I’m going to be honest and say that I was very happy to find out that this month’s Daring Baker challenge was all about making and decorating sugar cookies. I’m not much of a cookie person, but my daughter is, and it is a nice change to be doing something other than cake and buttercream.
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.
You can find the detailed challenge for this month at the Daring Baker site or Mandy's blog.
Multicoloured "Tile" Cookies
I know that perhaps baking sugar cookies in not much of a challenge for many. Actually, the real challenge is to get creative with decorating the cookies around the theme of “September’, whatever September means to each one of us.
Say September, and the first thing that comes to my mind is “birthday”. My mother and I both celebrate our birthdays in September so that’s what my theme is for this challenge. On the south-western coast of India, September is also the month when the 3 month long monsoon season is almost over. The austerity of these months (no fishing, no agricultural activity, etc), once again, gives way to more plentiful and happy times.
I love the rains, but with the monsoon gone, suddenly there is more colour everywhere. It is once again time for warm days but cooler nights, and of course, the season for weddings.
"Birthday Cake" Cookies, Tile Cookies and "Mehendi" Cookies
I decorated my cookies with all this in mind. So you’ll find birthday cakes, as well as mehendi (an essential part of Indian weddings and other auspicious occasions) inspired designs on my cookies. You’ll also find many of the bright and beautiful colours of my September on my butterflies and other cookies. That’s not quite the rainbow I mentioned in my post title but close enough.
Most of you who follow my blog will know that I always try to attempt my Daring Baker challenges eggless or with as few eggs as possible. This month I was happy I could make both the sugar cookies and the icing without eggs.
I wonder why these are called sugar cookies when you consider that they contain as much or more butter than sugar, until they are decorated!
Flower Tile Cookies
I have made decorated eggless sugar cookies before, but decided I would get as creative as I could in the time I had on hand. I had every intention of doing this month’s challenge early and even made my cookies 10 days back.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the time to decorate them till a couple of days ago. When I finally opened the cookie box, more than half of them were gone! Apparently, no one was aware I had wanted to decorate them.
So I first baked another batch of cookies and then spent the better part of my afternoon the past two days sitting down to decorating the cookies.
Making the sugar cookies in themselves are easy, and do not take much time. It is the decorating that takes time because for some designs each coat of icing has to dry completely, before you can do the next part.
The cookies also need to dry really well before they can be stored. Remember these cookies should be stored in airtight containers at room temperature, as storing them in the fridge will make them sticky and tacky.
I used Eleanor’s Sugar Cookies, reduced the butter a bit and substituted 2 cups of all purpose flour with whole wheat flour. The nice thing with this recipe is that the cookie dough does not need refrigeration, unlike most other sugar cookie recipes. You can mix up the dough, roll it out straightaway, cut out the shapes and bake them all at one go.
Verdict:Eggless Sugar Cookies
(Adapted from Slashfood)
1 cup sugar
200gm butter, softened at room temperature
3 to 5 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Beat the sugar and butter together in a bowl, with a hand mixer, till smooth and fluffy. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined. Set aside.
In another bowl bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and salt. Add this to the wet ingredients in batches, and mix well by hand till combined. If the dough isn’t quite coming together, add a tsp or so of milk and knead. Do not be tempted to add too much milk or knead more than necessary to bring the dough into a ball which can be rolled out, as you cookies will become tough.
Roll the dough out uniformly till just about 1/4" thick. Cut out cookies and place them on ungreased cookie sheets. You can place them quite close to each other as the cookies will not spread out or puff up much.
Bake them at 180C (350F) for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your cookies. When done the cookies must still be pale and just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Let them cool on the tray for about 5 minutes and then cool completely on a rack.
Store them in an airtight container till ready to decorate. I stored mine for 10 days before I decorated them. Humidity can soften these cookies, and you can just warm them in the oven or microwave to crisp them before decorating. Make sure they are cool.This recipe makes quite a few cookies, depending on size and shape.
Eggless Royal Icing
(Adapted from Veglicious)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp lemon juice
a few drops food coloring (colour and amount as desired)
2-3 tsp milk (or water)
You can double this quantity if you need more icing.Sift the sugar and cornstarch together and put it into a bowl. Add the the lemon juice and the milk, 1 tsp at a time, until the mixture becomes a smooth, but thick paste.
Divide the icing into different bowls according to the colours you need. Add a few drops of required colour to each bowl and mix till you get the shade you want.Keep for about 10 minutes till all the air bubbles come to the top.
You can adjust the consistency of this icing according to your requirement. If you need to thin the icing add a bit of milk/ water and mix till you get the desired consistency. If you need it thicker, add more icing sugar as required.
The icing will harden if left open so put it into your piping bags and keep ready for use. Using couplers with your icing bags is good as it is easy to change the tips. If you do not have icing tips or couplers, you can still using a piping bag or a ziplock bag and just make sure you cut very little off the tip so you can get fine lines for decorating.
Decorating The Sugar Cookies:
Keep all your icing, tips, cookies, toothpicks/ wooden skewers and whatever else you need at your work table. Spread your work table with some old newspaper or something similar to make cleaning up after easier. I know this is basic stuff, but just thought I’d mention it.
You can either start decorating you cookie directly like I did my orange flowers on the square cookies. Otherwise you can pipe a base layer on your cookie.There are many different ways of piping and working the icing depending on what pattern or design you are aiming for.
You can also have two sets of icing (a thicker one for outlining and a thinner one for flooding) of the same colour. Otherwise you can use the same to do both like I did.
First outline the area that needs to be filled with colour. If you want the outline to show up distinctly, then wait till it is completely dry. Then fill the space with the colour.If you are working with different colours, you would need to let each one dry before using the next colour to prevent the colours bleeding into each other.
For detailed instructions on decorating using icing, please see the challenge (link at the beginning of this post) where Mandy has explained everything very well with accompanying pictures.
These particular eggless sugar cookies are quite buttery and taste more like shortbread than sugar cookies. Of course, that is probably a good thing if you love shortbread like my daughter does.
I do like this particular icing, not just because it doesn’t have egg in it, but because of the lemon juice. The lemon juice lends a lovely tang to the cookie and it also cuts down on the cloying sweetness of the icing sugar.
The general consensus here is that these cookies are not just pretty, but very good to eat too.
This eggless icing needs to be made really thick for outlining and piping as it tends to spread out a little bit. This is probably because of the absence of egg whites.
I used dark cocoa to colour some icing brown, and this particular icing did not spread as much as the other colours did. Perhaps next time, a little more cornstarch in the icing might help.
The icing dries well, but is not as hard as royal icing made with egg whites.
Some of the cookies in my pictures have been decorated by my daughter. It brought back memories of when she was 5 or 6 and we used to sit down with lots of paper, scissors, glue, all her paints and do craft projects together.
On the whole, this challenge was fun, more so as I was getting creative with colours after a rather long time.
You also have to see the riot of colours my Daring Baker friends have been celebrating September with.