Man, time is flying! Time for this month's Daring Bakers Challenge, so sit back and enjoy!
The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.
I have to tell you - reading this challenge, I had mixed emotions. This challenge, for me, was half and half - half no problem, half super tough, and I kinda knew that just from reading it.
Making sugar cookies, for me, is no problem. Little miss and I love making cookies, and love any opportunity to pull out the cookie cutters. This was the part of the challenge that had me pumped.
But the challenge wasn't just to make cookies, we also had to decorate them. With royal icing. The only cookie decorating I have ever done is with sprinkles. And is not the kind that requires any skill, artistic abilities or patience. This was the part of the challenge that had me a little scared.
Our host, Mandy, gave us only two "restrictions" for this challenge - that we make our cookies from scratch, using a specific recipe, and that we use the theme of "September" to guide our creativity.
The first thing that little miss and I did was to go to our big bucket 'o cookie cutters to see what we had, and to think about what September means to us. There were so many possibilities - mine and my husband's wedding anniversary was this month, so I considered doing hearts. Little miss started Pre-K this month, so i was thinking about ABC's and 123's. September marks the start of Autumn, so I considered apples, pumpkins, leaves... There were so many possibilities, and we had cookie cutters to match whichever whim we followed.
Our decision, however, was made a week later, on the NFL's opening day. What could be more fun than celebrating the beginning of football season with some fun cookies??
The first step was to bake the cookies. The recipe was very straightforward. The first thing we had to do was bring a whole lot of butter up to room temperature, which is most easily accomplished by cutting it up, rather than trying to bring it up to temperature in stick form.
The second ingredient was the sugar, though this recipe called for caster sugar, which is slightly finer than the "regular" granulated white sugar that I have in my pantry. The solution was found in my trusty mini-blender. A quick spin in there and we were ready with some pseudo-caster sugar.
Once our ingredients were ready, little miss manned the mixer, and we put together the batter. The recipe was easy to follow and made a batter that was very easy to work with.
Like most rolled-cookie recipes, this one called for the batter to be refrigerated once it is prepared. One hint that Mandy gave was to roll the dough prior to refrigerating it, rather than refrigerating it all in a big ball. This worked out really well. The dough was much easier to roll prior to being chilled, and then it chilled much more quickly once it was rolled into flat sheets. I will definitely be using this tip in the future for other rolled cookie endeavors.
The next step was to cut out our shapes. One of the fun things about working on these challenges over the weekend is that daddy is able to help photograph our efforts. Little miss and I each grabbed a cookie cutter and got down to the business of turning our sheets of dough into footballs and helmets. Our shaped cookies were once again placed into the fridge, as cooled dough will spread less when cooked, then were baked and set out to cool completely before being decorated.
Now came the tricky part. Decorating. Royal icing, in and of itself, is very easy to prepare - egg whites, confectioners sugar, a little bit of water and there you have it. We had only one issue with the preparation of the icing, and it was one that was probably unnecessary. We have been cutting out a variety of chemicals and preservatives from our diets, and have been unable to find any food colorings that aren't made predominantly of artificial chemicals with preservatives. Hmm... how was I going to decorate my cookies? Well, one advantage of our choice of cookie shapes is that footballs are brown. A color that can be accomplished by substituting some cocoa powder for some of the confectioners sugar in the royal icing. No food coloring required!
In lieu of a pastry bag (which I don't have), we filled little plastic squeeze bottles, usually intended for candy making, with our icing and prepared to decorate our cookies.
The basic method for decorating cookies with this kind of icing is a two step process of outlining and flooding, which actually works exactly like it sounds.
I then used the tip of the bottle to carefully spread the icing to evenly fill my outline, and then set the cookies aside to dry. Once the footballs were outlined and flooded, I moved on to the helmets. Just for the sake of making them different, we made a second batch of white royal icing for the helmets.
I reserved some of the white icing to add some stitching detail to my footballs. Unfortunately, I didn't wait quite long enough for the chocolate icing to dry before adding the detail lines, and my white icing was probably a little thinner than it should have been, so my lines spread a bit more than I would have liked, but in the end, it was clear that what we had created were footballs and helmets, so I was pretty proud of our efforts.
Mandy, thank you so much for such a fun and creative challenge. I know that this is something that I would not have tried without this push, and I now look forward to trying this again (if I can manage to find some natural food coloring alternatives...). I am so glad that this challenge gave me the opportunity to learn and try something new.
I highly recommend checking out the works of my fellow daring bakers. I am awed and amazed by the talent and creativity that was displayed as a result of this challenge, and I know you will be too.
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