Monday, March 23, 2009

Springtime Sugar Cookies

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One of my favorite cookbooks is more like a tribute book to great chefs. It's called My Last Supper and chefs tell what they would want for their last meal. I can't decide what my main course would be, but I can promise you I will choose my sugar cookies for dessert without a doubt. They are my all time favorite. This week we decided to shoot a few Flip videos (Flip is a very cool video camera) and sugar cookies for Spring seemed like the perfect project. The video runs 4 minutes, and we think it's a great first attempt!

The sugar cookie recipe I use I cut off a bag of Pillsbury flour about 15 years ago. However, I have altered it, surprise! The dough is easily doubled or tripled, freezes beautifully raw, freezes equally well cooked and unfrosted. I usually make a good number of batches at Christmas and freeze dough for Valentines. However after the blog where I cleaned out the freezer in front of God and you, I am really keeping the frozen inventory on the low side. I used my new SideSwipe blade in my Kitchen Aid and have to say I love, love it. Creams butter in a jiffy and no scraping the bowl down. I also have to give a shout out to the Dough Bands. Basically they are giant rubber bands that come in varying widths and you put them on the rolling pin and it keeps your dough at the perfect thickness. No slanted cookies, and works as well for pie and pastry dough. Of course I use a Silpat so nothing sticks, but you have to watch them like a hawk. A minute too long and they'll be a little too brown, not inedible, and nothing a good coating of icing can't hide.

The icing is always a little controversial. I love royal icing because it dries like a rock, holds it shapes and absorbs color, however, it isn't really tasty, just very sweet. I found an old Wilton book and made the icing recipe from it. It will harden your arteries just reading it, but it was yummy, made great decorations, took color well and was the absolute perfect flavor for these cookies. I'll never go back. I added Meringue Powder (Wilton) to give the icing a little firmness as it dried and this is the only time I will tell you to use...are you ready?...Clear Artificial Vanilla (also from Wilton). I know, wonders never cease. But who wants to ruin that snow white frosting with brown vanilla? Exactly.

You can see from the video clip I used an assortment of icing colors. Paste food coloring will give you great color saturation and you can start with a small dab on a toothpick and add more to get it darker. If you have those little squeeze bottles of coloring from the supermarket, throw them out, it's just not worth it. Wilton sells disposable pastry bags in bulk, no washing the vinyl bags! I divide the icing and use a coupler on each bag so I can change out the tips for stars, writing, grass, outlining, whatever. You can pick up a starter kit of tips and a starter pack of paste colors and if you watch the Sunday paper, you can nab a coupon or look for a Wilton sale at the big craft retailers like Michael's, Hobby Lobby or JoAnn's and start buying the necessary stuff that you will use forever.

Buttermilk Sugar Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 Tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add buttermilk, vanilla and egg. In a separate bowl sift dry ingredients and add to mixer until well combined. Place dough on plastic wrap and shape into a flat disc. Refrigerate at least an hour or freeze in a zippered plastic bag.
Preheat oven to 400° If dough is frozen, thaw completely in fridge. Remove disc from fridge and divide in 4 pieces. Use one piece at a time and keep remaining dough in fridge. Generously flour work space with flour and roll cookies to 1/8" thickness. Bake cookies on Silpat with a couple of inches between cookies. Bake for about 3 minutes and switch from front to back, top shelf to lower shelf and bake about 3 minutes more. Watch closely. Once you find the perfect time, all sheets should bake the same because all the cookies are the same thickness if you use dough bands.
Cool on Silpat on racks, and then move directly to rack. Cookies can be frozen when cool, or get ready to decorate.

Old Wilton Icing
1 cup white crisco
1 pound, about 4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Wilton clear vanilla extract
milk, anywhere from 1-5 Tablespoons
1 Tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder
2 Tablespoons warm water

In a stand mixer bowl, place meringue powder in warm water to dissolve a little. Add the Crisco and whip for a good 3 minutes, add vanilla and add powdered sugar a cup at a time. Add milk as needed to make icing the right consistency. If you are piping it, you want it a little firmer. If you are simply using a spatula, the icing can be softer. I always have extra powdered sugar on hand to thicken it if needed. Decorate the cookies as desired, and let the frosting firm up before packing into airtight containers.

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