A few things I’ve learned this week:
- Choosing only one page of stickers to take home from Michael’s can be a paralyzingly daunting task when you are 3 years old. You may be so overwhelmed that you choose to leave with no stickers at all.
- I still know every word to Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life, and apparently I will roll the windows down, turn the volume up, and sing along unabashedly if it comes on the radio. And…
- Not everything is as easy as it looks on You Tube.
I’ll be covering point #3 in this post (though I suppose #1 and #2 could also make for quality musings in the future).
I have been browsing you tube videos of cookie decorators working with royal icing for several weeks now, and finally decided to give it a go. The artists make it look quite simple: mix a few beautiful colors of icing, apply said icing to your cookie and watch it melt into a pristine, glass-like coating, add some artistic details, and stand back and marvel at your work. The challenge I quickly discovered, however, is that no one seems to agree on the royal icing recipe most suitable for achieving these results. Do you need egg whites? How about meringue powder? Cream of Tartar? Seriously? Well, friends, I’ve tried them all and I think I’ve found the right combo for your next home baking project. We’ll get to the recipe in a bit, but first, a bit more about our family’s sweet Easter baking project.
After waking up to an uninvited April snow storm, the kids and I decided to head to the kitchen and beat the cold weather blues with some hands-on baking. My little guy just loves the privilege of cracking the eggs, turning on the mixer, and, of course, making a mess with flour. The bigger the better. We set to work, preparing and chilling this super-simple cookie dough.
As you can see, I always separate my cookie dough into two portions prior to chilling. This serves the dual purpose of:
- Allowing you to keep the dough at the most manageable temperature (as you work with one the other can stay nice and cool in the refrigerator), and…
- Allowing you to separate those cookies made with kid fingers (most likely for kid consumption) and those cookies you plan to giveaway to others. Kid baking tends to be a bit less precise, and this way if little fingers just so happen to be licked while taste testing your irresistible dough, you need not worry.
After less than patiently waiting for the dough to chill, we rolled our dough right on the counter and got to cutting. I chose an Easter egg shaped cutter. The little guy went for clouds, circles, and stars.
Notice that as long as you roll your dough to a consistent thickness, this tried and true sugar cookie recipe will produce perfectly flat, well-shaped cookies each and every time. Winner! Roll it a bit thin, though, and you might end up with a batch that looks like our extra crispy star there in the center. After fully cooled, I stacked my cookies in an airtight container where they remained until I was ready for some post-bedtime practice with royal icing.
While I put several of my favorite cake decorating tools to use on this project, it’s worth noting that you could definitely apply royal icing with a regular plastic bag (no decorators tip needed) or a paper cone made from parchment paper, like this. Keep it simple, right?
I chose to practice a variety of wet-on-wet royal icing designs, some with more success than others. Simple polka dots, because really how can you go wrong with polka dots, basic filagree which was only moderately successful, and a marbling technique, which is the oldest trick in the book but is sure to wow those who have yet to catch on to its simplicity. After allowing my cookies to set overnight, I finished the project by piping bright white border details with slightly thicker royal icing.
The finished product was not perfect, but the kids had fun, the cookies were cute and tasted great, and the lessons learned (which I’m passing on to you, below) were many. Here’s to hoping they bring a smile to the well-deserving teachers they’re headed to in the morning!
A few tips and tricks for success:
- If you are cutting your cookies on a well floured surface (or overly-floured surface if my little guy is around), go ahead and dust off any excess flour on the bottom of your cookies prior to placing them on your cookie sheet. Too much flour can give your final product a chewy texture that is less than ideal.
- To keep sugar cookie shapes extra crisp, chill your cut cookies for about 15 minutes prior to baking. This will help stop spreading during the baking process.
- You’ll find that most recipes for royal icing contain significantly less meringue powder than I’ve included in the recipe below. I have found that the additional powder in this recipe helps the icing stay wet for just a touch longer, giving you more flexibility when decorating before it crusts over. For a home baker like me, those extra seconds matter, so I’m sticking with the extra meringue!
- When flooding your cookies you’ll want to first pipe a border of royal icing around the perimeter of your cookie. This border will serve as a barrier to help keep your flood icing from spreading over the edge of the cookie. Just to be safe, I like to pipe this border about 1/4 of an inch from the edge of the cookie, giving my amateur self just a bit of extra wiggle room. For more on flooding cookies with royal icing, check out this… or this… or this!
- If you’re adding edging details like the white piping I used in this project, let your cookies set for at least an hour between your flood coat and applying your edging. This way, if you happen to make a mistake or two (or 10) with your piping, you can quickly wipe it off without smudging the rest of your cookie.
And now to these go-to recipes. You’ll want to bookmark them… they are staples that I’m quite certain you’ll love! Let me know what you think, would you?
Basic Sugar Cookies:
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon of almond extract
- 2 large eggs
- 3 cups of all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer with your paddle attachment until nice and smooth. This will take about 3 minutes.
- Add your extracts and eggs to the creamed butter and sugar, and mix until well combined.
- Slowly add your remaining dry ingredients, including flour and salt. If the dough remains sticky at this point, add a spoon of flour at a time until it no longer sticks to your fingers when touched.
- (optional) Separate your dough into 2 equal portions.
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. The wrapped dough should chill for at least 30 minutes but can stay in the fridge overnight needed.
- Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until you reach a consistent thickness about 1/4 to 1/3 an inch thick. Cut using your cutter of choice and transfer to a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.
- Bake cookies for approximately 9 minutes at 375 degrees, or until just slightly browned around the edges.
- Cool your cookies on a wire rack.
Basic Royal Icing Recipe
- 1 2lb bag of confectioners (powdered) sugar. (That’s the standard sized bag you’ll find in your pantry or baking aisle.)
- 2/3 cup of meringue powder
- 3/4 cup of water
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla or almond extract
- 1 pinch of salt
- Mix your powdered sugar, meringue powder, and a pinch of salt (optional) in an electric mixer with your paddle attachment until well combined.
- Add vanilla extract, then slowly add your water in several parts, beating on a low speed until your sugar and meringue powder mixture is wet. Continue mixing on a low speed for approximately 4-5 additional minutes, just until you have achieved stiff peaks. *Icing will be thick, like paste, at this point*
- Remove Royal Icing from your mixing bowl and store in an airtight container. To avoid crusting (which happens quickly!), place plastic wrap over your icing actually touching its surface.
- When you are ready to decorate, separate your icing into small bowls and color with gel or paste food colorings.
- Add water little by little to your colored icings and mix with a spoon, until your desired consistency is achieved. If you are planning on coating your entire cookie or trying “wet-on-wet” decorating techniques, you’ll want what bakers refer to as “flood consistency” icing. This icing is wet enough that when you drop a dollop back into your bowl, it will only take 10-15 seconds to melt back into the remaining icing.
- Transfer colored icings to piping bags and have fun decorating! For flooding and outlining, try a Wilton #3 piping tip, or no tip at all.
- Allow cookies to set overnight before stacking. Cookies will dry completely solid.
The sky was gold it was rose, I was taking sniff of it to my nose… Anyone? Anyone?
For more creative ideas from my kitchen, click here!