Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ahhh Sugar Sugar

For Valentine's Day I made sugar cookies to go along with the Valentines I made for my coworkers. I love sugar cookies for a lot of reasons: they are thin and crispy, can be made in many different adorable shapes, and can be decorated in a variety of ways. I found this Crisp Sugar Doily Cookies recipe in Martha Stewart Living December 2008, and made them during the holidays and thought they turned out well. This sugar cookie recipe calls for the cutout dough to be placed in the freezer before being placed in the oven, but this time I skipped this step and I felt like the cookies were just as good. I think those instructions were only added if you were dealing with a delicate cutout (Martha's cookies are beautiful - but seriously, who has that kind of time?). For my batch, I made heart shaped cookies and decorated some with colored sanding sugar and others with royal icing (icing recipe to follow below).
Ingredients (makes about 55-60 2x3 inch heart-shaped cookies):
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
-1 cup sugar
-1 large egg
-1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To begin, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.Blend butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy. Add egg and vanilla, mix until just combined. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 days).Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Divide dough in half so it is easier to work with. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out dough to slightly thicker than an 1/8 of an inch. Cut out your shapes, leaving little space between each cut. Place cutouts on baking sheet 1 inch apart. If you want sprinkles, add before baking the cookies. Bake for about 8 minutes until slightly golden brown on the edges. Let cool completely on cookie rack before icing.

To make royal icing, you can use meringue powder (which is the simplest way) or egg whites (which you should only do if you are not serving pregnant women). I used egg whites because I didn't have meringue powder. I based my recipe on Alton Brown's Royal Icing.
-2 cups powdered sugar
-3 tablespoons of egg white (about 2 eggs)
-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (you could add other flavorings such as mint, etc.)
-water (depending on how thick or thin you want your icing)

Combine the egg whites and vanilla and mix until frothy. Gradually add powdered sugar and water. When the icing is the thickness you desire, add the food coloring. I used a food coloring paste to create pink. Red food coloring gives the icing a bit of a bitter flavor so I added a squeeze or two of lemon juice to mellow the taste.I made my icing thick and then placed half of it in a piping bag. My plan was to pipe the edges of the cookies to create a border and then thin out the remaining icing by adding more water and flood the cookies. I had a bit of an accident with the thinner icing (it poured out the wrong end of the pastry bag and went everywhere - I recommend having a friend help you fill the bag). That said, I only filled a handful of cookies, but the rest just had the edges iced.
I ended up packaging the cookies in glassine bags (my favorite). Sugar cookies are so simple and delicious - sprinkled, frosted, or just plain. Any way you make them, they are a perfect homemade gift to spread the love.

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