Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I said that coconut-apricot cookies are my favorite holiday treat that I make, but I am a good Scandinavian, and there’s no doubt that spritz are my favorite cookies that my mom makes. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

A few years ago, A’s mother handed down her family’s cookie press to me, and I eagerly set about trying it. But I made one misstep: I decided to use Carole Walter’s spritz recipe from Great Cookies instead of my mom’s. Before you go pointing your fingers at me and hissing, “Ungrateful daughter! Ungrateful daughter!”, keep in mind that since I already knew my mom would be making her spritz for Christmas, there was no point in my making the exact same recipe; plus, it would be fun to try something new, and Walter’s recipes are always impeccable, so maybe it would even be a fancy improvement. But of course, even though there was nothing wrong with the recipe, it wasn’t the spritz I craved. It was more like your standard butter cookie. So I relearned my lesson: mother knows best.

Even though my mom takes care of the spritz-making for our family, I still make spritz every Christmas for my friends in California and for A’s family—I figure that since I’ve been entrusted with the family cookie press, I should repay the kindness in cookies, because no one (at least, no one Swedish) should have to endure a spritz-less holiday. And I stick with the old recipe. The thing that seems to make it unique among the recipes I’ve compared it to—Walter’s and the one in the Betty Crocker Cooky Book—is that it uses powdered sugar instead of regular granulated. Maybe that’s what gives it such a perfect tender texture. That’s the big attraction for me, along with the almond flavor.

I think spritz tend to be underrated. They’re a regular feature of the holiday cookie plate, at least in Minnesota, most of the time the emphasis tends to be on form rather than flavor. They’re just sugar cookies that have been colored and shaped. I made the mistake of bringing some in for my office’s holiday cookie exchange one year, and I had an embarrassing amount of leftovers. A convinced me that people have just been conditioned to expect bad spritz, so few people even tried mine. Or maybe I just love spritz more than the average person. Anyway, I now bring a sexier (usually chocolate-based) cookie to the exchange and save the spritz for myself and others who appreciate them. But if you think spritz are nothing special, do try these and see if they change your mind.

These are really easy to make. The dough is really basic, and dying it with food coloring and sprinkling colored sugar on top is technically optional, though I recommend it for the full just-like-mom’s experience. Using the cookie press is really the only thing that requires a little expertise, or at least finesse, and even that’s not complex—it’s basically just a grown-up version of that device that used to force the Play-Do into different shapes, like star-shaped ropes or spaghetti strands . I’ve heard that if you buy a good-quality new one, like Wilton’s, you don’t need to swear at it quite so much, but I sort of enjoy having to do a bit of wrangling. It makes me that much prouder of the finished product. And luckily, even the deformed spritz taste good. (Although I do recommend sticking to the larger, rounder shapes, like the wreath and the tree or holly leaf or whatever that triangular thing is—it helps keep the cookies from overbrowning.)

1 cup butter, softened
1¼ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2½ cups flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
Red and green food coloring
Granulated sugar or sanding sugar

1. Stir together the flour and the salt in a medium bowl.

2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar in a large bowl. Mix in the almond and vanilla extracts and the egg. Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix until blended.

3. Divide the dough in half and place each half in a separate bowl. Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl and a few drops of green to the other. Mix each one (I use my hands for this) until the color is distributed throughout, adding more coloring if necessary to achieve your desired hue.

4. Wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 and remove dough from refrigerator.

6. Press dough through a cookie press onto ungreased baking sheets.

7. Put a spoonful or two of granulated or sanding sugar into each of two bowls. Put a few drops of red food coloring into one bowl and green food coloring into the other, and stir each bowl until the color is distributed throughout the sugar. Sprinkle a pinch of colored sugar atop each cookie.

8. Bake for 6–8 minutes until firm but not browned, being careful not to overbake.

Yield: Maybe 4 dozen?
Time: 1½ hours, plus 1 hour chilling time
Leftover potential: Good; these keep well in the freezer.

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