Kitchens are repositories of paraphernalia, equipped with an endless array of gadgets, gizmos and appliances that often have frustratingly specific jobs. It’s time to free those lonely kitchen tools and put them to work somewhere a lot more fun: your bar.
Pastry chefs probably have a box of cookie cutters tucked way back into the pantry, used perhaps one month out of the year for icing-piped gingerbread figures or shortbread stars. But cookie cutters need not be relegated to holiday treats or pulled out only to be used on rolled-out dough. Especially since they come in a seemingly infinite number of shapes, from snowflakes to sharks, bartenders crafting creative garnishes are finding them to be fun replacements for stampers, knives and stencils.
“Cookie cutters are really effective for stamping garnishes,” says A.J. Johnson, the head bartender at Italian restaurant Antica Pesa in Brooklyn. “You can cut a wider peel into a certain shape and either use some sort of food dye or juice or even apply heat to leave an imprint.”
One drink Johnson has elevated with such an adornment is a sour with applejack brandy and egg white served in a Nick & Nora glass. It was topped with an orange peel stamped with a small apple-shaped cookie cutter, but any shape will do, from a trapezoid to a star. Depending on the drink and glassware, a stamped garnish can be set on the surface of the drink or placed inside the glass facing out.
Cookie cutters are also great for cutting fruit for garnishes. “You can use almost any fruit as long as it aligns with the flavor [of the] cocktail that’s being created,” says lead bartender Leia Pecotte, the lead bartender at Tulio in Seattle who has employed cookie cutter shapes including hearts, swirls and flamingos. Her team has cut strawberries and pieces of honeydew into shapes for libations like the Fruit of Rouge zero-proof cocktail, which has pear juice shaken with rose water and tangerine and topped with soda water.
“When it comes to soft fruits and vegetables, it’s best to cut them into long slices first before using the cookie cutter,” says Melissa Carroll, the bar manager of Fisk & Co. in Chicago. “That way, you’re working with a flat surface to cut into.” Shapes cut this way are cleaner and can be produced faster and more safely than with a knife, too. The main challenge is cutting them in advance and preserving them through service, says Carroll. She soaks them in water that has a bit of citrus juice in it but for no longer than four hours so they stay fresh-looking and don’t curl or get soggy.
You can also use a cookie cutter for its negative space, namely as a stencil for applying powders, sprays and spices atop a drink. For Fisk & Co.’s Manmatha, with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao, demerara and cream, Carroll topped the drink with Tajín seasoning applied in the shape of a heart. “The high walls of the cutter help to block the center and are more effective than other methods,” says Carroll. Around Valentine’s Day, Pecotte topped Tulio’s Espresso Martini with cocoa powder in the shape of the heart; she also added cinnamon or ground lavender to Whiskey Sours and other egg white cocktails; their stark surface makes a perfect canvas for stencils.
And there’s even one more unexpected use for cookie cutters, says Johnson. “Cookie cutters are also great as molds for crafting interesting and unique ice shapes that may not already be found as an ice tray,” she says. Simply set the cutters on a rimmed baking sheet and place it flat in the freezer, then fill with water. (This will avoid sloshing it around on the walk to the freezer.) Once frozen, remove the pan from the freezer and let it stand for 10 minutes before tapping on the ice outside the cookie cutters and wiggling to remove the cubes. Think lime-wedge-shaped ice for Mojitos, palm trees for Mai Tais or Screwdrivers for, well, you get the picture. Now that’s being a smart cookie.