Introduction: Actually Tasty Royal Icing Holiday Cookies (I Swear)
Everyone loves making holiday cookies but let's be honest here- royal icing tastes like a trip to the dentist's office. Despite this it's ability to dry and hold it's color so well makes it indispensable for making festive cookies and strong gingerbread houses. So what do we do to make it less sweet when the base absolutely has to be sugar? Essentially we have to trick your tounge into thinking that what you're eating isn't as sweet as it is and we do that by adding flavor depth that distracts from the normally overarching sweet taste.
To start out you want to make a cookie that's only lightly sweet and holds it's shape. Here's my recipe for foolproof holiday cookies:
You will need:
- One cup of cold unsalted butter, (use substitutes at your peril.)
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 3.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp vanilla or almond extract, (don't feel boxed in here, add whatever flavor you want!)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
For the improved Royal Icing
- 4.5 cups powdered sugar, (For snow-white icing don't use organic -it has more molasses.)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1.5 tsp vanilla extract, (again, you can use other flavors.)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp full-fat coconut cream or heavy cream
- gel food coloring, (gel is more concentrated and doesn't throw off the consistency.)
- Electric mixer
- Cookie cutters
- bamboo skewers
- piping bags and tips
- small bowls for icing colors
- baking sheet
- bain marie, (I'll explain this.)
- wax paper
Step 1: Prep the Wet Ingredients and the Dry Ingredients
Start by beating together the cold butter and sugar in a big bowl. Beat it until it looks mixed but still crumbly, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Finally, beat in the vanilla, or if you're being adventurous, whichever flavoring you choose.
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. This works better if you grind the salt extra fine in a mortar and pestle but you can skip this step if you're short on time.
Beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients about a third at a time and mix for several minutes until a cohesive dough that pulls away from the edges of the bowl is formed.
Step 2: Roll, Chill, Cut, and Bake
Some people seem to have been born with the magical ability to roll out a lump of dough evenly by hand. I am not one of those people, and so a few years back I figured out that I could use bamboo skewers to control the width of my cookies. Start by dividing the dough in half and rolling it into a log on top of a piece of wax paper and place two long skewers on either side. Top the whole thing off with another sheet of wax paper. Then just roll it out and revel in how ridiculously easy it is to get perfect results. Since the rolled-out dough is already conveniently wrapped in wax paper just pop the whole thing in the fridge for at least 30 minutes while you tidy up and set up your icing ingredients.
When the dough sheets have chilled, (chilling prevents the cutouts from spreading and deforming while the cookie bakes,) go ahead and cut out your shapes. Lay the shapes out on a lightly buttered pan and bake them at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Be warned that these won't be golden on the top as the recipe was designed with decorating in mind. If you see the edges begin to get darker take them out of the oven.
Step 3: Making the Icing
As I touched upon before, making the icing less sweet relies upon adding depth of flavor that masks the sugary flavor. Since normal royal icing is just made of egg white and sugar this is done by adding lemon juice for acidity, vanilla or other extracts for flavor, and full fat cream because fat carries flavor to your tounge which really helps to tone down the sweetness by making you taste whatever flavor you add much better. Rum and bourbon would also be great additions but unfortunately I'm not quite 21 and there isn't any alcohol kept in my house. For this reason I also recommend using a bourbon-based vanilla if you can.
To make the icing, separate the whites from the eggs and mix in the powdered sugar. Add your vanilla, your cream, and your lemon juice and mix until you have a smooth and glossy icing. Try not to whip any air into it if you can avoid it. Test the consistency by drawing a figure eight in the icing with a spoon. The figure should linger for seven seconds then disappear.
This next step is optional but it involves dissolving the sugar crystals by heating the icing in a bain marie so you get smoother, glossier icing. A bain marie is a pot of water with a glass bowl inside that heats up whatever's in the bowl very evenly. If you choose to do this then set your stove on low to avoid curdling the cream and gradually heat the icing in the bowl, making sure to stir so a crust doesn't form. Dissolving the sugar only takes as much time as heating it until the icing is fairly warm to the touch. However, if you're concerned about salmonella you can also use this method to pasteurize your eggs by gradually heating until the icing is 138 degrees.
Immediately after removing the icing from heat you should cover it in cling film so that the film is actually touching the surface of the icing so it doesn't crust.
Step 4: Frost the Cookies
Now that your cookies and frosting are both fully cooled, you can actually decorate them. Decide the base colors for the cookie and make a bigger batch of that color than you think you need. using your thin icing tip, (or in a pinch a ziplock with a tiny hole in the corner,) outline where the base color is going to be. Then put some of your mixed color into another small bowl and thin it slightly with cream to create flood icing. Pipe that icing into the outline.
This frosting dries fairly quickly so you can start to pipe on the details almost as soon as you're done doing the base colors.
With this recipe the flavor possibilities are endless! Orange Cardamom! Rum Almond! Allspice and Vanilla! Peppermint! I hope you get creative with this improved cookie and icing base recipe. If you happen to find a great flavor profile pop it in the comments or post a make! I'd love to see what you do with this and thank you for reading my Instructable. Happy making!
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