We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween Dead Man's Party Cookies (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

by Michelle

"I can see lights in the distance trembling in the dark cloak of night
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing a waltz on All Souls Night."
                                                                                                    ~Loreena McKennit

   One of my favorite ways to pass an afternoon is to spend time preparing something great to eat with people that I enjoy spending time with, especially my sisters and my daughter, Maddie. When my sister Linda and I lived together for a spell we would often find ourselves on a Saturday morning, collaborating in the kitchen, putting together a simple and delicious midday meal that we would enjoy eating al fresco under the dappled shade of the big, gnarled oak tree.
   My teenage daughter and I often work companionably together to create beautiful and tasty desserts. Maddie has become an advanced baker while still in her teens, and even makes gorgeous layer cakes that would make any pasty chef proud. Maddie has made cookies with Linda and me ever since she was tall enough to stand on a chair to reach the kitchen counter and work side-by-side with us. Picturing these happy memories in my mind, I recall the nursery rhyme, girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Maddie, as a little girl, tended to lean toward the spicy side.

Linda and Maddie, both in their jammies, baking together circa 2000.
Maddie and I baking together back in the day. Such good memories!
   Every year I look forward to the day before Thanksgiving. That's the day we traditionally dedicate to baking pumpkin pies, apple pies or crostatas, and Grandma Joan's pecan tassies, among other treats. Maddie is happiest when a recipe calls for decorative embellishment, which gives her the opportunity to use a pastry bag and various decorating tips to create roses, leaves, and scrolls using frosting as a favored artistic medium.
   Maddie recently told me about a conversation that she took part in at a friend's birthday dinner. When the talk turned to cooking, Maddie discovered that she knows so much more about baking and cooking than she previously realized. Growing up with a mother and aunts who love to cook and bake, Maddie has picked up details that she didn't even know she had absorbed until she began contributing quite enthusiastically, like a true foodie, to the dinner conversation.

All grown up now, Maddie is a baking and decorating pro.

   Over the summer when my dear friend Stephanie gave me the "GingerDead Men" cookie cutter and stamper as a hostess present, what she really gave me was the gift of more time spent in the kitchen with my daughter. Maddie and I agreed that making the cookies would be a fun Halloween project. Especially since the bones are made by piping frosting... Maddie's favorite thing! I look forward to our kitchen dates with much anticipation now that she is older. I see much less of my only child now that she has her driver's license. Increasingly, now more than ever, school commitments and extra curricular activities demand her time and energy. Carving out time to be together has become more of a priority due to the demands of both of our schedules.
   Working in the kitchen together with family and friends encourages conversation and is quality time spent towards building better relationships. Then, as if it couldn't get any better, you get to chow down on some good eats with your favorite people. Now, where's my apron? Let's get baking.

These little cookie cutters are widely available. Click here for a link to
one website that has them for sale.

Halloween Dead Man's Party Cookies

   As I see it, these cookies can be made with any rolled cookie dough. Ginger Snaps would be nice, as would a delicious sugar dough. (Maddie suggested updating the name to "Sugardeadies". Funny!) For Halloween, I thought I would give chocolate a go. I was delighted to find a "Fauxreos" cookie recipe on-line at BraveTart, a really wonderful blog written by Food and Wine's Best Pastry Chef of 2012, Stella Parks. I'm looking forward to owning Stella's cookbook, which is planned for release early next year. Can't wait!

I like to weigh and prep my ingredients before I begin making the dough.
Cookie Dough Ingredients:
3 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
3-3/4 ounces sugar
1-1/2 ounces brown sugar
1-1/2 tsps. kosher salt (I use Diamond brand)
1/4 plus 1/8 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp instant coffee powder
1-1/2 tsps vanilla extract mixed with 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 egg yolks (I found that I needed 3 egg yolks)
4 ounces rice flour or all purpose flour and 3 ounces cocoa powder, sifted together
Additional cocoa powder for rolling, as needed
parchment paper, recommended

Frosting Ingredients (I doubled the ingredients, you may want to as well. If so, double the quantities):
2 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature, or shortening
5 ounces powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 to 2 Tbsps water, if needed (I needed it)
14 or 16-inch pastry bag
small diameter decorating tip

1. To make the cookies: Using a hand or stand mixer set to medium speed, cream together butter, both sugars, salt, espresso powder and vanilla extract/baking soda mixture.
2. Turn mixer to its lowest setting. Add flour/cocoa mixture all at once. The mixture will be stiff. Continue mixing until uniform. Shut off mixer. Use a spatula to scrape the dough from the bowl and knead lightly to form a smooth ball. Use your hands to flatten into a disc. Roll the dough right away, or wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. You may refrigerate the dough for up to a week.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift some cocoa powder onto the counter. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a metal spatula between the dough and counter to loosen to help prevent the cookies from sticking. Use any cookie cutter that you like... the skeleton cutter is pretty fun!

4. Arrange cookies on ungreased cookies sheet lined with parchment paper. The cookies will not spread much during baking, so they may be arranged quite close together.
5. Gather scraps of dough, knead, and roll once more. Add cut cookies to the sheets. Bake the cookies for about 12 to 15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Rotate the cookies after 6 minutes for even cooking. Once the cookies have baked, cool thoroughly, directly on the cooling rack.

6. To make the filling, with a hand or stand mixer, cream together shortening/butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Cream on medium speed for five minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl periodically. The long mixing time aerates the filling, making it especially white and less gritty. I found that at the end of the recommended beating time, I need to thin the frosting with a little cool water. Using a spatula, transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip.

I find the easiest way to fill a decorating bag is to use a tall drinking glass as a holder.
To use the bag, twist and apply steady pressure from the top,which will 
help to evenly dispense frosting. Continue twisting the top as needed.
I started with a tip that had a larger opening, but discovered that a smaller tip, 
the smallest tip I own, worked the best.
7. Pipe filling, applying pressure to the top of the bag. Let the frosting dry and then transfer the cookies to an airtight container and refrigerate for several hours.

An October harvest moon breaches the mountains as it rises over the desert 
and illuminates Cottonwood trees in Tubac, Arizona.

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