Cookie Swap: A book review

Sugar between the Sheets

I was sent a copy of Julia Usher’s new book: Cookie Swap, a few weeks ago. The first thing that struck me about this book was the lovely photographs (by Steve Adams) of dainty and skillfully decorated cookies. This admittedly discouraged me from trying out the recipes immediately because my piping skills are average and I have a hate/hate relationship with royal icing. However, a gorgeous tome can only be ignored for so long and I finally sat down and studied the pages and browsed through the recipes to pick out the ones I was going to try.

There are important “how-to”s about planning a cookie swap party in the beginning of the book. Also, the section “That’s how the cookie crumbles” gives valuable tips and information regarding the different types of cookies and their handling. The recipes are grouped by party themes, from Valentines day to weddings and from spring flings to Christmas.

I knew without a doubt that any recipe with sour cream in its dough is like honey to my bee which was why I zeroed in immediately on the Sugar between the Sheets – an appetizing walnut filled crescent cookie. I love the subtle tanginess that sour cream lends to baked goods especially pie-like mixtures.
I was not disappointed. This is one of the tastiest little treats I have ever made. The dough is so easy to put together and roll out. The resulting crust is so flaky and the walnut-sugar-cinnamon mixture is so simple, the first crunch of walnut crescent you get fresh from the oven is such a fulfilling bite.
Julia Usher’s shortbread recipe is also a keeper. It’s obvious that the theme here is not sugar overload but a balance of flavors. The almond in the shortbread plays up the buttery taste of the basic cookie but is subtle enough to be flavored.
I’d also like to commend her guidelines on royal icing – giving approximate measurements of water to dilute this quintessential decorating medium to attain desired consistency.

Judging from the resulting cookies, I must say careful testing had gone into this book. Each recipe is prefaced with the degree of difficulty, active time and the cookie type, as well as possible gotchas – for example a 2-3 hour chilling of a dough. Let’s face it, how many of us really read the recipe 3x before proceeding? It’s very intuitive of Miss Usher to state the pitfalls in a highlighted box from the get-go. I have been guilty of giving recipes are cursory glance only to be burned later upon realizing I should have had an ingredient at room temperature or a dough needing a certain amount of chill time before continuing.

As I have mentioned earlier, the decoration of the cookies in this book is perfection – it could almost be intimidating to the average baker. The instructions for decorating are very well-worded but I am a very visual person and I would have tried the recipes sooner if there were drawings and pictures of the decorating steps.

For those who love to decorate cookies and have cookie parties, this book is a definitely must-have in your cookbook library!

My ‘Tiers of Joy’ shortbread wedding cake didn’t turn out as flawless as the one in the book – obviously perfect royal icing dots are an Achilles heel of mine, and this is why I will never do wedding cakes ! ๐Ÿ™‚

Tiers of Joy

All recipes by Julia Usher from Cookie Swap

Sugar between the Sheets
Makes 4 dozen (2 1/2 inch) crescents

Sour Cream Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into tablespoon-size pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Cinnamon-Walnut Filling
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and cooled
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Mix the Sour Cream Dough. Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. cut in the cold butter with a fork or pastry blender until it resembles very small peas.
Whisk the sour cream, egg yolk, and vanilla extract together in another bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually stir in the sour cream mixture, blending just until combined. (A few butter lumps are perfectly fine. Avoid overmixing, as it will toughen the dough.)

Divide the dough into three equal portions. Flatten each portion into a disk and wrap each disk tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or until the dough is quite firm.
Make the Cinnamon-Walnut Filling. Meanwhile, place the sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon in a bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Set aside.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Work with one disk of dough at a time. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/16 inch thick. Using a 12-inch cake pan or bowl as your guide, trim the dough to a uniform circle. Carefully pick up the edges of the dough and brush any excess flour off the back with a pastry brush. Sprinkle the top of the dough with one-third of the filling, taking care to cover the entire surface as evenly as possible. Gently press the filling into the dough.

With a sharp knife or pastry wheel, cut the circle into sixteen wedges. (For fancier effect, use a fluted pastry wheel.) Starting at the widest end, roll up each wedge to form a crescent. (After each crescent is rolled, brush any scattered sugar mixture off the work surface so that it doesn’t get on the outside of the next cookie.) Place the crescents, loose ends facing down, 1 to 2 inches apart on one of the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat Steps 5 and 6 with the remaining disks.

Whisk the egg white until slightly frothy and brush it evenly on top of each cookie. (If you plan to freeze the crescents, do not apply any egg white until after the cookies are thawed.)
Bake 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly browned on the top and bottom. Eat warm from the oven for best flavor or transfer immediately to wire racks to cool.

Shortbread, Straight Up
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inch cookie)

2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

About 2 tbs. granulated sugar (for sprinkling)

In a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, process 2 tbs. flour and the almonds until the nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Add the remaining flour and salt, and process until well combined. Set aside.
Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir to bring the ingredients together; then beat on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour mixture, blending just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing.
Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2 inch round oval, or other cookie cutter. Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart.
Sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the cookie tops to thinly coat them. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom and firm to the touch. Immediately transfer to wire racks with offset spatula to prevent breakage. Cool completely before storing.

*Note, for my wedding cake cookies, I rolled the dough to 3/8 inch thickness and cut out equal numbers of 1 1/2 inch, 1 1/8 inch , and 7/8 inch diameter rounds. Bake the largest rounds 25 to 28 minutes and the smaller rounds 20 to 23 minutes. For more information on how to complete this, check out "Tiers of Joy" in the Cookie Swap book.

36 thoughts on “Cookie Swap: A book review

  1. I dunno Veron, they look pretty damn good to me! Your piping skills are better than mine and I would totally do a cookie swap party with you if I were anywhere near you. We could trade Persian goodies too (yum!)

  2. Veronica, Thanks for the post about my book – so appreciated! I agree with the other posters above – your cookies look pretty damn good to me as well! Great work!

    I am also marveling over the visual design of your blog – I especially love the layered and textural look of the recipes on the torn notepaper. Lovely!

    Thanks again! Hope we get to cross paths one day in person!

    Sincerely, Julia M. Usher

  3. Thank you for sharing this review – and some mouth-watering recipes, too! I don’t often decorate cookies or have cookie swaps, but want to get this book … if only to look at the beautiful pictures. I love the wedding cookies. For a fleeting moment, I thought I would change my plan from making Champagne macarons for my own upcoming wedding favours, to these. They are so adorable!

  4. I just got this book and your post has reminded me of all the beautiful and incredibly delicious recipes there are to be made. Your blog is stunning. And you are so right. Sour cream in a cookie dough gets me every time.
    Nice work!

  5. OMG! that cookies tiers looks so threesome lol! I just love them, just can’t stop admiring them. Something that I must suggest to all my brides lol! ๐Ÿ™‚ your work always amazingly lovely!

  6. the first picture reminds me of croissants!
    and those cookie tiers are beautiful ๐Ÿ™‚
    would make lovely reception finger food!
    you’re tempting me to get the book ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. I love cook books with beautiful pictures- makes me feel more inspired to cook or bake! Both of your cookies look gorgeous! Those mini wedding cakes look pretty flawless to me! Great work.

  8. Thanks Maria! I know how much you love making cookies.
    Thanks Hilda! I love Nazuk, that’s my favorite persian pastry!
    Thanks Rosa!
    Thanks Julia. Your book is beautiful and the recipes, wonderful. I have no doubt it is going to be a classic. Thanks for your comment about my blog design!
    Thanks T.W. – I’m going to practice my royal icing piping skills..’coz I love dots.
    Thanks Julia! You should check out the book, the tiers of joy there is amazing!
    Thanks Helen…now I think they don’t look that bad after all!
    Thanks karen – the cookies in the book are adorable!
    Thanks Lucy!
    Thanks Aran! I’m sure you’ll love the book!
    Thanks Ashley- I recommend sugar b/n the sheets if you like sour cream.

  9. I also love cooking and baking with sour cream. I am actually starting to become addicted to it… Your cookies look so cute and delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. As a non-baker, sour cream based cookies are my safe haven. Since the dough usually freezes well, it’s perfect for me because I usually prepare 3 batches of of the same cookie dough; then I choose the best!!! I “suffer” through the unchosen ones.

    Thanks for sharing, Veron.

    P.S. I plan on working on my baking skills…never say never…

  11. What a great book and that Tiers of joy cookies look CRRRRAAAAAZZZY good!!! I could never have done that, they look so carefully and patiently and lovingly made!
    If I ever have a wedding, tht’s what I want for my “wedding cake”!!!

  12. Now this sounds like it will be the perfect reference when it comes time for Christmas cookie baking! Those tiered cookies are just too cute.

  13. Hi, that looks like mini croissants but crunchier yeah. I especially love your petites bouchees website, one day i must try your macarons and cupcakes. What great combination! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I am intrigued by the name “Sugar between the Sheets” – isn’t it a fabulous name! I love your wedding cake cookies – they look perfect enough to me.

  15. oh my..i have always soft spot for beautiful cookies in my heart…great book review too!! i just bought some pasta books yesterday , i’ll definitely put this book on my next list!

  16. Both of those cookies look really lovely and elegant! I would enjoy each of them.

    The shortcake tiers are so pretty! Trust me, your piping skills are stellar compared to mine!

  17. Thanks Big Boys Oven! I’m sure your brides will enjoy something this dainty.
    Thanks Felicia! It’s funny, HH calls them mini-croissants.
    Thanks Erica! I’m more tempted to buy cookbooks when they have lots of pics.
    Thanks Anh! Do we ever really have enough cookbooks?
    Thanks Abowlofmush! Can’t wait to try these again actually. They do look good, now that I look at them again. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks Karine! Sour cream rocks!
    Thanks Louise! I continue to work on my baking skills too. There’s always room for improvement.

  18. Thanks Sophia! It does require some patience, but I think once you get used to working with royal icing it gets easier.
    Thanks Hannah! There are great recipes and ideas for Christmas in this book.
    Aww…thanks Lindsey!
    Thanks Lady Macaron- I did always think cupcakes and macarons are a match made in heaven.
    Thanks Ovenhaven- they do make great wedding favours!
    Thanks Cakelaw – actually all the cookies in the books have interesting names.
    Thanks Dhanggit – I’m glad you enjoyed the review.
    Thanks Susan – I’m sure your piping skills are great!

  19. Pingback: Maggie’s Blog » Blog Archive » Cookie Swap: a Book Review | Kitchen Musings

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