Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sugar Sugar Cookie Cookie

I have done little this week other than make sugar cookies.

Actually--that's not true. I have done plenty: we got two new tires on the car, our foundation fixed, a million other things baked, I thought about cleaning the house, made meals for other people, wrote exhausting blog posts and set a mixer on fire. I'm so busy.

Sugar cookies are one of my favorite ever things to bake. I am more of a cook, not a baker. (This means that I don't like to measure.) But these cookies are tried and true favorites. This year I tried some new methods of icing the cookies and actually sold my first batch--woot! I'm not sure if it counts when you sell to a friend, but I supposed the changing of money (and peppermint patties) makes it official. (Thanks, Feisty!)

 My favorite sugar recipe comes from one of Paula Deen's books, so I can't reprint it. I searched for it online and apparently she has like six different recipes, none of which is the one I used. I will swear by it, though--insanely tasty, very easy to work with, and almond extract to give it that extra umph. Also, doesn't contain like 80 ingredients, just six. SIX.
Several of which are butter.

I like to roll them a bit thicker than most people, I think. This recipe rises and spreads just the tiniest bit, so you can cram a bunch on one cookie sheet and not worry about making an accidental cookie cake.

As for icing, I have long been a fan of using thick icing made of confectioners sugar, almond & vanilla extract, and milk. (I think this may also come from Paula Deen.) To apply, I use tiny paintbrushes and put a big glop in the middle, then spread it, leaving some room at the edges so it won't overflow as it settles.

Apparently, real cookies makers use real royal icing, which includes meringue powder to help stiffen it up. The preferred method for this is outline and fill. I wasn't sure if I wanted to try something new, especially since I have been doing this the same way for years (see a pre-baby post with my signature Texas Christmas cookies here). But since I really wanted to make sure the ones I was selling would harden, I figured I'd give it a whirl.

I used a few sites for reference that I really like. The first is an article written about my friend Sara of Sara Belle's Bakery in Austin. She makes the most beautiful cookies I've ever seen, hands down. You can find her tips and tricks here. The best trick I used was to roll out the dough and let it chill in the fridge already rolled out so you don't have to fight it when you are cutting shapes. This also made for better, firmer shapes.

I'm not great with piping bags, so I tried using squirt bottles, as shown in this Pioneer Woman post.  I both liked and didn't like this method.

My first problem was not finding meringue powder. Because of the car/flat tire/foundation issues this week, I was confined to home. The few minutes I had to run to the store, they did not have this at my store. So I used cream of tartar, which I know can help firm things. I don't like the taste it adds to anything, and I struggled to get the consistency right--something that doesn't happen as often when I'm doing my straight-up confectioners sugar and milk recipe. Plus it involved a mixer, which is not something I generally use when making icing.

Oh, and did I mention I burned out the motor on my hand mixer while making these? Yup. You can see a bit of the smoke here. I yelled to Rob, "Hey, I just burned out the mixer."  He was like, "That's nice honey." Then a few minutes later he said, "What's that horrible smell?" And I said, "I told you--the mixer was on FIRE." It was comical. (And led to a Facebook post which led to me getting a new, gently used Kitchenaid stand mixer for Christmas--something I've always wanted. Yay for kitchen fires!)

As for actually using the pipe and fill method, it took some getting used to. I would get the right consistency for the outside line (which should be a firmer to hold the fill icing) and then it would harden too much in the bottle, leading to the issue of having to re-mix while in the bottle or somehow get a hard, thick icing out of the bottle, remix and then get it back in. Really annoying. 

 My problem with the thick fill line is that it was often visible when I was done. (I think this is why you should use a pastry bag or a bottle with an adjustable tip.) It wasn't awful, but I wanted them to have the smooth look my cookies normally do.  Most of the methods use a little bit looser icing for the fill but the same method (squirt bottle or piping bag).  I found for me that the best idea was to do a little bit looser line and as soon as I was done, fill that cookie using a tiny spoon and my old method of starting in the middle and working the icing out. Only now I had to worry even less about overflow.

This was sort of my perfect take on it, but of course I figured this out after I'd made 60 cookies already. Sheesh. I'll know for next time and use my hybrid method.

Of course I let the boys do some decorating of their own. Mostly they threw some icing down on like two cookies and then wanted to eat.

How amazing is this: Lincoln made that little man with the heart. COMPLETELY BY ACCIDENT. I'm saving it forever.

I completely destroyed my kitchen in the process of all this and think that I need to go clean my house before all our Christmas company arrives. Speaking of which, I think I need to Christmas shop...

And in case you were wondering, Feisty was a very happy customer with her custom stars for coworkers in her school color. I don't plan to do a lot of baking-for-hire, but I sure can't get enough of making cookies. I have two more batches to go in the next week.

On second thought, maybe I should wait on cleaning the kitchen.



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