Penguin Refrigerator Cookies
My best friend turned the ole’ dirty thirty in January. We were brought together by the geography of an NFL cheerleaders' locker room and haven’t separated since. The best way to describe Jill is just "cool." She's funny, bright, and carefree in a way that's enviable. To be around her is always a joy for me. She's also a kickass graphic designer. Go check her out!
Photo credit to the amazing Sarah Valencia at http://www.sarahvalencia.com/
For anyone that knows Jill, we all know she is not someone who loves attention. She could do without the scene, parties, hugs, etc. (which is a rare trait of the women in our little friend-group). When she agreed to let me throw her a party, I immediately knew I had to have a penguin-themed dessert.
Let me sidebar for a moment. Jill has an...almost unhealthy obsession with penguins. Luckily, as her friend, I totally respect and support her relationship.
What's not to love? They waddle, swim, fall, make the most adorable families and are always black-tie ready.
Of course, how all good things start nowadays, I saw a video for penguin slice-n-bake cookies back in December whilst scrolling Facebook. At the time, I immediately thought of Jill, remembered her birthday was in the near future, and decided to save the video.
Despite loving the idea behind this cookie, I didn’t love the recipe. It involved a plain sugar dough with a lot of food coloring which I usually think leaves an odd aftertaste if you use too much. Apparently, the two people who reviewed the recipe also had mixed feelings, leaving a cumulative review (which isn't saying much) of 3.5 stars.
So I set out to adjust the recipe. I do this often if I know I want to make something. I research a few versions, find similarities and differences within them. I then keep the consistencies and make decisions on which inconsistent ingredient or step I want to adopt from each recipe. I discovered three or four different recipes I liked to create this recipe. The most notable difference was that I chose to use a chocolate dough instead of plain dough colored black in order to add more flavor. I also decided to use orange mini M&Ms® instead of orange colored dough for the nose and feet. My husband later pointed out this created a great textural element (we watch a lot of Chopped).
I just had to pray it worked, because my schedule would only allow me to try it once.
As I did last time, the recipe is listed below with a few tips to help you along the way. I designed the tips based off of complaints I saw from other reviews on other recipes and attempted to troubleshoot these issues. I also forgot (again) to take pictures during the process, so I've done you the favor of hand-sketching the process.
Tip 1. The dough crumbles: I see this complaint all of the time in reviews. It’s true, you want to refrigerate the dough at least 1 to 2 hours until chilled so it can be rolled and sliced easily without falling apart. That being said, crumbly dough usually means one of two things: it’s either dry (which, if it was fine when you put it into the refrigerator, this is less likely) or it’s too chilled. Try leaving the dough out for a few minutes so it can warm up. The butter in the dough should melt slightly making the dough more pliable.
Tip 2. But be careful, because if you overwork your dough and it warms up too much, this will create problems.
You’ll probably first notice it’s too warm when you go to slice the cookies. The dough will flatten underneath the blade of your knife (also, make sure your knife is sharp and you don’t use too much pressure) and press into the counter. If you have to really force the knife through the dough, it isn’t cold enough.
The second time you would notice it, it may be too late. The cookies will “spread” too much when they bake. This makes sense, right? It’s true for any cookie. Have you ever gotten over-zealous and impatient with “softening” butter for chocolate chip cookies and just melted it? Have you ever gotten really impatient and just thrown a solid stick in and it resulted in cold buttery chunks throughout your dough? Yeah…the different “melting” phases of your fat creates different cookie textures. Same for cakes, biscuits, pie dough, etc. So unless you want cookie discs, avoid overwarming your dough.
If you want cookie discs, palm the things as much as you want (after washing your hands, please). I should note that these cookies do spread quite a bit when baking.
Tip 3. Speaking of softening butter, I’ve found the best way to soften butter is to microwave water in a glass until hot, pour the water out, and throw the sticks in the warm dish until soft. There are lots of other "butter softening hacks" that you can find online if this one doesn't work for you.
Tip 4. Rotate the “log” while slicing. This prevents one side from smashing into the counter. However, if you want the cookies to be more oblong in shape (as I did in this case), this “side-effect” actually works quite well for shaping the cookies. I just flipped the dough from side to side instead of rotating. You can always reform the cookies, but refer back to #2 for why that may not work out well in the long run.
Tip 5. For this recipe, you will make two separate dough batches: chocolate and vanilla. This is fairly common sense, but whenever you do this, make the plain dough (vanilla, in this case) first. It’s always fine if you have a few vanilla pieces rolling around with your chocolate because they will just become…chocolate.
Tip 6. Bonus! This dough can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge for 5 to 7 days. This is great for a busy anyone, but especially a woman who apparently is busy enough that I’ve let my physical appearance go. FYI, I’m judging my physical state on the amount of people that tag me in “dry shampoo + coffee” memes and videos each day (many).
Again, if you pull it out and find it difficult to work with, refer to Tip #1 before pitching it. I made mine 2 days in advance and after the dough warmed slightly, it worked perfectly.
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated cane sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Same recipe as the vanilla dough
1 to 2 ounces of dark chocolate, melted
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
Decorating squeeze bottle (these are found cheap at your local market, usually by the utensils or cake decorating)
Mini M&Ms, orange (I bought a bag of mini M&Ms® and just picked out the orange ones)
1. Melt chocolate from the dough recipe on the stove (or in the microwave, but be careful, chocolate can burn easily). You can also melt a little extra if you want for decorating. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Start the vanilla dough. Cream together butter and sugar (both powdered and cane) until fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract. After combined, gradually mix in the salt and flour.
3. Pour the vanilla dough onto a piece of parchment and roll into a log using the parchment to keep your hands clean. Once formed, wrap this log with plastic wrap and set aside.
4. Start the chocolate dough. Once again, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy. Add in the egg, vanilla and chocolate. Mix well. Gradually add in flour, cocoa powder and salt (forgot to draw the cocoa powder!!). Wrap the dough in a log if you want, but a blob works since you will eventually roll this out.
5. Refrigerate both dough logs (or log and blob) for 1 to 2 hours until firm.
6. After removing dough from the refrigerator, ensure the outside of the vanilla dough log is as smooth as possible without over-manipulating the dough.
7. Remove the chocolate dough from the wrapper. Roll the dough out into a rectangle. The long edge of the dough should be the same length as the log. The width of the dough should be enough to wrap around the log. The thickness (height) should be as thick as you want, keeping in mind that the dark section makes the “outer edge” of the penguin.
8. Lay out the chocolate dough. Gently place the vanilla dough on the edge of the chocolate rectangle. Roll the chocolate dough around the vanilla dough until the log is securely wrapped. You may have to do a little manipulation here. I cut off a couple of edges, did some trimming and moving around. Again, if your dough gets to warm, take a break and throw it in the fridge for a minute. If it’s difficult to manage without crumbling, warming it up with your hands should help some. Also, if you find you've floured your dough too much to get the chocolate and vanilla to stick together, use an egg wash to remove the dustiness and create a "glue."
9. Once the chocolate dough is securely wrapped around the vanilla dough, throw this back in the fridge for a few minutes to firm back up.
10. Once firm, pull the dough back out. Slice into even pieces, about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the cookies onto parchment paper on a baking sheet. It is at this point, I took three orange mini M&Ms® per cookie: one for the nose and two for the feet. I pushed the two feet up into the side of the cookie so they wouldn’t pop out and I loved the effect.
11. Bake at 325F for 8 to 14 minutes or until set. I usually bake mine a little less. My gas oven seems to cook pretty fast, so it was 8 minutes for me.
12. When done, set on a cooling rack. While the cookies are cooling, melt a little more chocolate in a microwave safe container or on the stove (if you didn't in the first step). Pour into a decoration bottle.
13. After the cookies are cool, dot eyes on the little guys. Allow chocolate to set (put in the refrigerator/freezer to speed up the process). Alternatively, you could use brown mini M&Ms® prior to baking for the eyes.
Keep cookies for up to a week! But more than likely, ENJOY (right away).