When one of my friends put out a platter of Halloween inspired Iced Sugar Cookies, I immediately asked 'where did you get them?'. Turns out she was the one who made those absolutely gorgeous, incredibly delicious, almost too pretty to eat cookies. My envy was apparent as I couldn't stop gushing over her cookie works of art. A week later I had the recipe. While her cookies were decorated with all of the finesse of professionally trained pastry chef, it turned out I was able to successfully channel my inner 10 year old for my first time at bat making and decorating cookies with royal icing. Yes, first time. Which explains in part why the cookies intended to pay homage to the Chicago Cubs (that hometown team currently playing in the World Series) had more than a little bit of a whimsical look to them.
My initial cookie decorating plan was a little on the ambitious or rather overly ambitious side. Clearly I had overestimated my 10 year old artistic abilities when I embarked on this cookie making endeavor. Although the mess I made in the kitchen lived up to or possibly exceeded the work of any 10 year old. So instead I thought I would take some inspiration from one of Cubs Manager Joe Maddon's maddonisms. 'Do simple better.' As it turns out, simple can be a pretty good thing in both baseball and the making of iced sugar cookies.
In spite of taking some photos of the baked and iced cookies, I wasn't sure I was going to post these recipes to the blog as the finished cookies seemed to be in a 'league of their own'. But then the more I thought about why I created this blog in the first place I decided I would. Unless we take some risks with our baking and cooking, we won't ever know what we might be able to create, what we are capable of, what we might learn along the way, or what pleasure might be derived from making and eating them. In other words, playing it safe (at least in the culinary world) isn't always a good thing.
If there was ever a cookie dough that rolled out perfectly, this may be the one. For those of you having a cut-out cookie phobia, these may be the cure you have waited your whole life for. And the best part? No chilling is required. One of the keys to these awesome sugar cookies is rolling out the dough to a 1/4 inch up to a 1/3 inch thickness. The result is a sugar cookie that feels and tastes sort of a like a shortbread cookie.
I made a couple of ingredient changes to the inspiration recipe. I increased the amount of vanilla from 1 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons and I added 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. My baking time was closer to 13 minutes (for an almost 3 inch in diameter cookie) instead of the recommended 6 o 8 minutes. Personally I like the hint of almond flavor in these sugar cookies, however, if you aren't an almond flavor fan, I would recommend increasing the amount of vanilla to 2 teaspoons.
Admittedly I am not a royal icing expert. So before I made the icing I found it helpful to read a few postings (one from Sweetambs and one from Annie's Eats and watch a couple of videos online. The video posted by Julia Usher was really helpful.
My royal icing was initially on the too thick side. Adding a little bit of water was all it needed to get it to the desired consistency. I used #3 and #4 tip sizes in the making of these cookies. For this sized cookie, next time I would use #2 and #3 tip sizes. Numbers 2 or 3 for outlining and number 2 for the detail work. For smaller cookies or finer designs #1 tip may work best. My icing was colored with either a gel or paste. The liquid food coloring used in the making of cupcakes and cakes does not work well with royal icing.
Allow the iced cookies to get before packaging or storing in a container. While the cookies may look dry on the surface, they still retain some moisture. I learned that the hard way when I put a layer of parchment paper between the cookies. Some of the cookies 'bled' and lost some of their whimsical prettiness. Some cookie experts out there recommend waiting 24 hours before packaging them (I must have skimmed over that recommendation).
Even if you don't want to make the royal icing, make THESE sugar cookies. For the sake of simplicity, ice them using the icing recipe in Randee's Sugar Cookies. But who knows, you might hit a home run out of the park on your first try at making and decorating cookies with royal icing!
For years I would look at those large over-sized cookie cutters and think 'why?'. Having now made these sugar cookies, I am now thinking 'why not!' Decorated, as fancy or simple as one's cookie-loving heart desires, they would make beautiful gifts, be great place cards, make for fun favors, serve at a party, and/or make to celebrate an event. Like the World Series. Although with the outcome of the World Series yet to be decided, I will share another Maddonism. "I'm not superstitious. I'm just a littlestitious." So I will just end this post by saying Go Cubbies!
Iced Sugar Cookies (sugar cookie recipe adapted from The Best Sugar Cookie Recipe shared by In Katrina's Kitchen and icing recipe adapted from the royal icing recipe shared by Moms and Munchkins)
Makes approximately 36 cookies (2 1/2 inch sized)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds confectionary sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 large egg whites (look for eggs labeled pasteurized)
1 Tablespoon clear vanilla extract
Food gels and/or pastes in colors of your choice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 4-5 minutes).
4. Beat in egg and extracts.
5. Add in dry ingredients in three batches. Mix until incorporated and dough is smooth. Note: Dough will be stiff, but pliable.
6. Remove half of dough from the bowl. Form into a disk and roll out dough to 1/4" to 1/3" thickness on a lightly floured surface. Note: You do not want your cookies to be thin, but rather on the thicker side.
7. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to parchment paper lined baking sheets. Space cookies about an inch apart. Note: Cookies should not spread.
8. Bake cookies for 9-13 minutes or until lightly browned on the underside. Note: Baking time may increase or decrease based on the size of the cookies.
9. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
10. Cool cookies completely before frosting.
1. Place powdered sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl of standing mixer. Stir to blend.
2. Add in egg whites, stirring by hand until sugar is moistened. Note: If mixture is too dry, add another egg white.
3. Place whisk attachment on mixer. Begin beating on low speed until egg whites are thoroughly mixed in.
4. Increase speed to high and beat for approximately 3 minutes our until icing is silky, smooth and light.
5. Beat in vanilla. Note: Using a clear vanilla extract helps to keep the color of the icing a purer white.
6. If icing is too thick, thin with water. Icing should have a thick but not stiff consistency.
7. Divide icing into bowls to add food gel and/or paste in colors of your choice.
8. Place icing in icing bags fitted with pastry tips (sizes 2, 3, 4 or 5). Keep unused icing tightly covered so it does not dry out.
Notes: (1) Un-colored Royal icing can be stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Bring to room temperature before using and mixing in food paste and/or gel. (2) Instead of using egg whites can use meringue powder but eliminate use of cream of tartar. Follow directions on meringue powder container to determine how much to use. (3) If you don't like the flavor of almond in your sugar cookies, increase the amount of vanilla to 2 teaspoons. (4) When storing these cookies, do not stack them on top of one another or put a layer of paper between them. Although the cookies appear to be dry after several hours, the retain some moisture so they may bleed if covered in paper. (5) Recommend using the plastic disposable pastry bags for use with the icing.
Morton Arboretum on a cloudy day in October (2016)