Making cut-out cookies is a tradition which can be passed on from mother to child along with the cookie cutters.
Here is a picture of my daughter making Christmas cookies with her little brother
and then again twenty-five years later, with her son.
But, cookie making can be messy and frustrating. Let’s face it, we don’t bake every day, so one of the things that can happen is that we decide that we are going to bake, take out our recipe book, and start cracking eggs only to discover that we don’t have any butter or that the flour has developed little black spots that fly out of there as soon as we open the lid.
Over the years I have learned the hard way little tricks to make the process go smoothly. There are several internet sites devoted to baking where you can find all sorts of tips and tricks, but here go mine!
It’s a good idea to get out all the ingredients and set them on the counter. That way, if you are missing anything you can simply put everything back or go to the store and get what you are missing.
As you use an item, put it back up! Sometimes while baking you get interrupted. If the item is still on the counter, it means that you have not used it.
Use fresh ingredients! Baking powder, which is used in a lot of cut out cookies in particular, does not have a long shelf life. Change it out every six months and when you do, write the date of purchase on the container. Remember that double-acting powder is called that for a reason. It begins to activate when it becomes wet and then again with heat. Baking powder is made up of one part soda and two parts cream of tartar usually with a little corn starch added. Check your baking powder for freshness by putting a little in water and seeing if it bubbles, as it should. If not, then substitute it for soda and cream of tartar.
Eggs are another ingredient which can be “iffy”. Eggs come in different sizes. If a recipe calls for a large egg it means just that. If you only have medium size eggs, for instance, and the recipe calls for 3 large eggs, you might consider using 4. Eggs separate better if they are cold right out of the refrigerator, but if you are making a cookie that calls for beaten egg whites then they need to be at room temperature.
Substitutions can lead to innovations and feed your creative instinct, but it is always better to substitute wisely. If the recipe calls for pecans and you only have peanuts and you love peanuts, then by all means substitute peanuts for pecans. Likewise for substituting dried cherries for raisins or nutmeg for cinnamon. But, don’t substitute with the types of sugar, flour, or fat called for or, change the proportions. However, once you have tried a recipe fiddling with the flour/sugar/fat ratio can convert one cookie into quite another and voilà, you have created your own unique goodie.
- Always read your recipe completely before you begin!
- Always pre-heat oven before putting in your cookies
- Use a baking sheet which is at least 2 inches smaller than the oven all the way around.
- Make sure that baking sheets are clean! Wash them out between each batch and allow them to cool because hot baking sheets will mean cookies will spread.
- If not using parchment paper, do you need to grease the baking sheet?
- Do you leave your cookies on the baking sheet for several minutes or remove them immediately?
that is why it is a good idea to divide the dough in 2 or 3 balls and then press them into a disk. And then wrap it in plastic wrap or waxed paper before refrigerating it.
But cold dough right out of the refrigerator might crack so leave it out a few minutes before handling it-
Place the disk on a well floured surface, and lightly dust it with flour.
Cut out cookies from the outside in, using cutters of the same size.
Place the cookies on parchment paper or silpat and bake!
decorating cookies with icing
Decorating cookies is pretty much a no brainer. Jimmies, sparking sugars, etc., abound in the baking section of the grocery store. Before baking cookies, you can sprinkle the decorations. Alternatively, you can use frosting to anchor them after baking. Your best friend in this department is going to be confectioners’ sugar. Here are some ideas:
- Right out of the oven, you can dust cookies with it, roll them in it.
- Roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar before baking to get a crinkle effect.
- Combine confectioners’ sugar with milk and flavorings, blend on cookies.
- Combine confectioners’ sugar with citrus and/or water, blend and spread on cookies.
- Combine confectioners’ sugar with melted chocolate chips, milk, & flavorings.
- Melt chocolate chips or a chocolate bar and drizzle on cookies after baking.
Tools that make the job easier:
- There are little decorator kits with several different tips you can purchase. OR
- Simply put some frosting in a baggie and cut off a corner through which you can then extrude the icing onto the cookie.
- Buy a couple of inexpensive sturdy brushes from the hardware store and keep them with the rest of your baking supplies.
- Keep an assortment of purchased sparkling sugars and jimmies as well as food color.
Ideas on how to decorate:
- If using several food colors, a good idea is to use a plastic or Styrofoam egg carton. Filling up each cavity with a different color will give you a painter’s palette.
- Invest in a little decorator tool. It is neater to outline the edges before you paint the inside of the cookie.
- Another trick is to dab the frosting in the middle and then paint outward. Painting the cookie when it is still warm makes the frosting thinner and smoother.
Butter Icing: Easy, but the butter in the frosting may become sticky and rancid
- 1/3 cup butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pound (3 ½ cups) sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 3-4 tablespoons milk
Cream butter, salt, vanilla and gradually add the sifted confectioners’ sugar. Add the milk a little at a time to obtain the right consistency.
Chocolate icing: For Mocha icing simply add some grind up coffee beans or purchased espresso powder
- 2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 3 tablespoon chocolate powder
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 – 3 tablespoon milk
- Sift the confectioners’ sugar, chocolate and the pinch of salt together.
Add vanilla and drizzle in the milk while mixing until the right consistency is desired.
A bit of citrus icing: For plain icing, change the juice to milk!
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 ½ Tbs. fresh lemon or orange juice
Mix until the right consistency is desired.
- 2 tablespoon powdered egg whites
- 6 tablespoon warm water
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- Measure out the powdered egg whites and add water.
- Whisk a few times and allow to rest 5 minutes.
- Beating with an electric beater, add the confectioners’ sugar and beat 3 minutes with a standing beater or 5 minutes with a hand-held.
- The frosting will be satiny and glossy. Use immediately as it will harden soon.