I had hoped to share this years cookies in a more leisurely way. I made them enough ahead of time (so they would be ready for several Christmas events), and even photographed them right away. But I guess it is my lot in life to always be optimistic about hectic times. I suppose that will serve me well over the long haul, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for leisure when it comes to blogging.
Back to the point (since we are on a schedule, after all, and there is much to do yet today)… here you see the piped Christmas cookies of 2012. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and have picked up some book-learnin’ type tips along the way. Nothing nearly so valuable, however, as practice practice practice. I always make my cookies thicker than recipes call for (about 3/8”, uncooked), I always undercook them a teeny tiny bit so they stay soft and chewy (just barely browning on the edges where they meet the cookie sheet), and I always use royal icing, not buttercream-type icings that don’t dry to a hard, durable finish. Not that I don’t love those kind too, for the record, but these travel well, freeze well, and look nice and neat when they are done. I recommend my favorite sugar cookie recipe (reposted below) and my favorite gingerbread recipe (posted here from last year), if you want specifics.
For the snowflake cookies, I played around with the basic round tips, in a size 3 and 5, I believe. The 3 is very small. I have to assume that there is a 2 and 1 which means the piped lines could get smaller still, but I don’t want to imagine that yet. I get cramps in my hands from applying constant pressure to the icing bag, and I have to surmise that a smaller tip would make that even worse. But it was fun to see the difference. The size 5 tip allowed nice, well rounded lines and “blobs”, which helped create the bolder but less detailed snowflakes. The size 3 was critical in making the finer ones.
The icing for all these cookies started the same… very smooth, “healing” (meaning it was fluid enough to flatten a single drop rather than leave a firm peak), but not so thin that it could run off the edge of the cookie. I made it using a very unscientific mixture of powdered sugar, meringue powder, vanilla extract and water. I mixed, tested, added more of something and repeated until it was right. I colored the present icing and simply spread it on with a spoon (very unglamorous), then sprinkled with white dots while wet and let it dry for about 24 hours before adding the ribbon. I should have added white coloring to the snowflake icing to help make the thin lines pop, but I didn’t. Next year. I remembered to do that for the sugar presents, and that was a key to making sure the ribbons looked white and not tinged with the underlying color. I also did a pearlescent wash on some of the snowflakes using Wilton’s pearl dust mixed with clear vanilla extract, and applied with a fine brush. It was subtle, but you can see it below…
I get all of my food colors, pearl dusts, sprinkles, icing bags and tips, the occasional cookie cutter and all manner of other baking and candy-making supplies from Baker’s Nook. Their brick and mortar store is within walking distance of my house (dangerously close, perhaps?), and they have customer service that is simply not to be surpassed. They offer most of their extensive inventory online as well, and I can’t suggest them enough if you don’t have excellent local resources to meet your every baking need. The wreath cookies below have been a huge hit, and were sooo easy (cut out with biscuit cutter, then cut smaller circle out of middle)… pipe a thick ring of icing, dip in Baker’s Nook sprinkles, and add a red bow.
Traditional Sugar Cookies
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets, if necessary. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4” thickness. Cut into desired shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 1/2” apart onto cookie sheets. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes (I like these soft, so I only bake them for 6 minutes). Remove cookies from baking sheets to cool on wire racks. Cool completely before icing.
I recommend Martha's recipe for Royal Icing unless you have your own system firmly in place for consistent results. Ice cooled cookies and decorate if desired. Place on waxed paper until icing is fully set. Enjoy!
The next post will include some new cookie recipes! Be back soon!