For years I've wanted to try decorating sugar cookies using royal icing -- using the piping and flooding method. So for the Family Christmas Cookie Exchange we had last week, I decided to experiment. I am definitely a far cry away from the professional bakers out there who make amazingly detailed and beautiful cut-out cookies. But for my first attempt, I'm pleased with how adorable the cookies turned out and they were pretty delicious too!
Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
1 C butter
1.5 C sugar
1 t. vanilla
3.5 C flour
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt then add to first mixture and mix until well blended. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until the dough is well blended and holds together easily. Pat into flat disc and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough to 1/4" - 1/2" thick and cut out with cookie cutters. Place on cookie sheets with plenty of room between cookies for spreading/rising. If the cut out cookies are not still chilly when you finish cutting them out, put them back into the refrigerator until they are chilled. The key to perfectly shaped cookies is to put them into the hot oven while the dough is still cold. Bake for 8 minutes on 375-degrees.
Next I had to learn how to do the whole decorating part of this project. So, you know me... I started out on a Google quest to find out what the experts had to say about the process. I found some amazing food blogs along the way! Holy Cow! Talk about food porn (these links are not for the faint of heart!)
Joy the Baker
Cannelle et Vanille
Bake at 350
University of Cookie
I found great instruction at the Bake at 350 blog. Specifically the royal icing advice given here was priceless: Royal Icing 102. Then there was this great video about how to thin royal icing enough to prepare it for flooding. So once I knew what I was suppose to do, I knew I needed some supplies. Here's what I bought:
Wilton food coloring (the paste kind)
Disposable piping bags
Squeeze bottles for flooding icing
#3 round decorating tip (I have tips already but needed to buy a #3)
For the icing I used the recipe that came with the meringue powder I bought. (I later figured out I should have just used egg whites instead of meringue powder.) In my research I'd found several bakers who used a flavoring in their icing instead of just water. So I chose to use lemon juice in mine (and it was a huge hit!).
Lemon Royal Icing
3 T. Wilton Meringue Powder
1 lb sifted confectioners' sugar
6 T. lemon juice (or warm water or milk)
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peeks (7-12 minutes). Makes 3 cups. To make colored icing, add paste food coloring to a portion of your icing and mix until you get the desired shade.
Fill a piping bag with royal icing and pipe the outline of the design on your cookies. Then thin the icing with additional lemon juice or water - 1 tablespoon at a time - until you get an icing thin enough to flood the piped areas. Continue piping and flooding each color area of the cookie. Then added detail elements such as eyes, nose and smile. I also piped a border along the brim of snowman's hat using a star tip to create a "furry" brim.
Let the cookies sit out on the counter overnight to let icing set up and dry. I packaged the cookies in a shallow oval bowl and wrapped with cellophane wrapping and ribbon.
I made 7 dozen of these cookies to exchange! But I gave them away and got 7 different dozen cookies back in exchange. I then bought adorable Christmas theme Chinese take out containers and packaged up the cookies from other people to give away as gifts.
You can make lots and lots of Christmas cookies and not have to eat them. I think that baking has given me a new level of Christmas spirit this year and I'm thrilled to be able to give all the cookies away to other people who will enjoy them. Yes, I've taste-tested everything I've made and even the cookies that others gave me. But I haven't over indulged this season like I might have before my new healthy lifestyle started with weight loss surgery.