When I go to flea markets or stop by a neighborhood garage sale, I always find myself rummaging through weathered cardboard boxes looking for cookie cutters. Vintage ones, distinctive ones. You might imagine I have drawers full of them, but that's not actually true. I have two small shoe-box sized containers of cookie cutters. That's it. It doesn't actually feel like a lot to some who loves to roll and stamp cookies as much as I do, but the good ones are hard to come by. Beyond shape, I have a fondness for metal cutters with sharp edges, and good structure. Shapes that can cut cleanly through a currant or dried cranberry if need be. Today, I thought I'd show you a few of my scores, and share a favorite cookie-cutter friendly recipe as well.
So, I love my Swedish heart cookie cutter. It's roughly the size of my palm and is perfectly symmetric. Here's the thing. Hearts are a popular shape for cookie cutters, yet each heart is an individual. Some plunge deep, some curve shallow and soft, some are wide and squat, some are tall and elongated...each one says something different with its shape. There are friendly hearts, serious hearts, sophisticated hearts. It's a personal preference, but I tend to like the hearts that are just about as wide as they are tall. Symmetrical, direct, with clean lines.
Then there are the wild card cookie cutters that I can't pass up. Like this farmhouse collection. The shapes get a bit mushy over the years, but the primitive lines are charming and the patina on the cutters beautiful. The pig has apparently escaped - note to self to find him.
I've been making tiny shortbread in the shapes of small hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs since I was a kid, and tend to prefer tiny cutters for butter-rich cookies. They're the type of cookies where a couple make the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon coffee or tea. Today's cookies qualify, and I picked the teardrop shape.
These toasted almond sable cookies are a take-off on Alice Medrich's charming Whole Wheat Sables, published in her book Pure Dessert a few years back. I love them, and make them a number of different ways depending on what I have on hand. This variation is hard to beat - toasty, nutty, peppered with dried currants. They're made with whole wheat and all-purpose flours, sliced almonds, and the best butter you can come by. That said, I made another variation with June Taylor's candied citrus peels for the Little Flower School class a couple weeks back - swapping finely chopped peel for the currants you'll see in the recipe below. The peel left lovely little slashes of color throughout the cookies, and bursts of citrus flavor. I really loved those too.
For those of you who've made it this far. I made a note to myself for next time. I'm excited to try this recipe using Dorie's trick of using cultured butter - for a hint of tang. It might be the thing to put these right over the top.
Toasted Almond Sables Cookies
A couple notes. I used Straus Creamery lightly salted butter here. I like a good amount of salty to counter sweet in cookies like these. And basically, butter cookies like these are all about good butter. That said, you can use good unsalted butter and, in a sense, season the dough to your tastes before baking. If I were using unsalted butter, I might start with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and adjust from there. I also tend to bake these a bit longer than typical. I like the bottoms solidly golden, and tops lightly/mid golden.
1 cup / 4.5 oz / 130 g unbleached all-purpose flour
Scant 1 cup / 4 oz / 115g whole wheat flour
1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup / 1 oz / 30 g lightly toasted sliced almonds
1/2 cup / 2.5 oz / currants
large grain sugar, for sprinkling
In a medium bowl whisk together the all-purpose and whole wheat flours. Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar, salt and vanilla, until smooth and creamy, about a minute. Stir in the almonds. Add the flour and mix until barely combined. Add the currants and stir until just incorporated. Scrape the dough into a ball, and if you feel like it needs to come together a bit more, knead it once or twice on the counter top, or until it is smooth. Shape into a round, flat patty shape wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for a couple hours, or overnight.
About fifteen minutes before you're ready to stamp out your cookie shapes, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350F / 180C. And line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough out 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured counter top, and stamp into desired shapes. You can collect and roll out dough scraps as well, after your first round of stamping. But if the dough gets too warm, pop if back in the refrigerator for a bit. Place cookies at least an inch apart on a prepared baking sheets, sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of large-grain sugar, and chill them one last time in the freezer for another ten minutes.
Bake until the cookies are golden at the edges, 13 to 15 minutes, but watch them closely. It's more about coloring than time here. Rotate the sheets back to front about 9 minutes in. Remove from the oven and after a minute or two transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.
I store leftovers in big jars and they keep beautifully for days. The recipe makes dozens of tiny cookies. The yield really depends on the size of your cookie cutter.
Inspired and adapted from Alice Medrich's Whole Wheat Sables recipe in Pure Dessert. Love this book.
Prep time: 120 minutes - Cook time: 15 minutes