At first, I thought this month’s challenge was a no brainer. It was in the sense that I knew exactly what I was going to make. The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.
The twist was that the cookies had to have something to do with whatever September means for you. Being a former teacher, the start of the school year is always top of mind. But in the last two years, it’s of course been the month that V was born. This year, at his request, we were giving him a train themed birthday party. So, I decided the minute I read the challenge that I would be making train shaped sugar cookies.
I followed the basic sugar recipe except I added some fall spice to it (cinnamon and nutmeg) and I used the royal icing recipe from Elisa Strauss’s book Confetti Cakes. I loved this sugar cookie recipe. It was a breeze to make and the shape of the cookies held up so well and made nice clean cuts. The challenge of course was in the decorating.
I’ve only made iced cookies a few times before and they were mostly using just one color. After icing these train cookies, I have a much greater appreciation for the hand decorated cookie. Using royal icing requires some practice. One, you have to get the right consistency. Two, piping it to make smooth lines, requires some skill (or at least lots of practice!) I did not end up with perfectly iced cookies but they tasted really good and V was so excited to see them being made for his Choo choo train party! All in all, this was a very fun challenge for me. Personalizing it definitely made the whole experience special. I’m looking forward to giving decorated cookies another try in the future.
If you are interested in looking at some beautifully decorated sugar cookies, please check out what our Daring Baker friends were up to this September. There’s some crazy creative talent out there!
Basic Sugar Cookies: (adapted from Peggy Porschen)
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4″ Cookies
200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
1 Tbs cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Cream together the butter, sugar. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture. Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sifted flour,cinnamon and nutmeg and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch). Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. Tip: It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking. Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4. Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. Tip: Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired. Tip: If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated
cookies can last up to a month.
Basic Royal Icing (from Elisa Strauss)
Makes 4 cups
1/3 cup pasteurized egg whites
4 1/2 cups + 1Tbs sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
In an elctric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time and scrape down the bowl between additions. Add the lemon juice and beat on medium high speed until stiff peaks form and the icing is shiny. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to five days.