Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Entertaining Your Family: Decorated Sugar Cookies

I know...Valentine's Day is over, but seeing as we are still enjoying the baking I figured I could still post about it! I had every intention of making these the days leading up to Valentine's Day, but a nasty bug got a grip of the majority of the people who live here (dog included), so instead of consuming this treat on Valentine's Day they were baked that day, iced the next day, and I've been eating them with my afternoon tea all week.

All that aside, it's more the concept of the cookie that I'm after in this post - not the shape. Sugar cookies are actually a fantastic way to get the whole family involved in baking (maybe not your husband - mine iced one then went back to painting a wall in the house I guess it kinda counts as decorating). But if you have kids they will get a kick out of getting creative with the icing. My daughter is only 19 months old so she didn't really help either, but she was a very important part of my test kitchen...several cookies had to be consumed (both with and without icing for comparison purposes) in order to get the official thumbs up!

The great part about sugar cookies is that the ingredients are most likely already in your house. I don't consider myself a real baker (I'm more into cooking and meal planning) and I even have these ingredients at the ready. I also like that they can be cut out into whatever shape suits the occasion - or your mood really. Go ahead and get creative. I'm planning a baby shower in a couple of weeks and I'm going to make another batch in the shape of buggies, rattles, bottles, and whatever else I can find. If you can't find cookie cutters, you can always print a shape onto paper, cut it out, then use it on the dough and trace the shape out with a knife (requires a tad more patience then I have, but certainly doable).

As far as icing goes, this is a variation of a classic royal icing. By reducing the amount of icing sugar, the icing becomes thinner and more easily spreadable. Also, if cookies are iced with two colours at the same time (rather than waiting for one colour to dry), the new colour will sort of seep into the base colour giving the cookie a smooth finish. My mom has been decorating her sugar cookies this way for years. The icing will still dry to a hard finish, but it won't be the consistency of cement, and it will make your cookies look quite elegant.

Below are the recipes, and don't forget to get creative! It's a fun way to celebrate everyday accomplishments (slip a heart cookie into your kids lunch), or holidays (Clover Leaf cookie anyone?). Not to mention there is something to be said for easy, inexpensive ways to get your kids into the kitchen and interested in cooking, and they'll be so proud of their efforts I urge you to hide a few right way so you can indulge with an afternoon tea!

Sugar Cookies
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

In large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy; slowly beat in sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. In separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt; gradually stir into butter mixture.

Divide dough in half; flatten slightly. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 24 hours.

On lightly floured surface, roll out each half into 1/4" (5mm) thickness. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Place 1" apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees until light golden on bottoms and edges, about 8 - 10 minutes. Let cool on pans for 1 minute, transfer to racks and let cool completely. Makes about 36 cookies (depending on size of shapes).

"Spreadable" Royal Icing
2 cups icing sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp almond extract (or whatever flavour you desire...I actually used vanilla)
food colouring
Combine all ingredients (except food colouring). Mix with electric mixer until smooth. Divide icing, and mix with desired colours. Icing will harden within about 45 minutes of being spread on cookies.

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