Friday, July 29, 2011

Decorated Sugar Cookies

You most likely saw these cookies in my last post. And by the way, aren't they the coolest cookies in the galaxy? (More on my Star Wars affection later. It will be worth it, I promise.) So this time out I'm going to show you how to decorate sugar cookies. It's really not that hard. There are a lot of steps though, so I'm going to dispense with the chit chat and get right too it.

This is my preferred method to decorate sugar cookies for lots of reasons. You can add detail with royal icing right away because you don't have to wait for the background to dry. The colors don't bleed into the background. The covering is firm enough to stack or wrap the cookies but is still soft when you bite into it. It's cheaper than using fondant and it tastes good, like marshmallow. Yum!

To start you'll need some sugar cookie dough for rolled out cookies. Use your favorite recipe, one that doesn't spread when baked. You could also use this recipe from the William Sonoma web site, it's the one the comes in the package with the Star Wars cookie cutters. I've also heard good things about Martha Stewart's recipe found here, but I've never actually used it. You'll also need a batch of marshmallow dough and some royal icing.

On a weird side note I don't share my rolled out cookie recipes. I share ALL my other recipes. I know, it's kind of weird. The reason is two-fold. First it's taken me a lot of time and effort to develop recipes that are both flavorful and sturdy enough to hold up to decorating, packaging etc. Second I have a cockeyed dream that one day I'll run my own custom cookie business and to that end I'd like to keep the recipe a secret.
I know, it's weird, I hope you understand.

Here is some of the essential equipment. A sturdy rolling pin. This one is just a long straight one, no handles, no tapered ends (that's a French Rolling Pin) and it's my favorite. I also like to use these "spacers". Two pieces of wood approximately 24 inches long, 1-1/2 inches wide and exactly 1/4 inch thick. The nice man in the lumber section of Home Depot cut these for me (Make sure the wood is non-toxic, I choose maple, and that it hasn't been "treated" with any chemicals. Ask lots of questions and let them know what you are using it for!) After getting the wood cut, I sanded them lightly with fine sandpaper then gave them a good rubbing all over with vegetable oil to help preserve the wood. They wash and dry great, just like a rolling pin. Whew. . .lots to go over here. I also like this small strainer for sprinkling the flour. Lastly I'm using a Corian cutting board as a rolling surface but you can use your counter top if it's suitable or the back of a sturdy sheet pan. 

Set the spacers about 8-10 inches apart on your rolling surface and sprinkle the surface generously with flour.

Lay out the cookie dough and give it a good dusting of flour as well. Pre-form the dough so when you roll it out you get a oblong piece of dough rather than a big circle.

Roll out the dough resting the rolling pin over the wood spacers and applying pressure to the rolling pin over the spacers, not over the dough. Your done when the rolling pin is resting completely on the spacers and the dough no longer expands as you roll. Now you have a perfectly even sheet of 1/4-inch thick dough. It's magic! Just don't forget to flour as you go to prevent the dough from sticking.

Now cut out whatever shape you like. Generally I only "re-roll" scraps once. Beyond that the dough tends to get overworked and tough. Use your judgement.

Note: I'm showing one cookie design for the cookies and another for decorating. Sorry, I took the pictures during two different baking/decorating sessions. Neither group of pictures showed the complete process so I used a combination. I'm sure you'll get it.

Transfer the cookies to a rimmed, silpat lined cookie sheet using a spatula if necessary to keep the cookies in shape.

Bake according to your recipe and cool on a wire rack. Cookies are usually done when the edges just start to color.

Now on to decorating. To color the marshmallow dough use gel or paste food color, not liquid. Adding a small amount and kneading it in. Keep the board, and your hands, well dusted with confectioners sugar or corn starch.

Keep kneading (adding more food color if needed.) until the color is uniform and is just a shade lighter than you want. It will darken as it cures.

Note that most likely your hands will get stained, especially if you are using dark colors. I've tried using gloves but they are just too cumbersome. Since I work in a bakery, as a cake decorator, my hands are usually stained with one color or another, it's just an occupational hazard. It usually wears off within a day or two. Good luck!

Next roll the dough out to approximately 1/8-inch thick. Cut your shapes using the same cutter that you did for your cookies. These cookie cutters had an embossing feature so I used that as well to add in some of the details. Make sure there is a light dusting of powdered sugar on the dough so it won't stick to the cutter. 

To "glue" to marshmallow dough to the cookie use a pastry brush and some corn syrup. Brushing a light coating on the cookies and then laying the dough on, in position, and applying a light bit of pressure.

For dark pieces you can remove the "white" bits (sugar) by lightly brushing with a barely damp pastry brush or wipe gently with a lightly damp paper towel.

Add details with royal icing. You can do this right away as the marshmallow dough is "dry". Once the royal icing has set up, a good couple of hours or more, you can stack or wrap the cookies without damaging the design. Have fun with it!

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