Snowflake Shortbread Cut-out Cookies

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I've been on the hunt for the perfect cut-out cookie recipe for years. One that isn't sickly sweet, doesn't spread too much in the oven, is sturdy enough to frost, and rolls out nicely. Finally, I found one that fits all of my criteria. My momma is a middle school teacher and for years one of her students (and her subsequent siblings) would give her a box of homemade sugar cookies for Christmas. They were amazing--like fight all your siblings for the last one amazing. After years of eating these cookies my mom finally asked her student's mom for the recipe. I was surprised by the recipe because it only has a couple of ingredients and uses no granulated sugar, only powdered sugar, no eggs, no baking powder or baking soda. It's really more of a shortbread than your traditional sugar cookie which is great because it falls apart in your mouth and isn't too sweet. I always hate it when you eat a cookie and between the cookie and the frosting you feel sick after. I've tweaked it a bit to my liking and here's the final recipe:

Cut-Out Shortbread Cookies--adapted from Bon Appetit

3 sticks of butter at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

3 and 1/4th cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 

3-4 teaspoons pure almond extract 

Cream butter at medium speed for 1 minute. Add extracts followed by sugar and salt and blend well, then slowly add flour and mix until the dough just comes together. Don't over mix or you'll have a "tough" cookie. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll cookies out until they are just slightly thinner than 1/4 inch. 

Bake at 325 degrees until the edges are barely browned. If you find your shortbread has bubbles in it take a flat spatula (the kind you'd flip a pancake with) and lightly press down on the hot cookie to flatten out any bubbles so you have a flat surface to frost. 

For the royal icing I used the same recipe as here but I made a lot more. My measurements were: 

1 bag powdered sugar

1/3 cup meringue powder

1 tablespoon corn syrup 

3 teaspoons almond extract (don't use vanilla or it will turn the icing an off-white color or use artificial vanilla which is clear.)

enough water until it's "flood" consistency  

To frost these guys it's easiest if you make two consistencies of icing: one flood icing and one outline icing. Make the flood icing first--add enough water until you can lift up a spoonful of icing and let it drip down to the bowl and it quickly loses it's "ribbon" shape. So it's not "soupy" but it is definitely runny. If you've ever wondered how Starbucks makes those perfectly frosted snowman cookies, flood icing is the key! 

Place a little more than 3/4 of your flood icing in a large piping bag. With the remaining icing slowly add powdered sugar until the icing is stiff--this is your outline icing. The icing should make stiff peaks when you lift it up from the bowl. 

To ice your cookies follow these steps:

From here you can do whatever you want decorating-wise. If you want to add sprinkles like I did apply them when the icing is still wet (it dries very quickly!). You can also let the icing dry then add more outline icing on top to make it more three-dimensional.  

My momma and I wrapped these up and gave them out as gifts to our neighbors. I tied up stacks of 6 cookies with baking twine (seriously, what doesn't this stuff look cute on?), put them in cellophane bags, and tied them up with a Rudolph tag I recreated based on a Pinterest photo. I bought craft paper tags and some red pompoms. I made a cardboard Rudolph head template out of some stiff paper that I traced onto the tags, and freehanded the eyes and antlers before affixing the nose with a dollop of hot glue. 

Here's what they look like all wrapped up! Merry Christmas Eve!!! Hope everyone's night is full of family and egg nog and cookies and fun. Xx

Dressed-Up Holly-day Sugar Cubes

Greetings from the other side of finals! This marks my second-to-last preclinical semester of school and I could NOT be happier to have it done. This means only one more semester of sitting in class every day and then we get to be on the wards! We just finished our unit called CRR--circulation, respiration and regulation aka, heart, lungs, and kidneys--ya know, nothing too important. Lungs was by far my least favorite part--wayyyyy too much chemistry and gas laws. I thought I was done with that stuff when I took my mcat but nope, P1V1 = P2V2 continues to haunt my life!

Anyways, these sugar cubes mark my first post-finals baking project! I have a list of like 10 things I want to make this break but I wanted to do these first since they are super simple! I made a batch as a gift for a family friend. They look great in a sugar bowl (the SUCRE one I used is from Anthropologie and makes a lovely gift) or in a cellophane bag, and you could give someone some coffee or tea to go with it. 

All you need to make these is the following: powdered sugar, meringue powder, water, food coloring (preferably gel), sugar cubes, corn syrup (optional), and some sort of piping device. Over the years I've accumulated some real piping bags, tips, and connectors but honestly this is a simple enough design that you could use a ziplock baggie and it would probably work out just fine with some patience and practice. 

There is so much to be found on the internet about royal icing, but basically this is what it comes down to: it is an icing that drys really hard and is therefore great for decorating. It dries hard because of the meringue powder. Sometimes meringue powder can be hard to find in stores, even baking stores, so I order it from amazon. If you're in a pinch and feel good about your eggs, you can always use an egg white in a pinch and just decrease the amount of water used. My royal icing is loosely based on this recipe but with a much smaller quantity. I used about 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon meringue powder, 1 tsp of corn syrup and added water slowly until it looked like the right consistency. The corn syrup is just so it dries shiny. You definitely want to air on the side of thicker icing because you don't want it to spread when you pipe it. A good test is this: lift up a spoon of icing and let the icing fall like a ribbon back into the bowl. It should keep it's shape for 5-6 seconds before melting. Split the icing into two groups (keep in mind you will need less red than green icing) and add food coloring. Mix very well and squeeze into piping bags. To keep the icing from spilling when you aren't using the bags place them upright in a water glass. 

It's hard to get used to working on such a small surface, but the below photos show how I made the holly leaf shape. The trick is you want to have both ends end in a point and you want the leaf to be slightly to one side so there is room for the holly berries. 

Let the cubes dry for about 15 minutes and then they are ready to be eaten, given away, or placed in a bowl for morning coffee!