Sunday, July 3, 2011

4th of July Cookies (Sugar Cookies Take 2)

Whenever I read a recipe I treat it like an experiment.  So, when something went wrong with my last batch of sugar cookies, I decided to change one variable at a time until I got the recipe down perfectly.  This time, I chose to change how much flour I would use when rolling out the dough (I barely used any), but I also left out the vanilla bean because they're so freaking expensive and I want to save it for perfect sugar cookie recipe.

So I made my sugar cookies, stuck the dough ball in the fridge, and went on a two hour long expedition to find silicone baking mats, a star shaped cookie cutter, and clear vanilla extract.  The star shaped cookie cutter was nearly impossible to find, and I went to 5 stores before I found one.  The journey wasn't a total failure; my travels led me to Fairway Market, an incredibly overwhelming store that had everything including VANILLA BEANS 2 FOR $3!!!  Now, if you remember the last time I bought vanilla beans, they were about 2 for $13, so needless to say I bought 4 while at Fairway.  Too bad I already made the dough but I think for next time I'm going to leave out the vanilla extract and only put in the vanilla beans and see how the cookies taste...

So I came back home, had lunch, and got to work on rolling out the dough.  First I tried rolling the dough between two pieces of wax paper, but that failed kind of miserably as the dough stuck to the paper.  So I wrapped the dough back up and threw it into the fridge and then floured my board and my rolling pin.  This time worked much better.  I re-floured the mat before I rolled out the dough and floured my rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking and I used about 2 or 3 tbsp of flour so I really do not think I over-floured the cookies this time.  Last time, my cookies were pretty much coated in flour, this time they weren't.  I stuck them in the oven and watched them carefully, pulling them out once the tips of the stars began to brown; they were only in the oven for about 6 or 7 minutes.  I baked them on the silicone mat and it worked wonderfully!!!  The bottoms look so nice and nothing stuck.  It made everything so easy.  I had some dough left over so I flattened it out and decided it would be my taste tester.  I barely let it cool down before I broke a piece off and tried it.

Well worth the investment
...still a little dry.  Not dry like it crumbled when you tried to break it apart but dry like you need to wash it down with a big glass of milk.  It definitely wasn't the flour, so it must have been the confectioner's sugar.  I have never seen a sugar cookie recipe with confectioner's sugar before, always granulated sugar.  Honestly, I love a moist and chewy sugar cookie, but everyone's idea of a sugar cookie is different from person to person.  This sugar cookie was just not working for me.  It still tasted good and everyone that I shared the taste-tester cookie with enjoyed it, so I set them aside and began to make the royal icing.

I read that the merengue powder used in royal icing gives the icing a not-so-nice taste, and the article recommended adding 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract (clear of course) to mask the fake egg whites taste.  I was hesitant about adding lemon juice or extract for fear of it ruining the consistency of the royal icing and therefore it would not dry nicely.  But, this article said it would be fine, and I thought it couldn't hurt.  The vanilla extract did help with the taste, and I ended up using a whole tsp instead of half of one.

You can store royal icing in between uses by putting
a small amount of water in a cup to keep the end of
the tip from drying out.  You can also remove the tip
and cover the top with plastic wrap, secured
with the coupler ring or a rubber band.
I made the royal icing, adding about 5 tbsp of water and then adjusting the texture as needed.  I put a small amount into a piping bag, made sure it was not too thick to work with, and then dyed my icing using gel pastes.  I've been using the Wilton brand and at first I really didn't like how the colors did not come out dark at all.  Then, I let the icing sit in the fridge (or if it's royal icing, just let it sit out in an air-tight container), and the colors got really deep.  The red and blue turned out perfectly, although I did have to go back to AC Moore to get more red gel.

See how the icing from the spoon is still sitting on
top of the icing in the bowl? This means you
need to add a little more water.
The icing from the spoon has dissolved back into
the bowl after about 5 seconds -
perfect consistency!

So I piped a border, flooded the cookies with white royal icing, and then let them dry, uncovered, for a couple of hours before I put on the final decorations.  I think color flow is my absolute favorite technique for decorating cookies.  It puts a nice finishing touch on them and you can design your cookies in any way.  To make color flow icing, take your royal icing and add a couple drops of water, stirring the water into the icing.  You want your icing to be thin enough to spread over the cookie, but not so thin that it flows over the sides.  To check the consistency, let the icing ribbon back into the bowl and count how many seconds it takes for the ribbon to dissolve back into the icing.  If it takes 5 seconds, you have the right consistency.  After filling your border with the color flow icing, let it dry for a couple of hours (preferably overnight) before adding decorations.  Leave the cookies uncovered, not in an airtight container, or else they will not dry properly.  Once the cookies are completely dry and the icing is hard, then you may store them in bags or tupperware containers.

I was happy with the way the cookies turned out, and I love any excuse to decorate cookies.  Next time I'll have to try substituting the confectioner's sugar for granulated sugar and see how they taste.  Now I just need an excuse to make more cookies...

Note: I have not included final recipes because I'm still tweaking them, but here is a link to the recipes I used for the sugar cookies and the royal icing (plus 1 tsp of vanilla extract).

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