Friday, September 12, 2008

Sugar Cookie Cut-outs with Royal Icing

As we get into fall, the next few recipes will probably be "not chocolate"... but still delicious, so forgive me. The first are my cut-out sugar cookies with royal icing. And when I say "mine," I of course mean Martha's. :) However, the recipe my mom uses is not Martha's and yet it was nearly identical, so I assume that this is the ultimate sugar cookie recipe. Moms and Martha agree!

For those of you who have not been to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, you should go at least once. OBX isn't anything like Delaware or Maryland beaches. There isn't a trashy boardwalk; there's history (pirates, Civil War, and WWII), wild horses, fabulous lighthouses, and after Labor Day, desolate beaches.

The four main lighthouses are Currituck, Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. Each has a very distinct look to it, so I decided that for our annual trip to Hatteras Island that I'd make unique lighthouse sugar cookies. The best icing for details is royal icing. It dries very hard and you can put it into a piping bag to outline the cookie, then you thin out the icing with water or milk so that you can "fill" the cookie. The thin icing will only spread as much as the thicker icing's border. Yes, only I would do this. But I think I did a pretty good job, no?

Currituck (brick)

Bodie (horizontal stripes; Scout & Boomer make great models!)

Hatteras ("America's Lighthouse"... apparently purple dye bleeds...)

Ocracoke (short and fat) :)

My husband would like to point out that the yellow M&M "lights" were his idea. :) Also, please note that these weren't necessarily the best ones, but the ones that didn't break on the trip. :(

Sugar Cookies
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough into 2 pieces; flatten each into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or overnight).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Let 1 disk of dough (or a partial disk, as they warm up too quickly sometimes) stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, no more than 10 minutes. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4 inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Transfer to baking sheets (I HIGHLY recommend the Silpat...) as you work. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake until edges turn barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks; let cool completely.

Mock Royal Icing...
2 c. powdered sugar
3 T warm water
food coloring of choice

1. OUTLINE. Put sugar and water into a stand mixer (recommended) with a paddle attachment. Beat at a relatively high speed until it resembles a smooth (sickeningly sweet) white icing—be patient! It'll take a little bit. Since I generally recommend white icing as an outline, save your food coloring for step two.

Pour some of the icing (keeping enough icing to fill each cookie later) into a piping bag with a very small tip—a #2 or #3. Carefully outline each cookie and each detail you wish to make. Think ahead as to how you'd like to separate the colors in step two and create a border there. Let dry thoroughly.

2. FILL. Add 1 teaspoon of water at a time to the icing remaining in the bowl—you may only need that 1 teaspoon, so be patient. Mix again on high speed until the water is incorporated and the icing runs off the tip of a spoon. The goal of this type of frosting is to be runny enough that it'll fill up until the outline from step one. Use your judgment.

If using colors, pour desired amount of frosting into several ramekins and create fun colors using food coloring (the box generally gives good ideas of color concoctions to reach desired results). One color at a time, pour colored icing into a clean piping bag with a slightly smaller tip than in step one. Starting at the white outline, trace the outline then fill the cookie with color in a sweeping motion. It won't be perfect if this is your first time, but using the tip to help move some of the frosting around will help it better cover the entire cookie surface. And unless you love cavities, try not to use TOO much icing. Just use the tip while not squeezing down on the bag to help move blobs of frosting to areas with less. If using sprinkles or any other decorations, do so now. Let dry very thoroughly, up to 24 hours if packaging.

Pour yourself a drink because this is hard work! (the cleaning up is especially bad)

I should mention that this is mock royal icing because traditional royal icing uses either egg whites or meringue powder as an egg substitute. I was doing this last minute and didn't want to bother. And I knew this would work equally well. :)

I did sailboats and sea turtles too!

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