Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Baking - Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

This is about that time of year when I start letting my kids have Christmas cookies for dinner, and bundle them in winter coats over the PJs so we can turn on Christmas music and drive around town at bedtime to look at all of the pretty lights. No matter how many times a season we do this little evening jaunt it never loses its’ excitement.

I have some of the extra gingerbread cookies (I made last month for a 1st grade project) in the freezer, waiting to be decorated after school this week (preferably the day before the cleaning ladies come versus after). And, I’ve got a couple more holiday favorites I am making time to whip up. In case you’re looking for great cut-out cookie recipes, be sure to check out the gingerbread recipe I posted a couple weeks back. If your family prefers sugar cookies, the recipe below is a great one to keep on hand. And just remember, if you run out of steam, you do not need to kill yourself rolling and cutting them into all sorts of festive shapes. You’ll notice, in the photo above, that I did burn out last year, so I just baked the sugar cookies as balls (that turn into circles while baking), and still they looked festive once the kids piled on the sprinkles! And if you can’t muster up the time to measure ingredients with all of the holiday concerts, parties then just rely on your friend Betty.

Traditional Sugar Cookies

2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of white sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon or orange
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

parchment paper and rimmed baking sheets

In a mixing bowl, combine softened butter, sugar and egg. Using a hand mixer, beat at medium speed, until creamy. Add the vanilla and lemon or orange zest; mix well. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed.Divide dough into thirds. Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate until firm (2 to 3 hours).

When you are reading to do the baking, preheat oven to 400°F.* Roll out dough on lightly floured surface, one-third at a time (keeping remaining dough refrigerated), to 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness and then cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. For best results, let the cookies cool before decorating.

*If you are not up for rolling and cutting out shapes, simply roll small balls with your hands (flattening them slightly so they don’t roll all over when you’re walking to the oven) and place them 1” apart on the baking sheet. Then bake 8-10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.

Royal Icing (great for decorating cookies)
Keep in mind that this frosting needs to be used immediately or stored in an airtight container as it hardens quickly when exposed to air! I make each child a zip-loc baggie of frosting, squeeze all of the air out, and then cut a tiny hole in one corner, so it’s their own “pastry bag”. This frosting can also be colored with food coloring, or the food coloring gels available at most markets.

4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue (egg white) powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water (add the water until desired consistency)

I mix by hand, adding liquid until I reach the desired consistency—not rock hard, but not too runny either. Keep in mind that if you’re adding food coloring, that is a liquid too so you’ll want to add it before pouring in all of the allotted water to avoid the frosting getting too runny. Runny is still tasty but it’s messy, and takes a loooong time to harden!

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