sugar art ::::
As a child in England, our family wandered through many European museums, with me soaking in every style of art, peering closely at brush stroke of color, of sky and nude, of every unsmiling luminary bust, of each abstract body of squares and triangles. Though I remember the Rembrandts and Vermeers, the scrawl of original manuscripts from the genteel A.A. Milne, a copy of the Magna Carta, and the light and softness of Pre-Raphaelites well, I never remember seeing a Mondrian. The hard lines, the right angles, the primary colors were too minimalist for me, the abundant detail and complexity of pre-Raphaelite androgyny and nature winning my gaze.
These days I rarely walk through such halls of quiet contemplation, of warm spotlights and canvas, of yellowed parchment, bored security guards and wide-eyed art students. While Peach would enjoy a promenade through a gallery, Grub and Sky-Girl would have no less attention to it than to my left toenail. And it would not be a contemplative time for art, but rather how to wrangle some wily children and praying that none would break anything of value.
These days, my medium is sugar, flour, and butter. I’m back on the sugar cookie art path, having tried swirl cookies, nautilus cookies, and confetti cookies previously. If I can’t be granted a quiet, untethered minute to appreciate those who sketch or paint and create, then I might as well make art-inspired cookies. Enter Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.
Mondrian contributed to the DeStijl movement in the 20th century, favoring abstract minimalism and neo-plasticism over the flair of Art Deco. His art is the epitome of the stripped down vision. Mondrian was not always hard and fast in this rubric: a “theme” is probably a better word. And surely his themes changed in time. This is what I followed (information gathered from yahoo):
1. Only black, white, red, blue and yellow are used.
2. A Mondrian can only contain rectangles or squares. The border of the entire painting must form a square or rectangle.
3. Borders of the squares or rectangles can only be black. The interior of the squares and rectangles can only be white, red, blue or yellow. The borders of the canvas are black.
4. Two adjacent rectangles cannot have the same color, unless they are painted in white.
Ready to create? Trial run? Mondrian cookies are in order. I’m ready for the demo. And at least eat leftover cookies for lunch. Even the strongly critiqued art tastes good. Start with propping your Mondrian replica nearby:
Tint your white dough and make the tar-reminscent black cocoa dough:
Mold into cube shapes, chill to harden, then start assembling. You may need to trim the edges to square them off a bit better.
Assembly complete for large diameter cookies:
After chilling again, slice and bake:
A few notes:
I used Lila Loa’s recipe for chocolate sugar cookies, replacing the cocoa with black cocoa, using all butter and no shortening, and only making a half recipe. This gave me plenty of dough in which to use for the dark borders of Mondrian’s art. Plus, I didn’t have to buy any black food coloring. I recommend getting black cocoa for many reasons, this being one of the best. It is definitely a must for people who like chocolate desserts and want to play around with a different flavor and create a striking color.
I also followed her instructions on the amount of flour to add depending on if one were to bake the cookies right away or to chill the dough first. Given the delicate and thin nature of the dark borders, the amount of butter, and the antsy nature of the toddler in the house, I decided to follow the chilled dough method using slightly more flour. The dough spread more than my white sugar cookie dough, so my Mondrian borders were not as precise as I wanted. I should have also trimmed the dough more to clean up edges. Lesson learned: keep the dough REALLY cold while working. I didn’t have the time to constantly re-chill the dough this go round, but will next time. Also, trim with a really sharp knife.
Secondly, find a Mondrian example to keep close by for inspiration and refer to it as you assemble the cookie parts.
Thirdly, these are large diameter cookies. They take longer to bake, and tend to brown. (This was my first trial.) I’ll be playing around with dough and size again to see if I can come up with a cleaner look and less browning for the future. I’ll play around and add in updated photos in the future. Just like any artist, I will change my theme over time.
Leftover black cocoa dough? Two options: Mush it into your other leftover colored sugar cookie dough and freeze it; OR, roll it out, cut shapes, bake, cool, and freeze for decorating later. I’ll use it for two recipes down the road: sugar cookie dreg cut-out cookies and bumblebee (or firefly) cookies with royal icing decorating techniques.
One year ago: overnight oatmeal
Two years ago: gestational diabetes: how a food blogger is managing
- WHITE SUGAR COOKIE DOUGH: 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Red, blue, and yellow food coloring
- BLACK COCOA SUGAR COOKIE DOUGH: ½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon orange essence
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅓ cup black cocoa
- 1½ to 1¾ cups flour (see note below)
- WHITE/TINTED DOUGH: Cream together softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Mix in egg and almond extract.
- Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together and add in three increments to the wet ingredients. Mix to combine well.
- Divide the dough into thirds. Set one third aside. Divide the other ⅔s of dough into three pieces and tint yellow, red, and blue into your desired amounts. For example, if you want a Mondrian with more yellow, tint a larger of the three smaller pieces to yellow.
- BLACK COCOA DOUGH: Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add egg and orange essence and mix.
- Add baking powder and salt and mix again.
- Stir in the cocoa until well blended. Add flour ½ cup at a time. This will look like a ball of tar. It is fabulous!
- Per Lila Loa's notes: IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE COOKIES RIGHT AWAY, add a total of 1¾ cups of flour. If chilling the dough, add only 1½ cups of flour.
- When ready to build your art, prop a Mondrian inspired picture nearby for reference. See above in my post for the Mondrian rules. Form your shapes and puzzle-piece them together on trial. Look okay? Following the Mondrian criteria? Roll out your black dough and cut pieces as you need them for borders. As the dough warms up, it will be harder to manage. You may need to chill it again as you assemble.
- BAKING: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- After chilling in the entire block of dough for at least 4 hours after assembled, prepare your slicing area. Get the sharpest knife you have. The thicker you slice, the longer it will take to bake the cookies and therefore have more of a risk of browning and burning. The cookies are done when they're not shiny on top, not browned. Aim for just about ¼ inch thickness or slightly less. When I sliced this thickness, baking time was about 8 minutes. In my first trial, I made one vanilla sugar recipe and used most of the dough. I made a half recipe of the black cocoa sugar cookies from Lila Loa's website (which is what I listed here, in the half form) and ended up with quite a bit left over. This was expected, given the black, thin borders needed for the Mondrian look. I'll be highlighting that dough in full cookie form in another recipe.
- These cookies keep in an airtight container for a few days at room temperature.