I recently got the chance to take cookie decorating class with the founders of Casue Sweets, a fabulous boutique cookie shop here in NYC. It was a revelation.
Casue Sweets is owned by twin sisters Carolyn and Susanne, aka Ca-Sue. They produce designer, made-to-order cookies that are almost too pretty to eat. But do order them and do eat them, because they are delectable.
To create their designs, the sisters often use one-of-a-kind cookie cutters, or even individually hand-cut each cookie, to make just about any shape a customer can dream up. Check out their website and facebook page to see the impressive variety and sophistication of their designs.
As for me, I love to cook and bake (hence this food blog) but I generally shy away from desserts that require careful attention to detail. I'm somewhat impatient (read very impatient), so I'm not naturally drawn to the idea of piping and such, but I felt so empowered after the class that I was inspired to give it a go on my own. I'm pretty thrilled with how these came out.
As you can see. I was practicing my decorating skills, so I played around with a bunch of designs. I ended up with so many cookies that I decided to bag 'em up as favors for my baby shower. Just a little over three months until baby, y'all!!!
The cookie recipe below is based on the actual recipe used at Casue Sweets, which the sisters were kind enough to send each of us home with (thank you so much!). It's a shortbread cookie, versus the more oft-used sugar cookie, and I think it is a wonderful change-up.
I decided to make a citrus icing and I wanted to play around with the recipe to make it more my own, so I added the orange juice and zest, pulverized, toasted pecans and buckwheat flour to the dough. I am so happy with the results. The flavor is warm and toasty but also bright and citrusy and the cookies have a tender/crumbly/crisp shortbread texture. They're also not too sweet, which is a bonus because the icing is very sugary.
Buckwheat Pecan Orange Shortbread Cookies
Yield: 30-60 cookies depending on the size of your cookies. I got just short of 60.
1 lb unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed lightly
1 1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buckwheat flour
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup pulverized toasted pecans*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon orange juice
1 Tablespoon orange zest
*Toast the pecans at 350 for 10-15 minutes until fragrant. Cool before pulverizing in your food processor.
I used my stand mixer for this recipe, but a hand mixer will work fine here too. Cream the butter and sugar on medium/low until light and fluffy. Add the buckwheat flour, pulverized toasted pecans, salt, vanilla, OJ and zest and combine on medium/low speed. Add the flour in two additions, mixing on low until just combined.
Check out my beautiful antique Kitchen Aid. It was my husband's grandmother's.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and bring it together. It should be just a tad crumbly (mix in more flour before turing your dough out if it seems too wet in the mixing bowl). Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat your oven to 325. Take a chunk of dough, about two cups worth or so, and put the rest back in the fridge covered tightly. On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a sheet about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into your desired shape(s) and transfer each cookie carefully to a prepared baking sheet (parchment or silt pat) using a spatula.
The dough is delicate but forgiving, so if it breaks, just patch it back together or start again. I kept rolling the scraps back into the next chunk of dough I grabbed from the fridge and the texture didn't suffer at all (see, forgiving!). This dough also keeps it's shape really well while baking, so you can fit a lot of cookies on each sheet.
Once your oven is preheated, bake each sheet separately in the center of the oven for 14 minutes. Allow the cookies to firm up on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. The gals at Casue Sweets said their recipe keeps really well in an airtight container in a cool/non-humid location, or even frozen (not yet iced), so I'm guessing the same goes for these guys, although due to the nuts, which can go rancid, I'd say eat them within two weeks unless you freeze them. You may also decide to freeze the unbaked dough and roll and bake as desired.
The icing I used for these cookies is based on the recipe for Glace Icing that the ladies at Casue Sweets gave us (double thanks so much!). I reduced it a bit but the general proportions are similar. First, I made a looser base icing that could be used to "flood" the cookies. After coloring it (see below), I poured off about three cups worth and then added additional sifted confectioner's sugar to the remainder to thicken it for piping.
Yield: I had enough for about 60 cookies with quite a bit leftover.
6 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (plus extra for thickening the icing for piping)
4 oz lukewarm water
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
4 oz light corn syrup
Sift 6 cups on confectioner's sugar into a large bowl, or into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the water and begin mixing on the lowest speed with your stand or electric hand mixer, then add the lemon juice and corn syrup. Keep mixing until everything is fully incorporated and the icing is shiny. It should be viscous enough that it runs smoothly off a spoon but not so wet that it looks like it would just run off the edges of the cookies. Basically, it should spread easily but not be runny. If your icing is too thin, simply sift in more confectioner's sugar a few tablespoons at a time until it looks right.
Pour about 3/4 of the base flooding icing into a squeeze bottle or tupperware container with a tight fitting lid, be sure to cover it well to keep it from hardening.
Just mixing by hand now, to the remaining icing add more sifted confectioner's sugar by the tablespoon until the consistency is thick enough that it's difficult to stir. If you lift you spoon up, the icing should fall very, very slowly (glop). You want it to be thick so it sets up right away and creates a boarder to keep the flood icing in check.
As for coloring, I used Chefmaster Food Coloring, as well as their liquid whitener. Per the gals at Casue Sweet's instruction, I added the whitener to the base icing to make it more opaque before adding the coloring. Thus results in hues that are brighter and more saturated. Here are some tips on coloring icing from the blog Sweet Sugar Belle.
To ice the cookies, run the perimeter (all edges) with the thicker piping icing. Then squeeze the flood icing around in the center. I used a toothpick to spread it out. Add sprinkles or additional colored icing for marbling before the flood icing sets.
I decided to make the main flooding color a sort of Tiffany Blue/Green. I pulled off a bit of the blue icing and added rose pink, which, in combination with the blue/green, came out as the pretty mauve below. Based on the technique I learned in the Casue Sweets decorating class, I added a drop or two of the mauve on top of the flood icing before it set. Then I swirled it with a toothpick for that marbled effect.
The icing can be refrigerated for up to a month so long as it's covered airtight, but let it come to room temp before you use it on cookies. On a similar note, only decorate fully cooled cookies. Any residual warmth will cause the icing to spread out, melt and separate on your cookies. No good!
Another rule of thumb is that if you plan to add any additional piping over your flood icing, you be sure to allow the base icing to dry and set for 8-12 hours first.
If you live in the NYC area or plan to visit, I highly recommend contacting Casue Sweets to inquire about a decorating class. If you can't make it to the area for a class, or even if you can, order up a batch of their cookies for your next special event. You guests will be amazed.