Whenever I see photos of beautifully decorated cut-out cookies in magazines, I say to myself, "I could do that." And then I don't. Whether it's cookie decorating, scrapbooking, or sewing, I have a hard time sitting still and focusing on such things in solitude. I do much better in a class or group setting.
With that in mind, I invited three friends over for a morning of cookie decorating about a week before Christmas. I told them to bring a couple dozen of their favorite cut-outs (which could be purchased, if they preferred) and I'd supply the frostings and decorations. I also provided breakfast (quiche and fruit). I really enjoyed it. It was fun, relaxing, and even productive. Three people were just the right number of people, because we could all fit around one table and there was plenty of room to spread out. And the cookies, as you can see, came out really nice.
Here are the recipes I used for the cookies:
Shortbread cut-out cookies
I like making these because the are delicious and buttery and they don't spread. The only downside of them is that they are rather fragile. I usually double this recipe, but it doesn’t seem to work if you make more than two batches at a time.
1 cup (2 sticks butter), room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon almond, vanilla, or lemon extract, if desired
Cream together butter and sugar. Blend in flour. When dough is well mixed, pat into a ball and refrigerate for 2 hours.
When ready to make cookies, heat oven to 300 degrees. Roll cookies on floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. (You will probably need to use flour on top of dough, too.) Cut with cookie cutters dusted in flour. Placed on ungreased cookie sheet. Re-roll dough until all is used.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until brown around the edges. Cool for 15 minutes. They are less likely to break if you pick them up with your fingers holding the widest part of the cookie. Decorate as desired. Makes 2 – 3 dozen, depending on size of cookie cutter.
Confectioner’s Sugar Glaze
I like to use a glaze rather than a frosting. It's not as hard as royal icing, but makes a smooth, shiny finish.
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (or extract of choice)
Food coloring, if desired
Mix all ingredients together. Brush or spread over cookies. If using sprinkles, sprinkle when cookies are wet.
Martha Stewart's Eggless Royal Icing
This is great for outlining and drawing.
1 pound confectioners' sugar (aka powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons meringue powder (powdered egg whites also work)
Liquid or gel-paste food coloring (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, meringue powder, and a scant 1/2 cup water on low speed. Beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7 to 8 minutes.
Test the consistency by lifting a spoonful of icing and letting it drip back into the bowl; a ribbon should remain on the surface for 5-7 seconds. If not using immediately, transfer to an airtight container (icing hardens quickly when exposed to air), and store at room temperature for up to one week. Beat with a rubber spatula before using. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.