Holiday gift ideas: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I’ve long been intimidated by decorating sugar cookies – always wanting mine to look like this, but being so scared of failure that I haven’t even tried….

…until I saw this tutorial over at PW Cooks.  They made it look so fun and easy, I just had to try it.  It took me most of a cold and blustery Sunday and my kitchen was covered in powdered sugar and various shades of royal icing by the end of it all, but I conquered my fear of sugar cookie cutouts decorated with royal icing.

While mine don’t look quite as good as theirs, I think for a first timer I did pretty well.  And after the first dozen or so, it wasn’t even that tedious or painful.  It actually may have even been fun after a while.  Or maybe that was just the delirium talking.  No, I think it was actually enjoyable.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I contemplate decorating the other half (I got ambitious and made a double batch).

Also, this is probably not the kind of decorating you want to do with your kindergartner.  It’s messy.  And takes a steady hand and a modicum of patience.  And unless you want your cabinets glued together with royal icing,you might want to save this ’til the kids are a little older.

I’ve also been trying for years to make a successful whole-wheat sugar cookie.  One that wasn’t overpowered by the flavor of the flour, had a tender crumb, and wasn’t too dark.  I think this year I finally succeeded.

 

Whole-wheat Sugar Cookies
prep time: 15 minutes
rest time: 2 hours
bake time: 7-9 minutes
yields 6 dozen cookies
Ingredients
1 1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated natural cane sugar
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups white whole-wheat flour, sifted
  1. Beat butter in the bowl of your electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds
  2. Add sugar, agave nectar and baking powder; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined
  4. Reduce speed to low and slowly add in the flour until it is all combined.
  5. Divide the dough into four parts; chill for 2 hours in the fridge, or 45 minutes in the freezer (if you’re impatient like I am).
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1/4 of the dough at a time to 1/8-inch thickness.
  7. Cut out with your favorite holiday-shaped cookie cutters
  8. Place cutouts on cookie sheets lined with silpat liners
  9. Bake at 375F for 7-9 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very light brown.
  10. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.
 Royal Icing
prep time: 5 minutes
yields: enough icing for 4-5 dozen cookies
Ingredients
4 tablespoons meringue powder
1/2 cup water
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon clear extract (flavor of your choice)
  1. Combine meringue powder and water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
  2. Beat on high until foamy
  3. Sift the powdered sugar and add slowly with the mixer on low speed
  4. Add the extract (I used a combination of vanilla and orange)
  5. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form – icing should be glossy
At this point, the icing is the perfect consistency for piping.  It was at this point that I divided the icing into five parts, leaving a little more than 1/5 of it as is for piping purposes. The other four parts I divided equally among four bowls and thinned with just a tiny bit of water to flooding consistency (when you hold your mixing implement – spatula or spoon – above the bowl, the icing should flow back into the bowl and disappear into the mix within 2-3 seconds).

 

I colored three of the bowls with liquid food coloring – red, green and blue – adding as much as was needed to reach the color desired.  If the food coloring thinned the mix to much, I added a bit of the piping icing to the mix to thicken it back up.  Once the desired color and consistency was reached, I transferred the flooding icing to squeeze bottles to make application extra easy.  The piping icing I put in a zip-top bag (or piping bag) fitted with a fine plain tip.
I then proceeded to pipe and flood to my heart’s content.  For a full tutorial on flooding technique and various answers to frequently asked questions, you can go here or here, since they do a much better job of explaining it than I ever could.
The cookies themselves were tender and slightly chewy, and they held their shape well during baking. They weren’t nearly as sweet as traditional sugar cookies made with refined sugar can be – they had a subtle sweetness with an underlying floral note (I think this comes from the agave nectar).  Given that royal icing is about as sweet as you can get, though, the lack of sweetness in the cookies was good thing.

If you’re like me and have ever been intimidated by the thought of trying to decorate sugar cookies, I recommend you try this technique.  I was much easier than I thought it would be, and once I got the hang of it, it didn’t really take that long.

And, if you’re still just a simple sprinkles and dragees kind of person, this cookie recipe is a good base for that as well.  You could easily change up the extract you use, subbing orange, lemon, coconut, almond, or whatever you prefer for the vanilla I used.

Enjoy!

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Categories: baking, dessert, holiday baking

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4 Comments on “Holiday gift ideas: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing”

  1. 14 December 2010 at 8:50 am #

    >they are so lovely!!!! (^_^)

  2. 14 December 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    >i love your snowflake cookies with the cut-out centers. Where did you find that cookie cutter? Excited to try your whole wheat cookies!

  3. 14 December 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    >@tree: i have a set of graduated snowflake cookie cutters, and i just use on of the small ones to cut the center out of the larger ones. i can't take credit – i saw it in a magazine last week and just had to try it. i love it too!

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  1. Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas ( A Round-up of Sorts) | life, in recipes - 30 November 2011

    […] Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing If you’ve ever been intimidated by royal icing, this should help you overcome your fears! […]

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