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Monday, 28 November 2011

"I ♥ UAE" Say it with food! - Themed Cardamom Sugar Cookie Cutouts

United Arab Emirates National Day is just a few days away. 
I remember when I was catering, this part of the year was extremely busy. At this point I would have been working on National Day Edible Arrangements, gifts, edible party favours and themed foods... Food is a fabulous medium for expression!

For ages, people have used food to express emotions, from motherly care and love to house warming and welcoming new neighbours, we are able to say it with food! An elegant basket of freshly baked muffins would send a message of warmth and welcome, a plate of freshly baked cookies and a glass of milk is a grandma's way to express love to her grandchildren, and a strawberry dipped in luscious dark chocolate or whipped cream is a lover's way to express love... how beautiful is food? I remember reading Gibran Khalil Gibran and some words find their way to your heart speaking straight to your soul. I remember reading him say: Half of what we say is meaningless, it is the other half we don't say that is meaningful. It is our gestures, and actions that speak louder than our words ever could. The beauty of food is that it allows us to communicate without saying much. In its most basic form, food transmits our emotions. When in a hurry and doing a half hearted job, our food comes out rushed and not well balanced. When patient and joyful, food comes out hearty and just right, showing those who eat that we took the time to care and provide, that they are welcome.

UAE National Day Basket I made for Dubai School of Government, The concept was
a stage celebrating all things UAE
One way of using food for expression is decoration. Food embellishment and decoration had swept the floor of communications. Food had provided a medium for artistic expression and people took on. We decorate cookies, cakes, chocolates... and we do that for greetings, branding, celebrations... In cute edible little parcels of flavour we say things like: "I love you Mum" "Welcome home" "Good Job"... and tie it all with a nice ribbon encasing hours of detailed work and love. Without saying much that basket reflects our joy, pride and love. Food can do that. Gifts from the kitchen are really a wonderful gift to give, after all it is the thought that counts and just look how much thought went into making these small decorated foods. From concept to completion they are nothing short of thought, effort, deliciousness, and expression. If it takes me 6 hours to bake and decorate the cookies for you, that means for 6 hours you were on my mind. How much more thought can go into a gift?

Through the course of the catering years, I have baked and decorated countless, cookies, cupcakes, chocolates, and pops. This year, and because I am no longer catering, I thought to show you how you can do it yourselves. In previous posts, I have explained How to Make Fondant and Sugar Paste at Home, and How to cover a cake with Fondant. The posts also included  some decoration tips. I have also Demonstrated - at Jashanmal's Cook & Coffee by Kenwood - covering a cake with Fondant and decorate it for Christmas. So by now, you can carry out decorating a cake.

For this post, we are taking on the cookies. Since it is National Day, I am going with one of UAE's favourite flavours Cardamom. So we will start by making the Cardamom Sugar Cookie Cutouts...

You Need
Makes 12 large cookies or 24 small cookies
200g Butter
200g Caster Sugar
400g All purpose Flour
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp Cardamom powder
1 tsp Rose water (optional)

In a small bowl, sift together the flour and cardamom powder. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy. Add egg and rose water, beat on medium speed until well incorporated.

Add the flour and Cardamom mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low just until combined. Raise the speed and beat for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until all are very well incorporated. Transfer the cookie dough to a plastic bag or wrap with cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out.

The cutouts
After cooling for 30 minutes in the fridge, take the dough out and cut it into 4 portions. Work 1 portion at a time, keeping the remaining 3 in the fridge.

TIP It is essential that the dough does not get over worked or heated, especially for cutouts, as the butter will shorten and the dough will over spread in the oven. That will ruin the shape. For properly shaped cookies that snap, keep the dough refrigerated, and after cutting the shapes, place the whole tray back in the fridge, for at least 15 minutes, to cool before baking.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with baking paper. Set aside.

Place the one quarter of cookie dough between 2 sheets of baking paper and roll to about 1/5 inch thick. Using the desired shape cookie cutters or (templates and a super sharp knife), cut out the shapes. carefully release the dough from the baking sheet, and transfer to the lined baking tray.

When the tray is full, place in the fridge for 15 minutes. After cooling, place the sheet on the middle rack in the preheated oven and bake for 18-20 minutes for large ones, and 15-18 minutes for smaller ones. The cookies should be golden brown on the bottom and edges.

Carefully, transfer the cookies onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Do not attempt to decorate cookies before they are completely cooled.

Decorating Ideas

  • Use the same cookie cutters to cut rolled out Fondant, then stick on the cookie. One very simple way to stick fondant on a cookie is to brush a very small amount of Piping Gel or Jam on the cookie, and that will act as glue. Create definition by tracing over the edges and creating details with Royal Icing (or ready made piping icing found in supermarkets in tubes).
  • Use Royal icing to create borders around the edges and over the desired detail areas, then fill with thinned royal icing (a drizzling consistency icing). This technique is very much like that of glass art, where you draw with a tube and then fill in with colour.
  • Dust with cocoa Powder or Icing Sugar. If using a stencil sheet you can create shapes by dusting over it, and then when you remove the sheet, you will have the desired shapes in sugar.
  • Create 3D shapes out of fondant or Gumpaste and stick them to the cookie.
  • Create flowers or roses in the colours of the flag out of fondant and stick atop the cookies.
  • Make flags and stick them on top of the cookies...etc
Here are some pictures of cookies for UAE National Day. Hope they inspire you and encourage you to make some yourself. Just in time to bake, decorate, set and wrap to be ready for the 2nd of December :))

Um Khamas Cookies, I just love this character from Freej

Cookies showing the traditional Emirati Henna
Desert Oasis Cookies made for National Day

Abayas & Kandooras Brownie pops

  If you would like to learn more about cookies, cookie decorations to include a variety of flavours, cookie types, icings, decorating techniques...etc Join my course: Cookies - Baking, Decorating & Cookie Bouquets, where you get to learn all this in details.

What is your National Day tradition? Do you prepare specific food for this occasion? I would love to learn all abouot your traditions, so please do share with me and leave me a comment before you go... :)