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.
When I found out what this month's Daring Bakers Challenge was I was ecstatic. Here was a challenge I was going to be able to run circles around, do in my sleep, with one hand tied behind my back...you get my drift. Cut out cookies decorated with royal icing have been a bit of specialty of mine for awhile, so there was nothing new to learn here. Plus, I'm a sucker for detailed oriented projects. Yet the day of the challenge reveal I was still decorating my cookies, slowly I might add. I got them done in time, yes, but barely. I know I'm not the only Daring Baker doing it at the last minute, but sheesh I really thought this one would be a breeze. Next month maybe.
Mandy's rules on the challenge, besides using the recipe she provided for the cookies, was to make cookies that represented what September means to you. Sugar cookies in September, and what they mean to me? Huh? it took me awhile to figure out what September does mean to me, and also how to make that into a cookie.
September is perhaps my favourite month and time of year. I love the clear way you feel the season changing into the next and the noticeable chill in the air, while still being full of the blue skies and sunny days of summer. The light in September changes to some of the most photogenic of its kind and of course as the leaves begin their descent into winter the world still feels alive and full of abundance. As a regular shopper at the farmers markets, this time of year is full of excitement as the stalls are chock full of so many beautiful fruits and vegetables and there's a desperate feeling in the air to ear or preserve as much of it NOW!
But even given all of those reasons, they aren't the only things that September means to me anymore. I was on my bike on a glorious September day a few weeks ago, the chill had already come upon us and I even spotted some leaves changing. It was on this reflective sort of day that I realized that September is quite a meaningful month to me, even if I wasn't entirely aware of it. Its the month I lost one of the most influential and important people in my life. My best friend, Heather, left us on such a September day, 6 years ago. And it just so happens that these cookies were a favourite of hers. So with her in mind I made a special cookie just for her in a colour she was goners for. As perhaps my biggest fan and a passionate and joyful person, Heather would have been a frequent guest and commenter on this site, and I think would have weighed in on some important food issues regarding the truly greatest ketchup chip or the best time for black vs. red licorice. and while life does indeed move on, during this month of September I feel a twinge of melancholy that she wasn't here to be part of something so important to me. How excited she would have been to see my blog grow. But this site is also not about melancholy or sadness, but about fun and food and the joy that food brings to me and so many of you. These cookies are with her in mind, and that means her zest for the oh too short life she lived. So with her in mind I say, "eat a cookie!".
I encourage you to give these a try sometime. Give yourself enough time for them, make yourself some space, put on the Breakfast Club ( my favourite cookie decorating movie) or some happy pop music and just put your head down. Its like being a kid again during art class and you can get lost it if you let yourself.
I decorated my first sugar cookies for my wedding 12 years ago. I made about 100 3 tier wedding cake cookies as favours, each one unique and more complicated than the next. I regret I did not have the foresight to keep one of them because they truly were my best work.
Since then I've done all kinds, many of which there is no photo record of as many were done pre-Lemon Tart days or done in a rush to get them out the door into gifts or clients hands.
But a few poorly taken photos remain:
Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" 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
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
• Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture.
• 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 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)
• Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
• 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 30mins to an hour.
• Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
• Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
• Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.
• Leave to cool on cooling racks.
315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ - 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional
• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
Decorating Your Cookies: Flooding
“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
Decorating Your Cookies: Royal Icing
The most important thing when it comes to decorating with Royal Icing is the consistency.
There are two ways of flooding your cookies. Some like to do the outline with a thicker icing and then flood with a thinner icing. Some like to use the same icing to do both which saves time and you don’t have to have two different piping bags for each colour you’re using.
The Same Consistency Method
• Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions
• Drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing and count to 10
• If the surface becomes smooth between 5 & 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency
Two Different Consistencies Method
• Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions.
• Separate into 2 different bowls, one lot of icing for outlining, the other for flooding.
• For the outlining icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
• If the surface becomes smooth at around 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
• For the flooding/filling icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
• If the surface becomes smooth at around 3-4 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
• Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each colour you plan on using.
• Using a toothpick, add gel or paste colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached
Prepping and Filling Your Bag
• Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers
• Stand the piping bags in glasses with the tops of the bags folded over the top of the glass.
• Fill your icing bags with each coloured icing.
• Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.
• Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip.
• Hold the piping bag at a 45 degree angle above the cookie where you want to start the outline.
• Gently squeeze the piping bag and start moving in the direction you want to outline the cookie.
• Start lifting the piping bag away from the cookie so that the flow of icing falls onto the cookie, making it an even and neater outline.
• As you start to reach the beginning of the outline, bring the piping tip closer to the surface of the cookie to meet the start of the icing outline.
• If you’re doing a different colour border, eg a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same colour for the outline as you’re flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.
• Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip.
• Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill.
• Using a toothpick or clean paintbrush, push the icing around into the gaps that are still remaining.
• Either pick up the cookie and tip it from side to side to even out the filling, or lightly bang the cookie down on your kitchen counter.
Decorating: Melding Colours
• If you would like to add lines or dots to the base colour that you flooded the cookie with so that they meld and dry as a smooth surface, you need to add the lines/dots/patterns as quickly as possible after flooding and smoothing the surface of the cookie.
• Simply pipe other colours onto the flooded surface in patterns or lines which you can either leave as that or then drag a toothpick through to make marbling patterns.
Decorating: On top of flooding
• If you’d like to do other patterns/outlines or writing on top of the flooded surface so that they are raised above the flooded background, simply allow the icing to dry, preferably over night.
• Fit the piping bag with tip sizes 1-3.
• Pipe patterns or write on top of the dry icing
Packaging and Storing
• Once fully decorated, allow cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area.
• Stack cookies in an airtight container, from largest cookies at the bottom, to smallest and more intricate at the top, with parchment or wax free paper in between the layers.
• Store in a cool and dry area with the container’s lid firmly sealed.
• Will last for about a month if stored this way.
General Royal Icing Tips
• Keep a damp cloth handy while decorating your cookies so that if you’re switching between different icing bags, you can keep the tips covered with the damp cloth so that the icing doesn’t dry and clog them.
• If your icing tips do clog, use a toothpick or pin to unclog them.
• Always pipe a little bit of royal icing onto a board/paper towel before you begin to make sure there are no air bubbles.
• Remember to always cover bowls containing royal icing wither cling wrap, a damp cloth or sealable lid so that the surface doesn’t dry.
• Don’t store anything decorated with royal icing in the fridge otherwise the royal icing will become tacky.