Christmas Sugar Cookies:
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Royal Icing Using Egg Whites:
1 large egg white
1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups (165 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
Royal Icing Using Meringue Powder:
2 cups (220 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons (15 grams) meringue powder
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup (60 - 120 ml) warm water
Food Coloring (I use Gel Pastes that can be found at cake decorating and party stores or else on-line)
Confectioners Frosting: (optional)
2 cups (230 grams) confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
1/2 cup (57 grams) butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons milk
For Sugar Cookies: In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough.
Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove one half of the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch (1 cm). (Keep turning the dough as you roll, making sure the dough does not stick to the counter.) Cut out cookies using a lightly floured tree cookie cutter and transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to chill the dough which prevents the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking.
Bake cookies for about 10 minutes (depending on size) or until they begin to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. Frost with royal icing, if desired. Be sure to let the royal icing dry completely before storing. (This may take several hours.)
Frosted cookies will keep several days in an airtight container. Store between layers of parchment paper or wax paper.
Makes about 20 - 4 inch (10 cm) cookies.
For Royal Icing with Egg Whites: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.
For Royal Icing with Meringue Powder: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder until combined. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes). If necessary, to get the right consistency, add more powdered sugar or water. To cover or 'flood' the entire surface of the cookie with icing, the proper consistency is when you lift the beater, the ribbon of icing that falls back into the bowl remains on the surface of the icing for a few seconds before disappearing.
The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.
For Confectioners Frosting: In an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beater. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is thick and smooth.
To Serve: Place small mounds of confectioners frosting on your serving plate. Cover and place in the refrigerator until the frosting is firm. Then, just before serving, gently place the decorated cookies into the frosting.
Christmas Sugar Cookies make perfect cut out cookies as they keep their shape when baked. To celebrate the Christmas season I have baked these sweet and tender cookies in the shape of Christmas trees that have been frosted with green tinted royal icing. To present them in a unique way, the decorated trees are placed into small mounds of confectioners frosting. The finishing touch is to dust the tops of the trees with powdered sugar.
Royal icing is the perfect icing to frost sugar cookies. It is not the same as the confectioners' frosting commonly used by home bakers to cover cakes and cookies. Royal icing is different in that it dries to a wonderfully smooth and hard matte finish that has long been a favorite of professional bakers to cover wedding and Christmas cakes. It is simply a mixture of powdered (icing or confectioners) sugar, lemon juice, and raw egg whites but due to the risk of salmonella when using raw egg whites, I have also included a recipe using confectioners sugar and meringue powder. Now, meringue powder is a fine, white powder used to replace fresh egg whites and is made from dried egg whites, sugar, salt, vanillin and gum. When beaten with water and confectioners sugar it has the same consistency as icing made with fresh egg whites. However, I do find that royal icing made with meringue powder does not taste as good as icing made with egg whites, so I suggest adding about 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract when making the icing. You can find meringue powder at cake decorating or party stores (like Michaels) or else on-line.
Now, the royal icing recipe I have given is for covering or "flooding" the entire surface of the cookie. If you want to pipe a border first around the outside edge of the sugar cookies as I have done in the picture, the royal icing needs to be thicker, so it is of piping consistency. To make a small batch, beat together one large egg white, one teaspoon of lemon juice, and about 2 - 2 1/4 cups (230 - 285 grams) of confectioners sugar until the frosting is stiff (like a meringue) with shiny peaks and of piping consistency. Color if desired. Place in a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe a border around the outside edges of the cookies.