Monday, July 11, 2011

Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I have somewhat recently discovered the art of decorating sugar cookies with royal icing.  The simple frosting leaves a smooth and polished look on the cookie.  Though not pliable like fondant, it still gives a very impressive result, and with practice, is not that difficult (when it all works out, that is).  While royal icing is nothing more than sifted powdered sugar, meringue powder and water, it is a seemingly complicated process that is too involved to include in this post.  One day, when I have oodles of free time (ha!), I will post a how-to on royal icing based on my personal experiences.  Until then, go on over to Bake at 350 and check out her tutorials and decorations.  She is incredible!

A component that cannot be left out of royal icing cookies is, of course, the cookie.  And, this is where my quest for the perfect sugar cookie comes in to action.  You see, I love sugar cookies.  Soft, chewy and not too sweet, they are the perfect cookie.  Unless they are hard and brittle and a complete disappointment.  In my obviously important opinion, there are few culinary disasters worse than a hard, dry sugar cookie.  So, naturally I want my decorated cookies to be tasty as well, and I have tried no less than 10 different recipes to figure out which one I like best.  And here is what I have discovered along the way that applies to nearly all recipes:

1.)  You must roll the dough out to be very thin, or most sugar cookie recipes will puff and spread too much during the baking process, losing their shape.
2.) For most recipes, you do not want the cookies to brown completely, but you do want to cook them until the edges have *just* started to brown or they will be too soft.   
3.)  Against all better judgment, you want the cookies to be on the harder side.  The moisture from the water in the icing will soften them up, so you don't want them to be so soft they fall apart.
4.)  Put the dough in the fridge even if the recipe doesn't call for it.  Stiffening it up just a little will make it easier to roll and cut.  If you refrigerate it too long, soften it in the microwave in 10 second increments until it is just pliable.

But, now that I've said all that, I must contradict myself a bit....I just like my cookies soft, and I like them to be thicker.  I can't help myself.  And, no cookie should exist solely to look pretty.  It should also be delicious and too much icing to cookie ratio destroys that.  So, while I like the taste of many of the recipes I have tried, the most reliable for tasty cookie decorating is this:

Sugar Cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 t. vanilla
1 t. salt
2 ½ c. sifted flour

Sift flour and set aside.  Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the powdered sugar and mix well.  Blend in the egg, followed by the vanilla and salt.  Add the flour and mix just until combined and dough forms.  Pat the dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until firm, about an hour, or even overnight.

When ready to roll dough, generously flour the surface you will roll on, as well as your rolling pin.  It also helps to pat a small amount of flour onto your own hands and the top of the dough.  Roll the dough to ¼” thickness (or as much as 1/2", though it is not recommended by any other baker out there) and cut with cookie cutters and place cookie sheets that have been well-greased or lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 375° for 8-10 min (start with 8, and check every 30 seconds until done). Cookies should not brown.  Cool and decorate with frosting of your choice.  Makes ~30 cookies, depending on the size of the cookie.

And, here are just a few examples of cookies I recently decorated.  Notice how smooth the finish is of the icing (that's glorious for a type A like me)!

Source:  Adapted from Annie's Eats.

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