Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Daring Baker's Challenge, September 2010: Decorated Sugar Cookies

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.

A few months ago Ms. Kumquat sent me a note requesting my favorite sugar cookie recipe. She thought that as her baking-est friend, surely I must have something I could send her. Embarrassingly I had nothing. Despite all of the baking I do, sugar cookies are something I had avoided. While I love other varieties of homemade cookies, homemade sugar cookies have always hit a flat note with me. They are usually too hard, with a hint of cardboard flavoring. Several failed attempts and I swore them off forever. 

As such, it was with much curiosity that I greeted this month's Daring Baker's challenge. I had taken a pass on the challenges over the past few months as my new job and our vacation kept me more than occupied. Who knew that a sugar cookie challenge would bring me back? Decorated sugar cookies were something that I had always wanted to try and this was the perfect opportunity. I just needed to figure out what I would do with all of the cookies. 

I made just one elephant. For some reason the thought of decorating an entire batch of elephants seemed overwhelming,

At first I thought Aaron could just take them to work. Maybe I could decorate the cookies with little dollar signs or something equally ridiculous but appropriate for his office... perhaps a few elephants. A sole elephant cutter is the only non-round cookie cutter I have. Aaron didn't seem completely thrilled about having to tote a bunch of "cute" cookies into his office. Fortunately a friend freed him from that duty by planning a small party - the perfect venue for disposing of a batch of baked goods.

To say the cookies, themselves, were easy to make is an understatement. It might have been the easiest recipe I have ever tried... except for the part that said to add "any flavorings you are using". For some reason I interpreted that to mean "pick a random flavor and add it", so I accidentally dumped in a TON of cinnamon. Oops. Fortunately I don't think anyone at the party noticed, as the cookies disappeared quickly and nobody complained about the flavor. Maybe they were being nice? 

I found the icing to be a little more challenging. It was my first time working with royal icing and I was totally unprepared. For some reason I assumed that decorating would be a piece of cake - the icing would come out of the tip smoothly and slowly. Of course the opposite was true. I found the icing to be runny and difficult to manage. It drizzled out of the tip and ran over the edges of the cookies once applied. My photos are misleading because I only took photos of the best ones.

Despite the mishaps, this was one of the more enjoyable challenges I have undertaken. I would call my first attempt at decorated sugar cookies an almost success, and certainly something I will repeat. 

Basic Sugar Cookies:
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
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 and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming
creamy in texture.
• Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during
baking, losing their shape.

• Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
• Tip: I don’t have a stand mixer so I find it easier to switch to dough hooks at this stage to avoid
flour flying everywhere.

• 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.
• Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an
hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and
then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.

• 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: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in
some cookies being baked before others are done.

• 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.

Royal Icing:
315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ - 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional

• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
• Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and
grease free.

• Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
• Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
• Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.


  1. They look beautiful! You should get more cookie cutters :) Maybe some heart and lips, Mr. Cupcake surely would love to take THOSE into the office, right?

  2. I can't wait to try this! Next on the list is pumpkin pie cookies, but this will follow.

  3. This is a very pretty cookie! I just love the design. Thanks for sharing this one.
    dining table