Cookies that range in size from 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches are easiest to work with and are large enough to show off your handiwork without being overwhelming. Try our favorite cookie recipe — it will become your favorite, too. Always roll out cookies on a Silpat, parchment paper or other mat that can be directly transferred to a baking pan. Roll out dough to ¼ inch — a little thicker than usual — for sturdier cookies. Baking on commercial cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans will yield cookies that are evenly colored and well baked. Lightweight disposable pans do not spread heat evenly and will allow the cookies at the outer edges on the pan to bake more quickly than those in the center. In addition, many have patterns and bumps on the bottom that will result in the same bumps on the bottoms of your cookies.
You do not need to be a professional decorator or even very artistic to make these cookies. Follow our instructions and photos to help you create these fun and timely cookies.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp. baking powder, optional
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350° F. In the bowl of your mixer, cream margarine and sugar for 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined. Add the flour and optional baking powder one cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Dough will be stiff.
Roll out the dough, cut the cookies and lift the scraps. Never move the cookies; cookies that are lifted and moved to a pan will inevitably be misshapen. Rolling out your dough on a Silpat will prevent this. Slide the Silpat right onto a cookie sheet and place it in the preheated oven. This method is particularly helpful when making sandwich cookies because the tops and bottoms will match up perfectly.
Bake the cookies for 6 to 8 minutes or until they are lightly browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool. Place the cookies on a rack to continue cooling. A cooling rack is a large metal grid that allows air to circulate, preventing baked goods from “sweating” as they cool. Wait for cookies to be completely cooled before decorating.
Royal icing is a pure white icing that dries to a smooth, hard, matte finish. Besides its smooth finish it is also easy to color, which makes it a favorite of professionals who use it not only for cookies, but also for intricate piping of decorations like flowers, borders and lettering. It is simply a mixture of confectioners’ sugar, cream of tartar and egg whites, but due to the risk of salmonella when using raw egg whites, most people use meringue powder. Meringue powder is made from dried egg whites and is used to replace fresh eggs.
- 3 Tbs. meringue powder
- 1 lb. confectioners’ sugar (1 box)
- 3 Tbs. water
In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the confectioners’ sugar and meringue powder until combined. Add the water and beat at high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5–7 minutes). See above information about proper consistency for outlining cookies.
The icing should be stiff enough that a knife drawn though it will leave a distinct separation and not fall back together. If your icing is not that stiff, add confectioners’ sugar by the ½ cupful until you have achieved that consistency.
Before coloring, remove a portion of icing for outlining. To the remaining icing add water, half a teaspoon at a time, until you reach the proper consistency for covering the entire surface of the cookie. 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. You will need both consistencies to completely cover the cookies with icing.
Decide what colors you will need for your cookies. Separate royal icing into small bowls and color each as necessary. For best consistency, use paste or gel food colors since liquid food color will make your icing runny. Add colors slowly as they are very concentrated. Stir well to completely incorporate color into the icing. To make black or dark red icing you will need to add more coloring to thoroughly saturate the color. Cover each bowl with a damp paper towel to prevent icing from drying. The icing forms a crust very quickly and any bits of crust that get into the piping bag will clog up the tip. Very frustrating!
Prepare as many piping bags as colors you have made. Place a #2 or #3 decorating tip in a 12-inch piping bag. Fill with 3–4 tablespoons of icing and fold down the top of the bag. Cover the tip as well to prevent icing from drying inside. You can also pipe royal icing using a plastic squeeze bottle fitted with a small decorating tip. Piping royal icing from a lightweight baggie is not really ideal.
Place your cookies on a parchment- or foil-covered work surface. Holding the piping bag at a 45-degree angle, outline each cookie with stiff royal icing. When you’ve outlined the whole cookie and reach the beginning of the outline, use a damp toothpick to blend the seam. Allow the outline to dry.
Fill the outline in with the thinned icing, using a small offset spatula, spoon or piping bag. Gently push the icing into all the corners and at the edges. The outline will keep the thin icing in place. If you are using more than one base color, such as for apples with leaves, flood the larger area first and once it’s dry, flood the small area.
For added interest, sprinkle colored sugar crystals on royal icing before it has completely dried. The icing and the sugar will enhance each other. You can also write on dry icing using food coloring markers as we have done here. Allow royal icing to dry completely before storing cookies. Once dry, the cookies can be layered with sheets of parchment or waxed paper and frozen in an airtight container.
Wishing all ah freilichen Purim!