Hi all. I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because if you see this and say ‘oh, I want to make these!’ you only have a wee bit of time before V-day to get these done. I know, I’m sorry, I normally write these posts during my lunch at work but today was so busy, and I went to the gym, and blah blah blah the day got away from me. What I’m about to tell you sounds like a lot of things, but they’re tips and tricks that help to make this go smoothly with minimal frustration. Icing cookies is never quite as bad as I think it’s going to be, and the prep and practice make for perfect cookies.
Without further ado, a couple of things about cut-out cookies:
1. Yes, you need to chill the dough for at least 2 hours, You can go the way of the freezer, but be very diligent to check the dough every little bit to make sure it hasn’t frozen. This will piss you off, I promise.
2. Bake these for the time given in the recipe, don’t be a hero. Use a parchment liner on your cookie sheets so they don’t brown too much, and pull them when you think they are almost but not quite done, you can tell because they are just barely golden where they touch the paper. They are perfect at that point and will firm up more as they cool.
3. The recipe means it when it says to leave them for a few on the pan before moving them to a rack, but don’t leave them on the rack to cool completely as they can steam and get funny on the bottom.
4. Rerolling and cutting more cookies works great with this recipe but refrain from rerolling more than once, as they start to get tough after that.
5. For the icing, you can use egg whites or meringue powder, I personally prefer the meringue powder as I can taste the egg in the icing otherwise, many people can’t but I SO can and it squicks me out. Your choice. Meringue powder is infinitely easier to find than it used to be, you can get it at Michael’s, JoAnn’s, Beverly’s, Hobby Lobby, Sur la Table, etc. etc. etc. It keeps forever too, I had a can for honest to goodness about 8 years before it was gone and it worked GREAT right up until the bitter end.
6. The only way to get the really red color like I have on my hearts is to buy gel or powdered food coloring, which is a big o’l dose of Red 40. I know, me and all my healthy whatever. The flour was organic non-GMO and the butter local and organic and I topped it with this nonsense. But aren’t they pretty? You can use all natural food coloring if you prefer but folks always ask how you get the One True Red and this is it.
6A. The icing tastes like powdered sugar. Straight, tinny powdered sugar. You can add a bit of flavored extract but I’d stay away from Vanilla, as it’s colored and will make your beautiful pristine white icing a funny Old Snow color. Use orange water, rose water, almond extract, etc. Use about 1/8 t IN PLACE of some of the water, not in addition to it.
7. The recipe gives you an icing that is very stiff piping consistency. If you want it thinner (spreading consistency), use a spritzer bottle to apply more water, stirring between applications to get the consistency you want. Old baker’s trick. You can use the stiffer stuff to make outlines with a pastry bag and then fill and ‘flood’ your icing if you must, but the only time I’ve ever done that is when I want perfectly smooth tops to write on. When I’m applying sprinkles and stuff I don’t get too nuts with making the icing flat. The thinned out version applies pretty smoothly with an offset spatula.
8. Finally, PRACTICE FIRST when you’re using a pastry bag and doing fine detail. It’s worth wasting a bit of icing on a piece of waxed paper to get the shakes out of your hands before attacking your cookies. I personally prefer to stand over my work than to sit, as I have more control that way, and I noticed last night that I have a very strange, Zen breathing technique when I’m using a thin piping tip. Slow inhale, slower exhale. It’s very relaxing, actually.
One last thing – let these dry flat before you stack them and put them in their gift bags. The icing dries really fast, literally within a half an hour, so it doesn’t take long. That said, be sure to add your sprinkles if using before the icing gets too set, or else they won’t stick. Most of all, HAVE FUN! Homemade Valentine’s are the best, y’all.
Hills Family Sugar Cookie Cut Outs, from Epicurious
Makes up to 6 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Sugar Cookie Glaze
- 1 egg white
- Pinch of salt
- A few drops of vegetable oil
- Up to 1 pound of confectioners’ sugar
- 1 to 3 tablespoons of cream
- If using egg whites: 3 large egg whites at room temperature and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- If using meringue powder: 3 tablespoons meringue powder and 6 tablespoons warm water
- 3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- Optional: 1 to 2 drops of glycerin
- Food coloring
Sift the flour with baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter for a full minute, then add the sugar and beat at medium speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla until fluffy and very light, another 2 to 4 minutes. With a wooden spoon gradually work the flour into the creamed mixture. Divide the dough into two portions and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least several hours or overnight.
Heat the oven to 400°. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick, using more flour for the rolling pin, sprinkled on the dough, and additionally on the floured surface as needed to prevent sticking. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters and place on cookie sheets.
This dough works beautifully if gathered and rerolled; if it gets too soft, chill for about 15 minutes.
Refrigerate or freeze the cut-out cookies on their baking sheets for 10 to 15 minutes so they will retain their firm edges as they bake; if you’re in a hurry, go ahead and bake the cookies immediately. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until cookies are puffed and only just barely starting to brown at the edges: Start with the shortest amount of time and watch carefully, especially with very small cookies. As the cookies are fragile right out of the oven, let cool slightly before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
When cool, glaze and decorate as desired.
Makes up to 6 dozen cookies, depending on the size. This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled.
Royal Icing (I made the recipe on the side of the Wilton Meringue Powder Can, and I made half, but this one is really similar)
Before you start, make sure that all utensils and containers are clean and grease-free. Have ready several small containers for dividing the icing and tinting it with different colors, if desired. You will need to keep the royal icing covered with a damp cloth, plastic wrap, or tight fitting lid or it will dry out. Royal icing will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for about one week. This recipe is proportioned for the firmest-textured icing; adjust the texture with the addition of water or sugar as explained below.
If using egg whites, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar and beat until the icing is thick and holds billowy peaks, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add glycerin for extra shine, if desired.
If using meringue powder, whisk the meringue powder and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the water and beat on low speed for about 5 minutes, until icing is thick and holds billowy peaks. Don’t overbeat or the icing texture will become hard to work with. Add glycerin for extra shine, if desired. To adjust the consistency of icing: To thicken, add sifted confectioners’ sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking thoroughly until you reach the desired consistency. To thin, add warm water a few drops at a time, mixing with a spoon. Piped outlines and details require the thickest icing; flows of color over a whole cookie or in sections can be somewhat thinner.
Royal icing hardens very quickly when exposed to air, so cover with a damp cloth, plastic wrap, or container lids when not in immediate use.
Divide the icing into separate containers for each color to be used. Tint the icing with small amounts of food coloring until it reaches the color desired.
To use, icing can be spread onto cookies with an offset spatula or table knife—even painted on with small, previously unused paintbrushes, such as the ones that come in a child’s paint box—or it can be piped through a pastry bag and tips. For simple, plain outlines, use a zipper plastic bag with a tiny hole cut from one corner.
Makes about 3 cups of icing.