When I was in culinary school (many years ago), I purchased a cookbook which changed the way I decorated sugar cookies. It's called Cookie Craft, and I still love reading this book to get tips and ideas on decorating celebratory cookies. If you're interested in learning more about decorating cookies, I highly recommend this book.
They aren't as popular in Ireland as they are in North America, but – for me – sugar cookies are the best part of any holiday. The sweet, soft sugar cookie combined with a thin layer of tasty icing – what's not to love? I make these cookies with my kids two or three times a year. They are definitely celebratory because they're a big job to make - you feel like you deserve a reward after! With royal icing, things can get messy with kids. I line the cookies with a thicker consistency of icing before flooding them with a thinner consistency. Then, once they're set, I let the kids pipe a bit of decoration and use the sprinkles. This cuts down on the mess (but only a little).
These cookies last forever once baked and decorated - they are great handmade gifts. Why not try them out with the kids this week?
Makes approx. 30 cookies
For the cookies:
454g softened butter
500g caster sugar
2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
750g plain flour
For the icing:
4 packages of instant royal icing mix
A variety of food colouring (black, orange, white, grey and purple are all good for Halloween)
1/4 tsp almond extract
125-150ml water (plus more, for making flooding consistency)
1. Preheat your oven to 180°C and line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.
2. Make the cookie dough: in a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) and set aside.
3. In another bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until light. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing well after each (by the third addition I just use my hands to mix; it's easier).
4. Divide the four into four or six portions. On a work surface, add a big piece of parchment paper and place one portion of dough on top. Place another piece of parchment on top and, using a rolling pin, roll out to 2.5cm thickness. Using Halloween cutters, cut the cookies out of the dough and place them on a lined baking sheet.
5. Bake the cookies for eight-10 minutes, until just barely golden around the edges. Allow to cool completely.
6. Repeat this process until all the dough has been rolled out and cut into cookies.
7. Make the icing: add the packets of royal icing mix into a big bowl. Add the almond extract and just enough water to mix the icing into a thick consistency, ideal for icing with a piping bag.
8. Mix some of the icing with colours and leave some white (if desired). Take half of the icing and thin it out with more water, to make a runny consistency for flooding.
9. Using the thicker icing (in a piping bag with a small, plain tip), line the edges of each cookie. Then, using a skewer to help spread, flood each cookie with the thinner icing and spread to cover the surface of the cookie. Let set.
10. Finish the cookies with more decorative piping and Halloween sprinkles. Allow to dry completely overnight, then enjoy or share with friends and family.
*You can freeze the cookie dough if you don't want to make such a large batch; it will keep for two months in the freezer. Then you can use it to make Christmas cookies.