Until my participation in a certain show, I was not too wild about decorating sugar cookies with Royal icing. Indeed, in the comfort of my kitchen I would always refer to that white, impossible to tame substance as Royal Pain in the Icing, which indicates how I felt about it. But those intense weeks of preparation for the different episodes of the show forced me into areas of baking I had happily ignored and avoided. Much to my own amazement, I now love everything about cookie decorating, from baking the base to planning the design and trying to make it happen. On that note, I highly recommend that you go through my trilogy of posts on the subject from last month and the detailed tutorials by Tanya which I shared at the time. For all the holiday cookies in this post, I went with a flavor that is deeply ingrained in the season: Fiori di Sicilia, the Italian magical potion that is the classic addition to panettone. As to the decorations, apart from the wet-on-wet which I find the most user-friendly, I will share three methods that were new to me, requiring just a tad more involvement: Crackled Gold Christmas Tree, Reindeer (a clever twist starting from a common cookie cutter), and Stained-Glass Cookies.
FIORI DI SICILIA SUGAR COOKIES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)
360 g all-purpose flour (3 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
200 g granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
227 g cup butter, cold and cut in pieces
3/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia extract
zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp cardamom
Heat oven to 350F. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg, Fiori di Sicilia, lemon zest and cardamom, mix well. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture in two steps, and beat just until combined.
Dough can be rolled right away in between sheets of parchment paper. Roll to about 1/4″ thick, and cut into shapes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, freeze for 10 minutes. Bake for about 12 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temperature before icing.
(for Royal Icing, I used Tanya’s recipe, which you can find here)
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: This is definitely my default recipe for sugar cookies because I adore Fiori di Sicilia and I do flips for cardamon. As far as extracts go, Fiori di Sicilia is not cheap, but it is hard to replace with something else. Some say that orange extract + vanilla does a good enough job playing its part. Your kitchen, your rules, feel free to flavor your cookies the way you like. Just make sure not to roll the cookies too thin. Thin sugar cookies don’t stand up to the icing.
With the basic Christmas colors (red and green, plus white for flooding) you can do a lot…
I used two cookie cutters, one for the basic shape, a smaller to cut a circle in the center, turning it into a wreath. From there, nothing fancy. Flooded with white, allowed to set for just 10 minutes and then a few green and red dots added on top. The little bow added in the very end. Yes, I realize that could be a lot better, and I intend to work on it.
A new cookie cutter I got this year stole my heart. I find it so cute and a bit unusual. A Christmas light bulb, which once again can be made quite simply with only two colors of icing and if you like to gild the lily, some luster gold painted on the “metal” part next day.
By bringing one more color – black – you can expand a bit more the horizons, so that Mr. Snowman has a nice hat and black, profound eyes. The baby deer are also super easy, flooding with white, waiting until it sets a bit and piping the details. The little snowflakes were flooded with white and immediately showered with white sparkling sugar. And one day I will understand why I seem to always type “spanking” sugar before getting it correctly (sigh).
And since there was black Royal Icing around… why not immortalize one of our faithful companions, who has been with us every step of the way in this crazy year? The black dots were placed before the white set (wet-on-wet), then the nose and the red collar were added later, just to have a bit of a 3D effect. Same process went into the snowflakes.
Holiday Baking is not complete without Christmas Trees…
Some of the designs were again wet-on-wet, but then I did something new that blew my little mind when I saw it on a tutorial on youtube. A technique called “Crackled Gold” and you can visualize better in this picture:
It is so cool, I cannot quite believe how creative people can be, figuring these little tricks. What you do is flood the cookie with the base color and wait until it starts to crust. Average will be 15 minutes. Then you use the handle of a painting brush, or what I used: a fondant ball-shaper. I have a set of several sizes and picked one to make the indentations that seemed most appropriate for the size of the tree. Press the ball gently to make a mark on the icing. Let it dry completely and if desired you can add details with gold luster. Or you can leave it without the gold accent, for a simpler look.
To see exactly how that is made, you can check the wonderful tutorial by The Graceful Baker in youtube clicking here. The “crackled gold” starts at 33 min and 10 sec. I already anticipate the same approach in other styles, like crackled heart shapes for Valentine’s…. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Moving on…. another technique I learned from Stephanie on youtube, and you absolutely MUST check her site. What I loved about this one is the clever use of a cookie cutter that most people have in their little treasure box: a gingerbread man, any size will do. If you turn it upside down you can use it to make a Reindeer!
I swear, I love this little guy! I admit his ears ended a bit pathetic, and if you watch her video you’ll realize I forgot to add the hair on top of his cute head, but overall I am thrilled with the way he turned out. I will make some more again in the near future, hoping to do a better job.
The final details (eyebrows and smile) are made with a very fine food pen but if you can also try royal icing, I don’t dare going for such fine details using it. Poor Reindeer, he would look like roadkill.
Please make sure you visit Little Cookie co. youtube channel. I already have three different techniques on my list of projects to try soon, in fact it is quite likely that by the time you read this I will be already working on one of them….
And finally… a technique I’ve been flirting with for the longest time: Stained Glass Window Cookies. First time I did it, I was not very happy with the outcome. I liked the overall design but the stained component was not as I expected.
To have the stained glass effect, many recipes will tell you to simply crush hard candy in the color you want and make a little pile in the cut out part right before you bake. I found it hard to time the full melting of the candy with the cookie baking, and also the candy shrinks quite a bit and gets cloudy. Just not the type of effect I had in mind. I consulted with Tanya about it, and she advised me to use a totally different method, her favorite. Essentially you make the sugar syrup yourself, dye any color you want or leave it plain, and spoon it gently in the cut out part after the cookies are already baked. The result is so much better! Nothing like getting advice from a pro…
Here is the recipe I used, it makes enough for many many cookies, but it is hard to scale it down, so I advise you to keep the amounts as written.
SYRUP FOR STAINED GLASS COOKIES
(from The Honey Blonde)
100g sugar (1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1/4 cup water
gel food color, if desired
Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water into a small sauce pan. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Do not stir sugar while boiling. Continue to boil until mixture reaches about 290-300 degrees. Remove from heat and gently stir gel food color.
Place the cookies on a foil lined baking sheet lightly sprayed with oil, or use a non-stick foil. Spoon the candy into the center of the cookie, using the spoon the spread the candy into the edges of the cut out region.
Let set for about 10 minutes, or until candy is completely hardened.
to print the recipe, click here
I hope you enjoyed this little collection of Holiday-inspired sugar cookies. Next I will share macaron ideas also inspired by this festive season. Stay tuned!
ONE YEAR AGO: Just a few hours to go!
TWO YEARS AGO: Broccoli Souffle
THREE YEARS AGO: Panettone Time!
FOUR YEARS AGO: How the Mighty Have Fallen
FIVE YEARS AGO: Festive Night at Central
SIX YEAR AGO: The Perfect Boiled Egg
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Light Rye Sourdough with Cumin and Orange
EIGHT YEARS AGO: Homemade Calzones
NINE YEARS AGO: Plum-Glazed Duck Breasts
TEN YEARS AGO: Holiday Double-Decker
ELEVEN YEARS AGO: New York Deli Rye