Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sugar Cookie Palooza on the Oregon Coast

Why is it that every year, like clockwork, I forget which sugar cookie recipe I used the year before ?  Was it the one I brought with me from pastry school ?  Or may Alton Brown 's - everyone raves about those.  Or did I Google and stumble upon one ?  I usually take my chances and bake the one I think I did the previous Christmas and by the time all the holiday food, cookies, fruitcakes, and truffles  are consumed it doesn't matter.

Since I have the time this year I decided to do my own little bake off.  I usually make about 3-4 batches of sugar cookie dough so this year instead of batches of the same recipe I'm going to try a few different recipes and I'll let you know which one wins my little bake off.  And yes I will toss all other recipes and keep the winner in a safe place, so that in 2011 there will be no sugar cookie conundrum! My whisk ratings are 1 to 5 with 5 being the top !

The first one is from Eleni's New York-cookie maker extraordinaire. I discovered her cookies when she first started out and have been an avid follower since.  Her basket of brownies are some of the best I've tasted.  And I go to her web site all the time for inspiration.

Eleni's Sugar Cookies 5 Whisks
Delicious-easy to roll and the cookies have a nice crisp old fashioned sugar cookie taste to them. Use either this or Alton Brown's recipe and you won't go wrong.

2 sticks ( 1cup butter)-softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup decorative sugar for decoration-or royal icing for piping

In a medium bowl , cream together the butter and sugar.  Stir in the eggs and vanilla.
Sift together the flour and baking powder.
Stir the sifted mixture into the creamed mixture, alternately with the heavy cream.
Cover the dough and chill for 2-3 hours until firm.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.
On a light floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes.  Place cookies 1  inch apart on the cookie sheets.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until bottoms and edges of cookies are light brown.
Remove from the baking sheet and cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

Alton Brown's Sugar Cookies 5 whisks
These are yummy-taste more like a buttery shortbread than a sugar cookie-very easy to roll and the addition of rolling in powdered sugar instead of flour creates a pretty shine to the surface.

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Best Sugar Cookie Ever 4 whisks
adapted from Amy Vanderbilt's Cookbook

by I'm Not Hannah
This dough was very nice to roll after being refrigerated over night-not too stiff and not too soft-just right Goldilocks ! However,the scraps that were rolled out again tended to puff up and spread the cookies a little too much for my liking. So I ended up with some nicely outlined penguins and with some puffy chubby penguins who looked like they had eaten way too much fish and were suffering from water retention. Overall, if you are cautious with your cutting and minimize your re-rolled scraps this is a good dough. The flavor light, the cookie had a nice crisp to it.

1 stick of butter (OR margarine OR 1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar
Add egg, vanilla, and milk. Mix until smooth.
Combine flour, salt, and baking powder.
Add flour mixture to wet mixture slowly. The dough will be very stiff.
Wrap the dough and stick it in the freezer for an hour or so. I refrigerated it over night instead of freezing it for an hour.

On a floured surface, turn out the dough and roll to 1/4 inch. Cut out the cookies and lay them on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet.Sprinkle with sugar, non pareils, jimmies, or  you can also ice them when they're cool after baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes for a softer cookie, up to 12 for a crispy cookie

Group Recipes Best Ever Sugar Cookie 3 whisks-mainly for the flavor
The flavor in these is wonderful with the addition of Grand Marnier. The dough a little hard to handle-crumbles and cracks easily and invites over-working it. These had more of a traditional sugar cookie taste with the orange liquor flavoring enhancing it.
Ingredients 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temp
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbl. orange liquor or cognac
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup sugar

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed with mixer. Add egg yolks and beat until fluffy. Blend in vanilla and liquor. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, add to sugar mixture. DO NOT OVER BEAT! Blending with hands is best. Split dough in two portions and pat down into a 1 inch disc shape. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut with cookie cutters. Bake in a 350 degree oven until VERY light brown on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Decorate with royal icing

Sugar Cookies 5 whisks
This dough is beautiful-so easy to roll and cut.  And the taste-nice and buttery-like a sugar cookie shortbread combo.  These baked up beautifully too-kept their shape, didn't puff up.  I found that rolling them to slightly more than 1/8 inch thickness produced a nice cookie.

2 1/2 cups butter (at room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
seeds from 1 vanilla bean (or 3 tsp vanilla)
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt


1. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer on low to medium speed. (Use the paddle attachment). Mix until thoroughly incorporated – for about one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and mix again for a few seconds more.
Over mixing the butter and sugar in this step will cause too much air to be incorporated into the dough. If you’d like a light and fluffy cookie, that’s ideal, however the dough will spread more during baking; not ideal if you’d like the cookie to hold its shape.
2. Add eggs slowly and mix. Scrape down the bowl with your spatula at least once and mix again.
3. Cut open your vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out. Add to mixing bowl. Alternatively, add liquid vanilla extract. Stir briefly.
4. Sift your dry ingredients together. (Flour, baking powder and salt).
5. Add all of the flour mixture to the bowl. Place a large tea towel or two small tea towels between the edge of the bowl and the electric mixer so that the flour won’t escape. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Remove the tea towels and observe the dough mixing; when it clumps around the paddle attachment it’s ready. It’s also important at this stage not to over mix the dough (the gluten in the flour develops and the dough can become tough).
6. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper. Place on a baking sheet and into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.
7. Roll out the dough further if you need to, and cut out cookie shapes. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Re-roll scraps and repeat.
8. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again. They will then hold their shape better when baked.
9. Preheat your oven to 350°F or 176°C.
10. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown. The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie.
11. Let cookies cool to room temperature and decorate!

My little beach house work station
Sugar Cookies Tips
Rest your cookies ! Let the flour and sugar fully rehydrate and allow the butter to become firm. 3-4 hours of resting after you make your dough is recommended.

Dough temperature between 45 and 50 degrees F is the ideal-the fat in the dough will be firm and more workable

Remember "colder is better", go easy on the "dust with flour" .  Bread flour is a good choice for dusting. If you work in too much flour the consistency of the dough will change and it's little life will be shortened.  Once you get it rolled to the desired thickness move it to your baking pan by rolling it around a rolling pin. Or before you even start to roll it,place a piece of parchment paper down so that when you are finished rolling you can simply lift the rolled dough by the parchment paper and place it on your baking tray.  Throw the tray and dough in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm it up again. This will help with precise and clean cuts with your cookie mold. Be careful you don't freeze the dough at this point or you will end up with shattered dough !

Now that you have cut out your designs it's time for another dough nap,the dough not you ! 15 minutes is good.

You can store sugar dough in the freezer-wrap it well-you can freeze it for up to 4 months but no longer.  And besides who is thinking of Christmas cookies in August anyway !

Sugar Cookie Palooza was fun but I think I've done enough tasting to last me to Christmas of 2020.  What about you ?  What's your favorite go to sugar cookie recipe for Christmas ?

My gingerbread cookies flooded with royal icing
And now the fun part begins-Icing Palooza !  I don't have to or want to test various royal icing recipes-my go to one is posted here and is one I learned in pastry school .  It has a nice taste from using lemon juice instead of water.  And when I dilute it for flooding I add a little lemon juice to the water before thinning the icing.
Royal Icing
1 lb of powdered confectioner's sugar
7 Tbsp Egg White
1 Tbsp Lemon juice

Sift sugar well.
Mix egg whites and lemon juice together and add to powdered sugar
Whip on high speed for 6-7 minutes.  Icing should be very white and fluffy.
Adjust consistency with more egg white or water
Cover with a damp towel and plastic wrap
Use within 24hours.

 And this year I used this one that appears on Sweetopia's web site.
I like using the meringue powder in place of egg whites
6 oz (3/4 cup) of warm water
5 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 kilogram (2.25 lbs.) powdered icing sugar

*** Note: if your meringue powder has no vanilla flavour (vanilla powder) in it, add a teaspoon of clear vanilla to this recipe.

Directions:In mixer bowl, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder. Mix it with a whisk by hand until it is frothy and thickened…about 30 seconds.

Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more.
Pour in all the icing sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer.

Using the paddle attachment on the LOWEST speed, mix slowly for a full 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy. Avoid over mixing or your icing will crumble once it has dried and you don't want royal icing powder all over your cookies !

Cover the bowl with a dampened tea-towel to prevent crusting and drying.

Tint with food colourings or thin the icing with small amounts of warm water to reach the desired consistency.

I still have my "Cookie Book" from pastry class, it contains all the recipes,hints,directions,and most importantly pictures and ideas.  The same way artists keep a sketch book , pastry chefs should keep a sketch book.  Pictures and sketches of design ideas.  Every Christmas I go to the book for decorating ideas and every year I add to it.  Sometimes I just like pulling it off the shelf and paging through it admiring the handiwork of all the creative people out there.  Eleni's is in my book-she has beautiful Holiday ideas; Karen's Cookies has a number of links to some very creative people and Karen's Cookies website is a wealth of information  too; Marian at Sweetopia does incredible cookie work-you can spend hours and hours at her website or just head over to Flickr and check out the Cookie Artisan's cookie sets-absolutely amazing ! And my favorite decorating supply company is Fancy Flours.  The wafer paper for the penguins,angels and ornaments came from them  along with some great decorating ideas.

In between storm watching at the Oregon Coast I spent my time icing and decorating the cookies.  It was so nice to sit in front of the window, look out and see the ocean and decorate cookies.  One of the nicest holidays I can remember. Enjoy my labor of love !

PS. While I was busy decorating J pitched in and made his famous pizzelles !

Of course I had to keep taste testing-these are one of my favorite holiday cookies !

I wish all of you a Happy Holiday and Merry Christmas


Andrea said...

Your cookies are beautiful! It looks like you've been very busy making cookies. I thought I was crazy with all of the cookies I made last week, but that was just 1.5 batches of sugar and 1 batch of gingerbread that I decorated.

Julie Hoagland said...

Those cookies are all so beautiful! It is almost 11pm and now I am dying for a sugar cookie!

bellini valli said...

As it so happens I am heading north for Christmas and we will be baking my moms sugar cookie recipe. Apparently the furture in laws love my daughters sugar cookies. They will not be nearly as gorgeous as the ones here though Sandy. These are truly a masterpiece!

Anonymous said...

how wonderfully creative you are! :)) well done, they look great!

Angellove's Cooking said...

ADORABLE!!! I love the cute little angels :)

Lynn said...

Beautiful, I am so jealous I didn't get to my cookie-a-thon this weekend, I still hope to!!! This will be some inspiration!

K o r i said...

Wow, your cookies are absolutely beautiful! I love how you decorated each one and also how you tried so many different recipes. I made sugar cookies over the weekend and was wondering which recipe I liked from last year thank you for all of your comments on these. Merry Christmas to you!

Anna's Table said...

I'm in total awe of your beautiful work. You cookies are absolutely stunning! How I wish you were nearby, giving classes....I would be the first to enroll.

briarrose said...

Amazingly beautiful cookies. Lovely job on these.

Sarah-Jane - said...

Congratulations on your foodbuzz top 9 entry.

Your sugar cookies are amazing. I long to be able to decorate like that ! The penguins are particularly adorable.

I've bookmarked your post (and followed your blog). I look forward to attempting these in future

Merry Christmas !

shannon said...

oh my goodness!! From one seattle girl to another..your cookies are the most pretty cookies in puget sound! Congrats on foodbuzz top 9!!

Seattle Pastry Girl said...

I'm so thrilled by your comments-thank you all for stopping by and I was stunned by the Foodbuzz Top 9 but sooo very proud !

Stacey Hurley-Rider said...

Absolutely stunning and so so beautiful... I don't know if I could eat them but I loved the pictures and am going to try the recipes.

Deb said...

okay....I can attest to the deliciousness of each and every cookie Sandi has baked! Yum! Now I just need to decide which recipe I want to try out before Christmas!! Love them all!