I don’t know about you guys but I absolutely love cookies — or biscuits. I tend to use these two words interchangeably when I refer to crisp biscuits that you can buy in a bakery or make at home, although technically I do understand that the word cookie is used for the soft, chewy variety. Anyway the debate is irrelevant, what I love about biscuits/cookies is their buttery-ness and that wonderful melt-in-your-mouth feeling that you can only achieve using good quality butter.
Now, I like bakery biscuits very much but they are not quite like the ones you can make at home. About a decade ago, I bought a Martha Stewart cookbook titled Cookies which has all sorts of cookie recipes in categories such as thin and crispy, soft and chewy, and the list goes on. This really sparked my love for these buttery delights and, over the years, I have managed to bake through half the cookbook at least. At one point — in my Julie and Julia days — I had thought about baking through the whole book but, apparently, I didn’t have the dedication and commitment to get through it. Oh well, never mind!
However, since I am often a glutton for punishment, I will bake a crisp biscuit-type cookie (more commonly referred to as a sugar cookie) and decorate it with royal icing. The process is tedious and time-consuming but the results are quite beautiful. This is the type of cookie I want to talk about today. It’s an absolutely great way to exercise your creativity and, even if you aren’t quite pleased with the result, they will still be delicious!
Tedious and time-consuming it may be, but baking these beautiful sugar cookies is quite rewarding
You will need a few special pieces of equipment, and some special ingredients, if you want to try sugar cookies, but they are all relatively easy to find in larger supermarkets and on Facebook shops that specialise in baking ingredients and equipment.
BASIC SUGAR COOKIE
This cookie recipe will form the base of all your decorated masterpieces. But as far as flavouring is concerned, the sky’s the limit — almond essence, orange essence or zest, lemon essence or zest, a spice mix of cinnamon, all-spice and nutmeg, ginger powder, etc. would all be wonderful in this. Although obviously not all together! You can also experiment with shapes — rounds, triangles, oblongs and heart shapes are just the starting point — but once you get into this type of cookie-ing, you will soon find that you have collected more cookie cutters than you can handle. To prove the point, I currently have four large plastic boxes full of cookie cutters. But in my defence, I have been doing this for at least 10 years!
1 teaspoon baking powder
60g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Put the butter and icing sugar in the bowl or stand mixer (you can also use a hand mixer) and mix together until the icing sugar is thoroughly incorporated and the butter becomes light (almost white). This process is called ‘creaming’. Add the egg and the vanilla essence and beat again until completely mixed. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and the baking powder and then slowly add it to the butter mix. You should mix until the entire mixture comes together in a soft and smooth ball. At this point, you will want to wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate it for 15-20 minutes. This will make the dough harder and easier to roll out. After 30 minutes, take the dough out of the fridge (if it is too hard, leave it on the counter for five to 10 minutes). Dust a surface lightly with some flour and roll out the dough to a quarter-inch thickness. Cut into the desired shape and place all the cut cookies on a baking tray that has been lined with wax paper or a silicon baking sheet. Put the cut cookies back in the fridge for 10 minutes (this second chilling ensures that the cookies keep their shape while baking). In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees C and bake the cold cookies for 12 to 15 minutes.
Royal icing is versatile in that it can be coloured and moulded in many different ways. It dries with a hard and shiny finish so that cookies are easy to stack and store.
2 egg whites (if you want to weigh them, this would be 60g)
227g icing sugar
½ tablespoon cream of tartar (available in a small box in most large supermarkets)
Put the egg whites in a clean and grease-free mixing bowl (I like to clean my mixing bowl and my whisk with lemon juice before I start). Sieve the icing sugar and the cream of tartar into the egg whites and mix on a low speed for five minutes. To get the perfect consistency for icing sugar cookies, stop the mixer and run a butter knife through the icing. Count to 10 and if the gap between the icing closes at about five to six, then your icing isn’t quite ready and you will need to mix for an additional two to three minutes. Once the gap between your icing holds until 10, it is ready for piping. This is called the ‘10-second rule.’ After this I like to push the entire quantity of royal icing through a fine mesh sieve. This is time-consuming but well worth it, as it removes any lumps that may have been left. You can then divide your royal icing into several bowls and colour them with gel colours. I recommend gel colours because they won’t thin out your icing like water-based colours. You can divide your colours further into two consistencies — one for piping lines and decoration and the other (with a few drops of water added in) for ‘flooding’ the cookies (i.e. covering large sections of the cookie with one colour of softer consistency icing).
DECORATING YOUR SUGAR COOKIES
Once your cookies are totally cool, you can lay them out on a tray to begin icing then. Put your piping icing into a disposable piping bag (you could also use a Ziploc) fitted with a small round piping tip and pipe borders on the cookie. This will require a few tries to get it right but practice makes perfect! Next, you can use your ‘flooding’ consistency icing to fill the cookie with one colour. I recommend putting the flood icing into a ketchup bottle to make this easy. You can use a toothpick to push the flooding icing to the edges of your cookie. The easiest way to decorate these cookies is with sprinkles but you need to do this while the cookies are still wet. Or if you want to pipe decoration, let the flooded cookies dry until they are very hard on top and then pipe out the decorations.
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 24th, 2019