Happy 19th Birthday Noobs – The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

I can FINALLY post this because both my brothers FINALLY received their packages!  This post has been seriously delayed because the United States Postal Service failed to deliver my packages to my brothers in any sort of timely fashion.  (I sent it 2-day priority, by the way, last Monday.)  Christopher just got his package today and Patrick just picked his up today (even though it had been waiting in his mailbox since Thursday!  Noob!).  Anyway, there is no more secret to hide so I can post about my cookie adventure.  Enjoy.

In case you do not constantly read my blog, or you do and are just very forgetful (I know, Grampie, it’s hard to remember all the little kiddos with your senility*), I have twin brothers who just went off to college this fall.  Patrick is nice and close at Catholic in D.C., and Christopher is far away at Brandeis in Boston.  And last Thursday, the 26th, was their 19th birthday.  While college is a huge adjustment, and they are very busy between a college course load, soccer, and (ahem) partying, I know they will have the time of their lives once they settle in!  Also, they are finally realizing how awesome their family is and (gasp!) they miss us!  Funny how college suddenly changes your whole perspective on your family and home…And again, they just turned 19!!!

*That was a joke, in case you guys thought I was actually being that mean and calling out my grandpa like that.  I’ve been told I am terrible at sarcasm, and the sentiment is usually completely lost in written word – so I thought I’d clarify.

Let’s take a quick peak at us at a Redskins’ game back in 2008, and us early this summer at the noobs’ high school graduation:

High school graduation!

They were so cute at 14…What happened?!?! 😛

boys grad

They grow up so fast…

ANYWAY, the point is, being that it was their birthday (did I say that already?), and I NEVER know what to buy them (because they NEVER want anything), and because baking is what I do best, I decided to make them my famous sugar cookies with royal icing.  They love these cookies, and always devour them, so imagine how awesome it would be to have a whole batch of cookies all to yourself!?!?  They were giddy with delight when they opened that box.  Patrick had already eaten 4 before he texted me to say thank you.  And they made it intact and they were still delicious (not stale, like I feared, after a week in transit)!  They also said they had no plastic or cardboard taste, which I was slightly worried about.  Basically, it was a success all around!

Let me illustrate briefly my brothers’ love for my cookies:  In recent history when I have made them, I have had to ration them out day by day, otherwise my noobs of brothers would have devoured them all in one sitting and there would have been none left for the rest of us.  I also sometimes decorated them simply with people’s names so the boys could not get away with eating more than their share of cookies.  (You see, these cookies are yummy, and my family would get grumpy if they didn’t get their fair share of cookies.)  Granted, the noobs always got a bigger share of cookies rationed to them anyways, since they are growing boys, love sweets the most, and have no fear of their growing waistline from a few extra cookies like the rest of us oldies.  Darn those noobs and their light-speed metabolism.

So, sugar cookies was an obvious choice for their birthday surprise.  Now, I have these cookies down to a science, and it takes me no time at all to get them from butter and sugar, to baked cookie, to decorated delicious masterpiece.  (Okay, maybe they are not masterpieces, but they definitely are pretty darn cute little cookies, depending on how I decorate, of course…actually, scratch that, there are definitely some batches I have made that were in fact masterpieces by my standards.)  To be precise, one batch (which usually makes me 60 cookies) takes me 10 minutes to make the dough, then I let it chill in the fridge while I chill on the couch (hahahaha).  Rolling and baking the cookies in 4 batches (each tray holds 15 cookies) takes an hour, and icing usually takes 3 hours total.  I have to ice in 2 parts as well, since first I have to put the base coat on, let it dry, then apply the details on top.

This batch only made 50 cookies, so maybe I ate a little extra cookie dough…something is fishy here.  I didn’t eat that much dough!

Sometimes I space it over a few days (dough and bake one night, base coat icing the next, final coat the next.  This time, I squeezed it all into a 24 hour period.  I made the dough Saturday evening, baked Sunday morning, base-coated Sunday afternoon, and final coat Sunday evening.  So, while I have it down to a science, there are still the physical limitations of, the dough can only firm up so fast, and the cookies take this long to cool, and the icing needs this much time to dry.  However you do it though, you NEED to have an overnight gap from when you finish icing the cookies, to when you package them or handle them in any way, because you want the icing to really be firm.  So, I packaged them up Monday after work and shipped them off first thing Tuesday, for arrival on their birthday (FAIL).  Let’s get down to the baking…

cookies

The dough is easy enough to make.  Just use a mixer and you’re done in no time.  Mixing by hand doesn’t take that long either though.  I will recommend strongly though, that you use butter over margarine.  Butter just firms up better.  I used 1 stick margarine, 2 sticks butter in this last batch (I’ve always used straight-up butter in the past), and it was just a little softer than usual, which just made it a little more challenging to roll and transfer to my cookie sheet (and I needed more flour when rolling!).  I also suggest wrapping your dough in plastic wrap to chill.  This way, you avoid having to pry your dough from your cold bowl (I bent more than one spoon this way…).

IMG_2282

Once your dough has chilled and is ready to use, get out your pastry mat (they really do come in handy!), and don’t skimp on the flour.  You want to make sure your dough and mat are floured enough that you can easily lift the cookies from the mat once you cut them.  Otherwise, you will have amoeba cookies instead of beautifully perfectly circular, or star-shaped, or whatever-the-shape- may-be cookies as a results of you struggling with lifting the cut dough from your mat to your cookie sheet.  Also, if you haven’t used those little rubber bands you put on the end of your rolling pin to ensure an even dough thickness, I highly recommend investing in them.  J

rollingdough

Always closely monitor how long the cookies take to bake, as total bake time maxes out at 10 minutes, depending on your oven, and cookies can go from beautiful to burnt in 1 minute flat (yes, I know from experience, of course).

in the oven

I’m not going to go into the details of icing and all the different consistencies for flooding and piping and on and on.  There are ample videos and tutorials online that are far superior to anything I would put together.  Just Google royal icing and you are on your way to decorating like a champ.  Just be sure to cover your icing with a damp cloth or paper towel when not using because it starts to dry quickly, and that is no bueno.  You can even store it for a few days as long as your put a damp cloth under the lid.  I’ve done it before during my cake-decorating class and was shocked that it worked.  Really though, it’s easy to make, so, unless you have a whole bunch leftover, fresh is easy.  Speaking of having leftover, one batch of cookies (~60) usually requires 1.5 to 2 batches of royal icing, depending on how elaborate my decorations are.  One batch is usually about enough for the base coast, though a little more would probably be a more comfortable fit.  Also, don’t skimp on the food coloring.  My red cookies for Chris turned out a little pinker than I wanted them to because I know icing color intensifies as it dries, but I overestimated the color change this time…Oh well.  Real men like pink, right?

icing

To decorate these cookies, I decided to do something a little different.  I made them, essentially, an edible birthday card!  I wrote each noob a birthday poem, and then decorated the cookies with the words.

decorated cookies

…And dedicate the others to my puppy.  🙂  I thought it was quite clever of me.  I then numbered the cookies so it would be semi easier to unscramble them.  I attempted to number the bottom of them with edible ink pens I had previously purchased, which never worked all that well.  When that failed, I just numbered the bubble wrap I packaged them in.  That worked well, since I bubbled-wrapped them in groups of 2.  You could probably also just take a few drops of diluted coloring and paint the number on the back.  All in all, these definitely weren’t the prettiest, most elaborate cookies I’ve made, but they were just as delicious, and a cute idea, if I do say so myself.

packaging

Happy Birthday Noobs!

I’ve had this recipe for a while, and there is nothing particularly special, unique, or secret about it.  I got it from AllRecipes.com and it just works.  And so I don’t mess with it.  And my royal icing recipe comes from The Joy of Baking.  Again, I don’t mess with it.  I’ve used it both with egg whites or meringue powder.  Both work well.

The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

Prep time: 20 mins
Bake time: 8 mins
Total time: 3 hours (not including decorating)
Yield: 60 cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Royal Icing

Yield:  About 3 cups

Ingredients:

Royal Icing Using Egg Whites:

2large (60 grams) egg whites
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups (330 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted

Royal Icing Using Meringue Powder:

4 cups (440 grams) confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar
3 tablespoons (30 grams) meringue powder
1/2 teaspoon extract (vanilla, lemon, almond)

1/2 – 3/4 cup (120 – 180 ml) warm water

Directions:

For Royal Icing with Egg Whites: 

  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the lemon juice until combined.
  2. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. (The right consistency to cover or “flood” sugar cookies is when you lift the beater, the ribbon of icing that falls back into the bowl remains on the surface for a few seconds before disappearing.)
  3. Use icing immediately or transfer to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air.  Cover with plastic wrap or damp cloth when not in use.

For Royal Icing with Meringue Powder: 

  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the confectioners’ sugar and meringue powder until combined. 
  2. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes). 
  3. If necessary, to get the right consistency, add more powdered sugar or water. 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).
  4. Use icing immediately or transfer to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air.  Cover with plastic wrap or damp cloth when not in use.
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