Despite a forecast of canceled parties and virtual family gatherings, baking traditions go on. In fact, a scaled-down holiday season offers the perfect opportunity to try your hand at new decorating techniques.
Sweet, surprising and modern: These cookies were designed by three baking experts to impart cookie-decorating wisdom. You can use the New York Times’ Basic Sugar Cookie recipe, or any simple sugar cookie recipe you prefer.
Just remember to chill your dough before cutting. Firm, well-chilled dough won’t stick to cookie cutters, making it easier to cut detailed shapes. And don’t overwork your dough. While it can be tempting to use every last scrap, once dough has been kneaded and rolled a couple of times, it won’t hold a shape.
After cutting them out, place cookies back into the refrigerator or freezer for about 10 minutes before baking. Once baked, allow to slightly cool and firm before placing them on a wire rack to fully cool.
While you don’t need fancy kitchen tools to achieve great design results, experts agree that a few key supplies are necessary. Invest in a quality icing tool kit, which consists of piping bags, couplers and a range of tips. To create colorful icing and tinted dough, gel food coloring is essential. Finally, a set of small baking-dedicated paint brushes is useful for applying fine details and dusting off runaway sprinkles.
Amisha Gurbani, the recipe developer and food photographer behind The Jam Lab, a cooking website, designed stunning metallic snowflakes inspired by a favorite polka-dot wrapping paper. “I love metallic and glitter on cookies; the extra sparkle exudes joy,” Gurbani said. Instead of dousing cookies in sparkles, she prefers detailed designs.
Once you’ve baked and cooled your cookies, apply a single layer of royal icing. Start by piping the royal icing around the edge of each cookie, working your way toward the middle. Give your cookie a few gentle shakes to smooth the surface of the icing, before allowing it to dry. Once the icing is completely dry, use a paint brush and stencil — which can easily be made from cardstock and a large hole punch — to paint uniform circles of royal icing on top of the first layer. Sprinkle liberally with gold or silver sanding sugar and gently shake off the extra. A small, dry paintbrush is handy for brushing away stray sugar.
If you’d prefer intricate designs, Gurbani recommends using a piping tip, preferably a Wilton size 0 or 1, for clean, detailed lines. Before starting on your cookies, draw straight lines, curves and dots on a piece of paper and practice tracing them with your icing. When piping details, give icing time to dry between patterns so that the lines don’t run or smudge. Also, keep toothpicks handy for fixing mistakes, popping air bubbles that can occur and for cleaning out the tip, which can clog with dried icing.
Warda Patisserie in Detroit is known for its sophisticated sweets, thanks to the owner and pastry chef Warda Bouguettaya’s aesthetic. Her menu relies on unique flavor combinations paired with elegant flourishes, as is evident with her stunning botanical cookies. You may be able to find dried culinary grade rose petals at the grocery store, as well as fresh herbs. Local flower farms may have edible dried flower offerings.
To begin, use two different sized circle cookie cutters to make a wreath-like cookie. Once the cookies are baked and completely cooled, apply a thin layer of royal icing. Allow the icing to nearly set and then use tweezers to place flowers onto the icing, giving them the gentlest press to secure. Fresh herbs can be candied by whisking one egg white with a teaspoon of water until frothy (use pasteurized egg whites, sold in many grocery stores). Using a paint brush and working one sprig at a time, apply a thin layer of egg wash, followed by a sprinkle of sugar. Set them on a wire cooling rack to dry for at least an hour.
If you’d prefer to bake the flowers directly onto the cookies without icing, simply lay the dried flowers on each cookie before baking, cover with parchment paper and press gently with a rolling pin to make sure the flowers stick to the cookie. Avoid pressing too hard and flattening your cookie. Take off the top layer of parchment paper, and bake cookies at 320 degrees for 10 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through. The slightly cooler oven temperature will help the dried flowers retain their color. Once baked, sprinkle with sugar.
By transforming dough with gel food coloring, and getting inventive with cookie cutters, photographer and food stylist Lisa Tutman-Oglesby created a cookie within a cookie. “Make sure to use gel food coloring,” she instructed. “Liquid food coloring can change the consistency of the dough.”
Using gloves, take half your cookie dough and add just a few drops of red gel, kneading until the color is evenly distributed. Roll the dough between parchment and chill until firm. The use a small star cookie cutter to cut as many stars as possible and place return them to the fridge to chill.
Whisk an egg white with a teaspoon of water. You are now going to create a stack with your stars, one on top of the other, binding them together with a wash of egg white, applied with a small paint brush. As you stack, press the stars firmly together, while maintaining their shape. Once your star stack is complete, freeze until very firm.
Now take your plain dough and roll it into several long, thin ropes. Lightly brush the frozen star stack with egg white. Press the ropes into the egg white around the stars, molding the dough until it surrounds the stars in a rough cylinder, with no air pockets. Once the stars are surrounded, gently roll the entire cookie dough log until smooth and round. Place a generous heap of red sanding sugar on a baking sheet and roll your log through the sugar until it is well coated. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least three hours.
With a very sharp knife, slice log into half-inch rounds, place on parchment and bake.
BASIC SUGAR COOKIES
2-1/2 cups (320 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; whisk to combine. Set aside.
Cream together butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla; beat on medium speed until well combined.
Add flour mixture and beat on low speed just until combined. Scrape bowl and fold a few times to make sure everything is well combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough 1/4-inch thick. Use 3-inch floured cutters to cut out cookies, and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1-1/2 inches apart. Reroll scraps as needed, rechilling if needed to keep dough firm. Freeze cookies until very firm, about 10 minutes.
Bake until golden brown the edges, 12 to 14 minutes.
Let cool a few minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks, or frozen up to 3 months. Makes 2 dozen.
3-3/4 cups (1 pound/454 grams) powdered sugar
3 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch kosher salt
Food coloring, as needed
Use electric mixer to combine sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until stiff and glossy.
Divide frosting into small bowls and tint with food coloring. Keep bowls covered with plastic wrap; frosting dries out very quickly. It makes life easier if you make 2 versions of each color — one thick to pipe outlines, one thinned out slightly with water to fill in.
Use piping bags and/or pastry or paint brushes to decorate. Let set at least 2 hours. Makes enough for about 4 dozen cookies.
Nutritional information unavailable.