For those who read yesterday’s post, you know that I recently baked up some graduation goodies for the Better Show using two of my favorite Sweet Home go-to recipes: Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes and Super-Easy Sugar Cookies.
What the segment below didn’t show was a close-up of the finished graduation gown and mortar board cookies (of course those were the ones I’d labored over for hours, thinking they’d get their moment in the spotlight). Instead, they missed their cue and were quickly gobbled up by the show’s staff.
In hopes of reclaiming their well-deserved fifteen minutes…ahem, probably more like fifteen seconds…of fame, I’m giving them center stage today.
Ease rules in this recipe, which yields a not-too-sweet, not-too-thick, classic crisp-on-the-edges sugar cookie. I used to think cut-out cookies were a complete chore. I disliked the struggle of rolling out a hard, refrigerated lump of dough.
Then Robin Chess, who teaches kids’ cooking classes at our local elementary school, showed me how she effortlessly makes hundreds of cut-out cookies every holiday season with her students, ages five to eight. Straight from the mixing bowl, she places small handfuls of dough between two sheets of wax paper and has the kids roll it out, no sticking, no struggle.
When she makes these cookies, they go right into the oven—no chilling necessary—to avoid waiting time. For a slightly crisper cookie, I refrigerate them for 20 minutes on the baking sheets after they’ve been cut. If you’re in a rush, though, this step is not essential to a tasty cookie.
This dependable dough should not be reserved for holiday cookies, but used year round with celebration-specific cookie cutters.
As their name implies, the cookies are super simple to make. I will not lie though about the ease of the decorating process. Unlike the Secret-Ingredient Cupcakes, which can be frosted with a quick squeeze of the decorating bag, icing these babies takes a little more time and effort, okay, A LOT more time and effort.
Yesterday I bragged that the Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes cost less than half of what bakery-made ones would. I can’t, however, say the same for these cookies. While the ingredients cost very little, your decorating time may add up—and you just may say screw it, it’s worth paying three bucks a cookie. There’s undoubtedly something extremely satisfying about creating your own Eleni-like creation though.
I’ve been obsessed with Eleni Gianopulos’ cookies since she opened her shop in New York’s Chelsea Market some 15 years ago. Her business, Eleni’s New York, was one of the originator’s of the custom-decorated cookie. Their charming and whimsical hand-iced confections may be special-ordered for any occasion.
By following the steps below, you too, can learn to make playful cookies.
These are both from FancyFlours. I also have a Wilton Mortar Board cookie cutter that I like a lot too.
Super-Easy Sugar Cookies
Forty 3-inch cookies
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
2. Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat on medium another 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3. Add the egg and the vanilla extract to the bowl and continue to beat on medium for another 30 seconds. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and beat on low to medium for 11/2 to 2 minutes or until the dough comes together to form a ball.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two even parts. Working with one section at a time, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut the dough using cookie cutters and gently lift the shapes with a spatula and place on the prepared cookie sheet.
5. Refrigerate the cut cookies on the sheets for 20 minutes.
6. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired with Royal Icing.
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 large egg whites (or the prepared powdered egg white equivalent, meaning mixed with water)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Food coloring (optional)
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl. Beat for another minute or two. The icing should be somewhat stiff (spreadable but not so thin it will run off the edges of the cookie). Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon juice.
3. If desired, divide the icing among several bowls and color as desired using food coloring. Cover the top of the icing with a damp paper towel to prevent it from drying out until using.
4. Decorate the cooled cookies with the royal icing, colored sugars, sprinkles, and/or dragees.
Cookie decorating primer
To achieve a professional look when decorating cookies, use a Wilton #2 or #3 tip and disposable decorating bag. Place the tip in the point of the bag. Trim the plastic so the tip protrudes from the bag at least a ½ inch.
To fill the bag with icing, fold down the upper sides of the bag to create a cuff. Using a spatula, spoon 1 to 2 cups icing in the bag. Pull up the sides of the bag and twist the top to force the icing down into the tip, eliminating any air bubbles. Secure the top of the bag with rubber band or binder clip. See Part 1: Sweet Graduation Celebration for photos.
Squeezing from the top of the bag, outline each cookie.
There is no need to make one continuous outline around the cookie. For example, looking at the cookie above, outline the top of the sleeve, outline the bottom of the sleeve, below. Then connect the two. It’ll keep your outline from falling off the cookie.
Continue to outline all your cookies and let them dry for one hour.
After your outlines are completely dry, go back and fill in the outlines with “flooding” method. To flood the cookies, add a few tablespoons water to the unused icing to thin it out. Put the thinned icing in a new decorating bag with a Wilton #3 tip. Squeeze enough icing into the outline to partially fill the cookie. (You can use a #2 tip but it will take longer.) The dry outline will act as a dam to the thinned icing, preventing it from running off the cookie.
Use a small knife or spatula to spread the icing over the entire cookie, filling in the outline you created.
Again, flood all the cookies one at a time and let that icing dry. (If you try to flood several then spread them you’ll end up with icing that is slightly set and hard to spread. Just work one cookie at a time.)
Lastly, using other colors, decorate the cookie as desired.