Thumbprint Cookies

December 15, 2011

Margaux says…

One of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes has always been thumbprints. It’s a family tradition on my mom’s side, and these are one of my aunt Gigi’s specialties. My grandma and my aunt Judy always filled them with jam, but aunt Gigi made them seriously sweet and decadent with the buttercream filling-my favorite! Aunt Gigi’s also always look perfect, unlike mine, because no matter how hard I try I can never get them all to look exactly the same. These look especially sad, too, because they are the survivors of my husband’s work Christmas party (I unfortunately wasn’t able to photo before the party).

There are two ingredients in these that I NEVER use in baking: salted butter and margarine. EEK! But, I promise, it’s much better this way. I tried to make them with all butter once, and they fell into flat little pancakes and didn’t have the little thumbprint in the middle at all. And if you don’t use salted butter, you should increase the salt probably, maybe even double it. The saltiness of these cookies are what makes them so good!!

Thumbprint Cookies

makes about 3 dozen cookies-I double this recipe; they’re small cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup margarine, softened (is it already soft?  I guess I don’t know.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg white, slightly beaten
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment (easier cleanup!).

Mix butter, margarine, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla with mixer until fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together salt and flour. Add to butter mixture and mix in until just fully incorporated.

Roll 1 tsp dough into balls (I actually use a melon baller, which I think is a little more than a teaspoon). Dip in egg whites, then roll in nuts. Place 1″ apart on cookie sheet. Bake about 5 minutes, then take out of oven and make “thumbprints” (I use the end of a wooden spoon handle to make more perfect divets). Bake another 5 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack and cool completely. You may need to re-“divet” them again when they come out of the oven.

Some helpful tips:
Dealing with the egg whites is messy and sticky. It is highly recommended to first make all your balls and put them in the egg whites. Then roll them in the nuts. I also recommend not dumping all the nuts in a bowl and the rolling the balls in them…just have a little bit of the nuts in a bowl at a time. Otherwise, as you are going, the nuts will get stickier and clumpier from the egg whites. Adding fresh nuts as you go along will alleviate that situation.

Buttercream frosting (for the filling)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla (or 1/4 tsp almond, depending on your preference)
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tbsp milk
food dye

Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add vanilla and salt, and beat until fully mixed. Add powdered sugar and mix for about 30 seconds on low, and then another 30 seconds on medium speed. Add 4 tbsp milk and mix on medium-high for about a minute. Add more milk if needed. Divide, if desired, and dye each half a different color. Using a pastry bag fitted with star tip, fill each cookie with frosting. Let sit for a couple hours on rack to allow frosting to set, then set in containers in one layer (I prefer tins because Tupperware is too air tight and will make the cookies go soft, and the frosting will be too gooey. If you use a Tupperware, keep one corner of the lid ajar so that air can get in the container.) After sitting overnight, you should be able to stack up cookies in a container, putting a piece of wax paper or parchment in between each layer. Cookies will keep up to one week.

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Margaux says….

I found this recipe years ago in Cook’s Illustrated for a coconut layer cake.  I love coconut cake, and this one looked perfect, as most “Cook’s” recipes are.  I’m just now finally getting around to making it, and I’m so thrilled I did!  The original recipe is for a 4-layer cake, but I wanted to make cupcakes so that I could share with several people, and they turned out great!  The frosting is so rich and heavenly, a cupcake is the perfect portion. 

You can find cream of coconut in the drinks section of the grocery store, or in the Mexican section, which is where I found it…Goya makes it. When you open the can, it will probably be really separated. The best way I found to fix that was by pouring it in to a medium bowl, microwaving it for 30-45 seconds, then whisking it until it’s smooth. Make sure it’s room temperature before using it.

Coconut Cupcakes
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, April 2001

Cake
1 large egg plus 5 large egg whites
3/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp pure coconut extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup superfine sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool

2 cups packed (about 8 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut

1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line muffin tins with 24 paper muffin cups.
2. Beat egg whites and whole egg in 4-cup measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.
3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.
4. With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds.
5. Divide batter between muffin cups to 3/4 full. Bake until deep golden-brown, and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes (rotate pans after 10 minutes).
6. Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then remove from muffin tins and cool on racks completely.
7. While the cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 10-15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Watch closely, they get dark fast!

Coconut Buttercream
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened, but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1 tsp pure coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Combine whites, sugar and salt in bowl of standing mixer, set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2 inches barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.
2. Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well combined, about 1 minute.
3. Frost cupcakes generously with frosting. (You will probably have some left over, since this recipe is for filling and frosting a 4-layer cake. If you don’t want leftover frosting, make 3/4 of a recipe.) Top each cupcake with toasted coconut.

You can also make this cake into a 9 inch round layer cake. If you do, grease and flour 2-9 inch round cake pans or line with parchment paper. When cakes are cool, slice each layer in half horizontally, creating 4 layers. Frost each layer with about a cup (or less) of frosting in between, then frost the top and sides with the remainder. Spinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides.