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Imperial cookies time-consuming, but worth it

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Imperial cookies like the ones above are sandwiched with jam, topped with white icing and decorated with a small piece of cherry.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Imperial cookies like the ones above are sandwiched with jam, topped with white icing and decorated with a small piece of cherry. Photo Store

Imperial cookies, plain vanilla cookies sandwiched with jam and topped with white icing, are found in the U.K. and parts of the Commonwealth. (One reader, June Bone, wrote to say she saw them in Scotland, where they were called Empire Biscuits.) But they are a real obsession with Winnipeggers, with spirited debates over which bakery does the best job.

I wanted to try making imperials at home. Thanks to everybody who responded, including Beverley Bell, Lynne Hopley, Helen Glowienka, Enid Barnes, June Bone, Lucille Bisignano, Merle Green, Kathleen Land and Helen Pitura.

Many swappers wrote in with the recipe from the Recipe Swap Favourites cookbook from 2000 by former Recipe Swap writer Ilana Simon. Clearly, this is a much-clipped classic. Other readers sent in slight variations, some using butter instead of shortening, some having varying amounts of sugar. I've included one from Enid Barnes, which she says is a hybrid of a Canadian Living recipe and a version by Food Network baker Anna Olson.

This was my first time making imperials. I had somehow decided they were difficult. While they are more time-consuming than your average drop cookie, they're quite straightforward, and I found it surprisingly easy to get good results.

Back in the late 1990s, Lea Richards used to go to the Dakota Bakery for a huge slice of pizza for lunch. The pizza had quite a thin crust and "to be honest," adds Lea, "it was quite greasy." She'd love to see a similar recipe for thin-crust pizza. And I'm looking for cornbread recipes. I just acquired a vintage cornbread pan. Like good cast-iron, it weighs a ton, and it bakes the batter into the shape of corncobs. I have a reliable basic cornbread recipe I like to use, but I'd be interested in seeing some variations. If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to recipeswap@freepress.mb.ca, fax it to 204-697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave. Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.

 

Classic Recipe Swap Imperial Cookies

175 ml (3/4 cup) shortening

250 ml (1 cup) granulated sugar

2 eggs

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

60 ml (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder

1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt

 

Filling and frosting:

125 ml (1/2 cup) raspberry jam

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) icing sugar

1 ml (1/4 tsp) almond extract

30 ml (2 tbsp) hot water

 

In a large bowl on medium speed of electric mixer, cream shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and creamy. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until well blended. If desired, chill 1 hour for easy rolling. Divide dough into two and roll out dough a portion at a time on a lightly floured surface to 3 mm (1/8 inches) thick, then cut into 5-cm (2-inch) rounds. Re-roll leftover pieces. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 175 C (350 F) for 8-10 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely.

Spread half of cookies on the underside with jam. Top with remaining cookies. For frosting, combine icing sugar, almond extract and enough hot water to make a thin icing. Frost tops of cookies. Decorate with small piece of cherry if desired. Let sit for one hour so icing can set. Store in airtight container overnight. Makes 2 dozen cookies. Cookies freeze well.

 

Tester's notes: It's easy to see why this is a favourite with so many bakers. The results are delicious, with a nice balance of sweet icing and tart jam, and the dough is easy to work with. It rolls out well, and there is no crumbling or breaking with the baked cookies.

 

Imperial Cookies

125 ml (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar

1 egg

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

500 ml (2 cups) cake and pastry flour, sifted

5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder

1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt

75 ml (1/3 cup) raspberry jam

 

For the icing:

250 ml (1 cup) sifted icing sugar

1 ml (1/4 tsp) almond extract

15 ml (1 tbsp) hot water, or more

Candied cherries or red icing (optional)

 

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together sifted flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture in 3 additions, stirring after each. Shape into disc (dough will be soft), wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Unwrap dough and knead gently to soften slightly. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 6 mm (1/4 inches), and cut out circles with a 5-cm (2-inch) cookie cutter. Place on baking sheets, leaving 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) space between cookies and bake for about 10 minutes, until just very lightly golden underneath. Do not brown.

For icing, mix together icing sugar with almond extract and add 15 ml (1 tbsp) hot water, adding a bit more at a time, if necessary, to make a spreadable icing. When cookies are completely cooled, stir jam to soften, if necessary. Place a cookie top side down, spread with a small spoon of jam, and top with another cookie, top side up. Press gently to seal cookies together, then ice. Decorate with a candied cherry or red icing, if desired. Let sit for one hour before serving. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

 

Tester's notes: This would be a good recipe for bakers who prefer butter cookies. The cookies might seem a bit hard at the start, but they soften when sandwiched together with the jam, yielding that classic imperial cookie texture.

I found the right thickness for the cookies was somewhere between 3-6 mm (1/4-1/2 inch). June Bone advises using seedless raspberry jam for the filling, and that worked well for me. I had to avoid my usual more-is-more approach to jam and use less than 5 ml (1 tsp) for the filling. The trick is not to extend the jam right to edge as it will spread when the cookies are sandwiched together. You also want an icing that's spreadable but not drippy. It's easy to adjust by adding more water or more icing sugar until you get just the right consistency.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2013 C7

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