Monday, December 02, 2013

Going With the Flow On Christmas Cookies

Well, we made it to December, safe and sound. With Christmas only 23 or so days away, I've started to think about what I'd like to bake and cook for the season. Topping the list is Christmas cookies. Somehow the smell of the molasses and spices of gingerbread cookies gets my inner elf going, so the prospect of holiday shopping and wrapping and shipping (to say nothing of decorating the house) seem less daunting.

This year my darling daughter was home for Thanksgiving for the first time in a long time. As part of her visit we planned a cookie decorating evening with a neighbor whose company we really enjoy. It's fun to have a chance to be a kid at heart and play with decorations the way I did when I was young. One of the ways to bring out that inner child is to have lots of options for decorating. We even did Ninja Warriors.

 Not only did we have gingerbread cookies, but I had also made some dough from a recipe I found in the current issue of Bon Appetit magazine (recipe below). The cookies are vanilla and bake up a little flatter, crisp and delicious. We started out the decorating process for both by icing them with a slightly thinned royal icing to create a canvas for painted decorations...the flow because you thin the icing enough that it flows flat to create a canvas for the painting.

 K brought some luster dust decor bottles with her in silver, copper, red, green, and blue. Combined with lemon extract, they became paint that added a wash of color and a sheen of luster that was quite pretty. I also had some regular royal icing in white, red, and green to be used for accents or to attach silver balls or sanding sugar or other decor to the cookies.

 Lots of opportunity for creativity! Most of the photos are for the gingerbread cookies, but we did bake some with the vanilla dough, too. Look for the star with the blue outline and the round one that looks like a pizza, for example.

We had a blast and I think the cookies are little works of art in many cases. One of my favorites was the little piggy. Terrible photo, but hopefully you'll get the idea. It had red flow icing as a base and AM used silver paint to delineate the various cuts of meat one could get from a pig.

This can be a fun activity to do with kids, too. If they are really young, it is recommended that you roll, cut out and bake the cookies ahead of time. If you are making the flow iced ones, do that in advance, too, so the icing has time to set. That way the kids get the fun part of painting and adding embellishments to their creations without a waiting period. A muffin tin with different decors in each section is an excellent way to corral the sugars, silver balls, small red hot candies and other embellishments.

Disposable pastry bags work well for the royal icing, either with an added icing tip or not. If not, be sure to keep the hole you cut in the tip pretty small so your icing stays small, too, and doesn't overwhelm the cookie. The tip or hole for applying the flow icing can be bigger, but the one for adding details needs to be small. K bought the Wilton brand luster dust on Amazon, but I think some crafts stores might have it, too, if they carry Wilton cake decorating supplies.

Ultimate Sugar Cookies
from Bon Appetit magazine, Dec. 2013
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups sifted all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Whisk salt, baking powder and 3 cups flour into a bowl.
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until well combined, about 3 minutes. Butter does not need to be fluffy. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Beat just to combine.
Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients. Mix just to combine.
Form dough into tow 3/4-inch thick disks. Wrap disks in plastic. Chill at least 2 hours.

To bake: Let 1 disk of dough sit at room temperature until softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper until about 1/4-inch thick, dusting with flour as needed. If dough gets soft or sticky, chill on parchment until firm. Cut out shapes with floured cookie cutters. Transfer cut-outs to parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 12 - 16 minutes, depending on size. Transfer baked cookies to wire rack and let cool. Repeat with scraps and remaining dough.

Decorate cooled cookies as desired.
Cookie dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Cookies can e baked, but left un-decorated 2 weeks ahead; wrap tightly and freeze. Makes 2 - 3 dozen, depending on size.

Royal Icing for decorating
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar and 2 large egg whites until white, thickened and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add water by the tablespoonful until icing no longer holds a peak. Test some if you are going to do the flow icing to make sure that it is thin enough. Icing for adding details needs to have less water added. When icing is desired thickness, divide icing into smaller bowls and color with food coloring as desired. Once colored, put icing into pastry bags.  Makes about 2 cups.

To make paintable cookies: Follow the Ultimate Sugar Cookie directions. When cookies are cool, load a pastry bag, fitted with a plain tip, with white or colored Royal Icing.

Pipe a line around the outside edge of the cookie top, then fill in the shape. Icing should be just thin enough that it will flatten on the cookie once piped on. Let the iced cookies dry completely, allowing at least two hours.

Thin luster dust with lemon extract in a small bowl until smooth and the consistency of half and half. Use a clean small paintbrush to paint on designs. Let dry.  

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