Monday 3 February 2014

Valentine Locket Cookies

   I found this stuff, isomalt, while looking at some baking tutorials recently. It's basically just sugar, kind of like hard candy but without the colour or flavour, and you melt it down and use it in sweets and other such things. While playing about with my patchwork heart cookies that I posted a little while ago, I wondered if it could be used to make sort of stained glass cookies. I've never been fond of them because I've n ever liked the biscuit or candy typically used to make them, but I've always thought they looked nice.

   Well, I was also going through my pinterest boards recently and remembered I'd repinned some pinata cookies - sugar cookies with small M&Ms in them. I thought it would be great to be able to see through the pinata to the sweets, though that would somewhat defeat the object of a pinata - you're not supposed to know what's inside.
   Well, I began to experiment, and one thing led to another, and I ended up with locket cookies.

   Like the pinata cookies, they're made up of three individual biscuits, except, unlike the pinata cookies, two of the cookies have been cut out in the middle, with the top piece being filled with isomalt.

You Will Need:

For the biscuits:
100g softened butter
100g sugar
1 small egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or other flavouring
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder

For the locketyness:
100g isomalt
2 different sized heart shaped cookie cutters
Chocolate or sweets to fill them with (I used mini Smarties)
Buttercream or royal icing
Royal icing as glue
Icing nozzle and piping bag
Heat-proof silicone mat or similar, make sure it's smooth on both sides to prevent it from lifting up.

1) Cream together the softened butter and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla, and then add the flour and baking powder a little at a time. If the mixture becomes too thick, knead it by hand. Add more flour if the mixture seems too wet.

2) Preheat oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F and roll out dough onto a floured surface. Cut out large hearts in multiples of three. Cut a smaller heart out of the middle of two from of every three cookies so that you have one full heart and two hollow hearts (this will make one biscuit). Continue until you use up all your dough. You can either reroll the smaller hearts or keep them as little heart cookies.

3) Transfer the cookies onto a floured baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes.

4) When baked, remove from oven and allow to cool and harden before removing from the tray, then transfer to baking sheet.

5) When the cookies are fully cooled, stack them up - full heart on the bottom, then two hollow hearts on top. Take the top heart and put it on the silicone mat. You can use a bit of royal icing to keep the cookie fixed down in place if you're concerned, but out of the six cookies I made, none of them slipped at all. Make sure that the flattest side of the cookie is facing downwards, but note that the flattest side is likely to be facing upwards when your biscuits have been put together.

6) I only used about 50g of isomalt, so I had 50g left over just in case. Melt your isomalt in a heat-proof jug, following the instructions on the packet. Do not underestimate the temperature of the isomalt. It is seriously hot. I melted it for a total of 1 minute (30 seconds, 15 seconds, 15 seconds) in a pryex jug. The jug was barely warm when the isomalt had completely melted, but I got the tiniest splash of it on my hand when removing the toothpick I used to stir it and it hurt like hell. Unlike hard candy mixtures, the sugar doesn't harden too quickly, so you have about 5 minutes to work with it in the jug. If you want to add colour or flavour, do it now. Adding it before the mixture has fully melted will cause the flavour to dissipate in the heat, so it's best to add both of them once it's been fully melted as it will begin to cool and the heat will dissipate itself instead.
   Pour the melted isomalt into the centre of the heart cookies. There's no need to fill it to the brim - the less you put in, the thinner the layer will be, and then the more room you'll have inside the cookies. Use a toothpick or cocktail stick or something similar to stir the isomalt gently once poured and remove any bubbles - I didn't do this with my first four and I wish I had. Use the cocktail stick to also push the mixture to the edge of the cookie. The stuff pours more like syrup than like water and it doesn't necessarily completely fill the area given. On my last cookie, I didn't do this and there are a few gaps down one side of the heart. Do as I say, not as I do.

7) The isomalt can take about 10 minutes to fully set, so while they're drying, move over to the remaining cookies. Mix up some thick royal icing while you wait and spread it onto the back of the remaining hollow hearts which will be your middle pieces, then stick them down onto their full hearts. These will dry quickly, but that's not much to worry about anyway. Once they're all fixed together, add your lockets' contents. I used mini Smarties, but I didn't expect to be able to fit in as much as I could. By the time you've filled all of your cookies the isomalt will probably be dry. Tap it with a toothpick or cocktail stick to see if it's hardened, then carefully peel part of the silicone mat away. If it's not set yet, you'll know, and you should give it 5 more minutes. If it has set, position the cookies over the top of the candy-filled cookies. Play about with it. Try it upside down (flattest side facing upwards) where the isomalt is also smoothest - it'll give you more room inside the locket to add a few more pieces of chocolate or sweets - or flip it the other way over so that the isomalt is a little less even, and possibly less tidy, but the cookie may also be smoother and more attractive. It doesn't really matter, but I chose to put mine on upside down to give a flatter surface and greater interior size.
Optional: if your isomalt isn't that clear, add a small drop of vegetable oil, olive oil or whatever you have and rub it over the isomalt's surface. It'll clear it up.

8) Once you're satisfied that your isomalt is as clear as it's going to be, and you've figured out which way up your cookies are going and you've adequately filled the cookies, use the remaining royal icing to 'glue' the glassed pieces down.

9) Now it's time for the decoration. I'm utterly useless at this, I tell you. I've only used piping bags a couple of times in the past and I've never gotten on well with nozzles or anything. I'm absolutely hopeless with this sort of thing, so you can understand my sheer surprise when I finally finished. By my personal standards, I did an awesome job. I used a Wilton No. 3 nozzle if anyone is interested.
   I used buttercream but didn't colour it. I had wanted to colour it gold but for some reason I didn't do it, but I like the lacy filigree effect I've got from the vanilla colour, so I'm happy. Royal icing would work just as well, if not better because it will completely harden.
   You can either practise designs on paper, or just wing it. I did the latter, so none of my lockets match, and some are a bit of a mess, but overall I'm happy with it. Be patient and just try it. If you're not used to doing such a thing, choose the less attractive of your cookies (ones that don't line up that well or are a little cracked, or have bubbly isomalt and so on) to do first until you get the feel for it.

10) You can add more frosting and fill in the gaps between the cookies unless they all have completely straight sides, or you can leave them be. I decided not to push my luck and left it alone.

   I'm so pleased with how these came out, so, so pleased! I'm hopeless at cookies, I swear, so this project had a lot of room to go wrong. First the cookies (half of my first batch broke, but by the end of it I had 6 full cookies), then the isomalt (some still have bubbles in them because I didn't think to stir them slowly once poured), then the piping (I made some mistakes when I tried to paint buttercream before it had hardened as completely as buttercream can). As you can see, something did go wrong in each stage, but fortunately the problems were either easily fixed, or easily overlooked. It could have gone so much worse, and I'm so pleased with their outcome.
   If you post my pictures to your own blog or website, please give credit where it's due. I'm really, really proud of this and I deserve a pat on the back :P


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