Butterfly Cookies and Silver Linings

My son's trifecta of food allergies, environmental allergies and asthma really puts a crimp in his childhood.  Forget the dangers of birthday parties and peanut butter in the school cafeteria, to my poor kid the real kicker is that he can't even have a puppy.  Not only are real pets, the furry, snuggly kind every child should have, out of the question, but even a fish tank is too dangerous because the food is made out of brine shrimp.

So in an effort to compensate, we innocently bought a few milkweed plants and started bringing home monarch caterpillars to raise and eventually release.  It seemed like a good idea, though it has since gotten somewhat out of control.  (At this time we have a screened in enclosure that my husband built with about a hundred caterpillars in it along with over twenty milkweed plants on our patio.  We've successfully raised and released several dozen butterflies already.)

Two of our first caterpillars we raised "free range" on a potted milkweed plant sitting on newspapers that covered about half of our dining room table.  As a result, the caterpillars were probably a little too comfortable with constant human observation and we were fairly attached to them, too.  After successfully making the transition from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, we took them outside to release.  That's when we discovered our huge, gorgeous male monarch couldn't fly.

Not only were his fore and hind wings separated on one side, he couldn't close his wings completely.  To top it off, he had a gimpy leg and listed to one side when he was at rest.  We started him on a diet of melon Gatorade, and suddenly my son had a pet, which he promptly named Darth Butterfly.

Darth spent the nine weeks of his butterfly existence rotating between the patio and our living room.  He was extraordinarily tame and would crawl onto my hand when I would bend over to pick him up after he accidentally fluttered to the floor.  Darth sat calmly on our hands and perched happily on our shoulders.  We were able to observe him close up extending his proboscis like a straw to drink his meals, then wash his polka dotted face like a cat with his two front legs.

Eventually the inevitable happened, but before it did, my son asked if we could make butterfly cookies.  I decided to go ahead and attempt a complicated design on my usual egg, dairy and nut free roll out cookies.  I was very happy with the result, except that the icing wasn't as smooth as I would have liked.  (I'm not sure if it was because I made a vegan royal icing, didn't thin it enough, or if it was simply due to my amateur technique.)  To match the colors, I changed the flavors to anise and orange, which was a surprisingly addictive combination.

Monarch Butterfly Cookies

Dry Ingredients:
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients:
1 C nondairy margarine, softened
1 C granulated sugar
2 Tbs orange marmalade or orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 tsp anise extract
zest of one orange (optional)

Vegan Royal Icing (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Cut parchment paper to size of cookie sheets.  Measure dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together, then set aside.

Cream margarine with sugar until light and fluffy.  Mix in marmalade or orange juice concentrate, anise extract and orange zest (if desired).  Slow mixer and gradually add dry ingredients until completely combined.

Spread out one of the pieces of parchment paper on a flat surface.  Place about a quarter to a third of the dough on it.  Cover remaining dough with plastic wrap or place in plastic bag to keep from drying out.  Flatten the dough on the parchment paper into a thick disc by hand, then cover it with a piece of wax (not parchment) paper.  While keeping the wax paper in place on the dough, use a rolling pin to roll it out to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in thickness.  (If planning to make cookie pops, make sure the dough is at least 3/8 inch thick.)  Peel off the wax paper and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes with space between them, but leave them in place on the parchment paper.  Use an offset spatula (preferred) or butter knife to remove the dough from between the cookies.  Gently slide the parchment paper onto a cookie sheet.  The leftover dough may be recycled as many times as needed to use all the dough, since additional flour is not added to roll it out.

Optional step for Cookie Pops:
Use offset spatula to arrange cookies on parchment paper so that lollipop sticks will not overlap.  Gently insert large lollipop sticks into sides of cookies until at least halfway across width of cookie.

Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes and the edges just begin to lightly brown.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to remain on sheet for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up before removing to rack to complete cooling.

Once cookies are completely cool, decorate with royal icing.

Vegan Royal Icing
(Adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking.)

1 1/2 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer
2 Tbs water
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 C powdered (confectioners') sugar
food coloring as desired

Combine Egg Replacer, water and lemon juice in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously until frothy.  Add powdered sugar and continue stirring until smooth.  Mix in food coloring.  
(The thickness of the icing can be adjusted by gradually adding very small amounts of either water or powdered sugar.)

To prepare to make monarchs, trace the cookie cutter on a piece of paper and draw the design you will be using.  It helps to practice a few times on wax paper.  Begin by outlining design in black icing using a very, very small icing tip.  Allow to dry overnight, then flood inner areas with black or orange icing.  Allow to dry overnight again, then decorate with white polka dots.

Very late update:  This post from Brown Eyed Baker is an excellent tutorial on decorating cookies with royal icing.

The cookies were quite a bit of work, but I think I'll make them again at the end of the school year as thank yous for The Kid's teachers and other school staff, including the school nurse.  They truly are a sweet way to remember our pet monarch.


Joy said...

I'm wondering if I can substitute potato starch for the corn starch... I'm having a butterfly themed wedding in August and these would be perfect. Except I may be no where near talented or patient enough to make it happen. time to delegate out. ;)

Libby said...

Hi Joy! I would try tapioca starch before the potato, but absolutely go ahead and sub out for the corn starch with whichever one is safe for you.

What a lovely theme for the wedding. Congrats! (And good luck! I found out that marriage itself is a snap compared to the wedding planning!)

Margot said...


h said...

Fabulous! What a great set of photos!

Paula said...

I love that you decided to raise monarch butterflies. I'm sorry about Darth though.
I think your butterflies cookies are really beautiful and I'm really impressed that you made a vegan royal icing!

Joy said...

I can do tapioca, so I'll give that a try...after exams are done of course!
Any tips on how to do the black part of the icing? That's the part that seems the most tedious to me...

Janelle (Gluten Freely Frugal) said...

Thanks for sharing on Allergy-Free Wednesday. Hope you'll join us again this week with another great recipe!

Mamie said...

I think my son's animal allergies are the hardest sometimes. Al,ost all of our friends have dogs and we do everything we can to make a visit easy but still have asthma sometimes from the exposure.

We got a fish tank about a year ago. We now have one fish, a bream. My husband caught it. We feed it worms and crickets. That could be an option for you instead of commercial fish food.

Libby said...

Margot, HSW & Janelle, thanks!

Paula, I should have known you'd like the butterflies!

Joy, I've updated the post to include a little more information about how to decorate the cookies. Paula (above) has some good cookie decorating info on her site. The Decorated Cookie also has some excellent tutorials.

Mamie, thanks for the suggestion! We had started to look into keeping fish that could eat something other than the standard fish food, but were sidetracked by the monarchs. That may be something we do in the future.

Allison Holden said...

These are beautiful. I am so impressed at your creativity. I am glad I ran across your blog; always great to find other allergy-friendly bogs!

MyFudo™ said...

Your creativity is beyond words...I love the colors and I am looking forward to more posts from your site.

Donna Mays said...

Very creative, butterfly cookies. Kids would love this, something like this really attracts to them.