So when you think about it, these panda cookies are a little creepy. Because pandas are pretty much land-dolphins. They are cognizant, cute, and they seem like they have hopes and dreams. (You can sense the world-weariness in my pandas, right?) In some ways, it just doesn’t really seem right to make food into the likeness of pandas and then eat them.
The novelty factor of these cookies is so strong that I might even say that these cookies look way better than they taste — not to say they aren’t tasty. They are just super cute. The recipe for the chocolate and vanilla doughs is straightforward enough; it’s the shaping that will totally make or break these cookies. I couldn’t even begin to articulate the process in words, so I made a diagram.
Even then, the diagram totally isn’t foolproof. Those who are more artistically adept will find the shaping pretty intuitive and probably won’t even need the diagram. It’s very much like shaping with clay. It may look intimidating, but don’t let it intimidate you. At the very worst, you’ll end up with a sorta-panda-shaped abstract blob that is still pretty tasty. Win-win!
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 large egg
- In a medium to large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer together until light and fluffy and butter becomes nearly white.
- Beat in the egg until thoroughly incorporated. Add in vanilla extract.
- Sift flour, salt, and baking powder. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, add the dry ingredients in three increments and fold/stir to combine.
- Divide the dough in two batches, one sized ⅓ of overall mixture, the other ⅔ of the overall dough. Knead/stir cocoa into the smaller portion of dough.
- Wrap doughs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one-hour or overnight to firm up before shaping.
- Pinch off bits of dough and roll into logs and form into panda-shaped. Dab coils with a little water to stick them to each other. (GOOD LUCK! See diagram!)
- Wrap the panda log with plastic and freeze until hardened, at least two hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice cookies until they're ⅓-inch or so thick, rotating the cookie so that one side doesn't get smooshed too much. Pop the dough log into the fridge if the dough gets too soft to slice.
- Space at least 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with silicon sheet or parchment paper.
- Bake for about 12 minutes.
This is a sliced cookie, much like those sugar cookies that you buy in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. To shape the pandas, you’ll pinch off bits of dough and will roll them into different sized coils or ropes that will end up being about 12-inches long. Some coils you will press flat and wrap around another coil (such as when you make the pandas’ eyes or noses).
When I made my panda, I “freehanded” it and found that I had way more chocolate dough than vanilla. I learned from my mistake and recommend a ratio of 1/3 chocolate to 2/3 vanilla to make more balanced pandas.
1. Use water to “glue” the coils to one another.
2. Don’t sweat imperfections. If a coil isn’t long enough or you didn’t pinch off enough, just tack on some more dough — no biggie. It doesn’t have to be perfect to look pretty good in the end.
3. Come up with a general game plan at the beginning, based on the proportions in the diagram and divide your doughs into roughly those pieces. So for example, reserve almost half of the white dough for the panda’s belly. Use the other half for its face.
4. If you find the dough to be too soft as you’re working with it, pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes and come back to it later.
5. When slicing your pandas (it will be exciting!), rotate the log after a few slices, otherwise one side will flatten and your pandas will look a bit odd.
The pandas will puff a little during baking, but all of the details in the shaping will make it through.
This picture really cracks me up. I like how sad the panda looks, sitting in front of a log. I like the bamboo sprigs and elephant teapot, signifying — clearly — that we’re in the forests of China. I like how the main panda’s buddy is like, drowning in the water. There is so much human emotion and drama in this photo, don’t you think?