Seriously, how cute are these cookies?! Well, let me tell you: not half as cute as my nieces and nephews having a go at decorating them! But that doesn’t mean the cookies aren’t cute… It just means that my nieces and nephews are even cuter!
These sugar cookies are the perfect cookies to decorate with two hyperactive toddlers and a hungry 8-year-old… or two bored teens… whomever you have on hand, really. I just happened to have two toddlers and an 8-year-old… followed by two teens who were bored with their homework…
Anyway, the first time I ventured on making cookies with my (then) niece and nephews, I made the rookie mistake of thinking that ‘baking cookies with kids’ was actually about the baking. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Sure, the kids enjoy making little dents in the butter by pushing their fingers in it and sticking their hands into bowls of flour and sugar, but once you’ve tried your best to salvage your ingredients and the dough is ready, you’ll find that a three-year-old really isn’t strong enough to roll it out and cut out perfect little shapes without ripping the just-rolled dough apart. On top of that, I found that up to the age of ten, kids just don’t have the patience to wait for the dough to cool in the fridge. And they certainly don’t have the patience to wait for the cookies to bake in the oven.
Hell, I don’t even have that kind of patience!
So I figured, as I’m doing all of the work anyway, I might as well bake the cookies ahead and present my cute and hungry nieces and nephews with cookies that are ready to eat and be decorated whilst remaining quite zen and keeping the kitchen clean. Best decision ever! I haven’t had to worry about flour flying everywhere and bored little kids running around a hot oven since!
Anyway, here’s how you make them. First make yourself some beautiful dough out of butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt. Place a ball of dough between two sheets of baking parchment and roll it out nice and thin.
Use a cute fluted cookie cutter like this one to cut out 70 (!) cookie shapes.
Bake until gorgeously golden and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Oh, and keep an eye on those cookies, as they’ll brown really fast after ten minutes. I had three baking sheets of cookies and they all came out a different color. See that one in the back? I was actually going for the same color as the middle cookie but I got distracted by ‘really important and life-threatening’ things (read: I thought myself a rockstar whilst playing guitar).
Like I said: they’ll brown really fast…
Anyway, after I had taken care of that ‘really important and life-threatening’ something (read: after I had subdued my rockstar ambitions), I let the cookies cool and mixed up some kid-friendly royal icing by substituting raw egg white with powdered egg white (raw eggs should not be served to kids under the age of 5).
Once the icing was in the bags, I packed up my cookies, jumped in the car and raced to my sisters place, where the kids were already waiting for me.
After an hour of flying icing and fascinating insights into the minds of little kids, we ended up with beauties like these:
I prefer the bottom three, don’t you? The blue creation on the left is a monster, the middle pile of spaghetti is abstract art and the white icing on the right cookie is a flower.
And they were delicious. We didn’t even leave them to dry and enjoyed them dripping with icing (if kids can’t wait for a cookie to bake for 10 minutes, they sure can’t wait for icing to dry for 24 hours).
If you want to venture on the less-cute-but-equally-delicious marbled cookies, start by outlining and ‘flooding’ a cookie.
Immediately pipe colorful stripes or dots on the flooded area…
… and drag a toothpick across them to transform the striped cookie in a marbled beauty!
But not quite as cute as dripping blue monsters, an 8-year-old’s abstract art or a 2-year-old eating the icing straight out of the piping bag!
- 200g (or ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 200g (or 1 cup) sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 400g (or 3 cups + 3 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon of baking powder
- 10g (or 4 teaspoons) powered egg white
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
- 400g (or 3 cups + 2 tablespoons) powdered sugar
- different hues of food coloring
- Cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated, then switch the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment or dough hooks. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix until the dough comes together.
- Using your hands, form three balls out of the dough. Don't knead this dough, as this will result in tough cookies. And even though this site is called 'The Tough Cookie' I really don't want you to end up with actual tough cookies.
- Throw one of the dough balls onto a sheet of baking parchment, place another sheet on top and roll the dough out to a thickness of about 4-mm or one-sixth of an inch. Repeat with the other two dough balls, rolling them out between their own sheets of baking parchment. Stack the sheets of dough and place them in the fridge for about half an hour.
- Once the dough has chilled, peel of the top sheet of parchment paper and cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. I used a 4-cm or 1,5-inch cookie cutter with a fluted edge. You can cut out different shapes if you like, but bear in mind that the cut-out shapes need to be roughly the same size if you want to bake them simultaneously.
- Re-roll the dough scraps and repeat this process of cutting out shapes and re-rolling until all scraps are used. Place the cut-out shapes about 1-cm or ½-inch apart on either a cutting board or a sheet pan lined with baking parchment and place them in the fridge to cool again for at least thirty minutes. You can also leave the shapes in the fridge overnight covered with plastic wrap.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F (standard oven setting; check out 'Basics and Tips: Getting to Know Your Oven' for details). Bake the cookies until they are beautifully golden around the edges, about 13 minutes.
- Take the cookies out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack until they are completely cooled. Undecorated cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
- In a medium-sized bowl mix together the powdered egg white and water until stiff peaks form. Stir in the powdered sugar until incorporated and mix until smooth. Divide the icing over a number of smaller bowls: one bowl for each color you intend on using. Tint the icing with the food coloring (don't forget to leave one bowl white if you want to use white).
- Transfer the different colors of icing to individual disposable piping bags if you are going for a rustic 'look-what-the-kids-made' kind of cookie. If you want to make fancy melded patterns, proceed with the next step.
- There are three different icing techniques I used on my melded cookies: outlining, flooding (coloring in outlines) and melding (adding colorful patterns to a flooded surface to that they meld together, creating a smooth cookie surface).
- For flooding you want your icing to be a little thinner so it spreads easily. For my cookies, I wanted to use white icing both for outlining and for flooding, so I divided my white icing over two separate bowls and added a few drops of water to one of the bowls to make the icing 'floodable'. Just test the flooding icing for consistency by dragging a knife across the surface of the icing. If the surface becomes smooth after 3 seconds, the icing is 'floodable'.
- I then added a few drops of water to the colored icing I wanted to meld into the flooded white icing, to make it more 'meldable'.
- Transfer the different kinds of icing to individual disposable piping bags, knot the back end (squeeze the air out first) and try to remember which ones are 'floodable', 'meldable' and made for outlining. You can make the icing ahead and store the different colors in tightly sealed piping bags until needed, up to two days.
- When ready to decorate, snip off the end of each piping bag, allowing for a 2mm or one-tenth of an inch opening. Using the thick white icing, outline each cookie: don't place the end of the piping bag directly onto the cookie, but lift the piping bag so that the icing falls out in a ribbon, which you then 'lay' on the cookie as an outline.
- Flood the outline with the floodable white icing. For flooding, you can snip off a little more of the piping bag to create a larger opening for the icing to flow through. Move the piping bag back and forth over the floodable area. Using a toothpick, push the icing into any remaining gaps.
- Place dots or stripes of meldable colored icing in a cute pattern on the flooded area. You can leave the melded patterns as they are or drag a toothpick through them to marble them.
- Leave the cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.