Now that school is back in session Aidan is even more all about scheduling time with his friends and especially his best friend in particular. They don’t have the same teacher this year so he only gets to see him at lunch and recess, and unfortunately, though we don’t live too far apart, we don’t live within walking or bike distance either. When they do get to play together I have tried to give Aidan the option of requesting a special treat. He never fails to surprise me because he never asks for something I’ve done before – it’s always something he has dreamed up.
Case in point are these Happy Face Cookies. I asked him what he would like for a treat for his play date and he was very specific. A soft vanilla cookie with a chocolate happy face on it. I immediately thought of the typical yellow smiley face, but couldn’t decide what kind of cookie to use.
While sugar cookies of course immediately came to mind I always have a couple of hang-ups with making sugar cookies. First of all, most sugar cookies have to chill before cutting and baking. Secondly, they aren’t always as soft as we would like. Third, I am NOT a decorator. I’m lazy… and busy… and not that steady of hand or artistic of eye. I sometimes like to pretend that I am, but my cookies will never be as ridiculously gorgeous as some works of art I’ve seen out there. I know myself well enough to admit that I just don’t have the patience for it.
That said, I still wanted to give him what he asked for. I then remembered that it has been a while since I’ve made Black and White Cookies, a perennial favorite around our house. Not only do we love those cookies, but they are fast to make, easy, soft and delicious and the icing that goes on them could easily be adapted. The cookie ‘dough’ is actually more like a thick cake batter that is easily scooped on to lined baking sheets. I then split the icing and made the chocolate portion thin enough (but not too thin) to be piped into happy faces on the cookies once the yellow icing had set just a bit.
In short, the Happy Face Cookies were born. They were just as fantastic as I thought they would be, and they were gone in a flash. While the recipe says that you can bake two pans at a time, I wouldn’t. It never goes well for me and the batter will hold if you want to bake one pan at a time. When I did bake two pans, even with rotating, several of my cookies spread more than they should.
When decorating the cookies I only piped the actual face on the cookie, which was delicious, but in hind-sight I would have liked more chocolate icing on the cookie and will do a chocolate edge around the outside of the ‘face’ next time.
Aside from that, there really is no reason not to play around with whatever you would like to do for your design or color. I’m seeing this working for pretty flowers piped on to pink or purple frosting, white snowflakes onto light blue colored frosting, or if you are like us (and sorry there are no pictures as these guys were immediately gobbled) some of your happy face cookies may turn in to mustachioed villains with slanted eyebrows and curly mustaches. That’s just the way we roll.
Although I have always made this cookie recipe for the Black and Whites, I did see another version recently posted over at Annie’s Eats that I decided to try this time around. The original version I use, while delicious, uses buttermilk in the cookie, as well as lemon in the white frosting. I don’t always have buttermilk on hand and I am sometimes too lazy to just make it myself (yes, I know it is easy, but sometimes I just don’t want to do it :).
The version posted at Annie’s Eats uses regular milk and cake flour. Since I did have cake flour on hand this time around I went ahead and tried that version. I also made the new version because it makes a lot more cookies and the frosting is less gooey and set up better. Besides, when you have boys over it’s always a good idea to have more cookies. Use whichever version you prefer, but I’m reposting the one that I used here with my modified directions for making these Happy Face Cookies.
Happy Face Cookies
Adapted from Annie’s Eats
Yield: about 2 dozen large cookies
For the cookies:
4 cups (16 oz.) cake flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1¾ cups (12¼ oz.) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine, and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds. Add in the sugar gradually, increasing the speed to medium-high and beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend in the eggs and vanilla at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. With the mixer on low speed, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternately add the flour mixture in four additions and the milk in 3 additions just until combined.
Using a ¼-cup measuring cup and a spoon (or a 1/4 cup scoop), place six ¼-cup mounds of dough a generous 2 inches apart on each baking sheet. (The “dough” will seem more like cake batter, and you will probably think you went wrong somewhere. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be thin but still scoopable – think the texture of sour cream.)
With moistened fingers, gently press each mound of dough into a disk 2½ inches wide and ¾ inch thick. Bake until the centers of the cookies are firm and the edges are just beginning to brown, about 18-20 minutes, rotating the baking pans halfway through the baking time or baking only one pan at a time if your oven heat is somewhat uneven – the batter will hold while you bake the batches. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 2 minutes. Use a wide spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. Let cookies cool completely before icing.
For the vanilla icing:
¼ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
5 cups (20 oz.) confectioners’ sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
food coloring (yellow or other color of your choice)
For the chocolate icing:
3 oz. chocolate chips
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
Milk, as needed (about 1 tbsp.)
3/4 cup of the vanilla icing
To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water or on low heat in a microwave safe bowl. Remove from the heat and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup and water and bring to a boil or alternatively bring to a boil in a large glass measuring cup in the microwave. Remove from the heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until combined. Remove 3/4 cup of the icing to use in the chocolate glaze, then whisk in enough of your food coloring of choice to get the color shade you want.
To make the chocolate icing, transfer ¾ cup of the vanilla icing to the bowl with the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Whisk in the cocoa powder and milk as needed to make a lightly thin, but pipeable glaze. Set aside.
To glaze the cookies, place the cookies on wire racks set over waxed paper or foil. Use a small offset spatula to spread about 2 tablespoons of the vanilla icing on half the flat side (bottom) of each cookie. Tilt the cookie and run the spatula around the edge to scrape off excess icing. Allow to harden slightly, only about 5 minutes, before piping the chocolate on. To pipe the chocolate, stir the glaze to loosen it enough to place it in a quart size plastic zip top bag. Snip a small corner off the bag just small enough to pipe. Pipe your designs on the cookie while the coloring glaze is just slightly set – this will let the chocolate set into the vanilla glaze but without letting it spread too much. Notes: If either of the icings begins to thicken, stir in milk 1 teaspoon at a time as needed. Allow the decorated cookies to set at least 1 hour before serving. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container layered between sheets of parchment paper for up to 3 days.