The people who know me in a non-virtual sense, know that while I’m not very good at cooking, I do enjoy baking. It’s how I’ve managed to maintain my roundish figure for all these years. Perseverance my friends!
A few years ago, I decided to take a crack at my favorite of all cookies, the frosted shortbread cookie. The only reason I hadn’t tackled it sooner is that I had heard, through the baker’s grapevine, that shortbread was really hard to perfect. I had data to support this in that I remember my mother, a very good baker, trying to make shortbread in one of those big (maybe 10″) cookie molds and having it fall apart on her. After poking around on recipe.com for awhile, and consulting my cookbooks, I pieced together a great, easy recipe with terrific results. Delicious, crumbly, buttery shortbread cookies that perfectly held a shape when baked. It is as follows…
Scottish Shortbread Cookies
2 cups butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3-3/4 plus 3/4 cups all purpose flour
Using a mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the salt and blend in thoroughly. Mix in the 3-3/4 cups of flour, a little at a time, until combined. It doesn’t need to be perfect, as you are going to continue mixing it further by hand. Dump dough out onto a kneading board or counter. Knead in the remaining 3/4 cup of flour until you have a smooth ball of dough that is neither sticky or crumbly. Too sticky – add a little more flour. Too crumbly – keep kneading that sucker.
Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/4″ to 1/2″ thickness using a floured rolling pin. Cut into shapes and transfer to un greased cookie sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 16-20 minutes, until cookies are just starting to brown on the BOTTOM. The tops should stay pretty white. Transfer to cooling racks. Once cooled, cookies should be kept in airtight containers as they are very susceptible to humidity which will make them more chewy, not crumbly like shortbread is famous for. For this reason, I rarely make these cookies in the summer months.
A few more cookies made for 1. A christening 2. My MIL’s 70th birthday 3. For a wedding
Now, for the frosting, or should I say, frostings. After a lot of experimentation, I found it best to decorate with two distinctly different types of frostings. The first frosting, which usually covers the whole cookie, is soft, shiny and when dry can take a bit of jostling without “denting”, but not too much. This frosting is flavored with extract. The second frosting is Royal Icing. This dries very hard, so that it is crunchy when you bite into it. I use this for all of the details on the cookie (for example the laces etc. on the sneaker cookie above) and since it sits on top of the base frosting, it gives added protection so that you can stack your cookies onto a platter and they won’t all stick together. Be aware though – to accomplish this, you need to let them dry overnight.
So, for the base frosting…
1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 Tbsp. milk
1/2 to 1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/4 tsp. extract – almond has always been a fan favorite, but I’ve also used vanilla, lemon, and anise. Basically, whatever your crowd likes.
In a bowl, mix the confectioners sugar with the milk. It should have a dough-like consistency when fully incorporated. Add the corn syrup and extract. It should be smooth and not stiff, but not too runny either. The idea is that you want it to be smooth enough to self-level on your cookie (to give the icing a smooth, shiny surface), but not so runny that it falls off the edges of the cookie. You can adjust this by playing with the amount of corn syrup you add.
Now, you add your food coloring. A quick word about this. The liquid kind that they sell in the supermarket is fine but keep in mind that you are adding liquid to your frosting, and this will effect it’s viscosity (level of runny-ness). Also, the pigments in those brands are pretty weak, so you need a LOT of coloring if you’re trying to achieve a deep shade, especially red and black. Pastes and gels work much better since they are much more concentrated. These are readily available at craft stores like A.C. Moore, Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s. I have found that the absolute BEST food coloring are a brand called Americolor, and I get them on EBay from specialty baking sites. Here’s what my set looks like…
Notice how I have the big size “Super black” and “Super red”. These two especially are AWESOME. No more watering down my icing, and still not quite achieving the color I want. A tiny grain-of-rice size dot (or less!) gives me deep rich color. The 3/4 oz. size bottle will run you around $3.00 (including shipping), and the bigger 4.5 oz. bottle goes for around $7.50. This is not a lot of money if you consider how concentrated it is.
These I made for Valentines day, but always thought the bustiers would be great for a bachelorette party. Hubba-hubba.
On to the Royal Icing. There’s a gazillion recipes out there for RI. Half use raw egg whites, which make me nervous. The other half use this fabulous stuff called Meringue Powder that comes in a big cardboard can like so…
Anyway, here’s the Royal Icing recipe that I use…
3 Tbsp. Meringue Powder
4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
6 Tbsp. water
Pour water into a big mixing bowl. Add meringue powder then mix on medium speed until frothy. Add confectioners sugar and beat on low speed for a few minutes until soft peaks form.
This recipe makes a buttload of frosting, so unless you’re frosting a ton of cookies, you may want to halve, or even quarter the recipe. Shoot me an email if you’re having trouble doing the math on either of these, because it isn’t exactly straightforward if you’re not mathly-inclined.
IMPORTANT! You need to cover the bowl of frosting with a wet kitchen towel at all times as the icing dries out very quickly.
At this point I divide the frosting into whatever amounts I’m needing and color them. You will notice that Royal Icing is harder to color than the base icing. You will need a little more to achieve the same color.
I pipe my icing on the cookies. I pipe the base frosting first, then add the details with Royal icing. Also, I like to trace around my cookie cutter with pencil onto scrap paper and sketch out the design beforehand. If its a particularly tricky design, I will take the pencil outline, put a piece of wax paper over it and pipe out the icing onto the wax paper. But that’s only when I’m feeling especially OCD. And if you’re wondering where I get my designs from, it’s a combination of stuff floating around in my head, and lots of ideas I get from looking at designs on the Internet.
One final note, I have amassed a collection of over 100 cookie cutters. I purchased them at craft stores, bed and bath stores, at yard sales and thrift stores. I’ve received a number as gifts. And the harder to find ones I got on EBay or at this great site called www.coppergifts.com They can be pricey, but they have just about every shape you could ever imagine. I got my tuxedo shaped cookie cutter there.
Here’s a few more samples of my cookies…
1. A Hockey team’s end-of-the-season party. FYI, I used the tuxedo cutter for these and cut off the pants before baking 2. Mardi Gras or Masquerade cookies 3. Made these for someone who was doing the Avon 3-day walk for breast cancer
And finally, (for now), I made these “munchstaches” for my family reunion. That’s my fabulous grandmother on the left, my ham of a brother on the right and my cousin’s adorable baby looking dapper in the middle.