Thursday, August 29, 2013

Italian Butter Cookies

As long as I can remember I have had a love for these cookies. It's truly closer to an obsession. Like I could eat a lot of them. Especially the chocolate dipped shells and the sandwich ones! When I was little, my Dad took me to this adorable bakery every Sunday after church and let me get four cookies of my choosing. And every week I got some variation of these cookies! It was my special father-daughter date time with Daddy. We would drive home from church while I munched on the cookies and I would just yap on and on about life while my dad just listened. It's still one of my all time favorite memories. The bakery closed many years ago and last month it was knocked down. But even now when I drive by all I think about is driving home from church with my Dad and my cookies.

So after years of searching and trying out recipes, I found a fantastic recipe which is as close as possible to the cookies from this bakery. They are simple butter cookies that start with an almond paste base. You can find them at almost any bakery in NJ or NY, but I have never mastered them myself until recently. And I have the approval of one of my best friends, who is also addicted to these cookies, and  from everyone at the bridal shower of a close friend, so they were a total hit!

The real difference I learned with other recipes and attempts was whether to use butter or shortening. It ends up the recipe I found uses both, butter and shortening, as well as almond paste to make a great mixture of flavor and texture. This cookie is both crumbly but not too dry and just melts in your mouth. Hope you love these as much as I do!

For this month's What's Baking challenge, Nicole, from Seven ate Nine, choose Italian theme and I was thrilled! Being fully Italian and growing up cooking, eating, and loving all things Italian, this is my favorite challenge yet. So I am here to share the best Italian butter cookie recipe I have found! Mangia!

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup plus 2 tbsp confectioners' sugar (sifted)
4 egg whites
3 oz almond paste
pinch of salt
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder (optional)

Optional toppings and decorations:
1 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped and 1/3 cup heavy cream (for making ganache)
maraschino cherries, drained and cut in half

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment, beat just the almond paste on medium high until it becomes soft. (Wish I had the homemade kind, but I just used the canned one) Then add the butter and shortening and continue to cream them all together. *It is important that the butter is room temp

2. Add in the confectioners' sugar while mixing on medium to incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Continue by adding in egg whites and extracts slowly and keep mixing on medium. Scrape down sides of the bowl.

4.  Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) together in the mixer until blended in and stop. If you would like all or part of your dough to be chocolate, add in cocoa powder. I made half of mine chocolate and kept half vanilla.

5. Fit pastry bag with a large star tip and fill with dough. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Begin to pipe star, shells,  or fingers. Try to keep your baking sheets with similar shapes to not alter cooking time, because the thicker and bigger cookies will of course bake slightly longer.
*If making star/rosette shapes cookies, you can add a maraschino cherry to the center of each cookie or cover with sprinkles.

6. Bake cookies in 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from sheets and let completely cool on drying racks.

7. Now onto decorating, the fun part! For the star/rosette cookies they were decorated before baking with sprinkles or a cherry. The fingers are traditionally done with either jam or chocolate ganache filling, but feel free to experiment with your own ideas. I used a raspberry preserve in a ziploc bag with a small cut on the tip to fill the vanilla fingers. Just squeeze the jam in the middle of the flat side of the cookie and then place another flat side down on top to make a sandwich. For the chocolate fingers, I used chocolate ganache. It is made my simply heating whipping cream in microwave for approx. 2-3 minutes until hot then pouring over chopped chocolate. Allow it to sit for 4 minutes then stir until smooth and thick. Using a spoon, I spread the ganache in the middle of the finger cookie and top some of the vanilla finger cookies. The shells are simply dipped in the remaining ganache and then sprinkled. Allow all the cookies with ganache to set fully.

My favorites were the vanilla shells with ganache and sprinkles, vanilla fingers with raspberry jam, chocolate fingers
with chocolate ganache, and chocolate rosettes with maraschino cherries. Enjoy! What are your favorite kinds! If you make a variation of this recipe or try new shapes and toppings, please share them! I love to see new inventions of old favorites. My next project, might be cream cheese (cheesecake like) filling.

Source: Woodland Bakery in Chatham, NJ's website