I love beauty and beautiful things. I seek them out, even among the dreary. I’ve trained my eyes to the patterns and colors that I love, the lines and shapes that delight me. I look forward to every sighting, from the first rose to every full moon.
Now, I know that I’m not alone in my love for the aesthetically pleasing. But some lucky souls have the added distinction of being able to create beauty—or even more impressive, to make the ugly beautiful. I have never felt myself to be one of these blessed folk. Oh, I can sew a nice dress, cook up a mean meatloaf, or hang baubles on a Christmas tree. But the act of beautifying—of decoration—of transforming the plain into the lovely—is an art form.
Take food for example…perfect ingredients are often gorgeous as mother nature made them, but say a pot of beans and rice? lumpy cookies? lopsided, or even just naked, cakes? These need help if they are to bring delight. My inadequacy comes home to me whenever I try to “style” my food into a vision that might actually make you want to cook it.
Ah, but there are a few aids to unfortunates like me. Bundt pans are one…instantly beautiful cakes! A stroke of genius to be sure. Others are cookie molds and stamps. An old world trick, these are—impressing pretty designs on cookies and pastries is a centuries’ old practice, and a real boon to people like me who couldn’t decorate a snowflake cookie to save her life.
I’ve already given you a Bundt cake recipe, so today I’ll regal you with these fun stamped cookies from superstar Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest—Sweet. They’re called “tiles” because of their resemblance to antique ceramic tiles. The stamps I used here are from Nordic Ware, and I love how whimsical they are! Knowing my weakness for spice cookies, you won’t be surprised that these are gingerbread—but you might be surprised by their depth, their near savoriness, their complete and utter grown-upness. These are cookies to linger over…even if they weren’t so pretty.
Soft Gingerbread Tiles with Rum-Butter Glaze
I’ve adapted this recipe slightly to reflect my experience with it. Namely, I needed a little more liquid than called for to bring the dough together. Since no actual “liquid” is called for in Ottolenghi’s recipe, this amounted to increasing the egg yolks from one to two and adding in a bit of vanilla. I’ve added these ingredients as optional, so if yours comes together easily, you can forego the additions.
Adapted very lightly from Sweet, by Yotam Ottolenghi
Makes 9 to 12, depending on the size of stamp (I got 9)
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 c. plus 2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. blackstrap molasses
1 to 2 egg yolks (*see note above)
1 3/4 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. Dutch process cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
2/3 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. melted butter
1 T. dark rum (or lemon juice)
1 tsp. warm water
Beat together the butter, brown sugar, and molasses till smooth in a mixer on medium speed. Add yolk, and mix till well-combined. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add to mixer, and mix on low speed till dough comes together. If it remains sandy and uncooperative, add the extra yolk and vanilla. Knead gently to form a ball.
Preheat oven to 375°, and line two pans with parchment paper. Roll dough out to a scant 1/4 inch between two sheets of parchment paper. If by chance your dough is very soft, chill briefly. Press the cookie stamp into the dough, making sure you apply enough pressure to make a good imprint. This may take a practice run or two. Cut out the cookies with a round cutter just larger than the stamp. I had a few that were too lightly stamped, so I just turned them over and tried again! Place cookies on lined sheets about 3/4 inch apart—they spread very little. Reroll the scraps for more cookies.
Bake 9 to 10 minutes, turning sheets halfway through. I usually bake cookies one sheet at a time, but if you prefer to bake both together, switch from top to bottom racks when you rotate them. Cool 5 minutes before glazing.
Make the glaze while the cookies are baking so it can be applied when they are still warm. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients, and stir till smooth. The consistency should be that of pourable honey, so add a bit more water if necessary. Ice the cookies with a pastry brush once they’ve cooled for 5 minutes. These will keep about 5 days in an airtight container.