Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

Hello there!  Sorry for the long absence, but to be completely honest September was not my best month.  However, we are well into October (which happens to be my favorite month) and I am excited to enjoy all it has to offer.  Even though people have been posting fall recipes since the day after Labor Day, we are still well into this beautiful season and I have plenty of things to share with all of you :)

So let's start off with a holiday favorite: decorated sugar cookies

If you remember, I was having some trouble finding the perfect sugar cookie.  Some of the ones I tried were too hard and dry (like a shortbread), while others just did not have the right flavor combination.  I was also having issues with my royal icing, and I could not understand how something with such simple ingredients could taste so....blegh.  I tweaked both recipes and it's safe to say I have found a recipe for each that I am very happy with.

Sugar cookies


After finding vanilla beans at Fairway Market for $2-3 each, I really couldn't pass up incorporating them into my cookies.  If you cannot find vanilla beans for this cheap near you, you can certainly omit them and add a little more vanilla extract.  Also, this recipe would work well with many types of flavorings (such as lemon, cinnamon, etc), just make sure that you're adding something that doesn't change the consistency too much or else they may not cook or roll out properly.

This dough lends itself very nicely to being rolled out, and if you remember some of my first posts that was something I really struggled with.  Make sure you keep your surface and your rolling pin lightly floured and if you find your dough to be too soft or flaky, stick it in the fridge for a couple minutes and start again.  Also, cut the dough in half or even into thirds - it makes it much easier to work with.

Cooking time will vary depending on the shape of your cookie.  If your cookie has thin parts, it will cook faster.  If it has more of a circle shape, it'll take longer (you'll be able to see this in my next post).

The amount of cookies you get from this recipe will also vary depending on what size cookie cutter you use.  I would think that unless you're making cookies with 6 in diameters, this recipe should make at least 2 dozen cookies.

Also, some cookie recipes do not contain baking powder, but I wanted to put baking powder in mine to make my cookies puff up a little so they'd be chewy in the middle.  That being said, these cookies will expand, so make sure you space them out...


Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
-       2 ½ c flour
-       2 tsp baking powder
-       1 tsp salt
-       1 c unsalted butter
-       1 c sugar
-       1 egg
-       1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds removed
-       2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.  Add the egg, seeds from the vanilla bean, and vanilla extract and blend.  Begin adding the dry ingredients about 1 c at a time and blend together completely after each addition.   You may need to knead it with your hands. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. 

Flour a work surface and a rolling pin and roll dough until it’s about ¼ in. thickness.   Cut with cookie cutters as desired and bake for about 7 - 10 minutes, depending on the size of your cookie.  Let sit on pan for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Decorate as desired. 


Royal icing


When I first learned about royal icing, I was terrified to work with it.  My Wilton cake decorating instructor had us all believing that if the icing came in contact with anything greasy, such as a rubber spatula or a plastic container, the icing would be ruined and would not dry properly.  So I kept my icing out of tupperware and scooped it into piping bags with a metal spatula, obsessing over the fact it could not touch plastic.

Well over the past few months I've become a little more lax in my practices.  I still store my royal icing in pyrex containers or metal/ceramic bowls with tin foil for lids, but I've started using these wonderful squeeze bottles to flood my cookies and I haven't had any problems to date.  Royal icing is still terribly finicky, so here are a few tips to help you get the perfect consistency.

First, add your water about 1 tbsp at a time.  You might not need all 6 tbsp (you might even need more), so I'd recommend starting with 3 tbsp and then adding water 1 tbsp at a time until you get the perfect consistency (it shouldn't be runny).  If you do add too much water, no worries, just add more confectioner's sugar.  Also, make sure you sift the sugar, it'll keep clumps out of your icing.

See those glossy peaks?  That's how you know
the royal icing is the perfect consistency.
You really need to let the icing beat for about 10 minutes, which is SUCH A PAIN if you only have a handheld mixer.  But don't fret, it can be done (and has been dozens of times by yours truly).  You know your icing is ready when it forms glossy peaks when you pull the beater away.  Also, you should be able to scrape a knife through the middle of the frosting and it'll stay in place.

Now what about the taste?  Ok, I have to be honest here, I use Wilton for everything, except for things I'm going to eat.  If you want a meringue powder that doesn't have this overly sweet and unidentifiable taste, you have to go for something a little more expensive like Ateco or AmeriColor.  I heard Williams and Sonoma makes meringue powder too, but good luck finding it.  Believe me, paying a little extra for better meringue powder will make a huge difference in the taste.  Plus, you can always add a drop or two of vanilla or almond extract to your royal icing to cut into the sweetness of the sugar (I use vanilla).

I already posted a tutorial on how to make color flow icing.  This is the icing you use to flood your cookies.  When you're decorating your cookies, always make sure the icing you're not using is covered!  It can dry out relatively quickly.

I'd recommend storing the undecorated cookies in airtight containers, but once they're decorated with royal icing they need to be left out for at least 24 hours so the icing can dry properly.  After the icing is dried, feel free to store them any way you'd like, just be careful not to ruin your decorations!!


Royal Icing
Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients
-       4 c confectioner’s sugar
-       3 tbsp meringue powder
-       6 tbsp water (may not use all 6)

Directions
Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a bowl and add the meringue powder.  Add 3 tbsp of the water, combine, and then add the remaining amount of water 1 tbsp at a time until you reach the desired consistency.  The icing should not be runny. 

Beat on high speed for about 10 minutes, or until the frosting forms stiff, glossy peaks. 

Dye and cover immediately to prevent from drying out. 


The best part about making and decorating cookies is you can do the process all at the same time or in many steps.  Because I have been so crunched for time between school, homework, regular work, and field work, I pretty much had about 2 hour time windows to work on these cookies.  After you make the dough, you could chill it for about 1 or 2 days or freeze it.  Or, you could roll out the dough and freeze the cutouts before baking them.  Taking breaks while baking and decorating cookies makes the whole process much easier, trust me :)

So what brought about this tutorial?  You'll just have to wait a few more days to find out ;)

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