Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unfussy Cutout Cookies

One of my favorite things to make for Valentine's Day is cutout sugar cookies. I have loved them since I was a small fry. My mom recently quadrupled my cookie cutter collection by giving me the bulk of hers, and I am happy about it. Like, deleriously happy.
Okay, maybe not quite that delighted, but color me pleased in any case.

(And, yes, in case you were wondering, that vast collection did include a great number of hearts, but I made these for a baby shower and already had these great pictures so I'm using them. That's what we call being lazy, which is one of my favorite talents to exercise.)

Cutout cookies fall on either side of a line between tenderness and shape retention. Those that hold their shape well through baking generally aren't that soft and tasty. And those soft and tasty cookies baked up into a puffy mess that used to look like a star in a former life.

The recipe I grew up with walked that line nicely, but it called for shortening, so I found one almost perfectly the same, but that called for butter instead. The butter not only eliminated the strange ingredients found in shortening, but added even better flavor. Score!

And my (other) favorite thing about both recipes is how easy the dough is to work with. This rolls out so smoothly! I like to roll mine out using powdered sugar instead of flour, but I hardly need anything because this rolls easily and doesn't tear. Rolling it out on a sheet of parchment paper, cutting out your shapes and peeling away the scraps will make it all the easier to get it into the oven quickly -- just slide the parchment onto your cookie sheet and bake.

The glaze couldn't be simpler or more delicious.

You should make them with someone you love! Seriously. Get on it.


Unfussy Cutout Cookies

1 1/2 c. butter, softened
2 c. white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
5 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400ยบ. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Unfussy Cookie Glaze

1 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 c. powdered sugar
food coloring (I use gel colors, which won't thin the mixture. If you use liquid food coloring drops, consider adding extra powdered sugar to compensate for the extra liquid in the mix)

To glaze cookies, I find it easiest to simply place all the ingredients in a squeeze bottle (available at a restaurant supply store) and shake. If needed, I'll help it along with a butter knife. The mixture should have the consistency of tempura paint. More milk or powdered sugar can be added to thin or thicken to the desired texture. Test it on a cookie to be sure that it is thick enough to keep from dripping down the sides -- adjust consistency as needed.
Then I screw on the lid and use the squeeze bottle to apply the glaze. I start by outlining the basic shape of the cookie I'm glazing. Then I "flood" the surface of the cookie by squeezing out a zig-zag line from side to side, touching or nearly touching the outline I've made. I smooth out the zig-zags evenly along the surface of the cookie to fill in completely. I usually use my clean fingers, but a butter knife will do as well.
Let the glaze dry for a minute or two before adding sprinkles, if desired. For the look pictured, all I did was sprinkle plain white sugar over top and gently tap off the excess. This gives it a subtle sparkle that doesn't require me to get a million different colors of sprinkles -- it will meld into any color I can devise!

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