Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Baker's Challenge: Decorated Sugar Cookies

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.

At first glance, I thought, sugar cookies? Really? Growing up we made versions of sugar cookies every Christmas. The ones my mom made with us were from an old recipe called Norwegian Butter Cremes.  As kids, we loved punching out angels, gingerbread men, and Christmas trees and decorating them with sprinkles and colored sugar. We also liked the taste of the cookies but I think it was mostly because we made them together. Later, when in undergrad, my friend and roommate (til she got married), Holly, made sugar cookies that had a great flavor. The toughest challenge with her recipe was that the cookies grow a lot in the oven so intricate cookie cutter designs didn't work well with them. That didn't stop us from enjoying them though. In fact, I've had a lot of fun making and decorating Holly's sugar cookies with elementary aged kids that I have babysat.

This month's challenge was different from the sugar cookies I'd made in the past. For one thing, the sugar cookie recipe she listed was required to be used. For another, Mandy challenged us to mix up royal icing and decorate the cookies along a theme of whatever made us think of September. Football, back to school, fall leaves, and apples all floated in my head and back out again. I wanted something more distinct. A conversation with my sister led me to the theme of these cookies. She was telling me about changes in our local fair dates back home. (Side note: I love our local fair. As far as I'm concerned the Appalachain Fair is as good as it gets. There are livestock shows, cooking demonstrations, loads of music (of all sorts), fair rides, fair food ...including brown beans and cornbread. There's a wildlife museum complete with an indoor cave with live animals in their habitat ...snakes, lizards, frogs, etc and a waterfall in the cave! There's also the St. Jude's ducklings playing on their waterslide and in a pond and baby chicks! There's more but I'm really digressing. I love our fair though and have a lot of great memories from it.)

Suffice it to say, thinking about the fair settled a fair theme in my head for September's cookies. The next question I had could I show other people the fair in cookies? Most pople think of ferris wheels when they think of fairs. I started contemplating how to make something that looked like a ferris wheel. A hexagon maybe....with something to mark the seats? What else is at the fair? The pie baking contest! It wouldn't be too tough to make cookies that looked like pies. Animals were a must! I was on my way. I knew I was going home to visit my sister so I asked her if she'd want to make some fair cookies togther. She thought it sounded fun and reminded me that she had tons of cookie cutters!

The Fair!

We started out with the basic sugar cookies recipe provided. To add some flavor, I included 1.5 Tbsp cocoa and 1 Tbsp hazelnut instant coffee.  Here's the basic recipe:

Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes approximately 36 x 10cm / 4 inch 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
Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their
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
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 8-15 mins 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

Roll them out!

Put them on the pan.

These are my hand cut lilies. I wanted to see if I could make specific flowers. They have nothing to do with the fair theme.

This recipe didn't work out quite as decribed for us. No matter how long we chilled the dough, it remained a sticky, nasty mess. Our solution? When we had the dough in 2 sections, we added about 1/3 c. flour to each dough ball. In the future (if I can talk myself into it...apparently I've promised myself several times to stop fooling with the dough in the past), I would add 1/2 to 2/3 c. flour to the dough and check the texture. If it feels sticky, I'd add a little more. Our cookies baked quickly. While they baked, I started making royal icing. I started out with the recipe listed below. It tasted terrible. My mom said...tastes like royal icing to me girls, its mainly a taste of powdered sugar. When I was a little kid I loved buttercream icing. I still love a good lemon, caramel, or cream cheese based icing with a myriad of added flavors. I DO NOT like royal icing though. We needed to fix the icing so that we'd be willing to eat the cookies. I was afraid that if we added cream cheese to the icing it would become too runny to set up. I added 2 tsp of vanilla and the royal icing still wasn't good. My mom encouraged us that we had nothing to lose by adding cream cheese by little bits until it tasted ok. We wound up adding 1/4 of an 8 oz package of cream cheese. Awesomely enough, it still set up! To reduce colors, we started thinking simple. We had a would need orange. The chicken would need white, red and we could add other colors from whatever else the pallette required. The duck needed to be yellow, of course, and the cow would need black spots! The blue ribbon we made needed blue and now that we were up to 6 colors we decided to start decorating and see if other colors popped up as necessary along the way.

Royal Icing:
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
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.

We used multiple techniques for decorating. I know piping was encouraged so we made sure to pipe on some details. However, the smallest tip was still a bit broad. As a result, we also employed the pointy tips of toothpicks and even some mini chocolate chips to help.

Here are the final results.

Argie (my brother-in-law) loves Halloween so we had to make him a  jack-o-lantern.

FAIR with trophy, blue ribbon, and biggest pumpkin.

Duckling, duck and rooster.

Making the cherry pie
Blueberry and 2 cherry pies!

Sheep, cow, pig

Piping the ferris wheel

All the Fair stuff together. Whew!

We liked the cookies. The addition of the cocoa and hazelnut made for an interesting flavor. The addition of cream cheese to the icing made it taste good too! Sugar cookies are a lot of work when you make this many details. They were fun though overall. I'd like to have an icing recipe that piped well and was super tasty. I was ecstatic over how well the lily cookies worked. 

If anyone out there has an alternate icing, please let me know!