Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cookies filled with Salted Caramel, Jam, and more Deliciousness....

After my first experiment with decorating cookies with royal icing, (and then giving them all away, I might add), I had Christmas cookies, sprinkles, and sugar on my mind, and realized that my holidays wouldn't be complete unless I tried a filled cookie, too.

Last December I made peanut butter and jelly thumbprint cookies which were such a hit with the soft peanut butter cookie and the sweet strawberry jam filling, and I suspected that jam would be amazing in a shortbread cookie, too.

If you've followed my posts for a while, then you know what a fan I am of shortbread, so I won't even bother telling you again what I love so much about it.  For these cookies, I used the same Vanilla Bean Shortbread that I made for my last batch of Christmas cookies.

As I was daydreaming about these cookies, at first I was planning to fill them only with jam, but then wondered how they would be with other fillings like lemon curd and even caramel, as well as some of the royal icing I had leftover.  I like variety, and it was a good chance to experiment with all of these fillings and flavors, and I have to say, they all worked beautifully.

Jamie and I agreed that the red jam (I used a Red Currant Jelly) looked the prettiest and most festive and tasted amazing.  The green ones are actually Lemon Curd, which I colored with a drop of green food coloring for a Christmas theme, and the white ones are Royal Icing.  As delicious as they all were, my favorite to eat might have been the Salted Caramel.

The recipe below is long, but it's really not complicated, I just wanted to be thorough in including all the steps and information I felt were important, so don't let the lengthy instructions scare you off.

And now, I'm going to enjoy my Saturday at home with Jamie, starting with coffee and eggnog waffles...

Filled Cutout Christmas Cookies 
printable recipe 

Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoon (18 tablespoons total) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean past
  • 2-3 teaspoons ice water

Fillings and Garnishes
  • Seedless Jelly or Jam (no chunks of fruit), any flavor/color
  • Caramel Sauce (I used Hershey's caramel sauce for topping ice cream)
  • Lemon or Lime Curd 
  • Royal Icing, flooding consistency
  • Coarse Sea Salt
  • Colored Sprinkles and Sparkling Sugar
  • Assorted Cookie Cutters, different sizes 
Make the Cookie Dough:
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt.  Scatter the cold butter pieces over the flour, and using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs with visible pea-sized chunks of butter throughout.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla bean paste.  Scrape into the flour mixture and work the dough with your fingers to incorporate the moisture into the flour.  (The dough will appear very dry, and you might think it doesn't have enough liquid, but don't worry, it will come together.)  After 2-3 minutes of working the dough, it should start to hold together enough so that you can gather it into a loose ball.  Add the ice water, a little at a time, just to finish bringing the dough together so that you can roll it out.

Cut the Cookies:
Divide the dough in half so you're only working with half at a time.  Shape half the dough into a disk and set on a piece of parchment paper, lightly floured.  Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough.  Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick (you're rolling the dough fairly thin since you'll be stacking two cookies on top of each other to bake).

Sort your cutters and decide which you're going to use for the outline of the cookie, then find a smaller cutter that will fit inside the larger one for the inner shape.  I used a round, fluted cutter, paired with a smaller Christmas tree for inside, then a large and small star, and a large and small snowflake.  My large cutters are approximately 4 inches in diameter and the smaller ones approximately 2 inches.

Use the large cookie cutters to cut an even number of shapes, then take the smaller cutters and cut out the center of half the large cookies.  Place the base of the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat; brush the edges lightly with water, then take the second cookie that you cut the center out of and place on top of the bottom cookie, lining up the edges.  Press down gently to seal the edges together.  You can also bake the small cookies you cut out of the centers, or add them to your scrap pile to roll out again.  Gather up the dough scraps, roll them out again, and cut more cookies, continue rolling and cutting until you've used up all the dough and have an assortment of shapes.  Another alternative to making a filled cookie is to place a smaller cookie on top of a large one and bake it, as you see in some of the photos above.

Chill the Cookies:
Freeze the cookies on the baking sheets for 45 minutes to an hour.  This will help ensure that they hold their shape and do not spread out during baking. (When it's cold out, I just lay a clean kitchen towel over my cookie sheets and set them outside on our balcony to chill, instead of trying to make room for the cookie sheets in the freezer.)

While the cookies are chilling, get all your fillings and toppings ready.  Stir the jam, caramel, lemon curd, etc, so they are smooth and creamy.

Bake and Fill the Cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the cookies (straight from the freezer) for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set on the counter so you can fill them.  If the centers of the cookies have puffed up, gently press them down with your finger.  You will need about 1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling for each, so be careful not to overfill them.  When you spoon the filling into the center of the hot cookie, it will start to spread out; use a toothpick to help spread it into all the corners of the shape you cut.  Return the cookies to the oven and bake for another 3-4 minutes, until they are a very pale golden (the cookies do not rise or spread) and the filling looks set.

Important to Note during this Step:
  • Baking the filling in the cookies during the last few minutes helps the filling form a sort of "skin" on top, so that it doesn't run everywhere later.  The jam and lemon/lime curd fillings will appear set when you take the cookies out of the oven, but the caramel will look very liquid.  Don't worry, because the caramel will set up, too, once out of the oven.  Although the caramel will remain creamy once the cookie cools, it won't run everywhere if you tip the cookie over.
  • If filling the cookies with royal icing instead of jam or caramel, you will not fill them until after the cookies have completely baked.  For any cookies that you want to fill with royal icing, follow the above steps of pressing down the center of the cookies if they've puffed, but then just return the cookies to the oven to finish baking without any filling.  After taking those cookies out of the oven and letting them cool for 10 minutes or so, you can spoon royal icing into the center and use a toothpick push it into all the corners.  Immediately sprinkle the icing with any sprinkles, sugar, etc, you plan to top it with, before the icing hardens.
  • If baking the small cookies that you cut out of the centers, those will only need about 8 minutes total in the oven.  I didn't ice these cookies; instead I just dusted them with powdered sugar and sprinkles.  

Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then garnish as desired.
  • I sprinkled the caramel filling with some coarse sea salt.
  • I sprinkled the red jam and lemon curd (which I colored green) fillings with colored red and green sugar and very coarse, sparkling white sugar.
  • I sprinkled the royal icing with some colored sugar.
  • For my unfilled cookies, I just dusted those with powdered sugar and/or colored sprinkles/sugar.
Once the cookies have cooled completely and the fillings are set, store flat in a closed container.  If stacking the cookies in the container, place parchment paper between each layer.   
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen