Christmas Cookies 2009
Since I have my new handy-dandy Kitchenaid Mixer, I felt especially motivated to do the Christmas Cookie thing this year. My Mom made Christmas Sugar Cookies with us most every year while I was growing up. We decorated them with a simple frosting tinted with different food colorings and sprinkles/choc chips, raisins, mini-marshmallows, etc. I have very fond memories of this activity. Having my own children now, it’s kind of fun to pass on what I hope will become a tradition.
First thing I had to do was to find a good Sugar Cookie recipe that would work well for Cookie Cutters. I went online and ended up (as is common for me for some reason) at http://allrecipes.com/. I found a recipe that looked good, and in reading some of the reviews found some interesting, new to me techniques to try.
Here’s the recipe I used. It had nearly 3,000 feedback comments with a 4.5 star rating out of 5.
The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies
- 1-1/2 cups butter, softened
- 2 cups white sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- + I added 1/2 tsp of almond extract into the dough, just because in the reviews I read where the dough was a little “bland” by some people’s standards.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
- Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.
I chronicled my little adventure with some photos (loving that new mixer!). So, I started w/the 3 sticks of butter. (note the bowl has already been used, the pics are from the 2nd batch I made)
Add 2 cups of sugar and cream it, which in this case just means “turn the mixer on low and laugh with delight thinking about how your arm doesn’t hurt AT ALL”
Oh the sweetness of just that one piece, I was SO loving it. OK, next, add the vanilla, eggs and then baking powder, salt and flour. I was seriously able to make a whole batch of cookie dough about 5 minutes. Did I mention how much I love my new mixer?
So, after this, I just unplugged the mixer, lowered the bowl, took off the beater attachment and scraped it off, then divided the dough into 2 even piles onto wax paper, wrapped it like a burrito and tucked it into the fridge overnight. I made 3 total batches of cookie dough. Over the next 3 days, I used up 2 batches, and decided at that point to freeze one. The recipe did not indicate how many cookies it would make, but the answer should be “a whole lot!” I made enough cookies for 3 parties on 2 batches of this dough.
Here’s some of the batter on the wax paper about to be wrapped like a burrito and tucked into the fridge.
Next, I took a little side trip to one of my new favorite stores in Dallas, Cake Carousel, to pickup sprinkles and to let each child pick out a new cookie cutter for this year. They have an enormous selection of both there, and much more than that. If you are into cake, candy or cookie making/decorating, that place is insane. And I overheard the lady behind the counter today telling another customer that they had been in business for 35 years!
My daughter picked out a gigantic snowflake, and my son picked out a bumblebee/wasp looking thing. I got a few other ones too that I found interesting. We are getting quite a collection going at this point.
Here I go now with the hints that I read from the sugar cookie recipe comments. Previously, I have always floured a surface well, and rolled the dough out right on that surface, then cut all my shapes, peeled back the extra dough, then attempted to pickup the cookies with a spatula and transfer to a cookie sheet without distorting the cookie. After baking, I would pickup the cookie again with a spatula and try to transfer it, once more, without distortion. After reading comments on the website with the recipe, it seemed like a lot of folks were having success with using parchment paper. I have had parchment paper in my kitchen forever, but I don’t know why. I don’t even know when I bought it or for what. I don’t know how to use it, and don’t understand how it actually differs from wax paper, other than it feels “less waxy”. But I had made a TON of cookie dough and had enough extra dough, and time before I needed the cookies, so what the hey. I decided to try something new. So, I put some parchment paper down on my surface and floured the parchment paper, and then rubbed/pushed most of the flour off to the side to use for flouring the cookie cutters. Here is the floured parchment.
Next, took some of the dough (mountains of dough, I have!) out of the fridge. Split some of it into a workable quantity and formed it into a ball. One thing to note — one of those future “Note to Self” moments that I am putting down here. The dough seems to stick more at first — either when it is colder, or when it has been through less “recycles” and thus has less flour in it. I’m not sure which it is. But the point is, when you first get started, this stuff sticks. So — flouring the parchment paper very well is important, and also, flouring the rolling pin AND the cookie cutters is doubly important. On the website with the recipe, I was reading in the reviews where some people actually “flour” with powdered sugar. I thought that was a little silly, and did not try it myself. My thoughts were that would make the dough overly sweet, but since I didn’t even try it, who am I to judge? I just put that info here in case one of you more adventurous types might want to try it sometime and let me know how it went.
Ball-o-dough on the parchment paper ready to be rolled out.
And then rolled out.
Funny thing is, I have had a couple of people in the last few days ask me “how thick do you roll the dough” or “how do you control how thick you roll the dough”. In this last bit of cookie making I did experiment a bit. I tried doing dough about 1/8″ thick (by eye), and then went thicker, to say 1/4″ to 1/3″ thick. I thought the thicker dough would make for a softer, maybe more tasty cookie. No beans. The thicker dough resulted in deformed cookies, so don’t do it. I have read about these rings that you can buy and put around your rolling pin, they help to guide you so that you roll the dough to the perfect thickness. I don’t have any of those, I feel pretty comfortable doing it by eye…but then again, I’ve never tried them, maybe they are great?
Here is what 1/3″ dough versus 1/8″ dough looks like after coming out of the oven — same cookie cutter. Notice how the fatter cookie dough kind of “messed up” the cookie.
The next piece that I tried, which was new for me, was to put all of the cookie cutters into the dough, and leave them there. Basically using only 1 cutter per batch. You then (while leaving the cookie cutters down) peel up all of the excess dough and make a pile of it for the next go-around. I found a metal kabob skewer to be invaluable in this process, as there would always be some darn piece of dough that somehow, despite all of the flouring I had done to the parchment, managed to stick itself down. Also, if you put the cookie cutters too close to each other, the kabob holder helps to get in between the cutters to pull up the dough. Here are the cutters on the parchment with all of the excess dough removed and put into a ball (top left).
I then removed the cookie cutters and set them back into my “flour pile”. After that, I used a pair of scissors to cut closely around the cookies (cut the parchment) so that I was able to lift the entire batch of cookies up by the parchment and transfer right to a cookie sheet, parchment and all.
Same goes for after the cookies come out of the oven. No need for a spatula here! (And much less cleaning of the cookie sheet). I just carefully picked up each side of the parchment and transferred the cookies to my cooling rack, parchment and all.
Lesson learned here (the hard way, of course): Do not put the cutters too close to each other, as they end up expanding in the oven and then bumping into each other while cooking. This is especially important if you go with thicker cookie dough. Gggrrrrrrrr….this is NOT what you want to see after all your hard work.
So, now I just let the cookies cool (doesn’t take long, 10-15 mins and there is no heat left to them). Having them completely cool is important, otherwise the frosting melts off the cookies while you are trying to work. I stacked the cooled cookies onto a tray and moved them to the table for easy selection. I also went to work on some frosting. I had some leftover cream cheese frosting from the other day when I made pumpkin bread for the kid’s party. It was bright white, so I used that for the “white” frosting. I then made a large batch of frosting using powdered sugar and milk. Well — I was going to use powdered sugar and milk, and then I got an idea….what would happen if I used EGG NOG? I must say, I was kind of pleased with myself. I’m not usually that imaginative, I’m a great copy cat, but not always the most inventive on my own. I poured a whole bag of powdered sugar into a bowl and then slowly started adding egg nog one little bit at a time, stirring gently and working it through the sugar. I’m not sure how much egg nog I used, as I poured, then stirred, then looked at it, decided it needed more, poured a little more and stirred…until it looked just right. You want the frosting to be thick, but not too thick. You want to be able to “paint” with it, but not have it fight you when you go to spread it. I guess I may have used about a cup of egg nog, but that is just a guess. It’s not hard to do it slowly and get it right. Just don’t add to much at a time toward the end (1 tbsp at a time will take you a long way when you are close).
Then I got out some of those disposable glad-ware containers and divided the frosting up into 5 little “buckets”. I used regular food coloring to make the following colors: red, blue, green, yellow and purple. I put a paintbrush in each and a spoon. Having a box of toothpicks on the table is also handy for that “fine placement” that you may want to go for.
Here’s the recipe for the cream cheese frosting if any of you are interested in that, it’s pretty darn yummy too. .
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.
My son found the frosting somewhat irresistible, even though I had said 3-4 times just prior to this for him to wait for us all to get started together. My husband had the camera out, and laughingly took this primo shot of the boy giving in to temptation. SLURP!
We had a great time. We decorated cookies 2 days in a row. Once with just our family, then we had some friends over the next day and did it again. And I still have a whole batch (of the 3 batches I made) of sugar cookie dough left in the fridge — I think I’ll freeze it. Here are some pics from our 2 afternoons having fun last weekend.