Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Baker Challenge: Decorated Sugar Cookies

I always look forward to the Daring Baker Challenge every month. Because I was traveling so much last month, I didn't have a chance to participate, so I was doubly excited to get back in the game this month.

The challenge for September was to make and decorate beautiful sugar cookies in the theme of "September" -- whatever that means to you. And to me, among other things, September really means football season. So what better way to celebrate a great start to the season for my Utah Utes than to make (and eat) Ute cookies!

So, Saturday night, while we listened to the Utes cream San Jose State, I carefully crafted these beauties:

I couldn't resist a not-so-subtle dig at BYU (the "Y"), the biggest rival of our Runnin' Utes.
My dad graduated from the "Y", so I made him eat it. So glad he's a good sport! :)

Oh, the sweet taste of victory!

Want to make some cookies of your own? Read on, my friend. Read on.

Start by making your dough.

Most sugar cookie dough recipes call for a leavening agent. In this case, the recipe omits baking powder or soda so the cut cookies hold their shape and don't puff. While they're not as tender or soft as a leavened cookie, they are still light and sweet, and the dough is extremely easy to work with.

Basic Rolled Sugar Cookies

½ cup + 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature 
3 cups + 3 Tbsp all purpose flour 
1 cup caster sugar / superfine sugar (I ran regular sugar through a food processor.)
1 egg, lightly beaten 

1 tsp vanilla

Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in

(Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.)
Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.  

Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/4". Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.  
(Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.)   
Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.

When you're ready to decorate, make royal icing and color it with gel color -- regular liquid color will work, but it will think the icing, making it necessary to add more powdered sugar to maintain the right consistency.

Piping icing onto cookies doesn't require any special equipment. You can use a ziplock bag with a tiny corner snipped off, or a pastry bag -- I used both a pastry bag and some squeeze bottles with small openings.

Start by outlining the shape you want to fill.

Then apply icing inside the lines in a zigzag pattern. Working quickly, use a toothpick to spread the icing evenly within the area. This is called "flooding". If you wish, you can outline with one color and flood with another. Simply let the outline dry before filling in with a second color.

To give my cookies a little sparkle, I sprinkled them with granulated sugar while they were not quite dry. It's cheap and gives just the right finishing touch. (You can also use food coloring to color granulated sugar to match your icing, just keep mixing it in until it's fully blended and incorporated. No need to buy expensive sanding sugars or sprinkles. You're welcome.)

Royal Icing

2½ - 3 cups Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


 Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
(Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and grease free. )
 Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
 (Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.)
 Beat on low until combined and smooth.  Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
(Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.)

As you can tell, I'm not awesome at piping words yet, but this challenge has armed me with new-found know-how and confidence. I'm looking forward to more practice come Christmas-cookie time!

Go Utes!!!!

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!”
Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy
Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

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