Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and 13 states will hold their primary elections, taking us one step closer to the selection of our 2016 presidential nominees – essentially tomorrow could make or break the campaigns of those still in the race: Clinton, Sanders, Kasich, Rubio, Trump, Carson and Cruz. While I’m sure it will be a stressful day for the candidates, I say we laypeople celebrate with some cute, campaign-themed cookies. What do you say?
I picked up these fun cookie cutters the other day at Fishs Eddy in NYC, and have been dying to use them! These cookies are the perfect chance to do so – the mini chocolate chips make rolling them out a breeze, and the addition of dried cranberries and blueberries place a fun emphasis on the traditionally red elephant and blue donkey as the symbols of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively.
The donkey as a symbol of the Democratic party originated during Andrew Jackson’s campaign back in 1828. Apparently his opponents called him a jackass, which amused Jackson, and he started using the symbol on his campaign posters. Nineteenth century cartoonist Thomas Nast helped popularize the symbol, and introduced the elephant to depict the Republican party in an 1874 cartoon for Harper’s Weekly. The cartoon showed a donkey dressed up in a lion’s skin scaring the all other animals at the zoo. One of these animals was an elephant, which was labeled “The Republican Vote.”
In honor of these cute cookie cutters, I’m taking a closer look at two depictions of the donkey and the elephant in art, starting with a terracotta drinking vessel, called a rhyton, from ancient Greece. Donkeys were often associated with the god of wine, Dionysus, and his drunken followers, which explains why so many ancient drinking vessels are in the shape of donkey heads, like this one, from circa 450 BC. Donkeys were apparently also symbols of sexual potency, which is definitely not something that comes to mind when considering our 2016 candidates, Democratic or Rebuplican… 🙂
About 2087 years later, a female Asian elephant called Hansken was toured all around Europe in what could have been a precursor to our modern-day circus, but with an intellectual element. She was sent from present-day Sri Lanka as a gift to the Prince of Orange, Frederick Hendrik, who ruled parts of Holland during the mid-17th century. At that time, it was widely believed that elephants were closest to man in terms of intellect, and when Hansken came to town, everyone flocked to see her. She toured Europe for about 20 years, making stops in big cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Frankfurt, among others. When she arrived in Amsterdam, great Dutch artist Rembrandt sketched her a few times, showing off his fascination with animals and anatomy. His 1637 sketch, below, shows her in profile, with several bystanders nearby for scale.
These two works are interesting for their depictions of animals in art at a time when artists didn’t have the same opportunities to see these animals as frequently in nature (or online), as we do today. Donkeys were used during the classical period for manual labor, so the artist of the rhyton would have probably seen then around the streets of Greece as a working animal. The donkey portrayed is not incredibly realistic, whereas Rembrandt’s elephant was a drawing made while he stood viewing the animal. He was only able to see Hansken while she toured Europe, so he made this sketch and a few others to record his encounter with her, knowing that it would probably be the only time he would see an elephant in his lifetime.
Tomorrow we may get closer to knowing our official 2016 presidential candidates (or not), and no matter what your political preference may be, both varieties of these cookies are delicious and fun to make and decorate!
Chocolate Chip Roll Out Cookies
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 tablespoon
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet mini chocolate chips
½ cup dried blueberries, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and drained
½ cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, drained and chopped
elephant and donkey cookie cutters
5 ½ cups of confectioners’ sugar
7 ½ tablespoons liquid egg whites + more to thin out icing
Make the dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed for a couple minutes, until light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolk and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed until the yolk is thoroughly mixed in. In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 cups of each flour (keep the extra tablespoon of all-purpose for later), the baking powder and the salt. Add the dry mix to the wet in 3 additions, and mix only until combined. Remove half of the dough from the bowl of the mixer and set aside. Using a large wooden spoon, stir in a cup of the chocolate chips along with the dried cranberries. Form dough into 2 discs and wrap in plastic wrap.
Next make the blueberry-chocolate chip dough: Stir the reserved tablespoon of all purpose flour with the blueberries, and add along with the remaining chocolate chips to the leftover dough. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined, but be careful, the blueberries are especially fragile! Form dough into plastic-wrapped discs again, and chill all dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and baking.
Roll out the dough:
Remove one chilled disc of dough from the fridge at a time and carefully roll out over a floured surface. If the dough is too cold to roll, let sit out on the counter for about 5 minutes and try again. The magic of this dough is that the mini chocolate chips prevent you from rolling the dough out too thin – roll out until the dough is just as tall as the chip. Use the (democratic) donkey cookie cutter for the blueberry dough and the (republican) elephant cookie cutter for the cranberry dough.
Bake the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Arrange the cookies about an inch apart and bake for about 10 minutes, until the tops and edges are golden brown. Let cool for at least an hour before icing.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the confectioners’ sugar, egg whites and lemon juice until thoroughly combined. Scoop about a cup of the icing into a smaller bowl, and cover the larger bowl of icing with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Set aside. Thin the smaller bowl of icing out with egg whites until you reach the consistency of chocolate sauce. Using a paintbrush, paint each cookie with the royal icing, and then let the iced cookies dry for at least 4 hours before using the edible markers to decorate however you wish or to write in your 2016 presidential campaign predictions!
Featured art: Thomas Nast, “The Third Term Panic,” printed in Harper’s Weekly, 1874
Rembrandt, An Elephant, 1637, black chalk and charcoal on paper
The Sotades Painter (Greek), Red-Figure Rhyton, circa 450 BC, terracotta