Christmas Cookie Baking

In my opinion, one of the best parts of the holiday season is undoubtedly the sweets. Holiday weight gain is a thing for a reason, right? There are just so many tempting cookie recipes for this time of year! My family has a couple tried and true favorites that we always make, like chocolate chip snowballs, my grandmother’s butter-horns, and gingerbread cookies. But one cookie I never felt like we really gave much attention to was the sugar cookie with royal icing. Which is so weird, because it’s such a classic! So this year I decided to log some good practice on iced sugar cookies. Here’s what I learned.

My first trial was a giant failure. I had trouble mixing the dough, I didn’t roll them out well enough, and then I ended up kind of burning them. The icing was a disaster as well. I couldn’t get it thick enough, then in the middle of it all I realized I was out of red food dye, and putting it into the icing bags was a complete mess. I didn’t set the icing tip on right, so it got everywhere and the cookies were ugly and half-assed. The kitchen was a disaster, and I ended up just calling it a night after only doing 5 cookies. Frustrated and covered in flour, I thought about why it had been such a nightmare: For one thing, I had been completely disorganized. I didn’t gather all the necessary materials beforehand, and I didn’t set up my kitchen well at all for the task. I also attempted this on a night that I had to be in bed early for work the next morning. A crucial mistake, since cookie decorating takes so long. And also, I didn’t set up a great cookie making environment. No music, house was a mess, and the boys were interfering a lot.

My second attempt was totally different. I made sure to get parchment paper and food coloring. I set up a “mixing” station, a “frosting” station, and a “decorating” station. I even wore an apron. I made sure I had all night if needed, and I blasted some good holiday tunes throughout the apartment while I worked.

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My plan of action was this: Make the dough, cut the shapes, bake the cookies. While the cookies baked, make the icing. Separate the icing into several bowls, add color, and cover with tin foil. Cool cookies. Decorate. Having that plan really helped me enjoy what I was doing, since everything felt more organized and I wasn’t doing (and ruining) a million things at once.

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I’ll just say this: There is no better feeling than when you’ve achieved the perfect icing consistency. I had no idea how much work went into a good icing job. I never even knew “flooding” was a baking term! (It is. It’s when you thin your icing so that it’s almost watery and you use it to fill in the outlined design you made. So cool!) But the icing itself is so good that it’s worth all the work. Also how cute is that William-Sonoma spatula?! It looks so good with a nice dollop of frosting.

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Usually I’m pretty against gadgets in the kitchen with really specific uses, but this icing pen is worth millions and I highly recommend it. I picked it up at William-Sonoma and it makes all the difference in the world. My hands weren’t sore after hours of icing, and it makes it a lot easier to control what you’re doing. It comes with icing bags and tips, so it’s a steal.

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Here are some of the final products! Pretty good for my second try, right?! Way better than the first batch. And these taste as good as they look. I have a long, long way to go and a lot to learn, but here are a couple more tips I’d give if someone were asking me how to make the process easier.

Ice by color. Start by outlining all the areas/designs you want in that particular color. For instance I started with white, so I outlined all the snowmen and the glove/stockings. Then add water to the icing until you reach flood consistency, and fill it all in. This way you control the mess a little bit, you aren’t going between icings (or drying them all out) and you only have to deal with one bag at a time. 

Only use the bags for outlining and actual decorating. There’s no need to waste a bag on flooding. I just carefully poured the flood icing out of the bowls onto the cookies. 

Ideally, you’ll have two hungry boys around to eat the reject cookies and express awe of your decorating skills. Huge ego booster. 

And most importantly, make sure you have at least one opportunity to dance around like an idiot and belt out the lyrics of Mariah Carrey’s All I Want For Christmas into your rolling-pin-turned-microphone. 

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Bonus tip: if you’re sick of cookies for the season, you can also use your cookie cutters as stencils for Nutella toast. Cheers to the freakin’ weekend and the hap-happiest season of all!