|It's a Girl! Sophie!|
The story behind this one: pretty self-explanatory. Last week my manager sent out an email stating that we would be throwing a surprise baby shower for a co-worker of mine. My immediate reaction? 'Yes! An opportunity to make something at last! What to make... onesie cookies for sure, that means I need to make a trip to Michaels to purchase some cookie cutters TONIGHT... and cute cupcakes too! Brilliant!' Sean, my partner, would probably roll his eyes and guffaw at this, mentioning that it had not, in fact, been weeks since I last baked something up, and that I had just been to Michaels within the last week. Umm hello?? Who can pass up an opportunity to make the cutest things ever?! Not I.
I've only recently started fiddling around with sugar cookies and royal icing, about 3 months to be exact. I've used several different recipes and variations of each, and while I have not tried too many, the following is my favorite so far. Using royal icing does take some practice, and the trickiest part is finding the right consistency. Without this, you will end up with either icing that will be too thin and roll right off the cookies, or too thick and it will create a bumpy, unspreadable and not-pretty final product.
If you research royal icing, the technique that you will most find is to create a thicker icing that you use to outline the cookie, and a thinner icing to 'flood' the inside of the cookie. This was what I did for my first attempt at these cookies at Christmas time, and boy did they take a lot of work. This is not to say that they don't always take a lot of work- these cookies are time consuming, no matter how skilled you are. The former method is perfectly fine to use, and you can read up on it further here http://www.joyofbaking.com/RoyalIcing.html. It has a lot of information on royal icing. However, the method that I currently use is a one-step process (basically). Instead of creating 2 different consistencies of icing, I use one to do both steps. Here is the key to having the right consistency. For this, I use the 10-second rule. What I mean by this is when you are finished preparing your icing, you take a knife and draw a line through the surface. It should take about 10 seconds to disappear back into the icing. If it disappears sooner, the icing is too thin; if it disappears in longer than 10 seconds, it's too thick for this step. I know I'm being brief in my explanations, so I may end up creating another post in the future if people want to know more just about royal icing and it's tricks.
The recipe for the sugar cookies I use now is directly from Marian at Sweetopia. She's an utter genious when it comes to sugar cookies. The royal icing recipe is very basic. If you don't have meringue powder (it's not overly cheap) you can use egg whites. The link I provided above explains how to make royal icing, as to talk about royal icing is a post of its own. Everybody has their own preference in using meringue powder or egg whites. Some are opposed to using egg whites because they are not cooked. Meringue powder emits a certain taste, which some people love. If you're not opposed to using egg whites, the best way to find out which you like better is to try both!
2 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla or almond extract (My favorite is almond)
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
*I often halve this recipe. For the baby shower cookies, it created almost 30 cookies, but obviously the amount depends on the size of the cookie cutters that are used.
Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer on low to medium speed using the paddle attachment. Mix until thoroughly incorporated- for about one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure full incorporation.
*Over mixing the batter and sugar in this step will cause too much air to be incorporated into the dough. This is ideal if you'd like a light and fluffy cookie, however the dough will spread more during baking; not ideal if you'd like the cookie to hold its shape.
Add eggs slowly and mix. Scrape down the side of the bowl with spatula as needed. Add extract and stir briefly.
Sift your dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder and salt).
Add all of the flour mixture to the bowl. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds- be aware that the flour may poof up. An easy remedy for this is to cover the mixer bowl with a towel until the flour is mixed in slightly. Observe the dough mixing; when it clumps around the paddle attachment it's ready. It's also important at this stage not to overmix the dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to cool in the fridge for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Once dough has cooled sufficiently, remove from the fridge and allow to warm up slightly if it is too hard to roll out. Sprinkle your working surface with some flour and roll out the dough, adding more flour on top of the dough if it starts to stick to the rolling pin. Place cut out cookie shapes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Re-roll scraps and repeat.
Put your baking sheet in the freezer for approximately 8 minutes before putting the sheet in the oven. This will help prevent spreading and the cookies will hold their shape better. Since my oven is small and will hold only 1 sheet at a time, I have created a system. When one baking sheet goes in the oven, I have the next one ready to move into the freezer, while working on cutting out the cookies for the third sheet. Once the cookies are done in the oven, everything is rotated. :)
Bake the cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown. The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie and your oven (individual ovens vary in temperature).
Let the cookies cool to room temperature completely and decorate!
1 cup water
5 tablespoons meringue powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 kilogram powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
Add water and meringue powder to the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix together using a hand whisk for 30 seconds. Add cream of tartar and mix for another 30 seconds. Add all of the powdered sugar into the bowl, and using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 10 minutes. Add in extract and mix for another minutes.
*Icing may need further water to reach desired consistency. Tint to desired colours.