Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge Sept 2010: Decorated Sugar Cookies (2 first!)

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.

This challenge is a 2 first for me, 1st being my first daring bakers challenge and 2nd, its the first time am making decorated sugar cookies.  September has been a rather hectic month at work and was definitely a challenge to spend time in the kitchen.  However, September is also when I am schedule to go on vacation (after completing all the projects at work of course!) and am going back to Kuala Lumpur for vacation, yay yay!!  Last time I was home was during Chinese New Year which was some 7 months back.  Hence, the theme of my decorated sugar cookies is "home sweet home". 

When I finally am able to set time aside to execute on this challenge,  the outcome was a satisfying one.  As always spending time in my kitchen has always allow me to dive into another world and just focus on my kitchen experiments. 

This process is very interesting to me as when I first started out baking the basic sugar cookies, it had looked rather plain.  After that I outlined the cookie with a store bought icing pen, chocolate flavoured, it was worst looking than plain.  Lastly, after making the royal icing and piping them on to the cookies, it was definitely much much better looking than the first 2 processess although there is some opportunities for improvement in terms of neatness.  The end result looks more like a picture to be hung up on the wall then sugar cookies...amazing.  Definitely had fun making them:)   Recipe as per below...enjoy:)

Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes approximately 36 x 10cm / 4 inch 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


1) 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.
2) Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3) 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.

4) Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.
5) Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)
6) 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.

7) Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
8) Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.
9) 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.

10) Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
11) Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
12) 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.

13) Leave to cool on cooling racks.
14) 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

1) 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.

2) 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.
3) Beat on low until combined and smooth.
4) 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.