I don’t think I’ll ever be the mom who makes sugar cookies for all occasions. Those suckers take a lot of time. I’m sure if I did turn out to be the mom who did that, I’d get quicker. But as it stands, decorated sugar cookies are more of a craft project than a baking/cooking project and man do I suck at crafts. Of all kinds.
These actually turned out a little better than I’d hoped, considering the circumstances surrounding both my lack of art skills and lack of time. I had taken the day off work in an effort to get a little cooking/cleaning done before Zachary’s birthday the following day. I made it as far as outlining the cookies (I had already baked them the previous night, thankfully) when I got a phone call from daycare telling me that Zachary had a 102.5 fever and needed to be picked up. Forget doing any cleaning – the mixing of the royal icing colors and the outlining made my kitchen more of a mess than it was when I started. Long story short, a trip to the doctor confirmed he had another ear infection. Sigh. I was able to do some of the flooding as he was napping, but I didn’t really spend as much time on the cookies overall as I had planned. I did a wee bit of decorating after he went to bed for the night, but for the most part the cookies stayed a bit boring. I had stars, Zs (mostly because I couldn’t find a 1) and ice cream cones. It wasn’t until the last 4 cookies or so that I was actually outlining in moderately straight lines – but I’m also the person who can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. :)
This is the item on my 30 by 30 list for which I received the most emails and recipes. I’m actually pretty honored to have gotten so many family recipes, so thank you all for sending them! I do plan on trying a few (including a recipe passed down from Tom’s grandma) eventually, but since I’d never made iced sugar cookies before (or even just sugar cookies in general, actually), I decided to go with the recipe Annie had posted in her blog because she is clearly the sugar cookie queen. I knew the one she used had to keep its shape and also be sturdy enough to ice. Plus, I figured the almond extract in them would make them delicious (and it really did). Actually, I really really loved the cookies themselves and everyone else seemed to like them, too. Almond extract is a wonderful thing.
I will admit to likening royal icing to fondant in that it looks prettier than buttercream, but doesn’t taste as good (at least in my opinion; although, royal icing is still worlds better than fondant). Don’t get me wrong—these cookies do taste good, I just prefer buttercream (and it is a bit easier to use, seeing as you can just slather it on there.) I kind of forgot to buy the meringue powder until the last minute, and of course I couldn’t find any. I figured I could use dried egg whites so I bought them instead. Googling away, I did find there was a difference between the two but the bottom line is the dried egg whites worked perfectly fine, so if you can’t find meringue powder, you can definitely go that route. I was also at the craft store next door trying to find a squeeze bottle for flooding the cookies when I got the daycare call (like I said, I was very last minute about this whole thing…). And they didn’t have one – of course. I made do without one, but I definitely see how it would be convenient.
Be sure to check out Annie’s royal icing tutorial, which is so incredibly helpful if you’re a sugar cookie decorating novice like myself.
Ella’s White Sugar Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1.5 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
2.5 cups sifted flour
Cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and almond extract until blended. Mix in the flour and salt on low speed just until incorporated.
Form the dough into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 1-2 hours.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375˚ F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough out on a well floured work surface to about 1/4″ thickness. Cut with cookie cutters as desired and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.
Bake 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until fully cooked (they should not brown). Allow to cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Adapted from Good Things Catered
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp. meringue powder (powdered egg whites will also work)
splash of vanilla
5 tbsp. water
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance, about 7-10 minutes. Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container (or several containers, if you are using different colors). At this point, the icing will still be too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. Use icing gels to dye the icing, if desired (just dip the toothpick in the gel and then add it to the icing; continue until you get the color you want.
Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set, about an hour. As you’re working, be sure to keep a tight lid on any icing you’re not using.
Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. If you go too far and the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again. Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along. Allow to set, preferably for several hours.
Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired.