It’s a tradition in our family for the host of Thanksgiving dinner to make an edible parting gift for guests. I especially look forward to my mom’s take-aways, which are caramel corn or spice cookies packaged in cellophane bags. The treats always have a homespun touch — usually handwritten gift tags and ribbon in fall colors.
These woodsy owl cookies meet all the criteria for a great holiday parting gift: They are easy to make and season-appropriate (and cute!). They are also butter-rich, which makes them a delicious treat with coffee or a tall glass of milk.
To cut the cookie dough, you’ll need a 3-inch cookie cutter or pastry ring. In a pinch, you can use a tumbler with a 3-inch opening. Aside from a small artist’s brush, you won’t need any specialty tools to give these cookies their owl faces, just chocolate chips and almonds. A wide selection of cellophane bags, ribbon and baker’s twine can be found on Etsy.
You will need:
1/2 lb. (two sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
40 chocolate chips
20 whole almonds
1/2 cup almond slivers
Cocoa powder for dusting
1. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together until just incorporated. Do not over-mix at this stage, or the cookies may spread while baking.
2. Add the egg and vanilla and almond extracts. Mix again on low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add to the butter and egg mixture. Mix on low speed until dough has formed and there are no longer any streaks of butter in the mixing bowl. Tip: Dough will often clump around the paddle attachment while being mixed; this is normal and a good sign that your dough is the right consistency. If your mixture does not come together and is crumbly, add ice cold-water, 1 tbsp. at a time, until the dough clumps.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside about 1/2 cup dough for later use, then turn the rest out onto another sheet of parchment paper, topping with a third sheet. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong disc between the two papers. Transfer the dough, paper and all, to a large cookie sheet and tightly wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
5. Remove top sheet of parchment paper and roll dough a little thinner, aiming for a thickness that is slightly greater than 1/4 inch. The dough should not be sticky; if it is, you may dust the surface lightly with flour, but not too much! You don’t want streaks of white flour baked onto your pretty cookies.
6. Cut out 3-inch round shapes from the dough and transfer to the prepared baking sheet; these will become your owl bodies. Be careful not to stretch the circles or they will be distorted after baking.
7. Place the chocolate chips and almonds in a small bowl within arm’s reach.
8. Use the reserved dough to roll small, marble-sized balls and place two at the top of each owl body.
9. Place a chocolate chip, pointed side down, into each dough ball and gently press to form the owl eyes.
10. Add a whole almond just below each pair of owl eyes to make owl beaks.
11. Using the 3-inch cookie cutter, gently score wings on each side of the cookie. Be careful not to cut all the way through — you only want to make a line on the cookie’s surface.
12. Press slivered almonds onto the bottom edges of the cookies to form talons.
13. Using a butter knife or small, sharp spatula, score cross-hatching onto the wings to mimic feathers.
14. Dust the wings with a little cocoa powder before baking.
15. Refrigerate the cookies for 30 minutes. This will help the cookies maintain a crisp shape while baking.
16. Preheat the oven to 350°F, then bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll know the cookies are done when they become fragrant and the slivered-almond talons start to turn golden brown.
17. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Heather Baird is an accomplished painter and photographer, but her passion is creating eye-popping, mouthwatering desserts. She writes about her adventures in the world of creative dessert-making on her award-winning blog, SprinkleBakes. She is the author of the new desserts book, Sea Salt Sweet, and her previous baking book,SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire your Inner Artist was published in 2012. Heather lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband Mark and two mischievous pugs, Biscuit and Churro.