Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing, colored sugars or other edible decorations make a wonderful addition to your holiday cookie platter. Consider packaging them in pretty gift bags and passing them out at your next gathering of family and friends, I believe they will enjoy these fun homemade cookies.
If you are baking cookies for the upcoming holiday season to give to friends, neighbors and as special “thank you” gifts, consider royal iced sugar cookies. I have made this sugar cookie recipe for years and it has stood the test of time. Prepared with powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, the cookies don’t spread while baking. This means you can use your intricate cookie cutters and have perfectly shaped cookies. The basic sugar cookie itself is crisp and not overly sweet. When decorating the cookies with the royal icing, you can make them as simple or as fancy as you wish. They are fun to make and definitely worth the time and effort for a festive occasion.
Basic Sugar Cookie
About 3 dozen 4 – 4 1/2 inch cookies or 5 dozen 2 – 2 1/2 inch cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- 1 c. butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 1/2 c. powdered (confectioners) sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. almond extract
- 2 1/2 c, sifted flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cream of tartar
Cream the softened butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl then add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts. Slowly add the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar and mix well. Gather the dough into a ball then divide into four discs. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or until firm.
Roll out one disc at a time between two sheets of plastic wrap to about an 1/8 inch (1/4 inch thick for a softer cookie). Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and cut out the cookies. Remove the cut outs from the plastic wrap and place about an inch apart on a Silpat or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Chill in the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up (chilling keeps the cookies from spreading in the oven). Gather all the scrapes, form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm and repeat.
Bake until the cookies have set, gained some color and are just slightly brown around the edges, about 6 – 8 minutes, depending on your oven. Be careful to not over bake or they will be hard. Remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheets for a couple of minutes to firm up then use a spatula and place them on cooling racks.
- 1 lb. (about 4 c.) powdered sugar
- 3 Tbsp. Meringue powder
- 6 Tbsp. warm water (additional Tbsp. or two for thinning)
- Icing gel colors
Making sure that bowl and beaters are free from any oil, add the sugar and meringue powder to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix slowly until just combined. Add the water and beat slowly for two minutes. Then beat on medium speed until light and fluffy about 6 to 8 minutes more. For the right consistency, I follow the 10 second guideline of dragging a knife about an inch deep into the icing and then counting slowly to 10. If it smooths over in 10 seconds, it can be used for piping and flooding. If it is too thick, add a small amount of water and stir until desired consistency. If it is too thin, add a small amount of powdered sugar and stir until desired consistency.
To color the icing, dip a toothpick into gel coloring and mix it into the icing until it is combined and the desired color is reached. If you wish, you can flavor the icing with a clear extract or a little lemon juice. Just be sure that whatever you add to the icing mixture doesn’t contain any oil.
Decorating With Royal Icing
Use a pastry bag to pipe a border around the edge of the cookies then let stand a few minutes for the icing to set. Thin the remaining icing with a few drops of water at a time to achieve a smoother consistency. Fill squeeze bottles with the icing and flood the area within the cookie’s border. Pop any air bubbles that form on the cookies with a toothpick.
Over working the dough will create a tough cookie.
The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or freezes for up to 3 months
Let the chilled dough sit for a few moments so it is soft enough to roll or the dough might become crumbly. The dough will soften as you work with it, if its too soft, return to the fridge until chilled.
Unlike other cookies, don’t bake sugar cookies until golden brown. When they have a little color and are set, take them out of the oven. Depending on the size of the cookies you are making, you may need to add or subtract a minute or two on the baking time.
The royal icing recipe uses meringue powder (powdered egg whites), a pasteurized product that gives the icing body, helps it harden, and gives it a nice matte finish.
Keep the icing covered and the piping bag tips sitting in water to prevent the icing your are not using from drying out.
I like to use a squeeze bottle for icing the cookies. While the cookies are wet, you can add candy decorations with tweezers or add sprinkles, shaking off any excess and let them dry overnight. The next day, you can use royal icing in a piping bag with a number 2 tip for additional designs.
Leave the cookies at room temperature to harden about 8 – 24 hours before stacking them in an airtight container.Notes from the kitchen
like to bake the sugar cookies one day and then decorated them with royal icing the next. While more time consuming than other cookies, the decorated cookies always get compliments when I have made them for friends. The cookie recipe has stood the test of time and is one I hope you will try.