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September 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers' Challenge: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing


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.

So it's here! Another DB challenge. Although, I'm not the official member yet, I made this challenge istead of my sister. She's ill and not fancy making cookies (you know - fever, cough - simply not that comfortable when doing well, anything). Our tast was to make traditional sugar cookies and - the main part - decorate them using royal icing. However, that's not all. The theme for the cookies was September. No matter what, you had to create something "September-y." And how did it end up?

Ok, ok. I've never made sugar cookies before. Traditional sugar cookies contain baking powder to become crunchy and not tough/hard to bite but the problem is they don't hold their shape during baking so Mandy chose a recipe where it's not used at all. And wow! It worked perfectly.

When it comes to royal icing I can't say I have good experience with this kind of icing so I was surprised how great this one was. It was my first attempt with decorating cookies, though. Anyway, I think the final result isn't that bad after all.

Now it's time to say something about my September theme. I had thought a lot about it before I made them and I had chosen these themes:
  • apples & pears - the fall is coming in the Czech Republic and apples are all around here
  • dresses and shoes - dancing courses start in September and I love dancing :)
  • cakes & party stuff - it's my birthday in September (in fact yesterday)
  • mushrooms - all around here, too, plus my Mum loves them
  • bikes - my Father loves them :)
  • leaves - all around here once again :D
    Of course, I had a few problems. Cutters - the very important things I'd need. And you know what? They don't have them in my country. I mean there's a big tradition including spicy cookies made during Christmas and it requires cookie cutters but the shapes are Christmassy - bells, stars, trees, angels and so on. So I had to make my own "cutters". I drew my own cookie cutter templates on paper and then cut the cookies using these templates and a sharp knife. It took me about 2 hours to cut out all the shapes (bikes and leaves were the most difficult) but my reward's nice shape-perfect cookies :)

    However, the hardest part was decorating. Well, it wasn't as hard as time-consuming. It took 2 days to complete it because of all the different colors I used etc. Nevertheless, it's great training for Christmas :) The recipe below is exactly how I made it. For the original one visit The Daring Kitchen.
    Sugar Cookies:
    200g unsalted Butter, at room temperature
    400g all purpose (or plain) flour
    200g caster sugar (superfine sugar)
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
    Royal Icing:
    315g – 375g icing powdered sugar, unsifted
    2 large egg whites
    2 tsp lemon juice

    Sugar Cookies: Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture. Don’t over mix  otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape. Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and wrap in clingwrap. Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins (ideally overnight). Once chilled, place dough on a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion to a thickness of about 5mm. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking. Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up. Preheat oven to 180C.Bake until golden around the edges, about 7-9mins depending on the size of the cookies. Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in some cookies being baked before others are done. Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired. If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated cookies can last up to a month.
    Royal Icing: Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and grease free. Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. There are listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need. Beat on low until combined and smooth. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container. Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.


    The Same Consistency Method:
    • Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions
    • Drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing and count to 10
    • If the surface becomes smooth between 5 & 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency
    • Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, do the 10 second test, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
    • Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test

    Two Different Consistencies Method:
    • Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions.
    • Separate into 2 different bowls, one lot of icing for outlining, the other for flooding.
    • For the outlining icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
    • If the surface becomes smooth at around 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
    • Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 10 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
    • Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.
    • For the flooding/filling icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
    • If the surface becomes smooth at around 3-4 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
    • Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 3-4 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
    • Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 3-4 second test.

    • Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each colour you plan on using.
    • Tip: Make sure to cover the bowls with cling film or a damp cloth to prevent the top from setting and then making lumps
    • Using a toothpick, add gel or paste colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached
    • Tip: You can use liquid food colouring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of colour, liquid colouring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.
    Prepping and Filling Your Bag:
    • Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers
    • Tip: You don’t need to use a coupler but it makes it easier if you want to change tip sizes
    • Tip: A size 1 tip is best for doing intricate details. A size 2 tip is good for some details and outlining. Fill or flood with sizes 2 – 5.
    • Tip: You don’t need a piping bag, you can use a parchment cone or ziplock bag with a tiny bit snipped off the corner. I would however recommend getting a piping set if you don’t have one as it will be much easier and more precise.
    • Stand the piping bags in glasses with the tops of the bags folded over the top of the glass.
    • Fill your icing bags with each coloured icing.
    • Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.

    • Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip.
    • Tip: Or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a parchment cone or Ziploc bag
    • Hold the piping bag at a 45 degree angle above the cookie where you want to start the outline.
    • Gently squeeze the piping bag and start moving in the direction you want to outline the cookie.
    • Start lifting the piping bag away from the cookie so that the flow of icing falls onto the cookie, making it an even and neater outline.
    • As you start to reach the beginning of the outline, bring the piping tip closer to the surface of the cookie to meet the start of the icing outline.
    • Tip: If you’re doing an intricate cookie, like a snow flake, you won’t be able to lift the tip as far away from the cookie.
    • If you’re doing a different colour border, eg a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same colour for the outline as you’re flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.

    • Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip.
    • Tip: Or cut slightly more off the corner of a Ziploc bag to create a slightly larger opening.
    • Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill.
    • Tip: You need to be quick when flooding the cookie so don’t worry too much if it’s not filled in neatly.
    • Using a toothpick or clean paintbrush, push the icing around into the gaps that are still remaining.
    • Either pick up the cookie and tip it from side to side to even out the filling, or lightly bang the cookie down on your kitchen counter.
    Melding Colours:
    • If you would like to add lines or dots to the base colour that you flooded the cookie with so that they meld and dry as a smooth surface, you need to add the lines/dots/patterns as quickly as possible after flooding and smoothing the surface of the cookie.
    • Tip: Make sure to have all the colours you’re planning on using ready and close by so that you can switch between colours quickly
    • Simply pipe other colours onto the flooded surface in patterns or lines which you can either leave as that or then drag a toothpick through to make marbling patterns.

    On top of flooding:
    • If you’d like to do other patterns/outlines or writing on top of the flooded surface so that they are raised above the flooded background, simply allow the icing to dry, preferably over night.
    • Fit the piping bag with tip sizes 1-3.
    • Pipe patterns or write on top of the dry icing
    • Tip: For writing, the consistency of your icing should be thicker rather than thinner, drag a knife through your icing and when the surface smoothes around 12-15 seconds, the consistency is correct.

    Packaging and Storing:
    • Once fully decorated, allow cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area.
    • Stack cookies in an airtight container, from largest cookies at the bottom, to smallest and more intricate at the top, with parchment or wax free paper in between the layers.
    • Store in a cool and dry area with the container’s lid firmly sealed.
    • Will last for about a month if stored this way.

    I have to say I've learned a lot: how to decorate, how to make sugar cookies, royal icing etc. It was and still is very helpful and hopefully will be :) Unfortunately, I can't say it's a big hit in our family. I don't know why because I truly love their taste, though they're a little bit too sweet for my liking, but noone (except me) eats them. I'm pretty sad about this because you know, it took me so long to decorate them and was kinda proud of myself for handling it this way for the first time, but nope, noone. I really did want to make them for Christmas, but when nobody eats them why should I bother to create something like to someone who doesn't even eat it? Don't get it like I'm selfish, high and mighty or something - I'm not. It's just...I'm pretty sad. I always do appreciate when someone tries hard to impress me or simply wants to make me happy so I though they would be happy I tired to make cookies for them. Okay, so let's skip this open-heart speach and let me just say: These cookies are tasty and you should try them, anyway :))


    1. Wow! I am amazed by the array of different cookies you made for this month's challenge! Great job. I adore that tiered wedding cake and the princess dresses are fabulous!

    2. wow! your sister is very talented and those are some gorgeous looking cookies, beautifully photographed! =)

      i love the tiny bikes and the sugar cookie cake is an amazing idea!

    3. So many cute shapes, but the shoes ones are my favorite of course :)

    4. Soooo amazing! Great job on all of your cookies! :)

    5. wonderful job, great colors and intricate designs!
      hope your sis feels better soon.
      Tia @ Buttercreambarbie

    6. WOW! You cut these all out by hand and then decorated them so intricately - this must have taken days!!! Wonderful work!

    7. Your cookies are absolutely drop dead gorgeous. My faves are those dresses and shoes! :)
      Don't get cookie cutters here either, but didn't have time to do special cutouts.

    8. Wowo i love them. When i saw the shoes i was saying to myself this i love and then i scrolled down and i found my self saying to each pic wow this i love too :-)

    9. Thank you all for your beautiful and kind comments :)

    10. Your cookies are all really really beautiful- I love the dresses!!!

    11. These cookies really are beautiful! I love the variety of shapes and techniques you used!

    12. I would never have known that you cut all those shapes out without a cookie cutter. Wow! They're just perfect! And you did so many different ones!!!

      My favourite of all the cookies are the gorgeous dresses :)

      You did such an amazing job. Thanks for taking part of the September challenge for your sister :)

    13. MandyM: Thank you very much :) I'm really glad you chose this as a challenge because I've learned something new and the result was pretty tasty :)

    14. Gorgeous job! I love the dresses in the beginning :-) Very well done


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