I am so excited to share a guest post from my friend Vicki. I know her to be an outstanding human being, but what I didn’t know is that she’s also a pretty fantastic cookie decorator. You know I can’t make cute stuff to save my life, so I’m so glad Vickie agreed to share her skills with you all. Her Halloween cookies are awesome, and she makes it seem so easy, maybe I’ll even give it a shot. Here’s Vicki to tell you how it’s done.
Res Ipsa Cookies (speak for themselves):
By Vicki Werneke, Esq.
Several years ago, I noticed a recipe on the bag of a Pillsbury flour bag for rolled sugar cookies. I have always enjoyed baking, but never really tried rolled sugar cookies. The recipe was simple enough:
1 cup of softened butter
1 ½ cup of powdered sugar
Cream these two ingredients together in a stand up mixer with a paddle attachment.
Add one egg and 1 tsp of vanilla, ½ tsp almond extract and mix well.
Add 2 1/3 cup of all purpose flour and ½ tsp baking soda and mix well.
(I have doubled the recipe quite easily.)
After making these cookies for awhile, I have experimented with the ingredients. Instead of 1 cup of butter, I use ½ cup of butter and ½ cup of cream cheese. I also use unsalted butter. Because of that, I have discovered that the dough needs a small amount of salt. I add about 1/4 tsp of salt. I also have tried different flavors – all vanilla (no almond), or vanilla and orange instead of the almond. I also have used clear vanilla as the pure vanilla tends to make the dough dingy looking. I have added 1/4 cup of cocoa powder with the flour to make the dough chocolatey.
Once the dough is mixed, remove from the mixing bowl onto plastic wrap. I then put it in a large zipper bag. Chill for at least 4 hours. The dough is good for a week in the fridge, but I usually make the dough one night, and then make the cookies the next day.
Take about half of the dough and roll out onto a floured surface to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch and cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Keep the other half of the dough in the fridge until ready to roll it out. Place the cut cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Baked at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes, depending on how thick and large the cookies. Let cool, then decorate. (Save the parchment paper for storage of the cookies.)
The texture of the cookies are softer with the cream cheese, but they are sturdy enough for decorating. If you like a crispier sugar cookie, then use all butter.
I now find myself making and decorating cookies as a way to relax. It is so different than my regular job. I really enjoy trying different techniques in both the shapes and the icing. And the reaction I receive for the cookies I share is very rewarding.
I really enjoy watching the Food Network. One Saturday morning, I was watching several shows and one of them was an episode about how professionals decorate sugar cookies. I discovered some very useful techniques from that one show.
I use a traditional royal icing as it holds color well, is easily transformed, hardens well, and is tasty. Here’s the recipe I use:
4 cups of powdered sugar
1 heaping tablespoon of meringue powder (this is what hardens the icing when set)
1 tsp clear vanilla (so that it is a vibrant white color)
6-10 tablespoons of water (depending on the humidity)
Combine all of the ingredients (but the water about a tablespoon at a time) in stand up mixer with a whipping attachment on low until blended, then whip on high speed. The icing will become very bright white and shining.
With this basic recipe, I divide the recipe into as many bowls as colors that I want to use. One recipe makes about 3-4 cups of icing. For these Halloween cookies, I used orange, black, and white.
I found that the Wilton color pastes are the best to use as they do not dilute the icing and can be either muted or bright, depending on how much color I add. I use a toothpick to extract the paste from the little jar. For a bright color, I add about 1/4 to ½ tsp of color to 1 cup of icing and mix thoroughly.
I prepare a decorating bag with a coupler and tip. I use the #3 tip. I check the icing to make sure it is the correct consistency for piping. This is something I have learned from practice as to how thin to make it. If it is too thick, then it does not pipe well, but if it is too thin, then the icing comes out of the bag too quickly. I do not put all of the colored icing in the piping bag, as I need to save some for the next step in the decorating process.
I like to get each of the piping bags ready before I start decorating.
I have a large full sheet cake pan that I use when decorating the cookies. It has a place for me to keep the cookies while they dry, but enough room for decorating the cookies one at a time.
The main color that you want the cookie to be should be the color you start with. For example, for the Jack-O-Lantern cookies I used orange. Take the piping bag and outline the cookie, making sure to have a closed outline. I do this for all of the cookies I am decorating that day. The outlining of the cookies need to dry before the next step.
The next step is to fill in the outlined area. To do this, I add water to the bowl of the colored icing until it is thinner and falls like ribbons from a spoon (as shown in the picture).
If the area to fill in is large, take a spoonful of icing and pour onto the cookie. With an artist brush, move the icing around to the edges of the outline. I then take another color to add details to the cookie, such as a face on the Jack-O-Lantern.
The cookies need to be allowed to dry for several hours. Once dry, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container. I separate layers of cookies with the parchment paper I used to bake the cookies.
The process of rolling the dough, baking the cookies, and decorating takes a good 2 -3 hours, depending on how many cookies and how intricate the decorating of each cookie. One recipe makes about 2 dozen medium-large sized cookies, depending on how thin you roll the dough out.
Hope these instructions are easy to understand. It does get easier the more often you make the cookies and decorate.