Decorated Sugar Cookies for Mardi Gras

Even though I just wrote about my first sugar cookie decorating experience, the truth is that occurred just shy of a month and a half ago. Last week, I felt a sudden twinge of Resolution Guilt for not having tried my hand at the whole fiasco a second time yet, and Mardi Gras paired with a trip to visit L (and his 4 male roommates) seemed like a perfect excuse. So, I dove into the vast pool of sugar cookie recipes I have saved, pulled out one from the ever-impressive Annie over at Annie's Eats, and resolved to make L and his roommates a batch of Fat Tuesday worthy treats.

I ran into a few obstacles, namely a set of beautiful yet tragically dark-colored Wilton cookie sheets that inevitably turned the bottoms of my cookies a matching dark color. I also burned a good many of the cookies in the beginning before learning that this recipe needs to be rolled out fairly thickly, not like the paper thin Christmas cookies my Grandmother used to make (which would be what I'm used to). I also, perhaps, sent my handmixer into early retirement while beating the royal icing for 7 minutes straight (as per the recipe's instructions, I swear!), but that didn't effect the cookies themselves, so we won't go too much into that disappointment.

Speaking of disappointment, I think that's the most accurate description of these cookies. They come together easily, roll out without much fuss, bake without an inch of spreading - and then shatter your high hopes by being fairly dry, confusingly bland and overly sweet at the same time, and not as sturdy as I was led to believe initially. Once I slathered royal icing on them, they were thoroughly enjoyable, and I think it goes without saying that the boys in L's room devoured them promptly (and between appreciative compliments). But these will not, alas, be my Ultimate Decorated Sugar Cookie recipe, at least not without some tweaking. I don't mean to bash them, either; as I said, everyone really liked them. However, I do ask people to be brutally honest with my recipes as I'm on a hunt for perfection on a plate, and these did not go without nit-picky, critical comments.

The only changes I made were to scale up the vanilla extract to 1 1/2 teaspoons and swap in the 1 1/2 teaspoons of almond extract for 1 teaspoon of rum extract, as I realized too late that among the many half-used extracts I have lying around, almond is not one of them. I thought the rum would either go unnoticed or add a nice Bourbon-Street Flair to the cookies, as they were meant to be styled a la Mardi Gras, anyway. It turns out the former was the case, but if you like the latter idea, go ahead and try some real rum for flavoring or change the rum:vanilla ratio. I don't know what will happen, but I'm one to throw caution to the wind in the kitchen. Just go for it!

As for decorating, well, the fact that I included pictures of the finished product means that I am infinitely happier with the result than my first attempt. The icing came together better, I think I'm getting a better idea of how thin it needs to be to flood and how thick to pipe, and I even attempted to color a bit of it this time around. My back didn't turn into knots and my shoulder wasn't burning from being held in a weird position. Some of my crowns looked like blobs and my designs lack a finesse that I hope to develop over the next year, but this was certainly a step in the right direction! Two lessons learned, though: I need to invest in some squeeze bottles for easier flooding, and if you get too anal about the colors of your icings and add too much gel, the final icing will not harden as well as it should.

Decorated Sugar Cookies, courtesy of Annie's Eats
Yield: See Note*
The Ingredients
1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons almond (or 1 teaspoon rum) extract
1-1 1/2 (depending on above extract used) vanilla extract
1 teaspoons salt (omitted with salted butter)
2 ½ cups flour, sifted

The Method
In a large bowl, cream the butter thoroughly and then add in the powdered sugar. Blend in the remaining ingredients until well mixed, without overmixing.** Wrap the dough and chill it until firm, at least an hour.

Once the dough is ready to be rolled out, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. On a well-floured surface***, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut into desired shapes. Re-roll the scraps, according to theory, no more than 2 times to prevent toughness (though I have never actually experienced this). Place the cut cookies onto greased cookie sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes, keeping an eye on them as they are not supposed to actually brown. Allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two - not long - before transferring to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

When the cookies are cooled, either transfer to an air-tight container for up to two days or a freezer-safe container for longer before frosting, or frost as desired and then store in an air-tight container, once the icing has dried. Do not freeze once iced.

*The recipe claims to yield approximately 40 cookies, but I would be shocked if I wound up with 3 dozen including the first batch or so that I rolled out too thin. A group of college boys cleaned me out of my supply in two days, no problem.
**To ensure that I didn't overmix, I added all of the ingredients up to the flour, blended them, and then mixed in the flour until just incorporated.
***Although I haven't yet tried this, I have heard of "flouring" your surface and rolling pin with powdered sugar to avoid the risk of dried-out, high-gluten cookies. I will definitely try this next time, but wanted to tell you about it now in case you decide to try your hand at cookies in the near future.

For the royal icing recipe and tutorial I used for this recipe, you can visit Annie's Eats post on decorating with Royal Icing.

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