Monday, July 1, 2013

Sugar Cookie Step by Step Tutorial

    Anyone who knows me knows that I kind of like sweets have the biggest sweets addiction
Ex: Hand-decorated sugar cookies for a baby shower...
EVER!!  Any meal that doesn't end with something sweet is not okay with me....period.   I'm trying to get better about this issue...partly because if I become diabetic I won't be able to eat sweets ever again. :(  Sad day...  But until then, it is probably no surprise to you that not only do I like to EAT sweets, I like to MAKE them too!  One of my FAVORITE things to make is sugar cookies.  Now..let me tell you.....there are many different recipes for sugar cookies.  And I have tried them all!! Some are too crispy and not chewy enough, some spread too much in the oven, so by the time they are done cooking they no longer even slightly resemble the shape that they once held, some are too sweet...wait.....just kidding....there is no such thing as too sweet. :)  But anyway, I never found a good sugar cookie recipe that perfectly met all my needs until about 9 months ago when I came up with my very own recipe.  It has a particular ingredient that I have never really seen in a sugar cookie recipe that I personally believe is the "secret ingredient" to their fabulousness.  I mean...seriously.....THEY ARE PERFECT!  These cookies are just sweet enough, slightly chewy, AND they hold their shape perfectly!!  So if I put a cookie in the oven shaped like a rhinoceros (not really...who would want rhino cookies??!) it will come out looking like a rhinoceros! YES.....

    But, I can't give total credit to my made-up recipe for my cookies being ridiculously awesome and terrifically tasty.  I have to give partial credit to my Pampered Chef stoneware cookie sheets....  Anyone who owns Pampered Chef stoneware knows how awesome it is!  All the stoneware pieces are made of clay, and they heat up much slower than a regular metal baking sheet so they never burn cookies on the bottom.  They cook them perfectly even.  And over time, they develop this natural non-stick coating, so you don't even have to spray them!  I HEART STONEWARE!
    So....I've decided to make a step by step cookie tutorial here for those of you who would like to learn how to do this.  But let me just warn you...I'm about to give you my secret sugar cookie recipe.  This is BIG!  I'm trusting you with a prized possession no sharing! If you tell anyone else this secret recipe I will have know.....

Here goes....shhhhhhhhhh!

Ridiculously Awesome Secret Sugar Cookie Recipe

2 sticks of butter (room temp)
1 cup granulates sugar
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream (secret ingredient!!)
2 eggs
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

In a stand mixer, beat butter & sugar until creamy.  Add in vanilla and sour cream and continue to beat.  Then add in eggs and beat more. Then slowly add in dry ingredients until smooth.  Dough should be thick.

    So, the first step is to make your sugar cookies. I use my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer to do the job....thanks to my fab mother-in-law who got it for me for Christmas!!  Best - Present - Ever...  Thanks Mrs. Patsy!
   On a side note....One other thing that many bakers do is refrigerate their cookie dough before using it.  This practice is supposed to help the cookies hold their shape better during cooking, but my recipe works so well with the cookies holding their shape already, that I don't refrigerate my dough.  It takes too long anyway..... and it unnecessarily lengthens the time between dough making and my favorite party...EATING! haha.

The next step is to get your workspace ready.  I always make sure to set everything out that I need before I start rolling dough, because once your hands get all doughy and sugary, everything you touch gets that way too!! Here is my spread and all my favorite cookie making must-have tools...;)

Always sprinkle your workspace with confectioner's sugar before you put your dough down to prevent sticking.  My little Pampered Chef sugar shaker does just the trick!!  And I love it because I can just put the top on it and use it again the next time, unlike those metal sifters that you have to refill each time you use them and make a mess!! 

First, I take out about half the dough from my bowl (because rolling all of it at one time is more difficult) and spread it out by hand into an oblong shape so it will roll easier, and then sprinkle it a little more with some confectioner's sugar.  

 I place my dowels on both sides of the dough to make sure that each cookie has the same thickness.  If some cookies are thinner and some are thicker, then they will cook unevenly.  They actually sell dough boards that make this easier, but they are pricey...and I find that my 50 cent Wal-mart dowels work quite nicely!!

 Then, I take my cookie cutter and make as many shapes as I can out of the dough.  After I press the cookie cutter down, I kind of jiggle it around to make sure the dough has separated from the cookie shape on all sides.

After all your cookies have been pressed, peel up the remaining dough and put it back in your bowl. 

Now, here is my little trick to getting the cookies up without losing their shape...  Any baker knows that when you peel a cookie up by hand from a pastry mat or table, you risk making prints on the cookie and sometimes your fingers press into the sides and it messes up the shape.  So one day I tried using my Pampered Chef large spreader to slide up underneath the cookie to transfer it to the cookie sheet, and it worked like a charm!!  It is so easy and makes it faster too!

  Place your cookies equidistant on your cookie sheet.  I use Pampered Chef's Stoneware cookie sheets for even baking with no browned bottoms! :)  Repeat rolling dough, cutting cookies, and transferring to your cookie sheet until all the dough is used up...except for a little bit which would be for eating, of course.  :)

The last step is to obviously put your cookies in the oven!!  I bake at a  lower temperature than the normal 350 degrees and for more time.   I always bake at 325 for about 13-14 minutes instead of the usual 9-11.  

So...after your cookies come out of the oven, they will look like this...perfectly done, and no browning!

I let my cookies sit on the pan for about 2-3 minutes after they come out of the oven to keep them chewy, and then I transfer them onto my Pampered Chef stackable cooling racks.  This is another example of a Pampered Chef product I rave about!!!  When I was growing up my mom has these cooling racks that did not stack, so if you made a bunch of batches of cookies, the cooling racks took up your entire table and counter space and you couldn't really do much else in the kitchen while they were cooling.  But these stack on top of each other, so it takes up no room at all! I love it!

So, in the spirit of multitasking...while my cookies are cooling, I start making the decorating icing.  Now, if you've ever seen beautifully hand decorated sugar cookies, you've probably asked, "How did they get the icing so smooth?!"  Well, it's because they don't use regular icing.  It's not butter cream icing like you'd put on a cupcake or a cake.  In order to get that smooth hardened look, you have to use what is called Royal Icing.  It is also the kind of icing that Gingerbread House decorators use to keep all the pieces together and stick all of the candy on.  Royal icing is traditionally made with egg whites, and it gets a bad rap as far as taste is concerned because it does harden and doesn't taste as rich as butter cream, but I've found that making royal icing with Meringue Powder  makes all the difference.  It still hardens to the touch like royal icing made with egg whites, but when you bite into it, it has a more creamy consistency... and it tastes better!  I really like the recipe that Sugarbelle uses, but I half her recipe.  For one batch of 24 cookies, you only need half as much icing as her recipe calls for.  To be totally honest though, I don't really measure anymore.  I kind of just eyeball things and keep whipping until it looks right...

   So, after the Royal Icing has the right consistency (similar to that of  toothpaste...creamy and thick...not runny), I spoon it out into individual bowls - one bowl for each color I will be using. I then add the food coloring to each bowl to get it the color I want.   Each bowl also gets its own spoon so colors don't mix. 

TIP:  One trick I always do that I didn't show here is to put a wet paper towel over each bowl while you're not using it.  The icing tends to start to harden if left open to the air, so I just we a paper towel, wring it out, and drape it over each bowl until I'm ready to use it, so it doesn't get hard.

The first step to decorating is to do the border icing.  This involves filling piping bags with your icing and running along the edges of your cookies.  I always use the Wilton disposable piping bags because they make cleanup so much easier!!  I also use tip #5 for the border icing...anything smaller causes running of the fill icing.  The thicker the border, the less likely the fill icing will run out.

 Twist your piping bags to get a good grip, and then border your cookies around the edge with the border icing.  

When all of your cookies have been bordered, go back to your bowls and add water to the border icing until it becomes slightly runny...kind of like the consistency of Elmer's glue.  Thicker than liquid, but still a little runny.   Make sure you stir it really well until the icing is very smooth.  This is your "fill icing" because it will fill in your cookies.

Pour your fill icing into a squeeze bottle and squeeze it into the cookies.  I always go around the edges of the cookies next to the border icing, and then fill in the centers. 

 When the fill icing dries, then you can go back with your other icing colors and decorate them.  This set of cookies was for a party celebrating the opening of a new high school in my town. 

But the majority of the cookies I make are for birthday party favors or shower favors, in which case I usually bag the cookies and tie ribbons on them...  Here are some cookies I did for a friend's little boy's 1st birthday! My friend made the cute little tags to go on each cookie that matched the invitations...loved it!

I hope you have enjoyed my sugar cookie tutorial!!  If any of you bake sugar cookies
 I'd love to know any tips, tricks, etc. that you use!

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