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.
This challenge came at the perfect time, right before a High Tea that was being held at work. And just before my two week holiday – during which I would certainly not get these made. So I made these cookies right at the beginning of the month (and left it to the last minute to post it).
I tried to do a few different designs on my cookies, although not many turned out as pretty as I would have liked.
One of the mandatory elements for this month’s challenge was that it had to be the theme of September, whatever it means to each of us. For me, September is the start of Spring – my favourite season of the year. We have just had gorgeous flowers appearing in our garden. I recently bought three orchids, and after buying these, we found one in our garden which we had never noticed before. Then I was given oodles of them from both my Grandma and my Mum’s neighbour.
My sweet peas have flowered themselves silly. Last year I found my favourite one and once the seeds dried, I threw them around the garden, without Nick knowing and they have formed a jungle – and I love it.
I also discovered that previous owners have planted daffodils and although they didn’t flower last year, I’m so glad they did this year.
With such fantastic inspiration for this challenge, I tried to make flower inspired cookies. Most of which didn’t turn out as well as planned. Although the love heart ones will just have to symbolise my love of Spring.
The biscuits themselves were quite plain, as expected. For the time, effort and taste I probably won’t make these again, although I always enjoy trying something new.
Thanks again to our host for this month and the daring kitchen team!
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.
• 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 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 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 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.
• Tip: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in
some cookies being baked before others are done.
• Tip: 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.
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.
• 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: I’ve listed 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 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
• 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
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 colour 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 colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached
• Tip: You can use liquid food colouring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of colour, liquid colouring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.
Prepping and Filling Your Bag
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 parchment cone or 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 coloured icing.
Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.
Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip.
• Tip: Or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a parchment cone or 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.
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.
• 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.
• Tip: 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 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.
• Tip: Make sure to have all the colours you’re planning on using ready and close by so that you can switch between colours quickly
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
• 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.