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Recipe: Cut-Out Sugar Cookies / Icing

‘Tis the season to be baking!

A couple of years ago I tried to make cut-out cookies and failed miserably – I told myself “never again.” After reading a lot of posts on different techniques/tricks to make it easier, I decided that I needed to try one more time. Since I’m a fan of Lauren Conrad’s Eat, Drink, or Burn Rule, I figured making cookies  for my sister-in-law’s birthday would be a great way to test the recipe! I cannot believe how easy it was when you roll the dough between wax paper first, then chill it before you cut them out! Since those turned out so well, I made a batch of Christmas cookies that I’m bringing home with me.

Also, I made a cookie basket that I pinned from Pinterest!

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Crowns for the Birthday Queen!

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Cookie Basket

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Christmas cut-outs

Cookies
Ingredients
– 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
– 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 large egg
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
– 1 teaspoon lemon zest
– 3 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions
1. Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar: Place the softened butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Beat together on medium until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater.

2. Beat in the egg, extracts, and lemon zest: Add the egg to the mixing bowl and continue beating until it’s fully incorporated and the batter is smooth again. Beat in the vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater.

3. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt: In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, beating on low speed until everything starts clumping together into a soft dough and the flour is nearly incorporated (the sides of the bowl will still look floury).

4. Mix a few times by hand: Use a stiff spatula to incorporate the last of the flour and to make sure everything from the sides and bottom of the bowl have been worked in. The finished dough will be very soft and quite sticky.

5. Roll out the dough between wax paper: Divide the dough into two portions. Sandwich each half between wax paper and pat the dough into thick disks. Then use a rolling pin to roll each disk out to 1/4- to 1/8-inches thick.

6. Chill the dough: Transfer the rolled-out dough to a baking sheet, still sandwiched between wax paper, stacking them on top of each other. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour or for up to 5 days. (See Recipe Notes for freezing instructions.)

7. Preheat the oven to 350°F: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or a Silpat.

8. Cut out the cookies: Work with one portion of dough at a time, leaving the other in the refrigerator. Transfer the dough to your work surface and peel off the top layer of wax paper. You can cut out the cookies on the wax paper, or you can dust your work surface with flour, flip the dough over on top, and peel off the other piece of wax paper. Cut out cookie shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheet with a spatula. (Do not bake the cookies on the wax paper; the wax will melt in the oven.) Repeat with the other portion of dough. Re-roll the dough scraps to cut out additional cookies.

9. Bake for 8 to 15 minutes: Bake the cookies until the edges are set and just barely starting to turn golden, 8 to 15 minutes depending on the size of your cookies.

10. Cool the cookies: Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes — they are delicate when first out of the oven and can break if moved sooner. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. If any cookies have baked together in the oven, use a sharp paring knife to gently cut them apart while the cookies are still warm.

11. Frost or glaze the cookies: Once completely cool, the cookies can be frosted, glazed, or decorated.

12. Store sugar cookies: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. They are best if eaten within 5 days.

Recipe Notes
Freezing the dough: The prepared dough can be frozen, either in a disk of dough or rolled out, for up to 3 months. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap before freezing. Thaw in the fridge overnight before cutting and baking the cookies.

Freezing the baked cookies: The unfrosted cookies can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container.

Icing
For the border icing:
– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring extract
– 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons milk or water
– Food coloring, optional

For the flood icing:
– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring extract
– 2 1/2 – 3 tablespoons milk or water
– Food coloring, optional

Directions
1. Clear some counterspace: Iced cookies need at least 24 hours to dry, so clear a good amount of counterspace or tablespace where you can ice the cookies and leave them undisturbed. Cover the counter with parchment paper.

2. Arrange cookies for icing: Allow fresh-baked cookies to cool completely, then arrange all your cookies over the parchment paper. You might find it helpful to leave a small workspace clear in front of you where you can move each cookie as you’re working on it.

3. Prepare the border icing: Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of milk or water for the border icing using a spoon or a fork. It should be quite thick, and if you drizzle a little from your spoon, the ribbon should hold for a few second before melting back into the icing. This border icing should be just thick enough to pour easily. If desired, add food coloring to this border icing now.

4. Transfer the border icing to a squeeze bottle: Insert the funnel in the mouth of one of the squeeze bottles. Spoon some of the border icing into the funnel and let it drip into the bottle. Since this icing is so thick, it can be difficult to get it to drop into the bottle — you can squeeze the bottle to suction the icing and start it flowing. If it still won’t start flowing, add more milk or water one teaspoon at a time until just barely thin enough to pour (be careful of adding too much or else the border icing will pool instead of maintaining a border). Once flowing, it can still take a few minutes for all the icing to funnel into the bottle. Prepare your flood icing while you wait.

5. Prepare flood icing: Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla and 2 1/2 tablespoons of milk or water for the flood icing using a fork or a spoon. This icing should still be fairly thick, but it should drizzle easily and a bit of drizzled icing should sink immediately back into the icing. If desired add food coloring to the flood icing now.

6. Transfer the flood icing to a squeeze bottle: Clean your funnel and insert it into a clean squeeze bottle. Pour the border icing into the bottle; this icing should be thin enough to funnel easily into the bottle. If necessary, add milk or water 1 tablespoon at a time until a thin, pourable consistency is reached.

7. Prepare as many batches of flood icing as needed to decorate your cookies.

8. Draw the borders around the cookies with border icing: Begin with the border icing and trace the outline of each cookie with icing. Hold the bottle vertical with the tip of the bottle slightly above the cookie. Squeeze gently and with consistent pressure so the border is the same width all the way around. Think of this border icing like drawing lines with a pen. If desired, you can draw inside the cookie — thicker lines are better than thin lines for separating areas of flooded icing.

9. Allow border icing to dry slightly: The border icing doesn’t need to be completely dry, but the next step (flooding the cookies with icing) works better if the borders are at least dry to the touch. If you draw the borders on all your cookies before moving onto flooding, the first cookies will be dry enough to start flooding once you finish drawing the borders.

10. Flood the interior of the cookie with flood icing: Using a bottle of the flood icing, begin filling the interior of the cookie with icing. Use the nose of the bottle to push the icing into the corners and against edges. Think of this flood icing like using a paintbrush.

11. Allow the cookies to dry: Leave the cookies undisturbed for at least 24 hours to fully dry. Depending on the thickness of your icing and the layers on the cookie, it may take longer. When the cookies are dry, the surface of the cookies will be completely smooth, dry, and resistant to nicks or smudges.

12. Store the dried cookies: Once dry, you can stack the cookies between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks.

Recipe Notes
The icing will keep for several days in the squeeze bottles. It’s best to store unused icing in the fridge and let it warm to room temperature before using.

Since the icing keeps well, you can spread your cookie decorating over the course of a day or several days. I often create a station in my kitchen and ice a few cookies at a time over a day or two.

To make marbleized icing, flood the entire cookie with icing, then drop dots or draw a squiggle line over the top with a contrasting color. Run a toothpick through the contrast icing to “marbleize.” For more details, check out this post: How to Create a Marbled Effect When Decorating Cookies.

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