Every time I offer my home-baked goods to friends and family, I get insanely worked up about their appearance. Over the years, reassuring people that my treats taste much better than their scruffy look may suggest has become second nature; “Don’t worry”, I often say, “it’s the sweet ugliness of homemade”. A joke that downplays a hard truth: just like Mother Nature (or, more likely, family genetics) destined me to fail miserably at all compulsory art classes back in school, I can’t for the life of me decorate a cake or biscuit without screwing up at least one important step in the process. The word “icing” works like a powerful summoning to make an incredible mess, and the piping bag is my most dangerous and most dreaded kitchen nemesis.
Heaven knows I’ve tried. While I’ve learnt to laugh at the hopeless lack of grace of my secondary school drawings, my bakes are a serious affair: I’m determined to turn all my short-term failures into shining successes. One day, you’ll see me pipe perfectly shaped cream roses on sumptuous layer cakes; for now, though, all I can boast is a comically tragic list of mishaps. First came The Time I Filled A Piping Bag With Overly Thick Biscuit Batter (spoiler: my almond biscuits didn’t look like this). Then I took clumsiness to the next level: enter The Time I Wasted Two Sachets Of Gelatine Before Figuring Out How To Pour It On My Strawberry Pie. My most vivid memory, though, is of That Time I Set About Decorating My Apple Cake With Whipped Cream And Completely Ripped It Apart. That was supposed to be my birthday cake last year; it was, as I later discovered, a recipe for heartbreak, tears, and cries that life’s unfair.
You see, decorating isn’t my forte. But if you hand me a tool that makes baking good-looking things close to foolproof, you’ll make me the happiest home cook on earth. Receiving one of said wonder gadgets directly from its maker – and, better still, being trusted to make beautiful things with it – made me feel pretty lucky indeed.
Emma Jane Faulkner, the creative mind behind Cakes and Catwalks, is a true maker of beautiful things. When we first met, back in 2013, she was in the business of baking and decorating bespoke cakes; more recently, she started designing cookie stamps with her partner Owen, and selling them on their online shop Emma Jane’s Bakery. The news of its opening last May had me squeal with delight – and if you’re a lover of dainty decorations, you’ll squeal with delight too.
There’s more good news: it takes longer to pick your favourite stamp and resist the urge to buy the full range, than to figure out how to use it. It’s actually one of the most straightforward cooking utensils I’ve ever tried, cleverly designed to make your life easy at all stages of your experience. Stamping your cookies will treat you to blissful moments of childlike enjoyment – and as Emma Jane also sells cookie cutters that match the stamp’s shape, you won’t even have to worry about rummaging through your drawers to unearth the right tools. Finding a dough that holds its shape in the oven no longer requires entire days of recipe testing, as Emma Jane has put together a recipe index that takes the hard work off your plate. And finally, cleaning your cookie stamp all boils down to one golden rule: no to dishwashers, yes to gentle rinsing with warm water. If you’re in doubt, you’ll find a leaflet with detailed cleaning istructions inside Emma Jane’s pretty little package.
If I made my point well, you should be craving a cookie stamp by now, or realising you just discovered the perfect gift for your baking mad friends. If you still want proof that all the nice things I said are true, take a look at the cookies I made. Then get a cookie stamp and bake them at home, so you can take a bite, too.
Pistachio Buttercream Sandwich Cookies
(makes 20 – 22 sandwiched cookies or 40 – 45 individual cookies)
For the cookies
- 100g butter (softened)
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1tsp rosewater
- 2tbs skimmed milk
- 275g plain flour, sifted
For the filling
- 30g butter
- 50g pistachio paste (I used WhyNut’s Green Pistachio Paste)
- 50g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp cold water
The filling tastes a lot like pistachio, a bit like sugar, and only very slightly like butter. It’s thick enough to spread well on a biscuit, and far from the sickening kind of sweet that puts you off going for seconds. If you want a different balance of flavours, simply adjust the quantities in the recipe; mine are my own invention, very revealing of the fact that I love pistachio, try to enjoy sugar responsibly, and avoid butter overloads as much as I can!
Prepare the cookies
- Follow Emma Jane’s basic recipe for sugar cookies. The only tweak you’ll need is using rosewater instead of vanilla extract.
- The recipe makes about 40 individual cookies, ready to eat without filling. If you’re looking for the full sandwich cookie experience, read on, and learn how to make my nearly butterless buttercream.
Prepare the filling
- Whisk together the butter and pistachio paste, until you obtain a smooth cream.
- Add half of the icing sugar, and continue mixing until combined; then stir in the water.
- Add the remaining icing sugar, until you obtain a cream that’s runny enough to fit into a piping bag, but not too liquid. If your filling is still too firm, add one more teaspoon of water.
- Grab two cold or slightly warm cookies. Pipe a small helping of cream on the back of one of them, then sandwich the two cookies together.
Cook’s tip: If you don’t have a piping bag, simply drop half a teaspoon of filling on each cookie, using a metal spoon.
- Repeat until all your cookies are paired into pretty little sandwiches.
- Leave aside until the filling has set and the cookies have completely cooled down. Ideally, you should fill them on the day you’re serving them, or store the filling and cookies separately until the very last minute; if you can’t, simply assemble them the day before, and store them in the fridge until the next day, in an airtight container.
Note: Emma Jane kindly offered me a free cookie stamp to review. All opinions are my own, and I can hardly wait to use it again!