Monday, 13 February 2012

Polka dot heart cookies for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!
These are very dark chocolate cookies (or biscuits if you prefer) with royal icing and the occasional cachou.

The awesome thing about royal icing for cookies is that it sets rock hard, so you can pack them in layers and move them. I guess I'm really saying it's a very practical type of decoration. But - unlike shoes, which can only ever be one or the other - that doesn't mean they can't be pretty.

I started off doing polka dots but got a little creative and did a few other patterns using the same basic colours.

This type of decoration requires royal icing of two different consistencies: line icing (around the edge to hold everything else in place) and flooding icing (everything else).

First to the cookie: I used a 'Super Chocolatey Biscuits' recipe from the Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits - in fact you'll know if you see this book around because there is a polka-dotted heart cookie just like this one on the front cover. Great book. GREAT book.

275g plain flour
100g self raising flour
75g cocoa
125g granulated sugar (I used caster, it was fine)
125g salted butter, diced
125g golden syrup
I large egg

Sift the flours and the cocoa into a large bowl, then add the sugar and mix well. Rub the cubes of butter into the dry mixture with your fingers until you get a consistency like moist breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the golden syrup and the egg (okay, yes I forgot to beat the egg before I added it - so sue me).

Gently mix everything together just until it forms a solid ball of dough. Then turn this out onto your benchtop.

My dough wouldn't come together properly at first so I added a little more golden syrup until it did. I think this was because the eggs I used weren't huge - just be aware that the actual quantities of the recipe are not as important as the  look and feel of it. You need to end up with a smooth, solid dough - adjust the quantities if you need to.

Divide the dough into two equal parts and wrap both in clingfilm. Place one part in the fridge while you roll out the other part.

Rolling out the dough can be tricky - the best way is to roll it out between a piece of baking paper and a piece of clingfilm. You then use the rolling pin over the top of the clingfilm. It will be a hard dough to work, you need to press firmly and evenly until you get it to about 5mm thick.
When it's at this stage, lift the dough still in the baking paper and clingfilm onto a baking tray and pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so before you cut the heart shapes - it's supposed to be for longer than that, but I get impatient.

Stamp the shapes out with heart cutters. I have a set of these so I was able to do about five different sizes but you could do them all one size, it wouldn't matter. I found the dough stuck to the cutters a little and had to be gently eased out of them. Put the cut-out hearts onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving at least a centimetre of clearance around each shape. You can re-roll the offcuts or gather them up and shape them into a ball and keep the dough for later.

When you've filled the tray, place it back in the fridge for half an hour. This prevents the dough from rising and distorting too much during the baking process. Preheat the oven to 170C. Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes (check after 14) until the biscuits look firm and cooked and slightly darker in colour.Gently lift each shape onto a rack with a spatula and leave until completely cool.

Icing time yay! Now, you could use a home made royal icing, and if I was really a decent cook I guess I wouldn't mind making one, but to be honest there's a packet mix available in every supermarket that is just as good and ten times easier. So save your energy and time for the decoration and use the packet mix (if you want a recipe for royal icing there are plenty on the interwebs).

You need two batches of icing: first the line icing. The consistency of this needs to be quite thick but not so thick that you can't pipe it - something like the consistency of very thick pure cream, or maybe slightly thicker. If you're unsure, keep it thick and test it in a piping bag - can you pipe it in a thin line? If not, thin it down until you can pipe a thin, hard solid line with no gaps.

Secondly you need to make a batch of flooding icing, which is thinner - you can make this, obviously, from your line icing by simply adding a little more water. The consistency of flooding icing needs to be like pouring cream.

You then need to tint the icing - I kept half the flooding icing white and tinted half of it rose pink, and I tinted the line icing pink.
So then you need to load the line icing into a piping bag. I always use disposable piping bags because I hate washing out canvas piping bags and also I don't really trust that you can ever get them totally clean, so for hygiene reasons it's just best to go the disposable option.

Snip off a tiny end piece of the piping bag and pipe a thin line inside the edge of the cookie. I was trying to make these lines as smooth and parallel to the edge as possible, but it takes a bit of practice and a very steady hand.

I used squeeze bottles for the thinner flooding icing. So for the flooding, just aim inside the lines. Easy....

... Or is it? This is what happens when the flood overtops the levee banks. Disaster.

I discovered that this can happen for two reasons (I guess they're both obvious). The first is that you put too much flooding icing on, and it just gets too high to be held back by the line icing. The second is that you damage the line icing somehow, either in piping or subsequently. This particular cookie was ruined because I brushed the edge of the line with my finger and shifted it. Goddamn.

You can rescue this disaster by waiting for the icing to harden a little and cutting the excess away.....

... But you can't rescue it when it has pulled all the pattern off with it!

Ok so let's get away from the disasters and back to the plot... you've managed to get the line icing sort of straight, and the flooding icing inside the lines. This is how it looks at that stage.

I thought I took a picture of polka dots being made but I can't find it, so you'll just have to imagine. The white flooding icing was in another squeeze bottle with a small circular nozzle. You need to hold the bottle vertically and squeeze very gently until a tiny drop of white icing falls onto the pink surface. It will spread a bit so don't put the dots too close to each other.

The stripe pattern starts the same way, with a plain pink flooding. The white flooding icing is piped in vertical stripes. Well, sort of vertical anyway.

I did a couple of these heart-within-a-heart shapes but I didn't like them very much because it was hard to do them accurately.

I used plain white flooding icing decorated with pink cachous for some of the smaller cookies. I really liked these because the pink line icing was just visible at the edges and it added an extra degree of detail - obviously in the shapes flooded with pink, the pink line icing is all but invisible.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone ... may you have a wonderful, happy, romantic, awesome day!