December 14, 2009

Hannukah Cookies with Royal Icing

Why should Christmas cookies have all the glory? Hanukkah cookies are just as deliciously adorable! In the past, I've tried dozens of sugar cookie recipes and they all let me down by spreading as they baked. My Jewish stars and dreidel cutouts became unrecognizable blobs that tasted nice, but didn't look especially cute.

This year, I was determined to have cute Hanukkah cookies that could be flooded with royal icing, just like all those cute Christmas cookies. So I turned to the What's Cooking Nesties for a sugar cookie recipe and received the glorious gift of this: Dr. Annie's Sugar Cookie recipe and royal icing tutorial. 'Scuse me while I bow down to her.

Folks, these cookies are the best sugar cookies I've ever made! They don't spread. Let me repeat that...THEY. DON'T. SPREAD. At all. I could lay the cutouts right next to each other on the baking sheet and they didn't touch. It was so glorious. And the flavor - perfect! They are buttery and soft when you bite into them, but remain hard enough to hold up to the weight of icing and decorations. Make these. Now.

I'm going to do a brief tutorial on using royal icing, but for a detailed one complete with great pictures, please check out Annie's Eats.

1) Bake the cookies (recipe below) and allow them to cool completely.

2) Make the icing (recipe below.) Royal icing should be stored in airtight containers and always covered when you're not using it. It hardens pretty quickly. Fit your pastry/piping bags with a #2 Wilton tip and fill with the icing. It should be thin enough to easily spread, but not too runny.

3) Carefully pipe an outline around each cookie. Keep the tip of the piping bag close enough to the cookie so you don't lose control of the icing. This took some practice for me, as I don't have the steadiest hands! You can see some of my unintentional squiggles and loops. Let the outlines set for about an hour.

4) While you wait, thin out the rest of your icing. Add water to each color, about a teaspoon at a time, until it's thin enough to run off the back of a spoon. A dribble of icing should disappear back into the rest of the icing within a 5-8 second count. Fill squeeze bottles (available at any craft store) with the thinned icing.

5) Carefully flood the cookies! Squeeze a bit of icing into the center of the cookie and use a toothpick to move it out and fill in the edges. Wait a few seconds and then use the toothpick to pop any bubbles that rise to the surface. Now would be the time to do color swirls, if you want. Simple put more than one color icing onto a cookie and use a toothpick to swirl them together.

6) Let the cookies harden for a few hours (overnight is best!). Once they are dry, you can continue with more decoration. Use the same consistency icing as outline piping. You can change icing consistency easily by adding more powdered sugar to make it thicker or water to make it thinner.

I decorated the cookies with blue and white icing, and used the Hebrew letters of the dreidel for accuracy: Nun, Gimel, Hey, Shin. They represent the sentence Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There.

The cookies were a great hit and I ran through 40+ of them pretty darn quickly. I've got another batch of dough waiting in the fridge and I can't wait to try it all again. Have fun!

Dr. Annie's Amazing Sugar Cookies
adapted from Annie's Eats
1 cup butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ tsp almond extract (I didn't have, so I just used vanilla)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
2 ½ cups sifted flour

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until it's fluffy and pale. Add the powdered sugar, and mix. Blend in the egg, almond extract, vanilla, salt and flour. The dough will be really sticky and soft.

Divide the dough in half and put each part into plastic wrap, shaping it into a disc. Chill dough until firm, at least 2 hours. Roll to ¼” thickness on well-floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Place on grease or parchment covered cookie sheets. Bake at 375° for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool. Yields ~40 cookies.

Royal Icing
adapted from Annie's Eats
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 TBS meringue powder (available at any craft store)
5 TBS water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container.
This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time (about a teaspoon or so) and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick. Add a little more liquid and try again.)