Cookie cutters make mark on the holiday
The tree is trimmed, candles glow, angels sing and “white thumbs” panic as they find themselves kicking into high speed. The mission is always the same: bake until you drop with hopes of creating a multitude of Christmas goodies, especially cookies.
You and I know there has to be at least a batch of melt-in-your mouth delicious sugar cutouts complete with frosting and sprinkles. If you haven’t already begun to dig through your stash of holiday cookie cutters, know that time is slipping away.
Perhaps you weren’t tuned in or were slow to flip the calendar page, but keep in mind that the first week in December is National Cookie Cutter Week. Bet you didn’t know the cookie cutter, that whimsical tool used to cut a sheet of sweet dough into desired shapes, also has its own historical museum in Joplin, Mo.
Cookie cutters are kitchen tools to behold with an interesting story to be told. The roots of the story go back deep into the centuries of wood carvers living in the Black Forest of Germany. It was there that gingerbread of all kinds was held in high esteem as a popular holiday treat. Gingerbread cookies were shaped by using crude, primitive-style cutters solely made from wood. Eventually, the call urging bakers to produce more precise and better-defined cutting tools got minds churning. Presto! The clever wood carvers came upon the idea to insert sharp metal outlines made of copper or tin into their earlier wooden cutters.
Over time, the Dutch of Germanic origin passed on the cookie-cutter invention to early colonists, especially those making their homes in what is now Pennsylvania, later to become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Soon, tinsmiths became besieged with demands to create cookie cutters in a multitude of shapes and sizes. The initial designs were those of men, women, farm animals, birds, hands, hearts, stars and the American eagle. Today, the assortment of cookie cookies is limitless.
There remains a variety of vintage cookie cutters and their replicates to be found at flea markets, antique shops, tag sales and even in forgotten attics of generations past. Authentic early cookie cutters can often be identified by the dark color of their metal and by having fitted backs that conform to the shape of the design. Especially of fame and value are the vintage Pennsylvania Dutch bird motif and the image of a man riding a horse.
By the close of the 1700s, tin was the metal of choice for making cookie cutters. Tinsmiths added solid backs to cutters and often would solder on handles in those days.
Because solder during the 18th century was expensive, craftsmen would apply only small dots to hold such handles in place. For this reason, an observant eye can detect if an antique cookie cutter is from the 18th or the 19th century by studying the size of the dot welds; during the 19th century, solder became more affordable and the welds got bigger.
The Industrial Revolution in America was in full swing by 1850, and machinery began producing cookie cutters in large volumes, leaving the kitchen tool without much distinction. This lack of distinction entered the English conversation by giving meaning to the now urban-suburban term for “cookie cutter homes.”
The 1900s saw the mass production of cookie cutters with sales made through catalog orders. Still today, cookie cutters manufactured by A. Kreamer Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., remain highly prized because the company’s name was embossed on each cutter at the time. During these same years, cookie cutters were given away as premiums by flour mills to advertise and promote the sale of baking products such as lard and baking powder.
Cookie cutters made of tin remained popular until the 1920s when aluminum made its appearance. Housewives began preferring aluminum over tin because it was a lighter weight and its shiny look was easier to maintain. Today, cookie cutters are made from tin, aluminum, copper and plastic. Wood molds in the shape of rolling pins are sold along with cookie guns and clay molds.
German-made cookie cutters remain highly coveted. One of the more traditional, as well as popular, cookie-cutter shapes sold throughout Europe is that of a chimney sweep. It’s a symbol of good luck, and cookies of chimney sweeps are often used in conjunction with the New Year.
Hints and tips:
Use cookie cutters to cut tea sandwiches, pancakes, brownies, soft fruits, deli meats, fudge and cheese appetizers.
Stencil the top of a cake by placing a cookie cutter on the frosting and filling with sprinkles or powdered sugar; carefully remove.
Use cookie cutters to cut unbaked pie pastry into shapes; use a drop of water to “glue” designs on top of pie crust before baking.
Cut-outs are to bake ivory to only a hint of brown color, never dark. Make holes in cut-outs before baking if planning to string for hanging.
The magic ingredient to bake clean, defined cut edges is to replace a small amount of the recipe flour with cornstarch.
Don’t hesitate to jazz up the flavor of sugar cookie dough with a pinch of nutmeg.
For best results, bake cookies on a Silpat sheet or use parchment paper.
For best cookies, don’t over-mix, preheat oven since your leavening agents like yeast and baking powder count on it, use room-temperature ingredients like eggs and butter and always use the best quality vanilla that cost allows.
Sugar cookies can be enjoyed any time of year in whatever shapes, but there’s a special magical taste when chomping reindeer, trees, bells and stars at Christmastime. When baking cut-out cookies, the quantities will vary according to the size of cookie cutters used.
DUTCH LADY SUGAR COOKIES
1 cup canola oil
1 cup butter, softened (no substitute)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the oil, butter, vanilla, almond and sugars until light. Add eggs; beat well. Stir in remaining dry ingredients, mixing well. Chill overnight. When ready to use, work dough until smooth and pliable. Roll to 1/4-inch thick; dust lightly with flour and use 4-inch cookie cutters each time dipped into flour to create shapes. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake 10 to 12 minutes. Yield: about 4 dozen cookies.
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs, beaten
6 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
5-1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
Cream butter. Add sugar gradually and cream together. Add milk and vanilla to eggs. Sift flour and baking powder together. Add dry ingredients to sugar-butter mixture, alternating with liquid. Mix all together to make smooth. Chill 1 hour. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Use cookie cutters to make shapes. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper; bake 8 to 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven. Remove cookies from baking sheet; allow to cool before frosting and decorating with sprinkles.
(Crisco Cookie Collection)
2/3 cup Butter Flavor Crisco
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream Butter Flavor Crisco, sugar, milk and vanilla at medium speed in a large bowl; beat in egg. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; mix into creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Roll dough to about 1/8-inch on floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with colored sugar or leave plain to frost when cool. Bake 7 to 9 minutes in a 375-degree oven.
Out of the past returns these popular and fun to make “Jell-0 Cutouts.”
4 regular packages (4-serving size) or 2 large packages Jell-0 gelatin, any flavor
2-1/2 cups boiling water or apple juice
Completely dissolve gelatin in boiling water or juice. Pour into a 13×9-inch pan. Chill until firm, about 3 hours. To unmold, dip pan in warm water for about 15 seconds. Cut into squares or use cookie cutters to make desired shapes. Carefully lift from pan.
Life is short; eat the cookies.