Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday baking

Well, I suck. I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted. Sincere apologies for my lameness, although in my own defense, I spent the better part of November (including Thanksgiving) sick. And since then...well, I guess I've just been lazy.

To make up for it, I thought I'd post a step-by-step of how I do my decorated sugar cookies. I absolutely LOVE baking and decorating. It's easily one of my favorite things about the holidays - a built-in excuse to make tons of goodies and then give them all away so I don't have to eat them.

Because this is a bit of a long process (generally, I try to allot at least 4 days for decorated cookies), I'm going to break it up into parts. For part one, I thought I'd share my sugar cookie recipe. I got it at a cookie decorating demo in Austin a number of years ago from the owner of Penny's Pastries. It is far and away the best recipe ever for decorated cookies. The edges stay very clean during baking, and the best part? You don't have to refrigerate it before using! You can mix it up and immediately start rolling, cutting and baking. Also, according to Penny, once iced/glazed, these cookies are shelf-stable for up to a month! This makes it a lot easier to get a head start when you have a huge batch to make.

Butter Cookie Dough
from Penny's Pastries in Austin, TX

1 c. salted butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp whipping cream
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
3 c. unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a mixer combine butter and sugar. Mix until just incorporated - do not cream until light.

3. Add egg, cream, vanilla, and almond extract all at once and thoroughly blend. It may look curdled, but don't worry, the finished dough will be fine.

4. In a separate bowl stir together flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and blend.

5. Roll out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch and cut with a cookie cutter.

6. Bake on a greased cookie sheet 8 to 12 minutes (depending on size) and cool on a rack. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

My changes:
I only ever use unsalted butter when I bake (in fact, I don't even keep the salted kind in my house), so I added about a 1/2 tsp of salt to compensate. I also despise almond extract, so I replaced it with orange extract/oil. Also, if you don't have whipping cream, half-and-half or whole milk will work just as well. But don't use skim. You want that extra fat. ;)

I also skipped the greased cookie sheet in favor of parchment paper. If you have the option, try and find light-colored cookie sheets. Dark ones will make the bottoms brown too quickly. My favorites are these
AirBake sheets- I've had the same two sheets since college and they still yield perfect cookies every time.

This year, I'm making giant snowflake cookies (using this Snowflake Cookie Cutter Set that I absolutely LOVE) to give as favors at a holiday playdate. Because my cookies were gigantic, and I needed to make a lot of them, I doubled this recipe. It pretty much filled my stand mixer bowl to capacity.

I generally only like to re-roll the scraps once. I feel like after that, the dough gets difficult to work with and the cookies end up tough. So that being said, I ended up with 16 snowflakes, plus a couple dozen or so smaller random cookies cut from the edges and in-between spaces.

Coming in part two - icing!

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