Who hasn’t got a jar full of cookie cutters in their cupboard? Those simple metal ones you had to buy because … well, because you really liked the shape of them? We have them, too. Dozens of Christmas-themed stars, snow flakes, Santas and gingerbread men, as well as slightly less Christmassy dinosaurs, aeroplanes and a somewhat random elk family we saw in Sweden a couple of years ago.
What kind of biscuits do you use your cutters for? The traditional gingerbread dough works best with the bigger cutters, as the dough can get a little dry if you roll it out too thinly. For those smaller shapes, however, you might want to give these wonderfully light and thin biscuits a try: delicately brittle, they simply melt on your tongue.
When I was little, these ‘Ausstecherle’ – ‘little cut outs’ – were our favourite, as we could cut them into whatever shape we wanted them to be, knead the soft dough, eat a little of it raw, and roll it out as many times as we wanted to. Obviously, having grown up, I now know that that’s the last thing you want to do with this egg-yolk-heavy shortcrust pastry: you need to work relatively quickly, keeping the dough in the fridge while you work on small portions of it, and avoiding any unnecessary compacting of it. No wonder my mum made a second, proper batch of biscuits at nighttime, after we had gone to bed!
The compromise is to simply surrender a small part of the dough to those invariably busy little hands, ensuring that nothing too grubby ends up in the finished biscuits by putting in place a hidden but rigorous quality control process before the cookies are put into the oven. That way, everybody will be happy.
Butter Biscuits (makes 60)
- 500g plain flour
- 250g cold unsalted butter
- 250g caster sugar
- 2 tbs vanilla sugar
- 7 egg yolks
- the zest of one unsalted lemon
- icing sugar, to decorate
Mix all the ingredients except for the icing sugar. As always with this type of dough, before I use my hands to knead it into a dough, I use a spatula to cut the butter into small chunks and mixing it with the flour and sugar.
Store in the fridge for an hour or two, before heating your oven to 175C.
Cut the dough into small portions, which you roll out to a thinness of around 0.5 cm or slightly less. Use your cutters to cut out shapes and place them on baking trays covered in baking parchment. Place the offcuts in the fridge with the remaining dough to keep it cool.
Once your tray is full, bake the biscuits for around 8-10 minutes: it’s better to have them slightly undercooked than to wait until they turn brown. Sprinkle some icing sugar over them before you let them cool on a wire rack or similar.
Traditionally, we glaze these biscuits with egg yolks and sprinkle them with a type of rather chunky sugar, called ‘hailstone sugar’, which you can get in German delis. The icing sugar makes them look more delicate, though, so I’m rather pleased with this substitute..
As with all our Christmas bakery, they will keep – theoretically! – for up to a month if you store them in tins in a cool place. That way you’ll have something for visitors, who, if they are German, will invariably bring some of their own cookies as a ‘gift’. In reality, they’re just showing off.
You might be wondering about all those leftover egg whites: after all, there’s only so much meringue you can eat! And if you’re prepared to make these butter biscuits, I probably won’t be able to convince you to consider using them for a low-fat breakfast. Instead, I’d suggest you pop them in a lidded box and put them in the fridge – you’ll need them for the cinnamon stars I’ll be making for Fiesta Friday!