clay and cookies ::::
Almost 15 years ago, my beautiful, talented friend Amber brought me a millefiori pendant from Venice. I’ve always had a penchant for unusual pretty, shiny things, objet d’art with more than a sparkly centered diamond or a blurry, gleaming pearl. When a child and traveling with my family in Europe, I remember a family gondola ride in the garbage-ridden canals of Venice and visiting the glassblowing shops to marvel at the intricate creations. I bought a tiny glass fishbowl holding an even tinier glass goldfish, only a centimeter long. There were the prolific millefiori, the many flowered creations: the bowls, cups, plates, window hangings, and round pendants. For a 10 year-old girl in a family of six, the goldfish was more affordable. My eye was not lost on those multitudes of flowers.
Fast forward to years later, Amber returning home with her husband from their European adventure, with my gift in her hand, a pendant of brilliant cerulean posies with dots of green and yellow, the glass smooth between my fingers. I bought another larger, randomly patterned millefiori pendant a few years later, still amazed at the detail and colors.
Recently, I made a dual colored swirl cookie for a baby shower, turning other design ideas in my head immediately. If swirls, why not something else? Isn’t this logroll method like the cross sectioning of millefiori glass but with cookie dough? There was nothing to do but jump into action and find more intricate designs.
Searching for ‘millefiori’ on the web brought up polymer clay caning millefiori methods. And only one cookie tutorial. One! (See millefiori-inspired quilt cookies at http://m.instructables.com/id/Millefiori-Inspired-Icebox-Cookies/ .) Jackpot, I thought. The creations are endless!
I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at images online of polymer clay tutorials, divising how much cookie dough I would need for each design, what colors to use, and just about every possible design (Orange slice cookies? Shells? Flowers? Stars?) I began with a flourish, fresh and motivated.
But with any endeavor, that initial burst of optimism was met with the slap of reality. The trouble is extrapolating the polymer clay work to sugar cookie dough. The consistency of media just isn’t the same. Think of the cookie dough like polymer clay’s high functioning drunk cousin: sure, it works, but it needs to be coaxed gently into certain shapes, needs to chill when it gets too warm and its a little wonky around the edges. The more I’ve worked with polymer clay caning methods, even with slightly less “drunk” cookie dough (trying different recipes), the more I realize my energies goading cookie dough may be better served using different medium and I could be less frustrated if I just take up a new clay hobby.
That being said, this recipe turned out a cookie very close to what I was aiming for. The perfection of Nature’s nautilus logarithmic spiral traced within Fibonacci’s tiling of squares was approximated. Compare the cookie to the drawing below:
I may be anal retentive about some things, but this was not the time to break out the ruler for a perfect nautilus shell. And it gave me enough fuel to embark on more millefiori cookies.
(Looks like purple bacon.)
Now roll it and don’t worry about the cracks.
Chill it then slice to reveal the beauty:
More to come on millefiori cookies….thank you Amber for the inspiration. My eye is not lost on the treasure of our friendship.
One year ago: oh my darlin’ clementine cocktail
Two years ago: honey-lemon cough suppressant
Cookie recipe is from my swirl cookie recipe and cookie design is based on the polymer clay caning design from http://www.planetafimo.ru/
- 1 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Food coloring - I used Wilton's food color gels: purple and a touch of green*
- Cream together butter and sugar, until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs and extract, beating to combine.
- Mix flour, salt, and baking powder together in a separate bowl then add into above mixture in three parts to help incorporate without causing flour clouds to puff from mixing. Remove from bowl when smooth and knead a few times.
- TINT THE DOUGH: Divide the dough into 9 pieces, making 1 of them large, 4 of them a bit smaller, then 4 much smaller pieces. See my photos above for a guide. Line up the 5 larger pieces. These will be your tinted dough pieces.
- When I tint in purple ombré shades, I like to start with the lightest color first. Using one of the lined-up dough balls (save the largest for LAST), tint with a drop or two of color, and knead. I used purple and a small bit of green food coloring. You don't need to knead thoroughly, if you want to achieve a mottled look, just make sure the color is fairly well mixed. Make the next lined up dough balls sequentially darker in color using the same method. The last dough ball (the largest ball) should be tinted the darkest. You should have 5 tinted dough balls and 4 smaller untinted balls.
- By this point the dough is likely getting kind if soft with all the handling. Chill for about 20 minutes then proceed.
- Roll the lightest tinted (lavender) color into a long cylinder, then repeat for the next darker shades. Nip off a ping-pong ball size piece of the darkest dough and set aside. (This dark piece will be rolled very thin to cover the "mat" you will make -- see photos -- so make sure it will be large enough. It's okay if your darkest cylinder is a bit smaller than the rest.) Roll the remainder into a thin cylinder, matching its length with the others you've done.
- Turn your attention to the 4 untinted dough balls. Roll into cylinders to match lengths of the larger cylinders. Using my photos as a guide, on parchment paper, line the cylinders up in darkening shades, with intervening untinted dough. Press together gently to help stick together. A little dab of water in between each piece may help.
- There is still the reserved dark dough left to roll flat: this will help give definition to the curl of the shell. Roll this piece as thin as you can without breaking it too much and lay it carefully on top of the cylinder mat already made, tucking a small tail of dark dough under the lightest edge (though my photo does not show this well).
- Put another piece of parchment on top of this dough and carefully use a rolling pin to create a ramp shape starting from the lightest colored end. Essentially, you are looking to flatten the lightest end slightly with increasing grade to the darkest end, like an incline on a road.
- Flip the entire structure over. Peel off the parchment. Start rolling from the lightest (flattest) end as you would a jelly roll. If there is some cracking, just stop and gently mold the cracks back together. Roll up until you have a long cylinder. If there is some unevenness in the cylinder, roll is gently to correct the shell-shaped circumference. Shape the bottom of the shell to a flat surface.
- Roll this cylinder up in parchment and chill for at least 4 hours. You can add a layer of foil and freeze if saving long-term.
- About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Once chilled, cut into about ¾-cm thick pieces using a sharp knife. If the shell need some more shaping, you can adjust here. Place cut cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until no longer shiny on top. Do not brown or overbake. These cookies will stay soft for days in an airtight container, freeze well after cooling, and remind one of the ocean on cold days.
- Save the leftover dough in the freezer, mashed into a loaf pan! We will use it later, in another recipe.
~~~Some other advice about the caning method: Get detailed but not too detailed. The dough consistency is just not durable enough to fiddle with wispy details. I tried and failed. If you scale up the cookie diameter and double the dough recipe, then it's possible. You can roll the cylinder smaller to have a smaller cookie to bake, much like the caning method with clay. Or, you can try making a larger cookie. The caveat is the bake time gets tricky. The longer bake time for larger cookies results in some browning if the edges, making part of the cookie crunchy. Cookie caliber makes a difference. Small and dainty doesn't cut it if you want details on a cute cookie plate. But large profiles take so long to cook, you might as well just eat raw cookie dough over the burnt.