Happy Dia de Los Muertos, Skallywags!  We decided on a slight twist to the traditional cookie for the Mexican holiday, adding cardamom to the mix and … well … eye patches to a few of the mateys, because how can you have a bunch of skulls and not a few eye patches on Galley Pirates.  We had a few days of bad weather this week, and Captain Peter was away on business, so Spaniel Swab and I holed up down below to mix, chill, roll, cut, bake, cool, frost and decorate a few dozen calaveritas or Galletas de los Muertos.  This fella looks like he could have used a few earlier on…ARRRRRRR.


Calaveritas (Cardamom Cutout Cookies)

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For Cookies
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
12 tbsp (1-1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoon pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

For Royal Icing
3 cups powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Decorating icings, adornments, etc. (or food coloring for royal icing)

Not a lot to say about a cutout cookie and frosting recipe, but we’ve got some unique “tips” (or complaining to do to our landlubber readers) for those who work in galleys.

To start, combine all the dry cookie ingredients, including the cardamom; I used twice as much as most recipes call for…I like cardamom…up to you.  Combine the butter and sugar “in a stand up mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on high for several minutes until fluffy.”  Or, if you’re on a battery-powered boat and you ARE the stand up mixer, get your antique egg beater out and get to work.  Add the egg and vanilla and really give it a good whirring.

Not going to lie, the easiest I’ve found for this when you really need to get a good whip going is to sit at the chart table and lock the bowl between your knees.  Works even better in shorts — no slip — but we’re going for more “family” than “fetish” on this blog.  Now mix the dry into the wet — I find I can get 1/3 to 1/2 the flour mixture in with the beaters, and then have to resort to a spoon to get the rest worked in.

Spaniel Swab knows he gets to lick egg beaters … don’t disappoint him!  Plus it’s the easiest way to get the sticky dough out of all the corners … then it’s just a quick beat in hot, soapy water to remove dog saliva, and you’re done.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate this for a good several hours — even better, overnight.  I told you we had several days of “inside time.”

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  It gets stickier and tougher to work with as it warms up, so you may want to work in batches and keep the rest in the icebox, returning scraps to the icebox as you finish batches, so they can cool back down.  Galley tip: you’re probably going to want to use the chart table for this; you need a fair amount of pressure to roll out the cold dough, so the gate-leg table in the salon is out, and cramped counter space with raised rims and icebox hinges/latches and the like is going to be frustrating as well.  Galley other tip: do this while the skipper is out of town, and cover the chart table well!  I like to use parchment paper because…

Once you’ve cut the cookies out, you can just remove the scraps from between them and not have to transfer them again.  Note some are imperfect; do try to get them approximately the same thickness so that they bake consistently and thinner ones don’t burn.  Other than that, bear in mind you will be frosting the heck out of them, and also they are skulls … they have bigger physiological issues than just a few pock-marks!

Bake for 10-12 minutes, flipping the sheet around front-to-back halfway through, and watching carefully.  They start to burn quickly!  You want a little brown around the edges.  Let them cool COMPLETELY — I slide the paper off the sheet first (both so that they aren’t trying to cool on hot metal, and so that I can get another batch in the oven), and then later transfer the cookies themselves to a rack (or in my no-extra-implements galley, a roll-up bamboo placemat that lets them breathe).

Okay, you could just make an easy-to-stir-together icing like we did for our Christmas cutouts, but I had time (did I mention the rain…) and wanted to try royal icing; I’m here to say, at the end of the day, it probably saved me time because it goes on so easily and flawlessly.  The egg whites give it a meringue-like fluffiness and it just sort of floats onto the cookie, evening and smoothing itself out to a perfect surface for decorating.  Downside, in addition to it needing to dry for 12-24 hours before you decorate, is this: to make it, you need to “whip” the powdered sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar together.  Not wanting to make a mess with my antique egg beaters, I decided to use the whipping paddle in my hand-cranked food processor, but this was like hand-processing concrete.  I had to add the water and give it a fork-stir to get it to a consistency where I could whip it; even then, it was TOUGH … but worth it.

You want it at a consistency where it lasts on the surface for maybe 10 seconds before disappearing, so that it won’t just run off the cookies.  The above, which was the result of my adding enough water to get any hand-cranked motion, is too thin.  Luckily, I just fork-stirred a bit more powdered sugar in to get it right, and after working any lumps out it was perfect; you can kind of see the “fluffiness” above.  You can put this in a bag (formal pastry bag or just ziploc with the corner cut off) to pipe this onto the cookies, or I just used a fork to spread it on — because of the loft, you can just put a blob in the middle of the cookie and then just nudge it out to the edges to fill.  You should use this immediately, or store by placing plastic wrap directly on the surface, enclosing the container in an airtight manner to prevent drying, then re-whipping when ready to use.

But see how pretty?  And goes on quickly … now if you let this dry for 12-24 hours it hardens up nicely for frosting, packing into tins, etc.  Also those “over pours” snap right off.

Now let your inner kid out!  Get all the decorating icings and adornments you want and put eye patches on whomever you please.

Aaaaaand after the first six or eight, maybe get a bit more assembly line.  Be sure to wear your Dia de Los Muertos earrings for the occasion.

If the skipper comes back and frowns at his chart table covered with frosting and glitter, send him back up top with a cuppa and a cookie … FORGIVEN.


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