17 March 2011

Shamrock Sugar Cookies

Happy St. Patrick's Day! What's a better way to celebrate than with some yummy sugar cookies?

I've seen recipes for Royal Icing for years. Cookies are so gorgeous when decorated with it. I remember watching Martha Stewart "edge" and "flood" her cookies years and years ago. More recently, since I started reading so many food blogs, I've notices they all have gorgeous cookies on their sites. They come in every shape you can imagine (did you know you can get a beer mug cookie cutter?) and the decorations are endless. I tried using royal icing a long time ago without success and I wanted to try it again to see if I could do it.

First, I found this tutorial on Annie's Eats. It's a great step-by-step process. I used her recipe and method and it worked! I have a long way to go to be able to do all the decorations I've seen over the last few months, but I think it's a learning process. And it's totally not as difficult as I thought it would be. Time consuming, yes, but difficult? No.

Royal Icing is special because it dries hard. Whenever you see those cute Easter cookies at Starbucks, you're seeing royal icing. The secret behind it is meringue powder. It's made from egg whites, cornstarch, and sugar and causes the icing to harden. That's how you can achieve a 3-D affect with these cookies, if you so choose. They are also stackable, which is great for gift-giving or if you have to take them to as a St. Patrick's Day treat for a bunch of Kindergartners. Royal icing consists of three ingredients: powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water. The great thing is that you can thin it out or thicken it up just by adding water or powdered sugar.

The first step in decorating cookies with royal icing is to pipe the edge. I used a #2 tip in a disposable pastry bag to outline the shamrocks. As per Annie, you should be sitting down and balance your elbow on the table. Your hands will get tired. Let the edge dry completely.

Once the edge is dry, you just have to thin the icing for "flooding". I used a squeeze bottle to flood the cookies with green icing. By the last tray of them, I learned two things. One, that the more icing the better. You won't run out and they look better with more icing. Two, after flooding the cookie, let it sit a minute before helping it spread. Flood a couple more cookies, then go back and use your toothpick or offset spatula to spread it to the edges.

See the difference between amount of icing you use?

Allowing the frosting to spread before spreading it with spatula...

I decorated mine with green sugar because it's pretty, kids love it, and because it hides mistakes. :)

I am happy with my first effort at decorating with royal icing. Now I'm excited to do it again, and try it with more decoration on top of the flooded icing. Don't let the steps intimidate you. It's not as hard as it looks!

Have a great St. Patrick's Day! Don't let those leprechauns turn your milk green! (Somehow they always manage to do that to the milk and toilet water in our house!)

Sugar Cut-Out Cookies
by Crazy for Crust
Recipe from Land o' Lakes

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl if using hand mixer). Beat at medium speed, scraping the sides as needed, until well mixed (about 3-4 minutes). Separate dough into 2 pieces and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate about 1 hour, until firm enough to roll.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°. Roll out dough on a well-floured surface to ¼ inch thickness. Cut with desired cookie cutters. Place on parchment lined cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 6-10 minutes, depending on size of cookies. I find it best to bake one sheet at a time and rotate it 180° halfway through baking. Start your baking time at 3 minutes, rotate, and then estimate about how long they will take to cook. (My shamrock cookies are about 2” in diameter and they took about 6-7 minutes total.) Cool completely.
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Royal Icing
by Crazy for Crust
Recipe from Annie's Eats

  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder (this is what makes it harden – you can find it at craft stores such as Michael’s)
  • 5 tablespoons water
Tools needed:
  • Small airtight (Tupperware) containers
  • Food coloring (gel food coloring is the best; it does not water down your icing)
  • Toothpicks and/or offset spatula
  • Pastry bag(s) fitted with a small round tip (I used #2)
  • Squeeze bottles for flooding (or you can use Ziploc bags)
  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the icing has changed from glossy to matte (about 5-7 minutes).
  2. Transfer the icing from the mixing bowl into the small airtight containers (one for each color). I recommend if this is your first time working with Royal Icing (as it was mine when I made these Shamrock Cookies), use one color.
  3. At this point the icing is too stiff to pipe. Once you have transferred it to the airtight container(s), add water in small increments (I used ½ teaspoon at a time, for a total of about 2 teaspoons) and stir by hand until it reaches a consistency good for piping. The only way to know for sure is by trying. If it’s too hard to pipe, it’s too thick.
  4. Using a pastry bag and small tip, pipe around the edge of the cookie. Try to keep your tip as close to the cookie as you can without touching it. The farther away you are the more you will move and your lines will not be straight. Balance your elbow on a table so your arm does not get tired. Rest if you need too! (My thumb was very sore!) Be sure that you have piped an edge around the entire cookie and that the edges aren’t flat (remember, you are flooding the cookie with icing later and the piped edge is your border).
  5. Let the edge dry completely.
  6. Get ready to flood your cookies. Add water slowly (about a ½ teaspoon at a time) to your remaining icing until it drips easily off the back of a spoon. Let it sit for a few minutes for the air bubbles to subside. Fill your squeeze bottle (or a Ziploc bag with a hole in one corner) and flood the area of your cookies inside the piping. Use a toothpick and/or offset spatula to spread to the edges if necessary. Here are a few tips:
  7. The more icing the better! You think you’re going to run out, but you’re not. You will have less see-through areas if you use lots of icing.
  8. Flood a few cookies and then go back and spread. Give it time to spread on its own.
  9. Sprinkle with colored sugar if you want – it hides all problems! :)
  10. Let dry completely before stacking.

  • Note: If you wish to do additional decorating on your cookies, like writing a word on top of the flooded icing, you need to plan for this before adding water to thin the icing. After your edge is done, separate out the icing you want to use for piping before you thin the icing for flooding. After the flooded cookies are completely dry, then you can pipe the words or other decoration.
  • If your icing is too thick at any time, add water. If it’s too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar.
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