Noms

I haven’t tried to decorate a cake since Duran Duran was in the Top 40.  Bake, sure. Sprinkle powdered sugar through a stencil? Yeah, but that hardly counts.

The Spousal Unit and I have been binging on Man About Cake.  It’s a lot of fun, and it made getting back on the decorating horse tempting again. Decorating horse. That’s…

…anyway, this cake is in no way spooky, unless you count rolling out black and gray fondant. I love black, gray, and white with yellow, so that’s what I went for. First, ze cake:

Chocolate. Duh.

I used this chocolate cake recipe, substituting Whey Low for Ice Cream (it dissolves better) instead of sugar. The recipe is dead easy, and makes a darned tasty cake. I forgot the vanilla, and it was still amazing. In fact, I think I’ll leave out the vanilla forever.

THINGS I LEARNED FROM MAN ABOUT CAKE, #1:

Keep it cold. I’ve never been able to successfully trim the top off a cake, because I try to do it warm. That does not, and will never, work. A bread knife and a completely cooled cake made it easy. I didn’t get it entirely even, but after a while you have to give up or you’re making cake pops.

Next, icing.

They call me Mellow Yellow. Wait, no they don’t.

I looked around at different buttercream recipes, and decided on a mishmash:

  • 4 c powdered sugar (the real stuff–I gotta figure out a good substitute)
  • 1 c unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ~1 tsp salt (I measured with my hand)
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream to start. More as needed to get a stiff, but easily spreadable frosting.
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract (both the real stuff–no yucky artificial flavors)
  • Yellow food coloring

Add ingredients to bowl in the order listed (or you’ll end up with a bowl coated in butter) and mix. Tip: if you’re using a stand mixer, cover the whole thing with a dish towel for a minute so you don’t contract Sugar Lung, bane of sugar miners. If you’re using a hand mixer, you might try covering your face instead. Anarchist baker!

Yes, that’s a holiday cake stand. The spooky ones are in use.

I have a nice turntable on the way, but for now, I took the wheels out of my microwave, taped them to a cake stand, and put the microwave dish on top. Did it work?  No, not really. I ended up moving the cake to the stand.

OMG BRIL.

THINGS I LEARNED FROM MAN ABOUT CAKE #2:

Crumb coat!  If I had known about crumb coating, I would have been decorating cakes long before this. No, it wasn’t a state secret, I just never knew. I filled the cake with buttercream, then put on a thin layer of frosting to lock in the crumbs. Then back in the freezer with the cake while I do other things, like…

Most of my wardrobe colors. Oh, except for the white.

I mixed very small amounts of fondant with paste food coloring to get gray and black. Because of the extra moisture, the black is very soft and sticky and no that isn’t a dirty euphemism. Did I add powdered sugar to it like a normal person with an internet connection? NoooOOOOooo. I just kept putting it back in the freezer so I could handle it.

Used to be, this was as good as it got. I call it “primitive” decorating. You know, sloppy.

Next, the cake came out of the freezer and got its final coat of buttercream. I bought a fancy smoother, and it was helpful for the top, but for the sides I used a butter cutter. I have never actually used it to cut butter. I use it to pick up chopped vegetables, lift things, and now, smooth cakes.

Smooooove.

That’s the butter cutter on the counter. One of my most useful kitchen tools. I smoothed the sides and top, and used wet fingers to get some edges. You know how professionals in videos smooth a cake in 30 seconds? This was more like 30 minutes. It isn’t perfect, but it’s ever so much better than I have ever accomplished previously. Because I was trying to frost a warm cake with a butter knife. Because I was young and foolish. If I could time travel, I would slap the shit out of young me. But not over the stupid cake.

Flowers! But not pretty flowers, so it’s okay.

I actually had fondant cutters because I will use anything for anything. I, uh, cleaned them very thoroughly first. I did the ball-tool thing to shape the petals, but it didn’t work very well. Maybe I used the wrong tool. Maybe I was the wrong tool.

Yes, I could absolutely make this all worse.

I ended up shaping the flowers with foil, which worked well. I had black and gold colors of edible luster, and I made sure to use a paint brush I had that was still in the package. Problem was, the paintbrush was cheap and stiff and no that’s not a dirty euphemism. Jeeze, people. So I just kinda splattered dust wherever. Eh. These ended up in the freezer so I could handle them more easily.

Pied piper? NO! Caked piper!

At this point, I realize the cake will need some piping. I am out of buttercream–yeah, I used all that recipe already–so I mix up another small batch, and color it gray. Because gray is like pastel black, and that is the best.

I did not take a picture of the piping process, but I will tell you these things: I liked it. Piping is a lot more fun than working with fondant. I stuck with very basic stuff–just stars and leaves. Then, since I had to pipe centers on the flowers, I decided to do some vines. Oh, Kitty. I will master that eventually, but for now, I did the same thing with frosting that I do when paint goes wrong: add dots. Dots fix everything.  Even sloppy dots. Mostly.

I want cake! No that is not a dirty euphemism. Oh, alright, yes it is.

In hindsight, the luster was a mistake. The flowers would have been much more funky-cool without it. But for a first effort in so many years I just remembered I’m old and oh fuck I’m gonna go cry in the tub?  It’s good enough.

And now, I close with an oddly satisfying video.

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I love to buy those holiday mini-magazines at the checkout. See those tabs at the top? That’s all the stuff I want to try out of this particular one.

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First up: Baked Pumpkin Bites! We’ll see how close I get.

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Getting started. Trick of mine: always put the eggs in first, so you can dig out shell if you need to. If I can’t do that, I crack them in a separate bowl first. And there’s my new mixer. I bought it because it has pastry hooks so I can make paper clay. Hope to use it for that some time this month.

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Here’s the actual recipe. Is it wrong to scan it in here? Probably. I rationalize that the little magazine is no longer available. Click to embiggen. I did everything to the directions except, well, I seem to have misplaced my brand new mini muffin tin. ARGH! I had cute little liners for it and everything! Oh well, it will turn up. So, cupcakes it is.

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These got baked for 21 minutes, rather than 12. Obviously, I could have put more batter in the cups.  Because they didn’t puff up over the liner (maybe I should have followed the recipe and skipped them?), I had to drizzle on the icing. The icing is very sweet, but it balances the cake, which is not so sweet, nicely. I was going to send these to work with the Spousal Unit. We’ll see how many survive.

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spiderchipnailedit-txt

I’ve seen the picture of spider chip cookies around quite a bit, so I had to try it. The Spousal Unit was on the computer at the time, so I went with my memory–that you simply pulled the warm chocolate out from the chip with a toothpick to form legs.

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I didn’t feel like baking from scratch, so I grabbed some Toll House dough. I baked them according to instructions, and brought out the toothpick…

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Unfortunately, the chocolate was hard and crumbly instead of smooth. There was no fixing this.

I had some fresh chips of a different brand, and thought that might do the trick. On the next batch, I took the cookies out a few minutes before they were done and added chips to the top. I gave them a few more minutes in the oven for the chips to melt.

Indeed, they were very melty and spreadable.

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A little too much so. The chip itself didn’t stay put when I tried to pull a leg free. I ended up with facehugger cookies.

Afterwards, I did some research (the perfect time for it, right?). This is the only place I’ve seen success with the plain toothpick method, and her recipe is very different. They aren’t drop cookies at all, but something much firmer.

Nearly every other baker who had any success either piped on the legs, or used a toothpick to apply chocolate that was melted separately.

But the plot thickens.  Look at this picture closely:

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See the logo in the lower left? Well, Worth1000 is a design site with photoshopping contests. This particular contest was called Snackimals (get a load of the pickled frogs), and the cookie was created by chther11. That’s right, it’s not real. I would have realized this if I’d looked more closely at it, but I didn’t. The whole toothpick thing made intuitive sense. I’d only seen the cookie passing through my Pinterest feed or getting posted to my facebook wall, and didn’t question.

Personally, I think this is hilarious. I wonder how many other folks have tried and failed. At a guess: everyone who later decided to pipe on legs!

I do not consider this a loss. It’s a good story, and we got facehugger cookies out of it.

facehugger

 

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As usual, I couldn’t resist the lure of all the Halloween magazines in the rack at the checkout.  If I have time, I’ll do a roundup. For now, here’s one idea I had to try: Candy Corn Cookies from Gooseberry Patch Best of Halloween 2014. They blogged about a similar recipe a while ago, but theirs is much simpler.  In fact, it’s so simple I’m going to go ahead and share it, since there’s nothing here that isn’t very, very basic.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Yellow and orange food coloring

Cream the butter and sugar together, then blend in the vanilla and egg. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl then incorporate them slowly.  Line a baking sheet with parchment, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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Yes, I am fussy enough to use a scale.

Divide the dough into three equal parts.

Pretty!

Pretty!

Color one part yellow and one part orange. Use plenty of food coloring.

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Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

Roll each color into 3/4″ logs. I worked with half of each color at a time. The dough is very soft, but not sticky. It is not something you roll vigorously. A combination of squeezing and gentle rolling will do the trick.

Stripes! Call Tim Burton!

Stripes! Call Tim Burton!

Push the rolls against each other as firmly as you can without mooshing them out of shape. The recipe says to blend slightly on top. That won’t work.

Cutting the cookies mostly evenly. Mostly.

Cutting the cookies mostly evenly. Mostly.

Cut the cookies into candy corn shapes.

Moosh

Moosh

Before you put the cookies in the pan, turn them over gently in your hand, and blend the colors on the bottom as much as you can. They’ll still be delicate, but they’ll hang together somewhat.

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

These cookies don’t spread, so you can put them fairly close together, like I didn’t.

These gems have a wonderful texture. They are very buttery, and not over-sweet. If I were to make them again, I would add a touch of orange zest to the orange section, and lemon zest to the yellow section, for more flavor.

Also, they are very pretty:

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Mine! Allll mine!

I’m in love with these cookies. They are delicious and elegant. In fact, they’re so nice that the Spousal Unit and I decided to withhold them from his co-workers, and keep them all for ourselves. I’ve adapted the recipe, with several method changes, from My View from the Avenue. For this recipe, you will need a 3″ round cookie cutter, plus mini bat and ghost cutters.

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Creaming the butter and sugar. Sounds dirty.

Yield: about 3 dozen 3″ cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

  • In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, except for the cocoa, until lump-free.
  • Slowly add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, stirring until thoroughly mixed.
  • Remove half of the dough and knead on a lightly floured surface for about a minute*. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic, and set aside.
  • Add cocoa to bowl, and mix until the dough is completely brown, with no little white spots.
  • Knead the chocolate dough, form into a disk, and wrap. Chill both doughs in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

*I didn’t really see a reason to knead the dough, but I did it anyway. In the original recipe, this is used to mix in the cocoa, which would take forever. Feel free to skip the kneading and see if it works out. I think it will be fine.

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Ready to chillax

Fun part, coming up!

Fun part, coming up!

  • Preheat the oven to 350°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Break off about 1/3 of the chilled dough.
  • Lay down a sheet of Press ‘n’ Seal (I’m not a shill, but seriously, this stuff is so much better than plastic wrap)
  • Flour the plastic lightly, and work the white dough in your hands for a few seconds.
  • Pat it down as much as you can, then flour the top of the dough. Roll with light, short strokes to about 1/8″ thickness.
You seriously don't want to lift these with your fingers

You seriously don’t want to lift these with your fingers

  • Cut five 3″ rounds.
  • Using a scraper or very thin spatula, gently lift the rounds on to the parchment paper. These cookies don’t spread, so you don’t need a lot of space between them. This dough is very tender, so you want to move it as little as possible. Reshape if necessary.

NOTE: Watch your plastic for tears, and replace immediately if this happens. I went through several sheets. You also might want to check the bottom of the last few cookies, though I didn’t end up with any problems.

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na

  • With the white rounds in the pan, cut out bat shapes from the middle.
Lift and pull

Lift and pull

  • Remove the bats by gently lifting the paper beneath the cookie, and bending at the seam of the cut-out. Now you can grab the bat. You don’t need to worry about the bats staying nice, just add them to the leftover white dough.
  • Using the discarded bats, you can cut out one more round, and still have enough for ghosts.
Mmm...chocolate

Mmm…chocolate

  • The chocolate dough is slightly less moist than the vanilla, but you still need to flour everything. Pat and roll out a small amount, and cut out six mini bats.

NOTE: if the chocolate dough becomes crumbly from the additional flour, put a few drops of water on your hands and work it in to the dough.

This part is kind of magical

This part is kind of magical

  • Lay the chocolate bats into the space on the vanilla cookies.
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Cracks, seams, etc., are very easy to fix with this dough

  • There will be a bit of space between the chocolate and vanilla. Gently press all around the shape (I actually used two fingers, one on the shape and one on the round), joining the seams.
  • Now repeat all this, but with chocolate rounds, and vanilla ghosts.
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Om to the nom

  • Bake until vanilla cookies are very slightly browned, about 15 minutes. The original recipe says to chill before baking. I saw no reason to do that, so I didn’t.
  • Let the cookies cool completely, then put them somewhere else and shape the next batch of dough. You can use the same parchment paper, but change out the Press ‘n’ Seal.
For the curious: those are roast beets in the background. The Spousal Unit loves 'em.

For the curious: those are roast beets in the background. The Spousal Unit loves ’em.

For the leftover dough, I mixed it together and made a bunch of tiny moons, and baked them in between the last batch.

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There are currently three left. Oops…two now.

The crispness of the cookies is determined by thickness. Since mine varied wildly, I had a combination of lovely crisp cookies, and slightly soft cookies. Both were wonderful.

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cpc 10

My forays into holiday food have been so-so this year. I even had one unmitigated disaster that went straight into the trash. If I run out of things to blog, I’ll tell you about it.

I decided that it was my penchant for substituting important things that was doing me wrong. Obviously, I need to experiment more with using sugar substitutes. This time, I pulled out the real stuff. I used three different recipes, which I’ll link, and combined them into deliciousness. Seriously, these things are freakin’ amazing. Also: sugar coma. I made a couple of minor changes, and the baking instructions are different. Here we go.

CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN CUPCAKE

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This batter was soooo tasty

Pumpkin Batter (original recipe):

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground garam masala (ginger in the original recipe–use if you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add the butter and the sugar. Beat with a hand-held mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the pumpkin puree and the vanilla extract. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time. Incorporate the dry mixture into the wet mixtures together until thoroughly combined.

Chocolate Batter (original recipe):

  • Chocolate Cupcakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup boiling water
  1. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  2. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter.
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Yep, completely different consistencies. It works out.

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Put cupcake liners in muffin tin, spray lightly with nonstick spray. I was skeptical about this, but it really did help.
Festive!

Festive!

  1. Put a glob of pumpkin batter in the middle of the liner. Pour a bit of chocolate over the top, and move on to the next cupcake. When you’re done with the tin, go back and fill all the muffin cups with chocolate to about 3/4 full.
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Letting that first bit of chocolate settle around the pumpkin

  1. Bake about 17 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Okay, the look good on the outside...

Okay, they look good on the outside…

Yum yum!

Yes! I win!

While those are cooling, you can whip up…

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The cupcakes are delicious without frosting. Depends on if you’re a frosting person.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting (original recipe):

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened (really, make sure it’s softened, or you won’t get it smooth)
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth
  2. Add the sugar slowly until incorporated
  3. Add the vanilla and cinnamon, beat until fluffy

After this, I got out the cake decorating stuff.

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Yes, those bags came with the kit. Yes, I’ve had it for years. I don’t do this much. I used the wide round tip and piped in a simple spiral. I know my limits. A touch of black and orange sprinkles, and all pretty! I sent most of these to work with the Spousal Unit. His co-workers have encouraged me to bake more Halloween treats.

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When I saw La Pêche Fraîche’s Orange, Chocolate, and Vanilla Swirl Cookies, I had to give them a try. I shortened the name to be less descriptive and helpful. Mine have a little more orange color in real life, but not much. I’m okay with that, but there will be more food coloring next time. I halved her recipe, and still got six dozen cookies out of it. My measurements:

Vanilla Dough:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I actually used a sugar substitute called Whey Low)
  • 3/4 tsp salt (she uses Kosher, which is coarser. I didn’t have it on hand, so I reduced the salt a little)
  • 1/2 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour

Orange Dough:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • orange food gel
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour

Chocolate Dough:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, unpacked
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 egg
  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder

To mix, I followed her directions to the letter, even setting a timer.

Orange zest and sugar

Orange zest and sugar. Pretty!

I noticed that the vanilla dough was not quite as moist as the orange, perhaps because of the oils in the zest.

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Mmm…chocolate

But then the chocolate was also extra-moist. *shrugs* All of the doughs were very workable.

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Vanilla getting wrapped for the fridge

I dutifully put the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I’m so glad I’ve become more patient in my old age.

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Patty cake. Sort of.

Here’s where I start to diverge from La Pêche Fraîche. Florida is very, very humid. At the moment, it’s been raining for a week, and is even more humid than usual. That means the dough is going to be somewhat sticky. Thing is, you don’t want to flour the board or roller, because you want those layers to stick together nicely. My solution was to put down a sheet of Press ‘n’ Seal, sticky side to the counter, and pat out the dough instead of rolling. This actually gave me a lot more control over the shape of the dough, so I was able to make neat rectangles. Patting out also made it much easier to push cracks together. The slabs were about 1/4″ thick, and measured about 6″ x 7″.

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Measuring up

Nice thing #1 about using the Press ‘n’ Seal: you can see if the slabs are the same size before you put them together.

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Nice thing #2: it’s really easy to pick up the top slab and lay it on the bottom slab, then peel off the Press ‘n’ Seal from the top.

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Roll a bit, pull the plastic out of the way. Easy!

Nice thing #3: the plastic makes it really easy to roll the slabs together. I was able to keep them tight with little effort, and I didn’t have to worry about cracks.

I used that same plastic to wrap the roll and put it back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.

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Once they come out, it’s a good idea to slice the whole roll (if you’re using all of it), then put the slices on the parchment-lined pan. That way the dough doesn’t get warm and squishy while you’re futzing with individual cookies.

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And I totally futzed, but only a little, neatening edges and making them more round. You’ll notice that mine are more swirls than spirals, like the original. This is probably because I did half batches, so my length of dough was shorter. I suppose I could have made the rectangle thinner and longer, creating fewer, but larger and swirlier cookies.

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The cookies have a delicate flavor, and aren’t too sweet. Definitely an adult treat. The texture is similar to shortbread. Yum.

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