When it comes to Easter craft projects, I say don’t put all your eggs in the hard-boiled-and-dyed basket. Save at least a couple (actually just the yolks) for these scrumptious and festive butter cookies. Spritz—they’re not just for Christmas anymore.
One of my favorite pastimes as a child was perusing Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, putting check marks on any cookie (or “cooky” as Betty would say) that struck my fancy. Also, crossing off the ones that looked blah (sorry, snickerdoodles and chocolate crinkles—I’ve since come to my senses). The holiday spritz cookies got two big checkmarks, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would one day own a cookie press. Or seven. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating.
Spritz cookies can be surprisingly fun and easy to make or an exercise in existential angst. The difference largely depends on your choice of cookie press. I spent many years buying every cookie press that crossed my path, from retail stores to estate sales, trying to find one that wouldn’t drive me to cursing. The easiest and most reliable was a Mirro Cooky Press circa 1950s (a.k.a. the golden age when a cookie was a “cooky”). Until … I happened upon the OXO Good Grips cookie press.
From the nonslip base that ensures mess-free “spritzing” to the push-button plunger release that makes reloading simple, this press runs circles around most of those other cookie dough torture devices. Plus, they make extra discs for more seasonal variations. I must admit to feeling smug when Cooks Illustrated echoed my assessment.
But enough about presses, let’s talk dough, because that’s where the tastiness starts. I mean, a bad cookie press can still produce yummy cookies, but even the best press can’t fix faulty dough.
An hour or two before you’re ready to bake, set out a couple of eggs and a two sticks of butter so they can come to room temperature. I almost always skip this step, so here’s a quick fix: put the eggs (shell on!) in a bowl of hot water and cut up the butter, arrange it on a plate and set it near the preheating oven. If it’s still not soft enough by the time you’ve assembled the other ingredients, pop it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds. Careful though—err on the side of not soft enough because too soft is, well, liquid and there’s no going back. Oh, and butter makes a huge contribution to the flavor of these cookies, so don’t even attempt to make these cookies with margarine or shortening, or if you do, please don’t tell me about it.
I’m including a recipe with instructions below, but now I’m skipping ahead to the fun part … playing with your food. If you’re incorporating color, take a blob of dough and add a dab of gel food coloring in the middle, then squish the whole thing in your hands (um, wash first). Keep squishing the dough until the color is evenly distributed. Fit cookie press with the disc of your choice, then shape your dough into a cylindrical blob and gently smush it into the tube.
Ok, I was going to continue on about how to use the cookie press, but that makes for boring reading, which you can most likely find in the instruction manual that comes with your cookie press. Basically, if you feel like a kid experimenting with a Play-Doh Fun Factory extruder set, you’re doing it right. Sort of. Oh, and I should mention that when you occasionally press out a deformed cookie (when, not if), don’t despair. Just scoop up the dough, set it aside and add it back to the tube later. This dough isn’t fragile and finicky like others I could mention (cough—biscuits, pie).
If you are a fan of parchment paper like I am, you may be disappointed to learn that cookie presses and parchment don’t mix. At all. Believe me, I have tried. The dough will only stick to an ungreased cookie sheet. And a room temperature or colder one at that. The upside: these babies have so much butter, they won’t even consider sticking to the pan. The downside: you’ll have to wash the pan afterwards. None of that sliding the parchment onto a cooling rack and putting the pan back into the “special cupboard” a.k.a. the oven — or maybe that’s just me.
So your cookies have baked and cooled — now comes the fun part. Right, the other fun part: decorating.
Some folks will tell you to embellish these little bites of heaven with royal icing, but for the love of all things delicious—don’t. Or if you want to, fine. As for me and mine, I’ll use buttercream. Because—more butter. I like to use Elizabeth Faulkner’s buttercream recipe, but I usually don’t have fresh lemon juice lying around so I supplement with more vanilla. Also, she calls for whole milk, but I’ve used everything from 2% to coconut milk and even soy milk in a pinch.
When I’m feeling ambitious, I make piping cones out of parchment (see how here). But the downside is you can’t actually fit them with decorative tips (or at least I haven’t figured it out). More often, I use disposable plastic decorating bags because they are just so much easier. Yes, I know this is not sustainable/eco-friendly, but in my defense I do recycle whenever possible, and I was putting food scraps into yard waste before Seattle required me to. But I digress …
- For sugars and nonpareils, try putting a small or generous amount in a dipping bowl, pipe frosting onto cookie and then gently dip it for even coverage. (If you care about how the cookie looks, this is a task best not left to three year olds who’ve yet to learn the meaning of the word “gently.”)
- Scatter glitter dust by dipping a small pastry brush into the bottle, holding the bristle end over the cookie and gently tapping on the handle. Previous caveat applies.
- Dragées are best applied with tweezers. You can most likely buy fancy cookie décor tweezers, but the eyebrow kind work just fine.
- Sprinkles, well, you just sprinkle them on. Let the kids go nuts with these.
Feel free to stockpile cookie décor because it lasts till the Tuesday after forever. Seriously, I’ve been using the same sprinkles and sugars for at least eight years and haven’t killed anyone yet. I even pour the dregs from the dipping bowls back into a sandwich-size zipper bag to save for next time. If you’re the squeamish type, well, consider yourself warned.
A little gel food coloring goes a long way, too. Plus, it also has an infinite shelf life. I like to scoop up a bit of gel with a toothpick (yes, scooping with a toothpick takes practice) and then use a fresh toothpick in case I need to add more.
Ok, that’s quite enough rambling, I’ll get to the recipe so you can make these cookies yourself.