Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
I've always loved cookies - but I wasn't always a good baker. But when your toddler requests sugar cookies with icing... you learn how to make them. What was always a very daunting thought [baking] is now pretty relaxing and therapeutic.
The first time I made sugar cookies with royal icing was Christmas and I was pretty impressed. It took a little trial-and-error when it came to the consistency of the icing and the best way to decorate the cookies. And when it came to make the cookies again for Valentine's Day, things went a lot smoother (literally!). Caroline even helped with the icing and I was incredibly impressed at her steady hand. They are becoming a staple in our house for every holiday - and I don't hate it!
Perfect sugar cookies are hard to come by. And there are a lot of different kinds - soft and fluffy, airy, thin and crunchy... But for these cookies you want a firm base for the icing, while maintaining a moist cookie that doesn't crumble when you eat it.
I used a super simple recipe that will make anywhere between 1.5-2 dozen cookies depending on how big your cookie cutter is.
1 cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix in dry ingredients until a dough is formed. Knead gently and form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 3-4 hours before rolling out.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface until the dough is approximately 1/4" thick. Cut out with cookies cutters and place on a silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350-degrees for 9-11 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before decorating.
The Royal Icing
This is a controversial icing - people either hate it or love it. It is the best for decorating because the consistency can be easily modified with a little warm water. Instead of a piping bag, I use a squeeze bottle. You can use a piping bottle or any kind of icing vehicle, but these bottles give me the most control.
1lb confectioner sugar
3 small or medium egg whites
6Tbsp warm water
Pro Tip: You can substitute the egg whites for meringue powder. The ratio is typically 1 egg white for every 2Tbsp meringue powder, but I have found that if I'm using smaller or medium size eggs, I'll use 3 egg whites.
Combine ingredients and beat on medium speed for a few minutes until a smooth consistency is created. This will make icing for piping the cookies. For the flooding (filling in the cookie after it is outlined), add a little warm water as necessary until a runny consistency is achieved. You don't want it to be watery - more like the consistency of coffee creamer or heavy cream.
For colored icing, mix in your food coloring or icing color gel while still in the mixer. This will create a more even color in your icing.
Piping the cookies requires a steady hand, but they are cookies. So if they aren't perfect, no one is going to care. Start with a simple shape cookie to get comfortable with icing before trying something more complicated. Outline the cookie, right along the top edge without going over.
Flooding the cookies is a little less precise, but be careful not to over-flood the cookies, or the icing will run over the piped outline. Use a toothpick to careful remove any air bubbles and to make sure the top area of the cookie is fully covered by icing. Gently tapping the cookie on a flat surface can also achieve the same thing.
There is a pretty good chance your first batch of cookies won't look like they came out of a magazine, but practice makes perfect! Sometimes simple is key, so don't feel like you have to go over the top with decorating fancy designs or patterns.