Tuesday, December 9, 2008

{TWD} Grandma's Sugar Cookies, the German connection

Dorie named this recipe Grandma's Sugar Cookies because it is a combination of recipes from her two grandmothers. When I think of my grandmothers, I think of Germany. One of mine came to America from a small village in Germany, and the other was of German descent.

There are other reasons that Germany came my mind for this week's baking:
1. Our TWD host this week is Ulrike of Küchenlatein, a wonderful baker who lives in Germany.

2. I had some cool cookie cutters that I bought on a 2007 trip to Germany (that I couldn't wait to use).

and finally, and most exciting (to me!):

3. In two days I'm heading to Germany to poke around Northern Germany and visit with my daughter J.D.E., who's studying in Berlin for a year. I'm looking forward to the German Christmas Markets, as well as enjoying torte, grillhaxe, and lebkuchen!!! We'll return home together in time for Christmas.

The cookie cutters I used for this recipe are (1) a church shaped cutter that I bought at the Cologne cathedral shop, and (2) two cutters that replicate the little man (called "Ampelmann") who is featured on traffic crossing signals found in the former East part of Berlin.

Ampelmann
Here's a little history of the figural traffic signals, from the Ampelmann shop's website:
The East German pedestrian traffic light symbols, or‚ 'ampel men’ are Berlin born and bred. They came into being on October 13th 1961 when, in response to the growing threat of road traffic accidents, the traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau , introduced the first pedestrian signals to the GDR capital. And so the vehicle traffic light, which had directed traffic alone up to that point, was joined by the pedestrian traffic light. Its design was psychologically conceived, because road-users react more quickly to appealing symbols.

He is appealing, isn't he? No visit to Berlin would be complete without stopping at the very appealing shops filled with a dizzying array of Ampelmann-logo wares, including some specially for Christmas. When we were in Berlin last year I picked up some felt Ampelmann ornaments (red and green, of course) and some Ampelmann cookie cutters.


Cologne Cathedral

The cathedral, or "Dom" in Cologne, Germany is a stunning example of Gothic church architecture. It sits on a broad plaza in the center of the city and is home to many artistic and spiritual treasures.

Although Cologne was heavily bombed in the second World War, the cathedral survived relatively intact. There has been some reconstruction, however, and one of the most stunning modern features is the new "pixel" stained-glass window (2007) by German artist Gerhard Richter.

The Cologne cathedral is huge. The cookie cutter of the cathedral is not.

cook's notes:

- I didn't weigh my flour this time, and I think I ended up using less. I try to use 4 3/4 oz/cup for Dorie's recipes. A tiny bit more flour might have made these easier to work with.

- The dough is really tasty -- buttery, not too sweet.

- I froze a little over half of the dough for making Christmas cookies later.

- I rolled the dough fairly thin, pretty much out of habit - I'm always trying to squeeze maximum quantity out of my rolled cookies. Mine were closer to 1/8" than 1/4". They cooked in 8 minutes.

- The dough is very soft. I had to keep popping the cookie sheet and the dough back into the fridge. It took me forever to get one filled cookie sheet. Even with lots of extra chilling I had trouble transferring the cookies to the baking sheet. The cathedral's towers kept bending and Ampelmann got pulled out of shape.

- I sprinkled colored sugar and sparkly sugar on the cookies before baking. For the cathedral portal, I used cocoa roast almonds (these are delicious as a snack, btw). On some of the cathedral cookies I tried to suggest stained glass windows with multicolored chocolate covered sunflower seeds. When I pushed in the almonds and little sunflower seeds, the cookies smooshed a bit.

- The cookies were delicate after baking also, which made them a bit difficult to remove from cookie sheet. In particular, the Red Ampelmann kept trying to lose his head.

the verdict:

Warm from the oven, the cookies were soft and chewy, rich and just a bit of vanilla-y sweetness. Yum!! The next day, they were crisper but still with great flavor.

When I roll the rest of these, I think I'll refrigerate/freeze the dough even more than I did for this set. My plan: roll the chilled dough between wax paper, then freeze it flat before cutting the cookies, to see if the cookies kept their shape better when cut. I will also roll the cookies thicker, and undercook them a bit, so they will be chewy rather than crisp.

For years our go-to plain roll cookie was the Rich Roll Cookie from the 1975 Joy of Cooking. Last year we tried a new recipe: the Cook's Illustrated Glazed Butter Cookies (from the 2007 Holiday Baking issue). In typical CI fashion, the test kitchen worked out a dough, with a bit of cream cheese and no leaven, that would be nice and flat (for decorating) when baked and tasty but sturdy enough for rolling. We ended up loving the CI recipe. This year, I plan to do a taste test of Dorie's recipe with the CI recipe. Stay tuned!


I put the cookies in the freezer, (along with the disk of uncooked dough). When I get back from Germany, we'll have some cookies waiting for us, and they will be a good reminder of the trip! Thanks, Ulrike, for choosing this recipe. We all got a chance to add to our holiday cookie supply! If you'd like to bake these, you can find the recipe on Ulrike's post (you can read her post in German or English - just click on the little flag!), or on page 146-147 of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours.

This would be a good week to go to the TWD blogroll and click on blogs of some of the 370+ TWD bakers, as I'm sure they've baked some amazing decorated cookies and tasty flavor combinations.

I've baked up most of the December recipes for TWD (with just a few battle scars), and will set up next week's recipe (Buttery Jam Cookies) to post on the correct day (I hope) in my absence. I'll also try to set up a few other posts from my backlog of drafts, so you'll have something to read. You won't be seeing as many (any?) comments from me for the next few weeks, as my time and internet capability will be quite limited. I'll be back in time for Christmas. Wishing you much joy in your holiday preparations!

58 comments:

CB said...

How cute are your German cookie cutters? Love it. Have fun on your trip to Germany! Glad you enjoyed the recipe.
Clara @ iheartfood4thought

Jessica said...

Your cookies are so cute and I give you extra points for all of those wonderful and creative photos that you took (and posted) with and relating to the cookies, Germany, all of it! Have a wonderful and safe trip!

Cathy said...

Good gosh, Ampelmann IS appealing! And the cathedral cutters are pretty and unique as well -- love the portals. We went to Germany right after law school, and I thought that the Cologne cathedral was the most magnificent and memorable of the many beautiful churches we saw in Germany and Italy. I found the dough to be a little bit hard to work with as well. I think your idea about popping it in the freezer before cutting it is a good one. Glad you liked these, and I look forward to reading about your taste test! I hope that you have a wonderful trip and a great visit with your daughter!

vibi said...

OH! Red light, green light... what appropriate colors for Xmas! Very inventive! ...and how about those church cookies!? Those would call anyone for great decorating ideas, with all the stained glass colors available! Very creative N.O.E.!

Cristine said...

Your cookies look great!

Have a blast in Germany! Too bad I'm not in Northern Germany! Enjoy the Christmas markets... they are the best! :)

Marie said...

I love all the German goodness you have going on here this morning!!! Your little men are sooo cute! I hope that you have a lovely time in Germany with your daughter. Take lots of pictures to share with us!

SiHaN said...

that's an amazing story. and the cookie cutters.. i never knew the had so much meaning to them. kudos! Thanks for sharing!

j. d. e. said...

ahhhh the cathedral cookies are adorable!!!
can't wait until you come over here...we're going to tear it up!

Jin Hooi said...

love your cookie cutters , sooo cute !!! very creative !! well done ;-)

Audrey said...

What a great idea to collect cookie cutters on your trip! Especially since you can tell such great stories about them. I'll be back about the same time as you (with no posts in the queue, alas..) - I hope you have a wonderful trip!

doriegreenspan said...

What an extraordinary post -- how wonderful to be able to tie simple sugar cookies to the magnificent cathedral in Cologne. Safe travels and happy holidays -- Dorie

kim said...

those are so cute!! love the Ampelmann :) have a wonderful time on your trip!

Di said...

Enjoy your trip! How neat that you get to spend time with your daughter. I bet Germany is a great place to visit this time of year.

The CI glazed butter cookie recipe is the one I used for my cookie decorating the past couple years. I really like it.

Prudy said...

Have so much fun! I love your whole post about Germany, and I'm just so jealous that you'll be there during Christmas season. You look so young, I never would have suspected that you had a daughter old enough to be in Europe! What a great adventure for her.

Amanda said...

FIrst, love the cookie cutters and the story about their origin! They came out great! Have a great time in Germany. I have never been and would love to. I really enjoyed these cookies too!

Maria said...

So clever! I love your cookies!

Anne said...

I love those cookie cutters! I went to Berlin for a couple days once and I loved those happy little crossing guards. :) I hope you have a wonderful and safe trip!

Jules Someone said...

What a great post! I love the cookie cutters. Have a wonderful trip!

Jodie said...

How fun! Have a great trip, you lucky duck!

Jacque said...

How cute are those? Great post, I learned something today, LOL. Those little guys are adorable.

Flourchild said...

Wow what a great post. I loved reading all the fun info about Germany. Your cookie cutters are the bomb..great looking suagr cookies!

Candy said...

Too cute! Have a wonderful time!

MacDuff said...

This is so great! Have a wonderful time in Germany. I'm very jealous - I only spent one day in Germany a few years ago, and I would love to go back. Have a great time, and bring back more amazing cookie cutters!!!

Peggy said...

Nancy - thanks for stopping by my blog this morning. Your shapes on your cookies are just too adorable! And I'm so excited for you about your Germany trip. I have been to Germany (around Christmas time) and I absolutely loved all of it. I went to Frankfurt, Rotenberg, Munich. Loved the food, the castles, everything. I hope you have a wonderful trip and a great Christmas!

natalia said...

Ciao Nancy ! I wish you and your family the best vacations in Germany ! Your cookie cutters are great !

Kayte said...

Oh, I just love educational posts...one learns so much from everyone else's experiences! Yours was just delightful...and your cookies look wonderful also. Safe travel!

chocolatechic said...

How wonderful that you are going to Germany.

Eat some great German chocolate for me.

Your cookies are adorable.

Thanks for the history lesson.

leanne said...

Okay so not only do you have an awesome assortment of jam but now I am jealous of your cookie cutters too. They are so unique. Hope you have a wonderful trip and enjoy spending time with your daughter.

bakingwiththeboys said...

I love the amplemann cookie cutters. How cute and unique. Have a great time in Germany!

Megan said...

Enjoy your trip - and I love your cutters, they are so different!

What's for Supper? said...

Hope you have a great time in Germany!

Fit Chick said...

I love your cookie cutters! Wish I had bought some when I was in Cologne, but I wasn't into baking when I was there. I agree with you, they needed a bit more flour to make them easier to cut out. Enjoy your vacation and Happy New Year!

Kristin said...

What awesome cookie cutters! I love them! Have a safe trip!

Marthe said...

I love your German cookie cutters!! I will be in Cologne this weekend twice: catching a plane to the south of Germany for visiting a friend. Berlin is beautiful as well, enjoy your visit!!

Lisa magicsprinkles said...

I heart your Ampelmann cookie cutters and how I envy your past and future trips to Germany. Have a safe and memorable trip!

Spike said...

I have a friend in Berlin who may have to pick up some of these cookie cutters for me-they are so fun! Have a great trip.

The Blonde Duck said...

Those are so cute! Have fun in Germany. I love the cookie cutters! Being of German descant, I can't wait until we make it over there!

Gabe's Girl said...

Breathtaking.

Teanna said...

Germany!!!! Have a GREAT TRIP! I think you should bring some of your awesome cookies to share with the Germans! They'll make you their new ambassador, I'm sure!

Mary Ann said...

I love your cookie cutters, especially the little traffic light man. They had those little guys in Estonia too, and I always thought they were so much cuter than plain old lights. Your cookies turned out so cute. Have a great trip!

Melissa said...

Can't wait to hear which cookie is your favorite after you perform the taste test. Love all the German knowledge you just threw at us! Have fun on your trip!

Tammy said...

cute cookies! Have a great time in Germany!

Judy said...

I love the different cookie cutters. Have a great time in Germany and at Christmas Market.

Carol Peterman said...

The Amplemann and cathedral cutters are wonderful and your cookies look great. This week's pick is perfect for getting ready for your big trip! I think you will have better luck cutting and transferring the shapes if you freeze the dough once you roll it out. I used the freezer step and it worked great. Also, thicker will help too. I look forward to your auto-posts while you are gone and seeing some photos from your trip once you are back. I bet you will be eating some fantastic food while you are there - take notes and give a full report! Safe travels.

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

Lovely presentation of the German sugar cookies and your photos of sites are gorgeous!

Steph said...

I hope you enjoy your trip! I can't wait to hear all about it when you get back!! If there's one thing I regret, it's not buying enough kitchen gadgets there.. the quality is amazing! The chocolate is also so incrediably creamy and smooth. I can't believe how grainy our chocolates are.

Thanks for doing another CI comparison. I looked at CI's sugar cookie dough and it's loaded with butter! Do you know of a recipe that resembles the pillsbury freeze and bake?

Reeni said...

I love the cookie cutters and all of the history behind them. The pictures are gorgeous! Enjoy your trip, can't wait to hear all about it!

Annette said...

I love the little Ampelmann! Thanks for the interesting history. I did the slice and bake version of these. They taste good, but yours are cuter. :) Have a wonderful time in Germany! Happy holidays!

n.o.e said...

Steph, I haven't cooked with the Pillsbury dough, but a good basic roll cookie is from my trusty 1975 Joy of Cooking. The proportions are: 1/2 c. white or brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 eggs, 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking bowder
1/2 tsp salt. If you want it sweeter, you could probably add a bit more sugar.
Nancy

Debbie said...

Love those cookie cutters. What are great souvenir.

I liked this recipe too, but found that it got soft pretty quickly too. I'm going to try your freezer idea for the rest of my dough which I'm saving for when my daughter comes here for Christmas.

Have a wonderful time in Germany and with your daughter.

Katrina said...

What fun history and cookies! Love it!
I'm also having a Hay Day flipping through my new Hay Day Cookbook that came in the mail yesterday! Thanks a bunch. Marking lots of "must try" recipes!

TeaLady said...

LOVE the cookie cutters. Lucky you to be going to Germany again. Lived there for a few years and loved it. Visited Berlin when it was still Behind the Wall. What an experience. Have a great time!!!!
Bet you will find some great ingredients to bring home and more cutters.

The Food Librarian said...

I love these cookie cutters! They are fantastic. Japan has a man in a top hat in their "walk" sign. I love it and took a photo. Wish they had cookie cutter! :)

Lynnylu said...

Great post weaving the sugar cookies into your next trip to Germany. The little Ampelmann are so cute.

Pamela said...

I know that by now, you are in Germany, enjoying your daughter and the scenery! I hope your trip is wonderful. And I love the Ampelmann!!

AmyRuth said...

Ah Nancy, thanks for the photographs of your previous trip to Germany. We can only be jealous of the current one. I'm sure its so fun to return and to see the face of your daughter. She'll have so much more to share with you. Neat! Your cookies are beautiful and I liked them as well. Safe travel and lots of fun to you. Have a wonderul holiday season too!:-)
AmyRuth

Sweet Charity said...

I went to Germany when I was 16. Most of my photos from the trip happen to be of stained glass windows... have no idea where any of them were from :)
The cookies look awesome!

ostwestwind said...

Your East German "Ampelmännchen"-cutter are so cute. Bummer that those are "endangered".

Thanks for joining TWD and baking with me

Ulrike from Küchenlatein