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I have often wondered who came up with the idea to associate vanilla with plain. That’s a really puzzling concept because there is nothing plain about vanilla seeds; their unique flavor and aroma is about as complex as it gets and is the result of a combination of several hundred different chemical compounds. And it is, of course, delicious. I mean, who doesn’t like vanilla?
Now, when I use vanilla I generally reach for the bottle of extract but to add some sophistication (in the form of visible black flecks of vanilla seeds) to these Christmas cookies here I scraped the seeds of out of an actual vanilla pod and added them to both the dough and the glaze. Both components are simple but very flavorful and overall make a very delicate and buttery, crispy cookie. I made the glaze from powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and heavy cream. Cream is great for a glaze because it results in a thick, velvety texture that more or less automatically forms a bit of a pattern when you spread it on with the back of a small spoon. That’s my way of decorating a cookie artfully because I’m not really much use with a piping bag!
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 1½ inches vanilla bean
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 inch vanilla bean
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1 – 4 tablespoons heavy cream
- Whisk flour and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
- Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean piece.
- Beat butter and sugar until well combined and creamy.
- Beat in the vanilla seeds
- Beat in the dry ingredients.
- Bring the dough together into a ball by hand, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Roll out the dough and cut out the cookies.
- Bake the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper until they are lightly browned (12 – 15 minutes).
- Let the cookies cool.
- Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean.
- Whisk powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and heavy cream together. Start with 1 tablespoon of cream, then add more until you have a spreadable but not runny consistency.
- Spoon the icing onto the cookies and let it dry.
Food Photography and Styling: I started this shoot with the plate of cookies sitting on just a smooth fabric but that was missing something and I think the wrinkled fabric that is mirroring the texture in the icing of the cookies was it; it broke up the uniform surface and added interest to the photo. To create a winter feel I kept the white balance fairly cold and at the same time the minimally diffused light kept the atmosphere still cheerful and inviting enough. As always, I used my strobe to light the set.
Nikon D600, 105mm, f/5, 1/125 sec., ISO 64. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.