09 May 2012

Piñata Cookies and Lessons Learned the Hard Way

It all began with a post on BoingBoing. What started as an afternoon pondering Google's search algorithm ended at 10:45 Thursday night when I threw a pound of multicolored dough in the trash.

But let's start at the beginning.

First there was this picture:
photo from sheknows.com

and then this picture!
photo from sheknows.com


Madre de dios! I must make these cookies. I am no baker but dammit there's a video showing a child making them. It's so eeeeeasy as those TV cooking wenches always say.  So I devised a plan:

Step One: buy donkey cookie cutter

Step Three: enjoy piñata cookies.

To be fair, I was warned by both my actual mother and my equivalent Orange County mother: "Love you dearly, but this recipe is not for you." They're right, of course. The only time I belong in the kitchen is if I'm doing the dishes. Maybe I've been reading The Evolving Epicurian too much, but as The Great One said, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

So I came home Thursday night determined to bake the shit out of some piñata cookies. I had all the ingredients: my burro cookie cutter, food coloring, and I even obtained mini reeses pieces from the frozen yogurt joint up the street. Yeah, the recipe calls for mini M and Ms but I like to improvise (oooooo - foreshadowing...). It was 6pm.

Speaking of improvisation...
piñata cookie dough divided into colors
This is food, not play-doh. Really!
The recipe calls for vegetable oil, but I decide to use meyer lemon olive oil instead. I've used this in lieu of vegetable oil in cornbread and the lemon flavor is delish. There's a TV Foodie word "delish," see, I can talk the talk.

I review the recipe. The dough is supposed to chill for four hours in the freezer. What? I don't want to stay up until ten or eleven at night making these damn things! I Google "what's the purpose of freezing cookie dough" and set to work.

Things start off pretty well. I mix everything together, divide the dough and start coloring it. I use a super-intense food coloring recommended by my cousin Paula who knows from crafting, cooking, etc.

I'm supposed to be making layers of pastel-colored dough (pink, purple, turquoise, etc). Instead I make red, yellow, blue and puce. I thought red + blue = purple, but no. It makes barfy brown-purple (see below).

using food coloring to make purple, actually puce
red + blue make... Puce?

Undeterred, I start layering the dough in a container. My goal is to make a layered loaf: black on the bottom for the hoofs and then alternating horizontal colors for the body. Later I'll slice off vertical, rainbow-y layers and use my special cookie cutter to donkey-fy each one.

burro cookie cutter and mini reeses wait in the wings
Remember how I started this project at 6pm? Okay, by the time I get the dough dyed and layered, it's eight o' clock.  My hands are stained five different colors and I'm thinking about cheating on that four hours in the freezer deal.

Check out my multi-colored thumbnail in the picture below. That ain't nail polish. Although, come to think of it, I did mix White Out with food coloring once as a kid. My mom said I wasn't old enough to buy nail polish. She got the last laugh though, the White Out chipped away and I was left with jaundicy-looking yellow and green nails until they grew out.


By ten o' clock I'm done with this four hour wait business. The dough feels pretty cold. The prudent thing to do, I reason, is to slice off some dough, cookie it up and see how the little burro bastards taste.

piñata cookie dough loaf
Do you see a face in this dough? I kinda do.

I slice off some layers, slap 'em on the cookie sheet and pray to the cookie gods for benevolence. As it turns out: freezing the dough prevents it from spreading too much during cooking. Mine spread like the dickens, but this is good because the donkey cookie cutter I bought turned out to be about 30% larger than the one the example recipe used. This is giving me the bigger slices I need.

piñata cookie slices
BEFORE
piñata cookies cut into burro shapes
AFTER
About four dough slices fit on a cookie sheet in case you can't tell how big those cookies are in the image above. Also, it takes three burros to make one piñata, so a lot of dough is wasted.

How does the piñata part work? Mira, think of a sandwich cookie like an Oreo. There's a front, back, and a middle. In the piñata cookies, the middle has a cut out where you stash the candy.

Now I've run into my first real problem. Cookies have a nice side and bottom side, right? There's the top part, and the grubby underside. To make a burro sandwich cookie that looks nice on both sides requires a donkey going the other way. My cookie cutter has a handle - which makes it impossible to flip over and create the opposite donkey side. Oye ve.


I ponder ripping the metal handle off my cookie cutter (and make a half-hearted attempt). Then I consider using the kitchen scissors to pry / rip it off, but decide this isn't worth the danger. At this point it's nearly 10pm and nothing good happens after 10pm.*

* I used to say that about 2am, but I'm an old domesticated person now. For godsakes I'm COOKING.



The cookies do taste good, so that's encouraging. I decide to cook up the rest of them and see what happens. In the end I have about five pieces that turn out okay. The rest are too unstable and fall apart.

Besides not freezing the dough long enough, the olive oil I've used makes the cookies too soft. They never get crisp enough to stand up on their own (even days later).

At 10:20 pm, while the last slices are the oven, I decided to whip up another batch of dough. This time, o' this time I shall follow the directions! I'll use regular vegetable oil and leave the dough in the freezer overnight (which the recipe recommends).

Another pound of butter, another five cups of flour. Eggs, cream of tarter (whatever that is), and then... I realize:

THIS RECIPE ISN'T FOR ME.

At 10:45pm it was over. I throw the new batch of dough in the trash and go to bed.


Want more?
Read my about my previous cooking adventure (December 2007) The Night of the Lewd Gingerbread Bears.