Experiencing The Flavors at Home or On The Road
By Tracy Carpenter
I love, love, love this time of year. The spirits of the holidays are thick in the air and you can feel it in the people, the places, and especially the food. Nothing can compare to the holiday treats and all of the baking wonders that have come out of family kitchens for generations. I think almost everyone has a fond memory connected to baking in the kitchen, whether it’s a special meal, a dessert or being the quality control taster.
At our house, our holidays are filled with traditions. A unique combination of faith, family and food which cultivates happiness.
Isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Happiness, sharing our time and love with our friends and family, making memories, and honoring traditions. One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking and decorating sugar cookies, wrapping them in cellophane bags, sealing them with festive ribbon and giving them to family and friends. Homemade food gifts are an act of kindness that will be remembered by both the giver and the recipient for years to come.
In a perfect world, cookie baking would be pure fun — you’d mix the dough in a favorite bowl while carols played on the radio and a log burned in the fireplace. But that’s not reality: More often than not, you whip up a last pan of lemon bars when everyone else is asleep, or squeeze in two batches between cleaning chores. It’s time to turn on the oven, line the counters with ingredients, mixing bowls, and aprons, roll up our sleeves and get to work and not let that happen this year.
Helpful Hints to Get Started
1. Don’t be afraid! Jump in there and do it!
2. Find a good cookie recipe. One that’s been tried and proven true.
3. Did you know that many cookie doughs, including sugar cookie, gingerbread and shortbread, can be made and frozen up to three months ahead of time? Double-wrap dough in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.
4. Did you forget to take the butter out of the refrigerator to soften? No problem. Remove the wrapper from the butter and use a cheese grater to grate the butter. It will soften much faster.
5. Parchment paper can be your best friend when it comes to baking. It keeps your pans clean and there’s no need for greasing the pan.
6. Use 1/4” wooden dowels (found at your local craft store) placed on either side of your dough so that the rolling pin rests on them while rolling, to help make your dough an even thickness.
7. Instead of waiting for your cookie dough to chill for 2 hours, divide the freshly made dough in half and place between two sheets of parchment paper.
Roll it out to the desired thickness then place the dough and paper on a cookie sheet and pop it into the refrigerator. Chill for about 15-20 minutes, until the dough firms up.
Continue rolling out your dough between sheets of paper until you have used it all. Re-roll leftover dough and repeat the process!
An added bonus is that you are not adding any additional flour to your cookies. When rolling dough between two sheets of parchment paper, be sure to flip the dough over to make sure no deep wrinkles have formed on the back sheet. If you find that it has wrinkled, simply peel the back paper off and return it to the dough and carefully re-roll.
8. Cookies will continue to cook if you leave them on the cookie sheet so always put cookies on a wire rack to cool. Placing them directly on a platter will cause them to get soggy.
9. To make cleanup easier and faster, put cloth, paper or saran wrap down on the kitchen table.
10. Set up a cookie decoration station by setting out small bowls of candies, sugars and several colors of royal icing or frosting in plastic squeeze bottles or pastry bags.
11. Freeze baked cookies after completely cooled, for up to three months in airtight containers with waxed paper between layers. When ready to serve, put frozen cookies on a plate and let them come to room temperature.
To test it, I run a toothpick through the center of the icing. You want it to naturally fill that line back in, but not too quickly. It should actually need some encouragement from you to come completely back together. When I fill in the icing, it’ll mostly come together on it’s own but I use a toothpick to move the icing around and help it come together, careful to not make air bubbles.
This royal icing dries nice and firm, so you can easily stack the cookies, wrap them, whatever your preference and transport them.
To pipe the icing onto the cookies, you’ll need pastry bags, couplers, and icing tips. I used tip 3 for outlining and filling the cookie and tip 1 for the smaller details. I suggest having enough icing tips for each color so you aren’t needing to switch out the tip constantly. You will also want to use rubber bands to tie the bags closed. The rubber bands are important for keeping your icing from drying out while in the bags during your decorating session. The icing can quickly dry out and leave your tip clogged and hard to work with, so put a little water in a narrow bowl and keep your bags in it with just the very tips in the water to prevent this from happening when not in use. If that does happen, a toothpick can help remove the blockage.
Once you have your icing ready and into your bags, it’s time to get to piping!
You’ll want to keep even pressure on the bag as you squeeze out the icing. Don’t keep your tip super close to the cookie. Lift it up a bit so that the icing falls in a more natural, soft line around the cookie. Once outlined you can begin filling in the snowflake. Allow it to dry for about 15 minutes before adding the details.
You’ll want to think through the details before you start so you know what details you want to include. You’ll want to add the pearl candies while the icing is wet. I traced the snowflake cookie cutter onto a piece of paper then drew in the details with a pencil so I could use it as a reference while piping the design onto the cookie.
The first couple of times decorating sugar cookies with royal icing drove me crazy, but now I love it. If you aren’t in love with your cookies the first time, don’t give up. After a few tries, you’ll develop “your touch” and everyone will be begging you to make their cookies. Have fun!