Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing seem to be popping up everywhere in my life right now. It’s not just a Christmas thing anymore, evidently. Perhaps they are the cupcake or the macaron of 2013? Or maybe they were the cupcake or the macaron of 2011 and I totally missed the boat.
At any rate, they look impressive, and I’m very, very enticed by any culinary undertaking that looks impressive. Especially if it’s easy, but impressive looking.
Okay, these weren’t totally easy. I admit to having visions of elaborately decorated sugar cookies, like these ones, dancing through my head. I’m not sure what it is that makes me think that keeping it simple the first time around doesn’t apply to me. These cookies kind’ve forced me to keep it simple, because I had some difficulty creating the intricate patterns of piped icing I had in my imagination. That’s okay – ugly cookies were washed down with a cup of tea (hide the evidence!) and I now have the impetus to make these again: I must achieve perfection. I can see this becoming a relentless pursuit resulting in astronomically high levels of icing sugar consumption, and an excellent excuse to make my pastry tip collection more fulsome (read: I have a measly four tips).
The cookie recipe I used was from Annie’s Eats (you’ll notice I have a serious love for this blog) and it was incredible. Flavourful, soft cookies – not the crumbly, tasteless confection I used to associate with sugar cookies. They also kept their shape beautifully, which is key to making pretty decorated sugar cookies.
Here’s the recipe. Stay tuned as I continue to experiment with these!
Here’s what you need:
For the cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup icing sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
For the icing:
4 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water
Gel food colouring, if desired
Pastry bag and tips (preferably very small – size 2-4 is best)
Here’s what you do:
For the cookies:
Using either a stand mixer or beaters, cream together the butter and icing sugar until smooth (1-2 minutes). Now add the egg, vanilla extract, almond extract and vanilla bean seeds. Mix in the flour on low speed until just combined. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in saran wrap and place in the refrigerator until firm (1-2 hours).
When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 375F. Line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper and roll out your dough to approximately 1/4″ thickness on a well-floured counter. Use a cookie cutter to cut out whatever shapes you like and transfer the shapes to the baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, turning the baking sheets at the halfway point, ensuring that your cookies are evenly cooked without turning brown. Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating.
For the icing
Combine all the ingredients in a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the icing has a matte appearance (7-10 minutes). Transfer icing to an airtight container for storage before using.
After the initial mixing, your icing will be too stiff to pipe onto the cookies. Add water to the icing, a little bit at a time, to get it to a consistency that you can use to decorate. If you start piping and you find the icing is too stiff, add some more water and try again. Pipe the outline of each cookie using a pastry bag fitted with a small tip (note: at this point, if your cookies will be different colours, you’ll need to separate out the icing and add gel food colouring as desired). Let the cookies stand until the icing sets.
Now take some more water and water down the icing to a consistency that can be used to flood the top of the cookies – it should run smoothly off a spoon. Now flood the piped area around each cookie, using either a spoon or a squirt bottle to distribute the icing. You can use a toothpick to push the icing out to the edges of your cookie, if needed. Allow to set.
You can add more piped decorations at this point. All you have to do is add a little more icing sugar to your watered down icing (or save some from the original outlining) to make it piping-consistency again. Note: if at any point your icing is too thick or thin, you can adjust consistency by adding more icing sugar or water.