Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rach Makes Perfect Sugar Cookies (and shares my secrets with you)

I know I have previously shown you the bug cookies I made for a birthday party. Fancy decorated sugar cookies have become my go to dessert whenever I bring something to a party and they are often requested. Everyone always compliments me on them and I always tell them it isn't hard, it is just time consuming.

My good friend is having a beach pool party and I told her I would make the cookies for the party also. She really liked these snow cone cookies she saw on Pinterest. Not surprising it is a post from Bake at 350's on Parade Magazine's website.

Snow cone cookie from Bake at 350
I have already shared with you Bake at 350's amazing blog and how I learned all about decorating fancy sugar cookies from her. I find her Royal Icing 101 post especially helpful in learning how to create Royal Icing. The pictures really made it for me.

But what about before you bake the cookies? My mother told me in recent years that she had the most trouble rolling and cutting her sugar cookies so I figured I would show you how I do it.

I actually don't use the sugar cookie recipe from Bake at 350. I use one I found years ago at All Recipes that you can find here. It was submitted by Jill Saunders and I love it. I am retyping the recipe below and cutting in half because if you make them the way I do, half the recipe will make you about 40 cookies which is typically a nice size batch.

I follow the recipe exactly as listed. I use my kitchen aid the standard attachment. I never remember to take my butter out in time so I put in the microwave for 1 minute on the lowest power level. This softens the butter without melting it.

Then I place two pieces of saran wrap on my counter on top of each other perpendicular so it makes a t (sorry I didn't think to take a picture of this). Then I plop my cookie dough on the middle of the cross and smoosh it out. I fold over the edges so it is a square and flatten as much I can so it likes like the below.
I put it my fridge overnight. The recipe only takes 15 minutes to make and package so I often do it right before bed the day before I want to bake and decorate. This is a minimum of 3 days before I want to serve the cookies. I often make them earlier and freeze them. Have I mentioned I love to freeze things? It allows me to do things when I want instead of planning my life around to dos.

Sometime before I start rolling and cutting my cookies, I typically sketch out the cookies I want to make. This way I have an idea of what cutters and colors I will need.

Don't they look like the real thing? Well maybe not. How I do this is by taking my cookie cutters and placing them on a piece of paper and then trace the inside. I then sketch any additional lines and use munchkin's crayons to color if I am worried about what colors might look like together.

After it has been in the fridge overnight the butter will harden and it will be much easier to work with. Take it out and get your parchment and cookie cutters. I also keep a small amount of flour in an old (but thoroughly cleaned) spice jar.

I like to roll my cookies in between parchment. It allows sticky dough to be easier to work with and I use less flour this way.  Put one piece of parchment down and some flour from your spice jar.

Then place your dough down. Sprinkle a little more flour on top of it. Then place your other piece of parchment on top of your dough.
Now about rolling. I have two rolling pins, an old fashioned wooden one and a hard plastic one from the craft store that is supposed to be used for rolling fondant. I love the plastic one. It is wider than the wooden one and I prefer to roll pressing down in the middle.

I also have these great rings that I put on my rolling pin. The came in a pack and they go on your rolling pin so that you roll your cookies the same thickness every time. These rings were created for rolling fondant but they work great for cookies. I like to use the 1/4" thickness for my cookies. Depending on the thickness of your cookie will depend on how long you cook them.
So start rolling out your dough. I don't have much upper body so I find it helps if I stand on a step stool while rolling so I am higher up and can use more than just my arms to roll.

If you find the dough is sticking to the parchment pull it off and add a little bit more flour. I also like to flip over my dough and add more flour on the bottom. To flip it over, leave parchment on both sides and put one hand under the dough and parchment and the other hand on top. Then flip it over.














So roll out your dough so it is the same thickness all over. Then take the top parchment off and start cutting your cookies.




Your cookies should cut pretty easily since the dough has been in the fridge all night. At this point they probably won't stick and will remove quite easily while still keeping their shape.

See how nice they look! Now sometimes the dough will stick a little. Don't fret. The parchment is there to help you. First, remove the extra dough around the cookie. Then put your hand under the parchment and lift up. At the same time you want to peel the cookie off the sheet like a delicate sticker.
Sometimes I just turn the parchment and dough over in my hand and peel the parchment off while the dough stays in my hand like I am doing above.

So cut out as many cookies as you can from the dough and place them on your cookie sheets. I cover my trays in wax paper for the time being.
Stick your cookies in the fridge to cool. Having them go straight from the fridge to the oven will help them keep their shape.
All my cookie sheets have a lip so I stack my trays on top of each other perpendicular to the one below.
Once you have cut out all your cookies from the rolled dough, you will want to roll the extra dough into a ball and re-roll it. Sometimes I get too much flour on my area from re-rolling and other things.
That's ok. Just take a clean marinade brush and sweep the flour off.

I got to a point with these cookies that my dough got really hard to work with so I put it back in the plastic wrap, flattened it out and stuck it in the fridge for 15 or so minutes to help re-harden the butter. After that it was easier to work with and I continued rolling.

I like my cookies to stay in the fridge for about 15 minutes before baking them. Like I said this helps them keep their shape while baking. I like to bake my cookies on a silicone mat.

I find it is easier to pull them off and they brown nicer. I never used to use silicone mats, I would just use tin foil but I got these mats from my mother for Christmas one year and love them. (Thanks Mom!) They fit perfectly on a 12.25"x 11.5" cookie sheet.

I also like to bake my cookies so the same type of cookie is on one tray. This helps me keep an eye on how many I have of each type. In this case I had one too many beach balls so I turned it into a life preserver.
You want your cookies to be about one inch apart from each other on all sides as they may expand in the oven as they bake. So pop them in the oven. They need about 8 minutes if you have done them 1/4" thick. I like to put the timer on for 4 minutes and turn them halfway to make sure they are cooking evenly.
You will know when they are done when the edges are little bit brown. This helps them keep their chewy yummy consistency.
Let them cool and decorate using the Royal Icing 101 recipe on Bake at 350.

Aren't they pretty?

Sugar Cookie Cutouts

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Tools:
Large mixer
Rolling Pin
Cookie Cutters
Wax Paper
Parchment
Cookie Sheets

Directions:
  1. In large mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth
  2. Beat in eggs and vanilla
  3. Slowly beat in flour, baking powder, salt on low speed
  4. Chill overnight
  5. Lay out parchment and sprinkle flour
  6. Place dough down, some more flour and another piece of parchment
  7. Roll to 1/4" thick
  8. Cut out cookies and refrigerate for 15 minutes
  9. Bake in 385 degree oven for 6-8 minutes
  10. Decorate and sit back and be impressed by yourself

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