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I’ve always held the belief that a cookie isn’t a cookie without a little bit of chocolate in it. Sugar cookies were always kind of whatever to me. But you know me. I like making things pretty. And what better canvas than a sugar cookie? I’ve tried about a dozen sugar cookie recipes in my life. This is one that I came up with after none of the ones I tried seemed to be just the right proportion. These cookies are sweet and buttery—almost too sweet and buttery to be a boring old sugar cookie. What I love most about them though is how well they keep their shape in the oven. How many times have you tried to make Christmas tree cookies only to end up with big gum drops? If you follow the steps below (ingredients are important, but the chilling part is equally so), you should find yourself with perfectly pointy Christmas trees.  Hallelujah!

Another thing I like about these cookies is that you can mail them fairly easily. The royal icing solidifies on top of the cookie, so you don’t have to worry about it getting smudged in the mail. Two of our family friends just had a pair of beautiful twins last week, and I wanted to surprise them with a little love from the oven. I picked up a box at the local craft supply store and did a little decorating to mail these babies out in style.

You know there’s someone out there who’d appreciate a box full of goodies. Take some time this weekend and give it a try!

Decorating sugar cookies can be time consuming, but I always really enjoy it. Here are a few tips for decorating:

  • Piping tips make a big difference. You can buy a tip and a piping bag for a few dollars at a craft store. They will make your life much easier.
  • You can adjust the thickness and thinness of your icing by adding water/milk (to thin) or powdered sugar (to thicken).
  • Use a thicker icing for piping the outline. Use a thinner icing to do a “flooding” method. Flooding is pretty much filling in your outline with a thinner icing so that any imperfections just smooth themselves out. I used the flooding method for the fill of all of my cookies. To make sure your icing is at the proper consistency for flooding, run a butter knife through your icing in the bowl. If it is right for flooding, the knife will leave a mark in the icing that will disappear within 5 to 10 seconds. If the mark stays longer than 10 seconds, your icing is too thick (add water). If the mark doesn’t last for 5 seconds, your icing is too thin (add powdered sugar).
  • Limit the number of colors. The more colors you’re working with, the more of a mess you’re going to have. Limiting it makes it easier. I used 5 here and it was a bit more work than I’d usually like.
  • Play! Seriously. I made about a dozen extra cookies to practice on. Some of them were eaten before I could practice. But with a little self control, you can try out different techniques.
  • Meringue powder. I use this in my royal icing. It just seems to make everything work better. You can find it in your craft store. If not, you can use egg whites, but I’ve got to tell you—Ive always had the best success when using meringue powder.
  • Think about ways you can combine icing and other ingredients when decorating. For the teddy bears, I toasted coconut to give it a brown color and let it set in the royal icing. You can also dye coconut by shaking it in a bag with food coloring.

The Ingredients

Yields about 3 dozen cookies, depending on shape and size

Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter
1 ¾ cup sugar
3 ½ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp half and half
Royal Icing
Yields about 3 cups
4 cups of Powdered Sugar
9 tbsp warm water
3 tbsp Meringue Powder
Food coloring

The Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.

  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Add vanilla and mix until smooth.

  3. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add 1 cup of flour/baking powder mixture and half and half. Mix until just combined. Continue adding the rest of the flour one cup at a time, mixing until just incoporated. Be surenot to overmix.

  4. Dump dough onto plastic wrap. Wrap the dough tightly, and place in refriderator for at least 30 minutes.

  5. Once chilled, take a small piece of the dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out to about ¼ inch thick on a lightly floured surface. In order for the cookies to keep their shape, it’s important that the dough remain as cold as possible, so try to work quickly and be sure to keep the unused dough in the refrigerator until you’re ready for it.

  6. Cut shapes out of dough and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the entire baking sheet in the freezer. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven is preheated, remove the cookies from the freezer and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the bottoms start to lightly brown. I rotate cookies in batches from the freezer to the oven.

  7. While your cookies are cooling, begin the royal icing. Add all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. This may take 7-12 minutes.

  8. Divide the icing amongst individual containers to color them. At this point, I decide which colors will be my outline colors and which I’ll be using to do the flooding (refer to decorating notes above). Then I add a little powdered sugar or water to each of the containers to get them to the thickness I need.

  9. After mixing the colors, I place each one in a piping bag fitted with a 1-4 piping tip. Typically I use a 2 tip for outlines, 4 for flooding. Place the piping bags in tall glasses with damp paper towels in the bottom. I set up all of my materials (typically in front of the television) and begin decorating.

  10. For the teddy bear cookies, I started with an outline, using a thicker black icing. Then I used a thinner brown icing to do the flood coat. You’ll notice that the flood coat. I topped it with the toasted coconut before the flood coat dried. I then shook off the excess coconut and piped features on the teddy bear. Follow the decorating tips above and be creative!

Extra Cookie Dough? No problem. Roll the extra dough into a log, wrap with clear plastic wrap and put in your refrigerator. You can whip it out and slice off a few circles anytime you want home baked cookies. These sugar cookie dough slice and bake logs also make great gifts. Stay tuned to upcoming posts for ways to package and decorate them to give as Christmas gifts.