Today’s Recipes: Christmas Sugar Cookies, Crunchy Spice Ginger Cookies, Homemade Baking Spice Blend, Martha’s Gingerbread Cookies, and Worland Family Sugar Cookies.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house … I think every child in America has visions of sugar cookies and gingerbread people instead of sugarplums dancing in their heads at this time of the year. Cut into fun shapes, baked until golden, and decorated with beautiful frostings and shiny sugars, there is nothing that lights up a child’s face more than these traditional cookies!
Both regular sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies use the same Royal icing for decorating. Leave it white for the gingerbread, and tint with bright colors for the sugar cookies. While it may seem daunting, it is actually very easy to make and if you are concerned about raw eggs, there is a great product called Meringue Powder that you can use safely. It takes all the guesswork out of it and comes out perfectly every time! Made of dehydrated egg whites, just mix it with water and sifted powdered sugar.
You can vary the amount of liquid to get icing as firm or soft as you need. When you are piping the cookies, you want a firmer icing for the raised areas (especially around the exterior of the cookie) to create a “moat.” Use thinner icing to “flood” the cookie. It takes a little practice, but is really easy to do. Probably the hardest thing is not to lick your fingers, LOL
Make a large batch of white icing then divide into a separate bowl for each color. While you can use grocery store food color liquids, there are gels available that give you a much richer color without diluting the icing and changing its consistency. You can find them at kitchen supply shops and gourmet food stores or you can buy them online.
Having a piping kit is very helpful. You are going to need plain round tips, using a small one for the detail work (like creating the moat walls) and a larger tip for flooding. You can use zip-top plastic bags or pastry bags to hold the icing while you’re working.
When children are helping you bake, one way to cut down on the clean up is to use a plastic covered tablecloth. Secure it to the table so it won’t slip – I use tape – and you won’t care when little fingers get messy and flour, sugar, and icing get all over the table. Just rinse off the cloth and you’re ready to go!
Did you know that King Arthur Flour has a Live Chat feature on their website? You can “talk” online live with either a Customer Service Rep or a real Baker!! Like the Butterball Turkey line at Thanksgiving, you can talk to an expert who can help you with your baking dilemmas.
For those who learn better by watching, Howcast.com has created a series of videos to show you techniques and give you ideas of ways to decorate your cookies!
From Mimi Cummins of Christmas-Cookies.com, here are is a list of cookie decorating ideas sure to make your day much more fun!
Tips on decorating sugar cookies
Many first time cookie bakers ask for tips and instructions on decorating cookies. Well that’s a tall order because there are as many ways to decorate cookies as there are cookies! Here are a few guidelines for novices and experienced bakers alike to help you generate your own ideas for cooking decorating.
Decorating cookies before baking
Cookies can be decorated before baking with materials that withstand the heat of baking. Some things that you can place on your cookies before baking are:
- Colored sugars or natural sugars such as pearl sugar
- Jimmies, non-pareils, silver and gold dragées, and other sprinkles
- Raisins and dried fruits such as cranberries
These items can be placed on top of almost any cookie to dress it up a bit and give it a more festive appearance.
Paint a masterpiece
You can also paint your cookies before baking them. Make an edible food paint out of an egg yolk mixed with a few drops of food coloring and paint the cookies with a clean paintbrush. The paint will dry while baking and give the cookie a colorful, glazed appearance. This is a fun activity for kids!
A bit of trompe l’oeil
The folks at Better Homes and Gardens have a creative recipe for Colored Cream Dough which is a dough of frosting consistency that can be piped onto cookies with a pastry bag fitted with a writing or star tip, and then baked. The result is a cookie that looks like it has been frosted but the frosting is baked on and hard. This keeps children’s hands much cleaner and they consume less sugar!
Decorating cookies after baking
Decorating cookies after baking them requires that you apply some kind of liquid-based substance that will adhere to the baked cookie, or that will act as a glue to attach other items. Usually, this takes the form of frosting, icing, or melted chocolate.
Frosting vs. Icing
There is a big difference between frosting and icing. Frosting is thick and holds shapes like rosettes and shells like those you see piped around the edges of a birthday cake. It remains soft to the touch and has a creamy texture, and most people think it tastes better because of the creamy buttery flavor. Icing, on the other hand, is a thinner, more liquid substance, and as it dries it thins out, becomes very smooth across the surface of your cookie, and hardens. This is the icing to use for the most beautiful, professional results.
Working with frosting
You can use frosting in two ways. One way is to simply use a knife or rubber spatula to spread the frosting across the whole surface of your cookie. The other way is to place the frosting in a pastry or decorating bag fitted with a small tip and piping out thin lines or rosettes of icing onto the cookie. Either way, once the frosting has been applied to the cookie you can then further embellish it by using colored sugars, non-pareils, or any of the decorating items mentioned in the Decorating Before Baking section above. We have a delicious recipe for Buttercream Frosting.
Working with icing
Icing is a little more difficult to work with but its smooth surface produces the most beautiful results! Icing should always be piped onto a cookie because it will run off the edges if spread with a knife. Once iced you can apply silver dragées, or other sprinkles just as mentioned with the frosting above, before it hardens. There is also a recipe for Powdered Sugar Icing that dries less hard than Royal Icing and has a shiny surface.
Just about any cookie can be embellished simply by dipping it in chocolate or drizzling chocolate over it. You can even dress up the everyday chocolate chip cookie for gift giving or serving at parties. Melting chocolate is a simple process, but a few rules must be followed in order to make it a success. For fun colors, try using white chocolate tinted in pastel shades with food coloring. Use the gel, paste or powdered kind of food color, because the liquid drops may make the chocolate seize and become unusable.
What you need
You can either use chocolate chips or chocolate (the kind that comes in 1-ounce squares) and the same process applies whether you use dark chocolate or white chocolate. A small amount of shortening should be added at the ratio of 2 tablespoons shortening for 1 cup of chocolate chips or chopped up baking chocolate. This helps stabilize the chocolate.
Place chocolate and shortening in the top half of a double boiler or in a metal bowl that has been placed on top of a saucepan filled with hot water. The water must be very hot, but not boiling, because the steam generated by boiling water could get moisture into the melting chocolate which makes it curdle. Allow the chocolate to melt over the hot water and stir it occasionally until it has achieved a liquid consistency.
Place your chocolate and shortening in a microwave safe bowl and microwave it on medium power for 1 minute. Stir. Continue microwaving for 20 seconds, stir again. Keep doing this until the chocolate is almost melted. Remove it from the microwave and stir it until completely melted.
Dip one end of your cookie, or half the cookie, or even the whole cookie into the melted chocolate. Set the cookie on a wire rack to let the chocolate harden. If you wish, you can sprinkle chopped nuts, coconut, or non-pareils over the melted chocolate before it hardens.
Scrape melted chocolate into a zip lock baggie. With a sharp scissors, snip off a very small corner of the baggie. Drizzle top of cookies with zigzags of melted chocolate. Cool until chocolate is set.
Every year my husband’s siblings make cookies and have the best time decorating them. Then we have the fun of eating their creations. I hope you have a chance to experience the fun of cookie decorating with your family and friends this holiday season!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If the recipe calls for a flat cookie sheet with no sides and you don’t own one, just flip your regular baking sheet over and cook on the inverted bottom!!
- 1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup sour milk
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 5 cups flour
- Cream butter and sugar well in large bowl. Blend in eggs. In a cup, dissolve baking soda in sour milk and vanilla; add this alternately with flour to batter.
- Wrap in plastic and chill until fairly firm, about 20 minutes. Work in batches and keep remaining dough in refrigerator.
- Roll out on well-floured board. Cut into desired shapes. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375° F. for 12-15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.
- 2-1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1-1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (optional)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- Colored sugars and silver dragées
- In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Put the sugar in a food processor and process until very fine. Add the pieces of butter and process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the egg, lemon zest and vanilla and process until smooth. Add the flour mixture and pulse just until a dough forms.
- Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disk 1 inch thick. Chill until firm, about 1-1/2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Brush off excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Stamp out shapes, cutting the cookies as close together as possible. Sprinkle the cookies with colored sugars or dragées.
- Transfer the cookies to nonstick or greased baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between them (to allow for air movement).
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the cookies to racks and let cool.
- Yield: About 4 dozen (2-1/2 inch) cookies
- MAKE AHEAD: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for 1 month.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
- 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
- 1 large egg
- Decorating sugar or sprinkles (optional)
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in molasses and egg. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients; mix just until a dough forms. Place dough on floured plastic wrap; pat into an 8-inch square. Wrap well; chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time (rewrap and refrigerate second half), place dough on floured surface and roll out 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, turning, lifting, and flouring dough (and rolling pin) as needed. Freeze dough (on paper) until firm, about 20 minutes. (Slightly thicker cookies are easier to transfer and won’t break as easily when little children are handling them.)
- Loosen dough from paper. Cut out shapes, and transfer to baking sheets. Decorate with sugar or sprinkles, if desired.
- Bake until firm and edges just begin to darken, 10 to 18 minutes, baking times will vary depending on the size of the cookies. Cool completely on baking sheets.
- Makes 36 medium-sized cookies
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp Homemade Baking Spice Blend (see recipe below)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 5 oz (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tbsp cold water
- 1-1/2 oz (1/2 cup) sliced almonds
- Sift the flour, baking soda, spice blend, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer at low speed, combine the flour mixture with the sugars. Increase mixer speed to medium-low, add butter and blend until mixture is crumbly and resembles a streusel. Maintaining the same speed, blend in water 1 tbsp at a time. Mix just until ingredients come together in a cohesive ball.
- Divide in half, and roll each portion between two sheets of waxed paper to form circles 12 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick. Leaving the dough between the waxed paper, transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, from 2 hours to 3 days; or freeze, well wrapped, up to 1 month.
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 300°F. Line two large cool baking sheets with parchment paper; sprinkle on each sheet just enough sliced almonds to cover.
- Remove one sheet of dough at a time from the refrigerator. Remove the top waxed paper sheet and then lay it loosely back on the dough (loosening it for easier later removal of baked cookies). Turn the dough over, peel off top waxed paper sheet and discard it.
- Using a 1-1/2 inch round cutter, cut out shapes in the dough. Place cutouts on nut-covered baking sheets about 1/2-inches apart, lightly pressing cookies into nuts. Bake, one sheet at a time, for about 20 minutes or until light brown on the bottom and golden on top. With a metal spatula, remove cookies to a wire rack to firm as they cool. Serve the cookies, nutty side up.
- To store these cookies, stack the cookies in an airtight metal container at room temperature up to 10 days.
- Yield: 3 to 4 dozen
- If you're using traditional wooden molds, dust them well with flour, and then tap out excess before making an imprint. Press pieces of dough into molds; roll a rolling pin over dough to ensure filling the crevices. With the tip of a small knife, trim excess dough to shape it neatly. Tap the mold on work surface to release the forms. Put each cookie, imprinted side up, on nut-covered cool baking sheets. With a clean dry pastry brush, brush off excess flour and lightly press cookies into almonds without disturbing the imprint. Bake as directed above.
- 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground coriander
- 3/4 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 tsp ground powdered ginger
- 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
- Scant 1/8 tsp cayenne
- In a small bowl, blend all ingredients together. Store spice blend in tightly covered small glass jar in a cool place.
- You can double or triple the recipe and give as gifts to family and friends!
- Yield: generous 1/4 cup
- 1 lb box confectioner's sugar
- 2 egg whites from size large eggs
- In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the sugar and egg whites. Mix until it becomes a fluffy paste, similar in texture to marshmallow creme. You can refrigerate this icing up to 2 days; return to room temperature before using.
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