Every year we like to make a big plate of sugar cookies decorated with edible royal icing. I use Martha Stewart's recipe for the cookies- it's easy and delicious. I use meringue powder for the royal icing so it's edible. You can also use this icing to hold together your gingerbread house!
Step 1: Cream Butter and Sugar
Let 1 stick of butter sit out for an hour and come close to being at room temperature. Pour 1 cup of sugar over it and cream until light and fluffy.
Step 2: Add Dry Ingredients
Next add 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking powder (NOT SODA). Stir until combined. It should look like this.
Step 3: Add Wet Ingredients
Next add 1 egg (slightly beaten), 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 2 tablespoons milk. I use my hands to mix it because I don't have a fancy KitchenAid or real strong stirring muscles. Some people say to refrigerate the dough for a few hours but I don't find that necessary.
Step 4: Preheat Oven
Next, preheat the oven to 350 and make sure your rack is in the middle of the oven.
Step 5: Prepare Dough
Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 fat discs, like the picture.
Step 6: Prepare Cookie Cutters
Get out your cookie cutters and decide which ones you are going to use. I have gotten most of my cookie cutters from thrift stores at a quarter a piece rather than $3.00 brand new. The metal ones work better than the plastic, especially if there is too much going on.
Step 7: Flour Work Surface
Generously flour work surface and I mean generously! You might find that they stick to the table the first go and you have to re-flour and start over. It's okay. It doesn't mess with the taste too much but the more flour you add the more crispy the cookie in the end.
Step 8: Flour Rolling Pin
The same goes for your rolling pin and any cookie cutters you will be using. If you don't have a rolling pin, there is probably something in your kitchen you can use like a can or glass or something.
Step 9: Roll the Dough
Next you want to roll the dough out to just the right thickness. Probably about the width of 1/8 an inch or so. The thicker the cookie, the softer it will be but that also increases the chance of it falling apart if it's a complex shape.
Step 10: Again, Consider Cutters
Once again, think about what cutters you will use. This space man is cute but intricate. Intricate sometimes means trouble. Mix it up a bit until you have the technique mastered, then go hog wild on something fancy. This is harder than it looks.
Step 11: Cut Out Cookies
Next, cut out your cookies. You will need to transfer them right away to the pan before the butter gets to warm and sticks the dough to the table, making them hard to remove. Some people do this step on parchment paper so they can come off easily.
Step 12: Put on Pan
Transfer the cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. But keep an eye on them! Oven temps vary. They are done when the edges are very lightly brown. They will burn easily if forgotten. If you smell them baking they are probably ready to come out.
Step 13: Bake for 10 Minutes
They will look like this when they are done. After baking, they should be removed from the pan after about 30 seconds with a metal spatula.
Step 14: Plan Colors
While your second batch is baking, plan out what colors you will be making the frosting. It's probably best to keep it around 5. Look at your cookies and see what you will need.
Step 15: Make Icing
Royal icing is very easy to make and you can make it in whatever consistency you want. I actually wish I would have added more water into my batch but oh well. You need meringue powder. It looks like this.
You mix 3 tablespoons meringue powder with 6 tablespoons water (or to desired consistency) with a half pound of powdered sugar.
Step 16: Beat Until Shiny
Beat with hand mixer or fancy KitchenAid for about 5-10 minutes. It will be glossy and stiff. Add water if you want to make it more spreadable.
Step 17: Keep it Under Control
Don't let the baby get into it. . . Oh and don't forget about those other cookies in the oven!
Step 18: Prepare Pipers
Prepare piping tools if you plan to pipe your royal icing onto your cookie and I recommend that you do. I use the paper cones. They are easiest to clean up and cheap! 100 for 4 bucks or something. Otherwise there are plastic disposable or reusable. I like these because I'll use them for other things as well.
Step 19: Pipe!
Now it's time to mix your colors and pipe! I take a little bit of icing from the mixing bowl and add the food coloring. I have some fancy gels from an online store called Bake it Pretty, otherwise the food coloring sold in stores works. Put it into your piping tool and go to town on your cookies. Slow and steady. I'm not the best at this but I practice!
Step 20: Sprinkles
It's not easy when you've got a baby knocking all your gear over . . .
Step 21: That's It
But that's it! One color at a time, let them dry in between applications. I'm sure a lot of people can make prettier ones but I was a little pressed for time. Enjoy this tradition with your family!