By Jolene Lamb, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
Now that Thanksgiving has wrapped up and I’ve had my fill of turkey, I’m ready to start my holiday cookie baking.
I must confess, I started baking a couple of weeks ago. I typically hold off on making my traditional holiday decorated sugar cookies until December, but then Mother Nature decided it was going to be a short fall season. She blanketed us with several inches of snow while the leaves on the trees were still in all their autumn splendor, so it just felt like time to start making cookies.
On the morning of Thursday, Nov. 15, the snow was really coming down. I felt like a child hoping for snow day, so I didn’t have to drive in the hazardous conditions. Of course, that is a real possibility when you work in a school setting. The call came in and I was thrilled. No school! What was I going to do with my extra day? I called my mom and told her to get dressed; I was going to pick her up, and we were going to spend the day baking cookies.
I honestly could have spent the day cleaning house, doing laundry, catching up on all the weekly chores, but this was a bonus day. I would have devoted the day to work if it had been a normal fall weather day. However, it was not a normal day; it was a winter wonderland, the snow was falling, and I had an unplanned day off to spend however I wanted.
I’m glad I called mom; I was excited to have her come over and make cookies with me. Sometimes we get so busy in life we don’t take time to just spend time with each other. It had been some time since mom and I just hung out.
I had fished out some of my autumn leaves and acorn shaped cookie cutters, but somehow it just didn’t seem right to make them. Mom brought over a snowman and snowflake cutters. Perfect! We got right to work measuring out all the ingredients and mixing up the dough. The process is pretty quick when two people work together: one person rolling and cutting out shapes from the dough, the other person watching the oven and rotating the trays of cookies since they have such a short baking time. Plus, cleanup is a snap with two sets of hands!
In no time at all, we had several dozen cookies cooling. While they cooled, we cleaned up and started making icing. I like to use a thinned royal icing to decorate with. Wilton’s has a recipe to make royal icing from their meringue powder. Meringue powder is a dried egg white product. I prefer to use it rather than raw egg whites. Many royal icing recipes call for egg whites; however, consuming raw eggs can be dangerous. If you do use raw egg whites in your icing recipe, please make sure to purchase pasteurized egg products. Pasteurized eggs are eggs that have been pasteurized in order to reduce the risk of food-borne illness in dishes that are not cooked or are only lightly cooked. They may be sold as liquid egg products or pasteurized in the shell.
Still, I like to use the meringue powder recipe since in addition to being a safe alternative to egg whites, it is also easily adjusted to any consistency. The original Wilton’s recipe makes a slightly stiff icing that works well for piping borders or outlines and detail work. By adding a few drops of water, it thins and is great to use to flood or fill the surface of the cookie.
The decorating process is pretty simple. Take a snowman for example. Pipe a thin border of white around the entire cookie. Next fill with a thinned white icing. The thicker border icing acts as a dam to hold in the flooding icing. Wait a few minutes for the icing to crust over and start drying; you don’t have to wait for it to completely dry which can take up to 24 hours, just wait until it crusts over and sets up on the surface. While the cookie is drying, mix up the colors you want to use. I recommend a gel food coloring over powder. It only takes a small amount of color, so add it a few drops at a time. Using a spoon, stir the color to mix evenly.
Royal icing is smooth and liquid, so color is easily stirred in, unlike buttercream which is thick and requires the use of a mixer to incorporate the color. Always make sure to keep the icing in a bowl and covered with a damp towel in order to keep it from crusting over when not in use.
Once you have the colors ready and the cookie is dry to the touch, it is time to start the detailed work. Use a piping bag with a small round tip or a squeeze bottle with a tiny tip opening. Pipe the outline of a hat, mittens, scarf or whatever decorative details you want on your snowman and immediately fill the design in. Get creative and add as much detail as you want. Perhaps a colored band on his hat, or a sprig of holly leaves and berries.
I often search the internet for decorating ideas. I find an image I want to recreate and then determine the layers it takes to make that design. For instance, on a snowman’s hat with a colored band, there are three layers: the first flooded layer of the white background, then the black hat, then the colored band. Give each layer time to dry before adding the next. Of course you don’t have to let the layers dry each time. When the icing is still wet, the colors will blend together instead sitting on top of each other which works for designs like an ornament where you may want to swirl the colors together. In that case, pipe a border and flood. While the fooling icing is still wet, draw a few thin lines with colored icing across the ornament then use a toothpick to drag lines in the opposite direction as your icing lines to make a cool swirled effect.
There are numerous videos and step-by-step directions to be found online which will help you create beautifully decorated sugar cookies for the holidays. I hope you get a chance to slow down and spend some time with a loved one baking cookies this holiday season. Oh and don’t fret if they don’t turn out as a masterpiece. They are going to taste delicious!
Yield: 2 dozen 4 inch cookies
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients a little at a time to the butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated.
Split dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and lightly dust surface with flour. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness, cut out shapes and bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies begin brown around the edges.
Cool on sheet pan for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.
Royal Icing from Wilton’s
Yield: 3 cups, enough for 2 dozen cookies
3 tablespoons (4 oz. meringue powder)
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons warm water
Beat all ingredients together until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer).
• Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency.
• When using large countertop mixer or for stiffer icing, use 1 tablespoon less water.
• For thin icing: To thin for pouring, add 1 teaspoon water per cup of royal icing. Use grease-free spoon or spatula to stir slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until you reach proper consistency.
• Meringue Powder is a must for this recipe. Do not substitute with raw egg whites (which can be a food safety issue) or dried egg whites; neither will produce the same results as Meringue Powder.
• To store: Store royal icing in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Before reusing, re-whip using a paddle attachment on low speed until it’s back to the correct consistency.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Education Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.