Today’s post is going to be a long one, but totally worth it – I’m sharing a recipe and step-by-step tutorial for making lady locks. I’m from western Pennsylvania, home of the legendary wedding cookie table, and no respectable wedding reception or Christmas cookie tray would be complete without these delicate, bite-sized pastries. I am told this particular recipe is one that was used by a bakery in the small town that I grew up in. That bakery has long since closed down but I can still remember being a young child and getting so excited when my mother would bring home treats from this bakery. They made the most delicious cut-out sugar cookies and thumbprint cookies, complete with royal icing, and maple rolls. My aunt worked in this bakery as a young woman, which is how the recipe came to be in my recipe box. Every Christmas, I’d look forward to snagging a few delicious lady locks off the tray of cookies she brought to Christmas dinner. When I was in my early 20s, I asked her to share the recipe. She was quite willing, but told me that the way to learn to make lady locks was to actually do it, so I spent an afternoon in her kitchen making these before Christmas that year. Today, thanks to the Internet, I’m going to give you a step-by-step tutorial. I hope that you enjoy this recipe as much as my family does!
By the way, this recipe makes A LOT of lady locks. I usually get around six dozen cookies, so if you are not looking to make that many, you could half the recipe.
First, you will add 4 cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt to a large mixing bowl. Create a well in the center.
Next, pour 1-1/2 cups of water into the well.
Using your (very clean!) hands or a large scooper spatula, mix the flour, salt and water into a thick, lumpy dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (a pastry mat works great for this, but a table or countertop will work, too). Roll it out into a rough square.
Place one pound of softened butter in the center of the square.
Wrap the dough around the butter. Then, with a heavy rolling pin, roll the dough to incorporate the butter. Add more flour as needed. I generally find that as I complete the dough rolling, I add another 1-2 cups of flour.
Once you have rolled the dough out, fold it into a square or rectangle, and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it for 20 minutes, then repeat this process three more times.
By the third or fourth roll, you should start to see a smooth dough emerge.
Now it’s time to create the pastry shells. Lady locks are sometimes referred to as “clothespin cookies,” because they used to be made by using old-fashioned wooden clothespins wrapped in aluminum foil (the wooden ones with the round heads, not the ones with the spring). But, I have a couple sets of these aluminum baking dowels that I use instead.
Remove your dough from the refrigerator and cut it into four equal pieces. You will work with one piece at a time so the remaining dough stays chilled.
You can see how the pastry layers are starting to form.
Roll the dough out into a large triangle, about 1/8″ thick.
Trim the uneven edges off (I use a pizza wheel for this).
Cut the dough into equal strips, about 2/3″ thick and 8-9″ long.
Wrap the strips around the dowel rods, place them on a jelly roll pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes before baking.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. The dough will puff up slightly, and the bottoms of the cookies may bake to a very light brown. These cookies should not brown on the tops at all. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool before carefully removing them from the dowel rods. Set the pastry shells aside while you make the filling.
To make the filling, put a 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour and two cups of milk into a large saucepan.
Cook this mixture over medium heat until a thick paste forms. Whisk constantly.
This is what the “paste” will look like. Allow this mixture to cool completely.
Next, add the following ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer: 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, 1 cup softened unsalted butter or margarine, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup vegetable shortening and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cream this mixture together until well incorporated.
Next, drop the cooled paste mixture into the creamed mixture a little at a time. Allow the mixture to run until a creamy, fluffy filling forms. Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and use it to fill the pastry shells. Roll the pastry shells in powdered sugar to finish the cookies.
Your finished product will be perfect for your Christmas cookie tray!