Sunday, December 8, 2013

Italian-American butter cookies (aka, the ones kids love)

Walk into an Italian bakery and you're likely to see shelves and shelves of butter cookies in an array of varieties and shapes.  They may be decked out in sprinkles, filled with jam or fudge, or dipped in chocolate. 
Before I started baking so often at home, I'd take my little one to a nearby Italian bakery and aside from the almond cookies, he always wanted these butter cookies.  I think they're generally popular with kids since they're so eye-catching with all the chocolate, colorful sprinkles and jam involved. Moreover, the pure flavor of butter and vanilla just goes down easy.

So this year, with my son in mind, I thought I'd try my hand at making these kid-friendly cookies at home.  In all their varieties, but from one basic dough, they are festive-looking and great for a holiday cookie platter.

I kept things traditional and simple, resisting the urge to add vanilla beans or almond extract, or to try the version that contains almond paste.  Those are projects for another time.  This basic cookie dough is fun to play with in terms of the variety of cookies you can make. You can pipe different shapes using one star tip.  For the embellishments, I tucked some of the centers with mini chocolate chips, candied cherries, and fruit preserves before baking.  I sandwich some together with apricot preserve and dipped a bunch in chocolate ganache.  Sprinkles make everything even better.
These cookies made me smile and baking them really put me in the holiday mood.  Before starting, I thought they might be a bit of a hassle to make but not only does the dough comes together in a flash, it was easy to work with in terms of piping.  That was actually a lot of fun - quick and easy, too.

These also make me think of Danish butter cookies - those blue tins have a special place in my heart. I didn't grow up eating many sweets but we did have those butter cookies.  As a child, I loved opening up the tin, taking a long whiff of that delicious buttery aroma, and looking inside, I'd finger those paper liners, deciding which shape I wanted to eat.  I loved the pretzel shape with the coarse sugar on top the best.  These cookies are similar to Danish butter cookies though it seems the Danish ones are more commonly made with confectioners' sugar (somewhat like these cookies).  Now I realize I'll have yet another project for next Christmas!
I hope these little cookies make you smile the way they did for us.


This basic butter cookie dough comes together lickety-split!  You might very well consider doubling the recipe (as the recipe didn't make as many cookies as I thought it would) if you want to have plenty to share with kids and kids-at-heart.  Because of how different you can make them, they really make a lovely little cookie platter all by themselves.

Piping is not something I do all that often.  I worried about this but it was surprisingly easy.  All of these butter cookie recipes ask you to use a "large star tip".  I used Ateco 864, the closest thing I had to it.  I also tried a Wilton 1M tip but I found the groves to be a little too distinct and preferred using the Ateco 864.
Using the one tip, I piped straightforward rosette shapes as well as "S" shapes and a few "finger" shapes.  You could also make rounds and whatever else you can think of.  In retrospect, I should have made piped some candy cane shapes (or what I like to think of as upside down "J" shapes since that's my son's initial) and dipped the hook in chocolate!
Fillings like the mini chocolate chips, preserves, and candied cherries can be placed into the dough before baking.  You can also make thumbprint cookies with this dough by simply rolling the dough into balls and pressing a hole in the center for the preserves or candied cherries.  

I've seen these cookies filled with ganache or fudge in the center at many Italian bakeries.  To do that, press a hole into the center of the cookie before baking and fill or pipe in the ganache once the cookie cools.  With a fudge filling like this one, you could even fill them before baking.
I set aside some plain cookies to decorate with chocolate.  You could dip the cookies with melted chocolate but with some cream in the fridge, I went with ganache instead.  I think the ganache softens the cookies a bit more than using plain chocolate, which might or might not appeal to you depending on the texture you prefer for your butter cookies.  

If using ganache like I do, you could sandwich a couple of cookies with it or or fill them with fruit preserves, then dip in ganache and top with sprinkles.  I did a little of each.  (And I used my leftover ganache to make hot chocolate!) 
However you decorate them, these are really fun to make.  My son was at school the morning I made these and I was wishing he was home with me.  Next time, I think this would make a fun project to do together.  It's relatively easy and such fun to customize.
 

Recipe:

Italian-American Butter Cookies
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

- Approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies but it depends on the size of your cookies (and whether you make sandwich cookies) - 

For base cookie dough:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Filling/decorating options (depending on your preference):
Miniature chocolate chips, fruit preserves (such as apricot, strawberry, raspberry), candied cherries, dark chocolate or ganache, sprinkles, nonpareils, and/or chopped nuts and candies

For cookie dough:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats.  

In a stand mixer, beat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt together on medium-high speed until fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  On low-speed, add flour and beat until just incorporated.

Fit a pastry bag with a large star tip (I used Ateco #864).  Fill the bag with the cookie dough (I like to set the bag inside a tall glass, fold the top of the bag over to make a cuff, and then fill it). [Alternatively, if you do not want to pipe the dough, you could roll the dough into 1-inch rounds, press a hole in the center with your thumb and place a filling inside it to make thumbprint cookies.]

Pipe the dough onto baking sheets into stars (or other shapes), spacing about 1-inch apart.  See decorating options below.  Bake cookies until lightly golden along the edges, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway through the baking time.  Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorating options:
- Bake cookies as is and when cooled, sandwich two together with a fruit preserve of your choice or with chocolate ganache.  Dip one end of the sandwich cookie with melted chocolate or ganache, add sprinkles on top of that, if desired.

- Bake cookies as is and dip half of each cookie with ganache or melted dark chocolate.  Add sprinkles, crushed candies, or nuts over chocolate.  Set on parchment until chocolate sets.

- Before baking, press 3-5 miniature chocolate chips into the center of each cookie.

- Before baking, make a deep indentation in the center of the dough with your thumb.  Fill the indent with fruit preserves or candied cherries (or fudge), then bake as directed.

- To fill the center of the cookies with ganache, make indentations in the cookie dough before baking and bake without filling.  After the cookies have baked and cooled completely, pipe or spoon thickened ganache into the empty indentations.



64 comments:

  1. Beautiful cookies Monica! Yes, they made me smile. A lovely post and super photos :-)

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    1. Oh, I'm glad, Jo! There's something nostalgic and child-like about these that make me smile. Thanks so much.

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  2. My local bakery sells these cookies and I'm always amazed by the shapes, then I saw your post and am extra amazed by your talent!

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    1. You are too kind. I think it only goes to show that if I can pipe, make these, there's no need to sweat it - everyone can do it if they want to. Here's to cookies and Christmastime!

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  3. These look bakery-worthy and more. Yum!

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    1. They were so much fun to make, too! Thanks

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  5. You're right, Monica - these are such a great classic cookie - I totally loved these as a kid, but especially dipped in chocolate and sprinkles. Great for the holidays!

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    1. Christmas is such a time for classics and tradition, I think. I felt like a kid making and munching on them. Thank you, Jess!

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  6. These look beautiful!!! I have to lookout for that star tip. I've been practicing my piping, or have been forced to practice my piping thanks to my baking course. One day mine will look at good as yours...maybe ;)

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    1. My piping "technique" is called "squeezing", Davida! ; ) Seriously, it must be all about having the right tip because I have no skills. They're far from perfect but you don't need to sweat it, I find. Thank you!

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  7. Monica, these cookies look gorgeous! You did a great piping job and these cookies can definitely be in the display window of any bakery :) Hehe, I loved those butter cookies in the blue tin, we always had those in our house too :) Love how festive and pretty you made each one of these and they definitely put a smile on my face :)

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    1. Your comment made *me* smile, Kelly! : ) You're really kind - I think the festive decorations just make them look nice when all the cookies get put together. Those blue tins! I loved those simple butter cookies!

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  8. Oh, I absolutely love these!! We grew up on these cookies - my grandma would always buy them from a local bakery. I must try making them at home! She (and the rest of my family) would love love love these! And yours came out gorgeous by the way!

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    1. Oh, that's so sweet. It's nice when grandma buys you cookies. : ) These are really fun to make - definitely a cute family project. Thanks!

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  9. Love these, especially the ones with sprinkles! :) You're so talented!!

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    1. No talent necessary, for sure! Thanks so much, Marie. I like the sprinkles too. : )

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  10. What a lovely post, it makes me look forward to cookie baking with my loved ones!
    I adore how these look, the sprinkles ones are the most adorable thing ever! You can never go wrong with sprinkles, can you? ;--) And I like how easy to make these are as well. Definitely a winner for this season!
    I hope you enjoy your week! xo

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    1. You have all the Christmas spirit you need already, Consuelo, but I'm so happy you like these! Sprinkles always make everything prettier and most festive, I agree! It was much easier to make than I thought it would be. I wonder if using a cookie press might not be as scary as I envision but piping them this way is easy and you still get a few different styles. Thanks and you have a great one, too!

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  11. They do make me smile Monica:-) Who doesn't like chocolate, sprinkles and all these colourful things! Given a choice, I go for all the fun cookies on the shelves. And I love a dough like this one where you can channelize all your creativity. They look fantastic..your son will love them for sure!

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    1. I'm glad to hear that. : ) They are pretty to look at. Usually, desserts I make are all dark brown since it's mostly chocolate! When I make something different like this, I'm happy to have a blog so I can go back and look at it. : ) My son got a kick out of these for sure. That makes me smile, too!

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  12. These are so cute Monica. I love the chocolate dipped ones with sprinkles! It kinda reminds me of Madeleines. I can see why these cookies put a smile on your face. It's very festive! It put a smile on my face too! :) Have a great week my friend!

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    1. Thanks, Anne. They're cheerful and make me feel like a kid. I know what you mean about Madeleines - the ridges and all! : ) I'm sure glad they made you smile. Have a terrific one. We're bracing for snow...

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  13. These look like they are straight out of an Italian bakery near my home. I love the way you decorated them. I wish I could visit you one of these days.

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    1. Thanks so much, Balvinder. I think the two of us would have a great visit!

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  14. definitely not just kids who love these cookies! :) these look absolutely gorgeous and perfect for the festive season. i can't wait to give them a go :) lovely post!
    the hobbit kitchen x

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    1. Thanks, Holly. I'm glad you like them. : ) Enjoy the holidays!

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  15. Monica - these cookies really make me smile! They are gorgeous. The colors, the way you just know they are crispy, sweet and melt in your mouth delicious! Bravo :)

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    1. I'm glad, Tricia! Smiles are good. I enjoyed making something colorful for a change. Have a wonderful holiday and thank you.

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  16. Gosh, your cookies mad me missed my home and christmas even more.....
    lovin homemade cookies all the way, btw, my mom had a cookies puncher pattern just like yours...

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    1. Happy holiday and cookie-eating to you!

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  17. So these are every childhood holiday ever. In cookie form. I could kiss you right now!!

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    1. Aww...that's awesome. We're all kids at heart. : )

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  18. kids, shmids! i LOVE these butter cookies! we have a very large and active italian-american population here, so the storebought versions of these things abound during the holidays, and they make me smile every year: something so sixties retro about them. you remind me i need to ask for a set of pastry tips for christmas. You're such a fantastic piper of dough: i'm not excellent at it, but i'd love to get better. beautiful, monica!

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    1. So true, Shannon. They may not be the cookies I'd buy per se for myself at the bakery but I do love seeing the array of them. I think the piping has a lot to do with the tip you use. I do nothing but push. The 1M I used, I did not like and I scraped it.

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  19. Monica, they are some of my kid's favorite cookies. You've just made it look so festive and darling. They are definitely a Christmas treat. BEAUTIFUL my dear.

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    1. Thanks so much, Asha. Appreciate the love! ; )

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  20. Yours are gorgeous!! Whenever I attempt these, they never end up looking the same as when I piped them. Definitely going to have to try your recipe. Pinned!

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    1. I was worried about excess spreading. They did spread but not too much or horribly. Try this tip? Thanks, Rachel.

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  21. Mmmmm...Can't resist a butter cookie! Yours look so pretty and festive. Love the candied cherries and sprinkles do make anything better!

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    1. I find it hard to resist a butter or sugar cookie, too. Not necessarily something you crave but one bite and you just want another. : ) Thanks, Christin.

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  22. So beautiful and festive! I love the jam filled ones, they look like jewels.

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    1. They do look like little jewels. Yay for color and lights in the dark winter! : )

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  23. As a beginner baker, I had no idea those shapes are from piping!!!! I thought it was by the cookie cutters (sorry I don't have a common sense about baking!). WOW... I'm super impressed right now by your neat and detailed work!!! And they look so delicious...

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    1. Nami, at least there's *something* you're not natural with because your cooking is obviously sensational. : ) These types of cookies are piped but "spritz" cookies, which are very similar, are pushed through a cookie press. You can make all kinds of holiday shapes that way. I'm not quite ready to tackle a cookie press but this first baby step of piping worked out fairly well. Thanks!

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  24. Yes, seeing these lovely cookies already make me smile, allow me to say that they are adult-friendly too : ). Thank you for sharing your talents!

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    1. Thank you for your lovely words. Have a great holiday!

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  25. I love that Italian-American combination! Fits right into my life. The cookies looks fantastic...and yes...kids-friendly :) ela

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    1. Thanks so much. They are fun, that's for sure!

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  26. These are gorgeous! I'm admiring (with envy) your piping skills. I'm afraid I'd have to cheat and use my cookie press!

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    1. Thank you, Aimee! I imagine piping has to be a whole lot easier than using the press like you did! I read a lot of tips on how to use those tricky cookie presses and that's "scared" me off and so I went with piping so I can just squeeze! I wish I could trade some of these for your butter cookies. Yum! : )

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  27. Your butter cookies look so professional! They could easily be the ones in the glass case at the bakery :) I'm not allowed to make butter cookies, because they're my mother-in-law's specialty. She makes so many at Christmas, they last for months, haha!

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    1. Thanks, Amy! I got lucky. Oh, definitely don't touch your MIL's specialty, girl! : )

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  28. These look exactly like the bakery ones, Monica! No one will believe that you don't pipe cookies frequently. You are a natural, apparently! I am printing this recipe immediately in the hopes that my efforts will at least be assisted by an easy dough. :) I especially liked seeing the chocolate dipped sandwich cookies (with jam). I hadn't thought about those in forever, but, as a child in NY, those were my bakery pick every time!

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    1. Oh Wendy - my piping can be ugly, believe me...but I don't really mind. There's a lot of room for error in life and baking, I figure. : ) Thank you so much...this dough was a lot easier to work with than I thought. Not sure it would work the same in a cookie press but it was great for piping. I do love seeing these at the bakery. : )

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  29. I like seeing the before and after baking pictures. I would not have guessed how some of those shapes would have baked!

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    1. Oh, thanks, Alyssa. I'm glad you found that useful!

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  30. Oh how yummy! I love how cute these butter cookies look, and there are so many varieties of shapes and flavors you can play around with, including sprinkles and jam. Love this recipe!

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    1. Yes, there are tons of ways to decorate it. I really wanted to put a fudge swirl on it but you have to stop somewhere. : )

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  31. I love butter cookies! I guess I'm like a kid too that way. I have a very hard time resisting them. And all your varieties look so fun and festive (and tasty).

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    1. Being a kid is not a bad thing, Tiffany! It's the simple tastes that you eat sometimes and remember to appreciate. Thanks!

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