Vaniljekranse – A Long Update…
I made Vaniljekranse, or better known as Danish butter cookies about two weeks back in response of a calling from my childhood, a craving from the yesteryears. After the recipe was published, I was elated by all the wonderful response it received. Particularly from a baking and cooking group on facebook which I subscribe to. The folks there are simply wonderful, eager-spirited and so full of encouraging positiveness. I was gladden by the overwhelming response it’d received, that a lot of them took it upon themselves to have the recipe tested and came with a lot of helpful feedback which allowed me to review the recipe which was used.
As with all recipes, there would be little modications that could be made for the recipe to work better for oneself. Despite how simple the recipe was crafted and short list of ingredients required, a plethora of possible factors could lead to the texture and taste of cookies made by one to differ from another. In the case of these Vaniljekranse, it could be anything from the choice and quality of ingredients used, the type of baking sheets/tray used, down to the methodology of dough preparation. Even the cooling time and storage process matters to ensure that the flavours and texture of the cookies are kept at their best, and preserved for the longest possible time.
Through the prolonged discussions with the ladies in the forum, I’d managed to compile a long list of little pointers which could help one debunk some doubts on the making process. So here we go!
Firsly, the Mise en place… before going about any recipe, the ingredients must always be prepared first to ensure a smooth workflow of the procedure.
(a) Choice of flour – all-purpose aka plain flour is used in this recipe. pretty much no frills here. I’d used a very cheap French flour from our local supermarket and it worked well for me. bleached or unbleached, it does not matter, though my personal preference is still unbleached flour. Pastry/cake flour with a lower gluten content would yield more crumbly cookies, which may be a little too brittle. Higher gluten flour would yield cookies which are harder. Not recommended. Just stick to the easily found and cheaply available plain flour please.
(b) Choice of sugar – the recipe called for icing sugar, which is essentially powdered sugar mixed with an anti-caking agent like corn starch to prevent the sugar from clumping together. Incorporation of corn starch would also help to yield cookies which have a lighter and more fluffy texture. But the cookies may not be sweet enough for some. One can also blitz fine-grain sugar of the same weight into powder form as part of the mise en place. This made help to yield sweet cookies. Otherwise, continue to use the icing sugar but increase the quantity by another 10-15% in gross weight or so. Some folks gone ahead to use castor sugar, or even fine-grain sugar in place of icing sugar. This would work of course, but the resulting cookie may be (1)more moist than anticipated, (2) may form “holes” with the cookie structure itself.
(c) Choice of vanilla – this is the ingredient which I’d received the most queries on. “Do we have to use vanilla paste?” “Can we use vanilla extract or essence instead?” “How about vanilla pods?”… Well, as you could see from the video clip embedded in the previous post, the original recipe had used vanilin or vanilla powder. I’d modified it to using vanilla paste as it was something which I have in my pantry and subsequently went on to do modifications to the dry ingredient ratio as well to compensate. Vanilla paste contains essentially sugar, water, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds and gum tragacanth as a thickening agent. Being viscous, it is versatile in some sense to impart all the wonderful aroma to the cookies without introducing too much fluids as what pure vanilla extract would have. About vanilla essence… to be honest, I had not used vanilla essence ever since I started using vanilla extracts and subsequently went on to make my own. The former is basically a cough syrup like concoction of artificially processed chemcials, like vanilin and which ever what-nots. I would have preferred something more organic. Isn’t then vanilla pods the best choice for that? Well, under other circumstances, vanilla pods would have worked beautifully but in this case, I would still stick to something slightly more fluid for several reasons. (1) vanilla pods need infusing for their aroma to be exuded. Usually this is done with creams or milk, with the vanilla pods boiled and steep in them for some time. But as you can see in this recipe, egg and butter are the only source of wet ingredients. So the vanilla seeds may not be worked to their fullest in terms of imparting aroma. (2) This recipe requires minimal mixing of the dough to ensure that the cookies would turn out crumbly and fluffy. Overmixing the dough would cause the cookies to become hard and compact, due to glutenisation kicking in with the flour. But if mixing is kept to a minimal,one has to juggle with the problem of not being able to distribute the vanilla seeds uniformly within the dough if scraped pods are used. This is lesser of a problem with using paste or extract where the fluid component acts as a carrier. In the event when a more fluid option like vanilla extract or even essence is used, the amount of flour could be increased by another 10-20g to compensate for the extra moisture introduced.
(d) Choice of butter – As discussed in the recipe post, the choice of butter is not really that crucial as long as it is a good creamy butter with at least 82% fat and above. Yes, if you are one who’s watching your calories or simply freak out at the slightest bit of lipids introduced to your diet. Thank you very much for reading, you can close this page now. French or Danish, it does not matter. As mentioned, I’d used Elle & Vire in the first documented attempt. I’d gone on to make another batch with a mixture of Emborg unsalted butter, and salted goat’s butter which I was eager to use up. They worked beautifully as well. And finally came the ultimate Echire test. And needless to say, the cookies taste really luscious. Well, its Echire so it had better be that way. But in summary, the make of the butter is not important as long as it is a good butter. Next came the question, salted or unsalted? I’d used unsalted Elle & Vire in my first trial. A fellow baking enthusiast, Joyee pointed out that they’d used salted in the video. So observant she is! Hence the use of salted goat’s butter in the second trial. But I do like the idea of using salted butter, as it imparts a dimension of umami to the cookies, which actually helped to accentuate the sweetness in it! Ironic it may sound, but it works!
Whichever make of butter chosen, it must be really really soft at room temperature. No, half an hour out of the fridge is not even barely enough. I left mine over the kitchen counter overnight covered and baked the cookies the next evening. So technically, the butter has been out for almost 24 hours before being used.
No one asked about the egg. Seems to be the least of all concerns! Just make sure that it is fresh!
Now let me share my working procedure. I apologise for not being specific enough in the initial post, but there is indeed a certain workflow to bear in mind to ensure that the textures are really spot on. So here’s how I mix the ingredients to form the cookie dough.I modified the mixing process with my second bake for Shenny, a friend in KL and here are the improved steps.
(1) Add flour and icing sugar to the mixing bowl and use the lowest speed on silicone paddle attachment to mix for 1 min. This is to mix the flour and icing sugar well. Of course one can double or even trip sift the mixture together but I find this method the easiest. Very important to go for the lowest speed to prevent flour from flying all over the place!!
(2) add all the wet ingredients, i.e. egg, softened butter and vanilla paste. It does matter the order. but it helps to cut the butter into smaller chunks first.
(3) Mix at the lowest speed for 30 seconds. Stop mixer and use rubber/silicone spatula to scrape off butter from the paddle attachment. Scrape down the bits which are stuck too high up the bowl as well.
(4) Lower paddle attachment and mix for another 30 seconds. After that, remove mixing bowl from mixer and manually fold in any bits you see that is unmixed. It should not take more than 10 folds. THAT’s ALL!
If you are overzealous with the dough churning process, the cookies would turn out hard and compact. That said, it is very important to have the icing sugar and flour properly mixed before adding the wet ingredients. As one can see, the prep time after the ingredients have added is actually very very short. barely 2 mins inclusive of manual folding time. If the sugar is not well mixed with the flour, the final dough would not be properly homogenised.
Then comes the piping. Several ladies have feedback to me expressing difficulty in piping the dough onto the cookie tray. Well, several possibilities for that.
(1) All ingredients must be used at room temperature, especially the wet ingredients like butter and milk. I can’t emphasise how important this is. Cold butter would yield a hard dough and thus very very sore fingers and palms later on. Take your pick.
(2) The piping bag is overfilled. Ideally, the piping bag should be no more than two-thirds filled. I fill mine only halfway thereabouts. And the logic is simple. Firstly, the wider end of the piping bag needs to be twisted and tightened after filling. I loop the ends around my thumb and continually do so as the dough is being piped out. If the bag is packed with too much dough, very little recess is available for the subsequently securing of the bags. Also, more dough in the bag necessarily means more pressure needed to be exerted to squeeze the dough out. Is that right? WRONG!!! That brings to mind the third probably mistake.
(3) The piping bag should be manoveured using two hands, the “upper hand” used to tighten and secure the open end of the bag, while the fingers of the “lower hand” grasp the bag in the region just above the tip. Pressure is exerted from the “lower hand” and not “upper hand”. With effectively less dough to squeeze, the required pressure would be lesser of course. Sore hands and fingers no more!
(4) Incorrect piping tip. I used a 1M Wilton piping tip which has a characteristic “open star” tip. Anything narrower would yield more petite and delicate looking cookie wreaths. But that would also mean sore fingers! And of course, using a “closed star” tip would make things a lot worse! One silly little anecdote. Wilton 1M is not the same as “Wilton 1 tip”!!! One of my readers shared something hilarious with me. Busy at home in the kitchen, she asked her hubby to go down to a local baking supplies shop to buy the piping tip. But they ran out of 1M. Clever the hubby was, he got her the “Wilton 1″ tip thinking that it can’t be too far from the “1M”. What a shock she got when he came home. I’d asked her to save it for piping royal icing instead. Totally hilarious come to think of it!
After piping, the cookies are then baked in a preheated oven for 200C. This setting suggested in the video worked well for me. However, some folks talked about their cookies being unevenly colored. This has to do with uneven thermal distribution in the oven. I used the fan function during baking to ensure good air circulation to aid in more even heat distribution. On top of that, I rotated the baking tray halfway through the baking process (I did it around the 6th min) as additional precautionary measure. Cookies which appear too dark or having burnt bottoms is largely attributed to the usage of dark baking sheets. Not a bad baking tool actually as they are usually non-stick. But being dark can also promote and increase the rate of heat absorption. One way to go about this is to line the trays with 1 or even 2 layers of baking parchment or non-stick baking paper. If all fails, try to lower the baking temperature to 190 or even 180C and slightly prolonged the baking time. Actual variation depends on the make and condition of the oven used. So play by ear and stand by the oven to monitor.
The cookie dough can also be piped using a spritz cookie press without much difficulty or changes to be made to the dough. Likewise, cut out cookies can also be made by first chilling the dough properly after mixing. Divide the dough into smaller portions and work fast enough with cookie cutters on the chilled dough, working with one portion at a time. Place the cookie trays back into the chiller to firm up slightly and bake them in a preheated oven.
After baking, cool the cookies in their trays to room temperature. Do not attempt to lift and remove the cookies while they are still hot. That’s when they are the most vulnerable, still soft and very very fragile and crumbly. The cooling process helps the cookies to firm up and harden slightly to become crisp. That said, do transfer the cookies into an air-tight container as soon as they have cooled down to room temperature. And longer, humidity kicks in and the cookies would start to soften again.
There you go! I can’t believe that there is so much to say for such a simple recipe. I guess a lot that’s mentioned above is not just for these Danish butter cookies but applicable to many similar bakes. Hope they are useful to you as the discussions were to me!
And finally, let me present to you the works of all the wonderful folks who have tried and tested the recipe. Your effort to put the recipe to practise and subsequent kind words of affirmation speaks more than anything else to me So here are in alphabetical order of last names…
And the list runs on… extensive but not exhaustive! If you have made some Vaniljekranse with the recipe I’d posted, do let me know if you wish to have your photos posted to join in the fun! And a big thank you to everyone who’d tried the recipe and provided invaluable feedback! All in the Christmas spirit of caring and sharing!
Finally, let me take the opportunity to wish one and all, A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!
This entry was posted on December 25, 2012 by Alan (travellingfoodies). It was filed under Food, Simple Eats and was tagged with all-purpose flour, castor sugar, corn starch, danish butter cookies, flour, icing sugar, plain flour, sugar, Vaniljekranse, vanilla, vanilla bean, vanilla essence, vanilla extract, vanilla paste, vanilla pod.