The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.
This month's challenge, although seemingly simple, was anything but. I was excited about this challenge because I have wanted to try my hand at using royal icing to decorate sugar cookies for a long time. I was fairly confident that I could make something that was pretty, but I wasn't quite sure I could make something that looked "realistic". I decorated leaves and dogs. The leaves are pictured, the dogs... well, let's just say they aren't worth posting... really, they are too funny.
Working with Royal icing can be tricky, and making really fantastic looking cookies takes practice, but I feel good about how the leaves turned out.
The sugar cookie recipe itself, I wasn't crazy about in the beginning. The recipe definitely needs to be decorated because it really isn't very sweet and has little flavor. Additionally, this is another cookie recipe that seems to improve with age. The day I made these cookies and decorated them they were okay tasting. Two or three days later and these cookies are slightly soft, yet sturdy, and the sugary vanilla flavor comes through.
I have posted the recipes below, however, I haven't included a lot of information about the details of decorating cookies because I am no expert in this area. However, I have included some links to people who do have a lot of knowledge in this area.
Thanks for the excellent challenge!
Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies
200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming
creamy in texture. (Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.) Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/4". Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. (It’s important to chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking.)
Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4. Bake until very lightly golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. (Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in some cookies being baked before others are done. Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly, or bake one sheet at a time).
Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired. If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated cookies can last up to a month.
Royal Icing (From Joy of Baking)
4 cups (440 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar
3 tablespoons (30 grams) meringue powder
1/2 teaspoon extract (vanilla, lemon, almond) I used 1/4 tsp vanilla, 1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 - 3/4 cup (120 - 180 ml) warm water
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder until combined. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes). If necessary, to get the right consistency, add more powdered sugar or water. To cover or 'flood' the entire surface of the cookie with icing, the proper consistency is when you lift the beater, the ribbon of icing that falls back into the bowl remains on the surface of the icing for a few seconds before disappearing.
The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.
Makes about 3 cups
Tips and Instructions on Decorating Fancy Cookies:
Okay, okay! Here is a picture of the dog cookies. My work here reminds me of something I drew under the kitchen table with blue-green crayon when I was six! Proof that we all have our areas of strength, and mine is not in making "realistic" looking sugar cookies! Thanks for reading to the end of this post! :D