, cutting and rolling some more. The time you save can be your gift to yourself.
Featured photo by Ann Gordon under Creative Commons license.