Decorating cookies is no joke. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that oh my gosh you have to make homemade cookies and icing because decorated store bought cookies don’t compare, because really I’m not so sure about that. Don’t get me wrong, these cookies were delicious. They are probably some of the best homemade sugar cookies I have ever had, they hold up to decorating really well, and they keep for days. And the cookies themselves are actually pretty easy. It’s the decorating part that took me so long to figure out that I scrapped my dinner plans and sent Gerrit to Chick-fil-a.
So let’s just start at the beginning, shall we? I made the cookie dough the day before I was going to bake and decorate the cookies. But when I started to roll them out and bake them I realized that there was no way I was going to have enough cookies to make sure there were enough for everyone along with some leftovers and allowing for me to screw several up. So I made another batch of cookie dough as I cooked the first batch. And while it was a hitch in the plans, it was easy enough.
Then I started on the icing. Oh the icing. First of all, red icing is almost impossible to make. I had to use an entire tiny jar of no-taste red food coloring to make the red icing, and it still didn’t end up at the exact hue I had been perfecting in my mind. Also apparently you have to mix red food coloring super well because when I woke up the next morning there were gray splotches all over my red cookies.
Then black. Well, black is is really impossible, especially if you didn’t buy no-taste black food coloring because you didn’t know to think about things like that. The black ended up gray and when I tasted it, it was so disgusting I had to spit it out. So that was ruined.
So then I decided to try purple. I had some neon purple food coloring and purple and red would be cute, right? But the same thing happened. A less than neon purple color, and disgusting flavor. And let me take this time to say that when Gerrit got home from work and I showed him my ruined icings he looked at me sympathetically, but not as sympathetically as I would have liked. Do you realize how much time all this ruined icing took? Do you realize I just wasted about an entire bag of powdered sugar? And then he scooped the icing up with his finger and tasted it and said, “Oh my gosh that is disgusting. To be honest, I didn’t really believe you at first.” Lesson learned.
Once I settled on the colors (just red and white instead of red and white and black as I would have liked) the actually decorating of the cookies was a pretty fun experience. It took some time, but a lot of that time was waiting for things to cool and dry. I learned a lot, like how to flood cookies with icing, and how my piping skills need a bit of work and how to make a huge mess in the kitchen. So…
Some advice/instructions on decorating cookies:
1. Let your cookies cool completely before you try to do anything with them.
2. When making your royal icing, make sure that you always keep it moist. If you move away from a bowl of icing to do something else, cover the bowl with a damp paper towel. If you leave your pastry bags out and filled with icing (I found it very useful to stand the pastry bags up in glasses to keep them from making a mess on the counter) put a damp paper towel over any and all areas where the icing might be exposed to air. Just remember that royal icing + water = friends.
3. Once the cookies have cooled completely, outline the cookies with the color(s) you would like to use. Once this outline is dry enough (really only a couple of minutes) you can flood your cookies.
4. To make your icing for flooding, take part of your royal icing (not all of it if you’re going to need that same color for decorating later on!) and add a tablespoon or two of water to it to thin it out. Put this thinned out icing into another pastry bag with a super small tip, or a squirt bottle (as a lot of people like to use) or, if you’re like me, a plastic bag with only the tiniest bit of the corner end trimmed off. Fill most of your cookie (I would say about 70-75%) with this icing (inside the area you outlined earlier) and then use a toothpick to spread the icing around to the corners. Only flood 1-2 cookies at a time, because (and I speak from experience) if you flood them all and then try to push the icing into corners, the last ones will start to dry on you. Let this dry for quite awhile before you continue decorating, usually at least a couple of hours.
5. Then decorate! I used #1 and #2 tips (which thank goodness you can buy separately for about 99 cents at craft stores). Again, let this icing dry for a couple of hours before you do anything with the cookies. Except eating. I think at this stage eating the cookies would be fine.
I hope that this helps a bit, but for even better advice check out Brown Eyed Baker’s step by step instructions. I completely relied on this as I was making my cookies and she is obviously way more knowledgeable than I am.
So…to wrap up this little cookie story, in the end everyone thought they were cute and they tasted delicious and sugary and even a couple days after this decorating debacle they didn’t taste stale at all. A couple of them broke in transit and I stuffed the red with gray splotches cookies underneath the pretty white ones. So…success. Although I’m not sure how often I’ll be decorating cookies (remind me of this in a year when I decide to tackle this again). But this sugar cookie recipe? Definitely happening again, with or without icing.
All Occasion Sugar Cookies
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Wait Time: 2 hours
Bake Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 10-12 large cookies; 25-30+ smaller cookies*
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl beat butter at medium speed until it is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
3. On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing until it is just combined. Be careful not to over mix. In fact, once the flour is almost fully incorporated, it might be best to finish the mixing with a rubber spatula.
4. On a counter top, spread two pieces of plastic wrap out that will be used for wrapping up the dough. Divide the dough in half, and, on top of the plastic wrap that you will use to wrap the dough, form each half into a disc. Wrap up each disc of dough and place them in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours. (Dough can be chilled for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)
5. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
6. Take one packet of dough out of the refrigerator and unwrap, but let the plastic wrap remain underneath the dough. Cover the top of the dough with another sheet of plastic wrap, and roll out the dough between these two sheets. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness, rotating it often and turning it over to the other side so that dough rolls out evenly. It will be difficult to work with at first, but will quickly become malleable again.
7. Lift off the top sheet of plastic wrap and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Peel away the excess dough from around the shapes and place the shapes on the baking sheet. Excess dough can be re-rolled to form more shapes. If it has become too soft to work with, wrap it up again and place it back in the refrigerator for chill for about 15 minutes.
8. Bake cookies only one baking sheet at a time for 9-11 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Cookies should not color much. Let cookies cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet, and then transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling.
9. Repeat the rolling out, cutting out, and baking process with the second batch of dough. Be sure to allow the baking sheet to cool between batches.
* The recipe claims that it will make 50 2-inch cookies, but I really don’t feel that there was quite enough dough for this.
adapted from Wilton
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Makes 3 cups of icing
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder
6 tablespoons warm water
1. Mix all ingredients on low speed for 7-10 minutes (for a stand mixer) or on high speed for 10-12 minutes (for a hand held mixer) until icing forms stiff peaks.
1 (b). To make flood icing, add 1-2 tablespoons more of water.