Monday, August 9, 2010

Scooby-Doo's Dog Tag Sugar Cookies

Behold, my first attempt at making sugar cookie cutouts that are decorated all fancy-like. Xander just had his 5th birthday party (so expect more posts in the next week or so about some of the other stuff I made for the birthday boy!) over the weekend. For the theme, he chose Scooby-Doo. This was hardly a shock; the boy is Scooby-obsessed lately. So I decided it would be fun to make some decorated sugar cookies and put them in each of the goody bags we would give out at the end of the party.

I realized when choosing a design that I needed the shape to be as simple as possible. I mean, I'm just a beginner at this, so I didn't want to worry about cutting out dog shapes or something difficult like that. I settled on Scooby's diamond-shaped dog tag, on his collar. Following Martha Stewart's recipe for basic sugar cookie cutouts was easy. It turns out that you really have to devote a lot of time to chilling the dough, then letting it rest, then rolling out the shapes, then freezing the shapes before baking. That last step really helps a lot. It helps so much with maintaining the shape of the cookie while it's in the oven.

So now that I had my perfectly formed cookies, I was all set to decorate! Now, I made some mistakes this time around, but I have learned from those mistakes and I'm getting the hang of things. I had been debating whether to outline the diamond in yellow, then flood the entire inside with the blue. After letting that sit for at least 12 hours, I could then pipe Scooby's initials on top. As it turns out, that would have been smart, but I didn't go that route.

What we did (because I'm impatient and I asked Andy to help decorate after I'd done only 3 cookies) was outline the entire diamond in yellow, then write the SD initials. After about an hour, when the yellow had hardened, we flooded the rest of the cookie with blue.

I'll back up a bit here. I'd been looking at other blogs the week leading up to this decorating extravaganza, getting an idea of what I should do. Among the best resources out there were Bake at 350 and Sweetopia; I think so, anyway. I learned all about how the outlining should be done with the royal icing that you initially make. Then, when you need to flood, or fill in, the cookie, you need to thin out the royal icing so it's a good consistency for filling and spreading. I did all that without a hitch. However, having never worked with the thinned icing before, I didn't realize how much harder I was making it on myself to have to fill in all the nooks and crannies around the SD initials.

So it was slow and tedious work. But it won't be next time I decide to make cookies, because now I know better! If I had just saved the initials for last, it would have been a piece of cake. But as I said, I've learned now, and I can only improve from here!

I thought, after everything was said, and done, and decorated, that they turned out really cute. I was very aware of the spots that weren't perfectly smooth, or the places where I had accidentally smudged blue up over the yellow lines, but nobody had anything negative to say about them. Plus, they were....original! I mean, you could definitely tell they were handcrafted, for better or worse. They were like snowflakes; no two exactly the same! I had a blast with this, and I can't wait to try again. I need the practice!

Sugar Cookie Cutouts
makes about 2 dozen 4-inch cookies

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Royal Icing (optional, recipe follows)

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

2. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to just under 1/4 inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Cut out cookies with desired cookie cutter, transferring shapes to parchment paper-lined baking sheets as you work. Roll out the scraps, and repeat. Repeat with remaining disk of dough. Chill cookies in freezer until very firm, about 15 minutes.

4. Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. To decorate, tint icing with food coloring, if using. Flood tops of cookies with icing. Continue to decorate as desired. After icing cookies, let them sit out overnight to set. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Royal Icing
covers 2-3 dozen cookies in 2 colors

4 Tbsp. meringue powder
scant 1/ cup water
1 lb. powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. light corn syrup (optional, but I used it)
few drops clear extract (optional, but I used it)
gel-paste food coloring (optional, but I used it)

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the meringue powder and the water. Beat until combined and foamy. Sift in the powdered sugar, and beat on low to combine. Add in the corn syrup and extract, if using.

2. Increase the speed to medium-high/high and beat for about 5 minutes, just until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat.

3. Cover with plastic wrap covering the surface of the icing, or divide and tint as desired. (I stored mine in the refrigerator until ready to use.)

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