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…Decorated Sugar Cookies

September 27, 2010

Autumn has always been my favorite season. When I was a kid it was because of going back to school; as an adult it’s because I can bid adieu to the beach-goers who throng Hampton and clog up 125. Is it just me, or did fall kind of come out of nowhere this year? Not that I mind… cool, crisp days with fresh breezes and lots of sunshine are what I dream about all year round. Why? Because it is *perfect* baking weather, and bake I do.

While there have been many delicious things coming out of my oven lately (molasses cookies, chocolate chip muffins, roasted chicken…mmmm…), this month I also participated in my second challenge from The Daring Bakers.

The thing I like most about this group is that the challenges are such a surprise. I love checking the forum on the first of the month, because I never know what has been dreamed up. The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. She also challenged us to decorate them using the theme of “September”.

What does September mean to you? Like I mentioned above, to me it means fall and back to school. I could do some cookies around that theme… I could also do some cookies in celebration of my favorite holiday. Well, second favorite (Thanksgiving RULES!!). And that is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated each year on Septemb-ARR 19th. Yar.

Ok, the theme was set: Autumn and Pirates. The recipe for the cookies was simple and delicious. And I would decorate them with royal icing.

Whoa, what?!

I’ll be honest– before I did this project, royal icing terrified me. Let’s take a substance made primarily from egg whites and is notoriously temperamental, color it, and put it all over cookies? Um… ok.

Turns out that royal icing is pleasantly simple to work with, if you respect its quirks. Does it dry quickly? Sure, but if you keep it covered with a wet cloth or sealed in a pastry bag it remains smooth and liquid. And the colors of my icing were so vivid! I think my biggest fear was that I would make a mess, but I found the 10-count method gave me a consistency that worked for both outlining and flooding (see recipe for details). In other words, I learned something new about myself as a baker this month: I can make beautifully decorated cookies!

DISCLAIMER: I can make beautifully decorated cookies in 8 hours and be totally exhausted and cranky at the end of the day. Balance in all things.


Decorated Sugar Cookies

I recommend using the weight measurements, if you have a scale available. I am learning as I go along that precision in baking leads to WAY better results!

Basic Sugar Cookies:

Makes approximately 36 x 10cm / 4 inch cookies

200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Add Also:

1-½ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp dried orange OR lemon zest

½ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp allspice

Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavorings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture. Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape. Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins. Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker. Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30 minutes to an hour. It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking. Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15 mins depending on the size of the cookies. Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in some cookies being baked before others are done. Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired. If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated cookies can last up to a month.

I actually popped my pans of cookies in the freezer while I was rolling and cutting. By the time I was finished, the first pan had been chilling for about 30 minutes and was ready to go in the oven. Just make sure you keep track of the order you put the pans in the freezer!

Royal Icing:

315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 21/2 – 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted

2 Large Egg Whites

10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice

1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and grease free.

Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. The author listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.

Beat on low until combined and smooth.

Use immediately or keep in an airtight container. Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.

“Flooding” a cookie is a technique used when covering a cookie with Royal Icing.

1. You outline the area you want to flood which helps create a dam

2. Then fill or flood inside the area you’ve outlined.

I used Wilton Bags with tips 4 and 5 to get a good line and still be able to flood quickly. I found that drizzling icing inside the outline and then spreading with a toothpick was the easiest method for me.

If you want to decorate on top of flooded icing (like the Pirate cookies), let the flooded cookie dry uncovered at least overnight, and preferably for a day. Do the same for icing that you want to write on. I used a Wilton icing decorator pen to draw the face on the Jolly Roger.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2011 17:04

    I’m going to play with some royal icing soon and I was just reading up on it. Your cookies look terrific!


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