Monday, September 27, 2010

Decorated Sugar Cookies & Tutorial

Sugar Cookies

It is that time of the month again, here is the next Daring Bakers challenge.

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.

The rules were that you had to decorate your cookies to a “September” theme.  As you can see mine were leaves, when I think of September I think of fall and colored leaves.

I had a fun time doing this challenge but I do not like sugar cookies, I have never liked sugar cookies and I do not see the point of eating sugar cookies.  If I am going to have a cookie then I want a GOOD cookie.  Not a bland and boring sugar cookie.  Sorry, sugar cookie lovers. 

However, I do have to say I had a blast making these cookies, mixing the icing, the colors and I learned something new.  The decorating part was lots of fun and I highly recommend doing it if you have kids or want some fun.  The icing recipe is great, but next time I would do this on ginger bread cookie instead.

Decorated Sugar Cookies

Prep Time: 30 minutes | Refrigeration 1 hour | Baking 8-15 min | Yields: 36 cookies

Basic Sugar Cookies

½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
1 cup Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp Vanilla Extract


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. Tip: I don’t have a stand mixer so I find it easier to switch to dough hooks at this stage to avoid flour flying everywhere.

Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.  Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/5 inch. Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins. Tip: 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 30mins to an hour. Tip: 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. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.  Tip: 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. Tip: If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated cookies can last up to a month.

Royal Icing

2½ – 3 cups Icing Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. Tip: 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. Tip: listed are 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 much 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. Tip: 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.

Decorating Tutorial

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: What you’ll need

  • Piping bags
  • Elastic bands
  • Piping tips (between sizes 1 & 5)
  • Couplers
  • Glasses (handy for standing your piping bags in)
  • Clean clothes, dry & damp
  • Toothpicks
  • Gel or paste food coloring

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 color you’re using.

The Same Consistency method:
Consistency: 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. Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, do the 10 second test, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc. Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test

Two Different Consistencies method:
Consistency: 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. Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 10 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc. Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.

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. Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 3-4 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.  Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 3-4 second test.

Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each color you plan on using. Tip: Make sure to cover the bowls with cling film or a damp cloth to prevent the top from setting and then making lumps

Using a toothpick, add gel or paste coloring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired color is reached. Tip: You can use liquid food coloring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of color, liquid coloring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.

Prepping and filling your piping bags:
Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers. Tip: You don’t need to use a coupler but it makes it easier if you want to change tip sizes. Tip: A size 1 tip is best for doing intricate details. A size 2 tip is good for some details and outlining. Fill or flood with sizes 2 – 5.  Tip: You don’t need a piping bag, you can use a ziplock bag with a tiny bit snipped off the corner. I would however recommend getting a piping set if you don’t have one as it will be much easier and more precise.

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 colored icing. Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.

Decorating: Outlining
Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip. Tip: Or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a Ziploc bag.  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. Tip: If you’re doing an intricate cookie, like a snow flake, you won’t be able to lift the tip as far away from the cookie. f you’re doing a different color border, e.g. a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same color for the outline as you’re flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.

Decorating: Flooding
Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip. Tip: Or cut slightly more off the corner of a Ziploc bag to create a slightly larger opening.

Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill.  Tp: You need to be quick when flooding the cookie so don’t worry too much if it’s not filled in neatly. 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 colors
If you would like to add lines or dots to the base color 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. Tip: Make sure to have all the colors you’re planning on using ready and close by so that you can switch between colors quickly. Simply pipe other colors 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. Tip: For writing, the consistency of your icing should be thicker rather than thinner, drag a knife through your icing and when the surface smoothes around 12-15 seconds, the consistency is correct.

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 Baking Tips:
When measuring by volume (cup) always shift/aerate your flour/icing sugar in the container/bag before measuring because it settles as it sits and so you end up with more flour/icing sugar in your cup. I do this by moving the ingredient around with a spoon, whisk or fork.

When measuring flour or icing sugar by volume (cup) never scoop the flour/icing sugar up with the cup otherwise you compress the contents and this can make a big difference in the amount you’re using. Rather, spoon the ingredient into the cup until level with the top.

When measuring baking powder or baking soda, always level off the top of the measuring spoon with something flat (like the back of a knife) as these ingredients need to be accurately measured.

When mixing your ingredients, always follow the recipe instructions, especially when it comes to beating in eggs and flour, so if it specifies to mix until just combined or to beat for 4 minutes, follow the instructions to get best results.

Unless otherwise specified, always have your ingredients at room temperature.

It’s always best to invest in an oven thermometer so that you know exactly the temperature you’re baking at then you can also find out if you have cold or hot spots in your oven.

If you need to rotate your trays midst baking, always allow at least half the baking time to lapse before opening your oven to move baking trays around, this allows time for your baked goods to form a good structure so that they won’t flop.

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.

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7 Responses to “Decorated Sugar Cookies & Tutorial”

  1. 1

    Carrie — September 28, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    I’ve been wanting to decorate sugar cookies lately, I have a really yummy soft sugar cookie recipe somewhere that tastes like almonds. It will probably get made this holiday season, didn’t know it was the Daring Bakers’ challenge this month!

  2. 2

    Mike — September 28, 2010 @ 11:52 am

    They’re beautiful!

  3. 3

    Piper — September 28, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

    Mmm…these look so yummy! Love how you decorated them – wish I had the patience to do that!

  4. 4

    Lisa~Korean American Mommy — September 28, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

    These look amazing and beautiful. And I bet tasty too (=

  5. 5

    Privet and Holly — September 29, 2010 @ 3:04 am

    I like the addition of
    the almond extract to
    the frosting; this will
    make it tastier than
    most sugar cookies
    with the flooded-type
    of frosting. Although
    it doesn’t look as pretty,
    I prefer butter cream
    frosting on sugar cookies ~
    it doesn’t get as hard
    and is oh-so-good.
    Thanks for this very
    detailed recipe and lesson!
    xx Suzanne

  6. 6

    straight from the source — January 4, 2015 @ 7:10 am

    Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

  7. 7

    Mheli — November 10, 2015 @ 9:44 pm

    Samantha: You can add as much milk as you need to get the consistency you want. The 1:1:1 is just a sttiarng off point for the recipe. I have added a 1/4 cup of milk to get a really runny icing… just experiment! :)Dawn: The icing dries a hard but not for 3 days. At about the 2 day mark you should still be able to leave in imprint of your thumb by putting your thumb on the icing. But be warned the 2/3 day mark is when they taste THE BEST! :)Chrisgelica: The lemon is not for flavor necessarily, but to add some acidity to the sugar. This does NOT make the recipe taste lemon, but it DOES bring out the flavor in the sugar instead of just giving you a huge blast of sweet. It is totally not necessary… just a personal preference!Thanks for all the wonderfully kind words and thoughts guys… you are the sweetest!! (and you know that pun was intended)Blessings!Amanda

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