Brown Butter Cookies with Marshmallow Fondant
Gag gifts and me go together like red hair and freckles, so when my sister gave me a tooth-shaped cookie cutter for my birthday a few years ago, I was over the moon. Little did I know that that cheesy molar would be the ticket to my first-ever paid baking gig.
As you can probably imagine, one does not have too many occasions to use a tooth-shaped cookie cutter (even when one is a dental student). Still, I made sure my molar got its exercise for dental school events and fundraisers. The absurdity of a tooth-shaped cookie never failed to get a laugh or an eye roll, but I never imagined it would get me a job offer!
A classmate of mine was so taken with the tooth cookies that she asked if I would be willing to make them for her as wedding favors; I thought it was such a cute idea for a future dentist that I agreed immediately. Of course, since I’m really good at making work for myself, I asked the profession of her intended to come up with a complementary groom cookie. Lo and behold, her fiance is a teacher, so we agreed on an apple-shaped cookie to go with the tooth. How many guests? 125. 125 x 2 = 250 cookies. Just in case you’re wondering, that’s a lot of cookies.
I decided to use my trusty Brown Butter Roll-out Cookie dough, since the baked and cooled cookies are the perfect balance of sturdy and soft — ideal for inclusion in a wedding favor gift bag. I have used this dough in the past for shapely Christmas cookies and Hanukkah cookies too, this dough is entirely non-denominational! The nutty brown butter really shines through this dough, which isn’t too sweet, so it works well with the marshmallow fondant.
My normal recipe yields about 24-30 cookies, depending on the size of the cookie cutter. I needed 250. Being the math whiz I am, I figured I’d need about 10 batches of dough (didn’t even need the abacus for that one!). I had never purchased so much butter at one time — the cashier probably thought I was going through an early-life crisis as me and my 4 pounds of butter sheepishly passed through the checkout line.
Looking at the task ahead, I figured the trickiest part would be browning the 15 sticks of butter — 3 at a time, to preserve my sanity — without burning any of them. Upon browning sticks 13, 14, & 15, my kitchen smelled absolutely divine, and not a single stick was burned in the process. With all 10 batches of dough made — a testament to the strength and durability of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and my own mental wherewithal — and chilling in the fridge, I had an overnight to recover for day 2 of the cookie extravaganza.
Day 2 — a.k.a. “Arms Day” — held much rolling, cutting, baking, cooling, and stacking. I was seriously wishing that I had Julia Child’s custom-height countertops — I’m pretty sure my counters would be a good height for an aged and osteoporotic grandmother approximately 8 inches shorter than me. My limited work-surface availability forced me to get creative in my space utilization, and I had to bake the cookies in shifts so as to not overwhelm my two cooling racks. Somehow, though, by the end of the day, 278 cookies — approximately half tooth and half apples — occupied every piece of tupperware that I own.
Day 3 — a.k.a. “Fun with Fondant” — in my kitchen saw more marshmallows than a Girl Scout troop camp-out. Fondant trumps frosting in this case for two reasons: fondanted cookies can be stacked/packed without risk of smudges, and fondant permits you to use the same cookie cutters you used for the cookies for a truly professional appearance. I really like marshmallow fondant because I think it’s a bit more manageable and durable than the premade sugar pastes you can buy in the store. The only downside to the fondanting process was the solid film of powdered sugar that coated all of the counters, the floor, and my person, by the time I finished.
I had warned Tom in advance that he would not have access to the dinner table that night, so he wasn’t totally shocked when he came home to a kitchen full of fondanted cookies and a bagging station at the dinner table. We had dinner on the sofa that night.
I had originally planned to write on the cookies — an “A” for “Alexa” on the tooth, and a “K” for “Kyle” on the apple — but the writing icing turned out to look more like finger pain than frosting, so I opted to write on the bags instead.
Finally, after a marathon of painting, cutting, stapling, and stacking, the cookies were ready to go, and the carpal tunnel had not yet begun. I felt so accomplished, yet mentally and physically drained! Creating baked goods en masse has the added pressure of not making them too early so that they still test good when distributed, while not waiting too long to make them so that they are ready by the deadline. I almost made it. Unfortunately, I had to deliver the bagged cookies only half-tagged/-ribboned, with the remaining tags and ribbons in the box with the cookies. So close! Still, the cookies were done, and tasted delicious — of course I had to sample! A couple of root fractures and a bad apple required me to taste my products…waste not want not 🙂 Some people would probably take a break after this 4-day bake-fest, but not me! MY cookie jar is currently empty…
Brown Butter Cookies with Marshmallow Fondant
Yield: 24-30 cookies, depending on cookie cutters used
2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups miniature marshmallows
4 teaspoons water
3 cups powdered sugar + more for kneading (i.e. “as kneaded” 😉 )
Food coloring, optional
Light corn syrup, for assembly (don’t use dark corn syrup because it may show through the fondant or discolor your beautiful cookies)
Directions for cookies:
Brown the butter over medium heat (refer to photos above or read directions here), and transfer to stand mixer bowl, scraping ALL BROWNED BITS from pan into bowl — these are your flavor enhancers…embrace them. Chill for 30-35 minutes, or until butter has just started to re-solidify.
In a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, use a fork to combine and aerate flour, cornstarch, and salt. Remove chilled butter from refrigerator, and attach bowl to stand mixer. [Note: You can make this dough using a hand mixer and very sturdy spatula, but it’s easier with the stand mixer, if you have one…especially if you’re making 10 batches] Add both sugars to butter in the stand mixer, and use paddle attachment on medium power to cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, ~1-2 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla, until thoroughly combined and homogenous, ~1 minute. Turn mixer down to low, and use a large spoon to gradually add in flour mixture. Mix only until just combined.
Use a rubber spatula to transfer dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap. Shape dough into a large, flat disc, and swaddle tightly. Place wrapped dough disc in a gallon-sized zip-top bag, and chill overnight (minimum!) or up to 3 days in refrigerator.
Remove disc from oven 60-90 minutes prior to rolling. Once you can leave a thumb-print in the dough using only moderately-firm pressure, you’re ready to roll! Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit.
To save your countertops, place a large sheet of wax paper on the counter, and roll the dough out between the wax paper and a sheet of plastic wrap — this way, you don’t have to risk making the dough too dense by adding more flour to prevent sticking. Roll dough out to ~1/4″ thickness, and cut out desired shapes. Use an offset spatula to transfer cut-out cookies to baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet, and PLACE IN FREEZER FOR 10 MINUTES — this step ensures that your cookies will hold their shape during baking (unless you’re making cookies for an amoeba wedding, don’t cut corners here!).
Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes — cookies should still be light in color but JUST starting to turn golden at the bases — DO NOT OVER-BAKE! Let cookies cool on sheets for 2-3 minutes (cookies should not be flexible anymore), then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cooled cookies may be stored in airtight containers, at room temperature, prior to decorating.
Directions for fondant:
In a large, microwave-safe bowl, place mini marshmallows and drizzle water on top. Microwave for 50 seconds. Let sit for 1 minute, then, carefully (bowl and contents will be HOT) use a heat-safe rubber spatula to gently mix until all lumps are gone. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, and fold in with spatula — fondant will become very stiff and lumpy. Once all 3 cups of sugar have been added, scrape out onto a powdered-sugar-dusted sheet of wax paper (again, to save your countertops) — if coloring fondant, add a few squeezes of gel food coloring. Sprinkle top with more powdered sugar, and knead until smooth, pliable, and no longer sticky — fondant should be pleasantly warm at this point, not hot. Once you have achieved the desired consistency (see pictures above for reference). Dust a fresh sheet of wax paper with powdered sugar (I like to sift it on to prevent lumps during rolling), and plop down your fondant. Sift more powdered sugar on top of fondant, and roll out into a smooth, uniform thickness — I like the fondant layer (~1/3″ thick) slightly thinner than the cookie layer, but that’s just personal preference! Use the same cookie cutters you used for the cookies to cut out the fondant shapes.
Use a pastry brush (preferably NOT the one you used to paint BBQ sauce on your ribs last night) to apply a thin layer of corn syrup to the tops of 2-3 cookies, trying to avoid painting the edges. Use an offset spatula to lift fondant shapes off of the wax paper. Align cut-out fondant over syruped cookie, and gently press to adhere — the corn syrup doesn’t dry instantly, so you can kind of slide the fondant around to get the alignment just right. Fondant is still pliable at this point, so don’t press too hard, but you can mold the fondant to the exact shape of your cookie to account for any changes in size during the baking process. Work on only 2-3 cookies at a time, until all cookies have been fondanted. Let set at room temperature for 30-60 minutes, before transferring to an airtight container (or tightly sealed cellophane bags, if gifting) to prevent fondant from drying out. Cookies may be stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.