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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

{Recipe}: Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs {Perfect for Easter!}

I have always had a great love for a fabulous sugar cookie.  But until this past week, I'd never found a recipe where the cookies turned out well...or maybe it's just that I had never perfected it properly.  A couple years ago I purchased Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook, though, and I have discovered some fan-tabulous recipes in it!  I would say all of my favorite cookies are from it actually!  So, if you don't have it yet, get a copy!!

Last week my son and I had some great fun in the kitchen making these!  {Well, he lasted through the tasting of the batter on the beater and cutting out a few cookies, but he had fun, and I had lots of fun with the whole experiment!}  We made heart-shaped cookies for Valentine's Day, but the real test here was trying to see if I could come up with an "edible" cookie for my daughter's 1st birthday party coming up next month! {We plan to wrap up butterfly ones in cellophane to give as party favors}.

Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs {yields 2 dozen 4" cookies}
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
Royal icing (optional; recipe follows)
food coloring (optional)
Fine sanding sugar (optional)

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

2. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Mix in eggs and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low.  Gradually mix in flour mixture.  Divide dough in half; flatten each half into a disk.  Wrap each in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
mmmmmmmmmm....cookie dough!

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, with racks in upper & lower thirds.  Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature until just soft enough to roll (about 10 minutes or so).  Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/4" thickness (add more flour as necessary to prevent sticking).  Cut out cookies with a 4-5" cookie cutter, transferring them to parchment-paper lined baking sheets as your work.  Roll out the scraps, and repeat.  Repeat with remaining dough disk.  Chill cookies in freezer until very firm, about 15 minutes.
enjoying doing the cut-outs!

4. Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 - 18 minutes {DISCLAIMER: My first batches came out a little too hard for my taste.  Following the recipe will yield a crisper cookie.  If you want a softer sugar cookie, make sure the cookies are at least 1/4" thick and bake only about 13 minutes!}.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Royal Icing {yields 2 1/2 cups}
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
5 tablespoons meringue powder
Scant 1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until smooth, about 7 minutes.  If icing is too thick, add more water; if too think, beat icing 2 - 3 minutes more or add confectioners' sugar a tablespoon at a time.  Use icing immediately, or store in an airtight container up to 2 days (icing hardens quickly when exposed to air!}.  Beat well with a rubber spatula before using.

How to Frost a Cookie with Royal Icing
Okay, bear with me here.  I'm not trying to poke fun at you for not knowing how to frost a cookie!  But I did learn that there is a specific way to work with royal icing in particular to get good results.

1. Attach a tip to a pastry bag fitted with a coupler {if you are unfamiliar with all these terms, please visit the Wilton website ~ they've got about everything you need to know about making and decorating cakes, cupcakes & cookies!}.  Form a cuff with the top 3 inches of the bag.  Set a damp paper towel in a glass; place the empty pastry bag upright in the glass.  Spoon icing into the bag until it is 2/3 full; cinch with a rubber band to prevent icing from seeping out.

2. Outline the whole cookie using a #2 tip {or any of the small "plain hole" tips - I used a #4, and it worked just fine!}.  Let the icing set for 5-10 minutes.

outling the cookie {upper right}

3. Then using a #5 tip {again, here I kept with the #4, and it worked fine}, draw several zigzags across the entire surface of the cookie {this is called "flooding"}.
"flooding" the cookie {upper right}
4. Spread icing evenly over the cookie with a small offset spatula {don't ask me what "offset" means ~ just use a long, flat one!}.  Allow the icing to dry overnight.  Store unused Royal Icing in an airtight container at room temperature {as long as it's made with meringue powder {see image below}}.  When ready to decorate, use a #2 tip to pipe your design. 

spreading on our "butterfly" cookies

available in the baking/cake section of Michael's or Wal-Mart {among many other Wilton products!}

You can also take different color of frosting and use a toothpick to swirl into your already frosted cookie while still wet {see one of the heart cookies below for an example of how this might look}.

The book does go on with instructions for adding decorative designs on top of your basic frosting "shmear," but we didn't go that far this time.  Basically, once your frosting layer has been set, you can pipe on whatever else your little heart desires.  While wet, you can also spoon over lots of sanding sugar and let set 5 minutes.  Then shake off excess.  You can even purchase special pastry brushes to dust off the excess sugar!   But anyway.....  As with most things, you learn things as you go.  I did discover some shortcuts to take, and some other things to definitely go by the book!  Hopefully these tips will help you, too!

our finished sugar cookie cut-outs!

Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts
1.As mentioned earlier, make sure your cookies are NOT LESS THAN 1/4" when cutting out, and underbake a little...that is, if you want a soft cookie {I did mine for just 13 minutes in the oven}.  If you're more of a crispy cookie lover, bake according to Martha's instructions. :)

2. I didn't find it necessary to use different tips for outlining and flooding.  I used a #4 tip for everything, and there weren't any problems.

3. You DEFINITELY need to add a rubberband to the end of your pastry bag to prevent the frosting from coming out!  AND, make sure it's tight!  Don't think that just twisting and holding it firmly in your fist will work - it won't!

4. I didn't find it necessary to wait 5-10 minutes after outlining your cookie.  I just proceeded right into flooding it, and it worked great.

5. If swirling in another color of frosting, use a lot of it!

6. A little bit of food coloring goes a long way!

7. When using your long, flat spatula to spread the icing over the cookie, I found that using a small circular motion worked best.  Also, be sure to spread immediately after flooding the cookie...otherwise, it will start to dry, and you'll see cracks and wrinkles in the icing when you start to spread it.

8. Outline your cookies as close to the edge of the cookie as possible ~ it just looks better!

And last but not least, prepare to give some of these away unless you want to gain 5 pounds that week!! :)

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Anonymous said...

is it 2 cups sugar or 4 cups? you have sugar listed twice?

Kari said...

2 cups! :)