Chocolate Chai Cut-Out Cookies / by Chelsea Zwieg

Does anyone else look back at what they wanted to be when they were younger and just have to laugh? I clearly remember, somewhere around the age of 5, that I wanted to be a carpenter. This life decision was based solely on the fact that I had a toy tool kit with a clip-on tape measure and I thought I looked pretty baller walking around with it clipped to my stirrup leggings. And that's what carpenters do all day right? Somewhere along the way I discovered that carpentry involves a lethal combination of things I hate, such as cutting wood, heavy lifting and math, and I laid down my clip-on tape measure in order to take up some other dreams. 

After I left the life of woodworking behind me, I decided that I wanted to be a cake decorator/caterer. This came about from seeing a caterer on TV arranging fruit on a platter and thinking it looked like fun. But not fun enough, so I thought I would add in cake too. Because cake is always fun. Never mind the fact that I had never decorated a cake (or probably even been to a wedding at that point to have seen a cake) or that I was pretty sure caterer was just a fancy term for "fruit platter arranger", that's what I was going to do. Ironically, I do a little cake decorating as part of my current job, but I have yet to glimpse the life of catering that would allow me to arrange fruit all day long.

As time went on, I would like to think that I began making slightly more informed decisions about my career. But it's still fun to think that in some alternate universe I might be a carpenter who moonlights as an elaborate cake decorator and part-time caterer with a signature clip-on tape measure as a part of every outfit. But there are still some things that let me get a little taste of what 5 year-old Chelsea had in mind. Cookie decorating is one of them. I should probably stay away from a 10 tiered cake on the most important day of a bride's life, but cookies, in my own kitchen? I am all about that. Something about mixing different color icings, filling up piping bags and decorating away still gets me all excited. Add in some Christmas music and you basically can't calm me down. 


The only beef that I typically have with decorating cut-out cookies is that after all that hard work, I pack up my pride and joy, my beautifully (aka wonkily) decorated snowflakes and mittens frosted with care, and bring them to some christmas party or other only to have people say "oh well they are too pretty to eat". Yeah, let's put to rest any illusions that a cookie I have decorated is ACTUALLY too pretty to eat. I gave up decorating as a career option 15 years ago. I am just as likely to build you a house as I am to decorate a cookie at the artistic level that would legitimately cause someone to hesitate eating it. And so I have come to discover that this is what people say because, the truth is, decorated sugar cookies are usually overly sweet, semi-flavorless, dry excuses for cookies. But saying this might put a damper on the holiday spirit, so people try to stroke my cookie decorating pride instead. I'm not fooled, I've used that same line too many times. 

So I decided to create a cut-out cookie that is delicious to eat, because I'm still a few decades off from entering the "too pretty to eat" category. And so I give you chocolatey, chai spiced sugar cookies. They are quick and easy to make, roll out effortlessly, bake up quickly and they actually taste like something! Cocoa, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom to be specific. 

And then they're all ready to be decorated. And if you feel so inspired, you can take them to the "too pretty to eat" level. As for me, I will be walking around measuring and building things. Just kidding, that sounds awful. 

Chocolate Chai Cut-Out Cookies

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 40 small cut-outs

| Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

| Instructions

  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. Whisk to combine.
  • In a small bowl, microwave chocolate chips until melted and smooth. Set aside. 
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat to combine. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and mix well. 
  • Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Divide dough into two halves. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour. If you are in a hurry, you could also freeze them for about 20 minutes. 
  • Preheat oven to 350. Once dough has chilled, remove from the plastic wrap and place on a well-floured surface. Roll out to 1/4"-1/8" thickness, depending on how thick you want them. Cut out into desired shapes and place cookies 1 in. apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes. If your cookies are smaller or thinner, they may only need about 8 minutes. You want them to be firm on top and just beginning to darken around the edges. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. 

Royal Icing

Adapted from Karen's Cookies

| Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp. meringue powder
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Food coloring 

 | Instructions |

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine meringue powder, powdered sugar and water. Whisk on low speed to combine, then increase speed and beat until frosting is silky and smooth. If the frosting is too thick, add one tsp. of water at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. If it is too runny, gradually add powdered sugar until it thickens. The consistency depends on whether you want to decorate by piping or if you want a thinner frosting that will coat the cookie. The good news is, it is virtually impossible to mess up. Just add more water or sugar until it is how you want it. 
  • Divide frosting between bowls or piping bags and add any food coloring. Mix well. Decorate away!