I love the beautiful sugar cookies you see in magazines at holiday time. I've never actually made them because they are a lot of work and I've never found a sugar cookie dough that was good enough to make all that work worthwhile. I guess I'm not a huge fan of sugar cookies.
Then, a friend asked me if I would make her some undecorated sugar cookies for her son to take to school to decorate with his classmates for a school project. Sure, no problem! I can roll and cut out dough all day long... easy breezy! But then... she asked would I make some more for her own holiday parties. Uh-oh. I knew I would have to find a better recipe and then I would have to actually *GULP* decorate them! The thing I've been avoiding all these years!
I was a little stumped what to do about the recipe. I mean, I've been searching for years for a good one and I've never found one. Why did I think I would suddenly find it now? Oh, man, did I finally bite off more than I could chew with this little project? The problem with sugar cookies, well any recipe, is if you ask people if they have a recipe they always tell you the one they use is "the best", but I've always found sugar cookies to be dull and bland.
A few days later I was trolling the internet looking for new food blogs to read when I stumbled across a site with sugar cookies. Hmm... I loved her description and the fact that the recipe was her grandmother's. These might be a possibility. I decided to try the recipe out. Wow! Were they delicious! And, I'm talking about the raw dough. Seriously delicious! I couldn't wait to taste the baked cookie. Needless to say, the baked cookie was also delicious. Holy cow-after all these years of searching I had actually found a delicious sugar cookie recipe! I couldn't believe it. (Go check out the site, which is filled with all sorts of wonderful recipes and stories: www.wiseanticsoflife.blogspot.com
and tell her The Baker sent you!)
Kristen gave also included a frosting, but I knew that I wanted the finished cookies to be very high-end and not homemade looking, so I wanted to use a royal icing. But, again, I was in the same boat... I've never found a royal icing that I really liked.
Again, fate intervened and brought me to www.joyofbaking.com
for a fantastic royal icing recipe. The key difference between their recipe and all the other royal icings I've made is that they beat the icing for a solid ten minutes, which really thickens it and makes it the consistency of lightly whipped cream. I've always just stirred together some egg whites and powdered sugar, and wound up with some super sweet sludge... yuck!
The other difference was that the recipe called for a small amount of lemon juice. I was afraid I was going to end up with lemon cookies, which are good, but definitely not what I was going for. But, the lemon juice was like the magic ingredient! When first mixed up, you can taste the lemony flavor, but as the icing sits and ripens it mellows out and the lemon juice just adds a bright fresh flavor but the actual taste of lemon disappears. It's absolutely delicious! Honestly the best royal icing I've even eaten.
The process of baking and decorating the cookies took many, many days and I was very lucky that my sister was in town for a visit and came to help me. We had a great time and ate quite a few cookies in the process. Hey, somebody has to do quality control around here, right?
The decorating process is the same no matter what the holiday is, so while it's too late to make these for this holiday season, you can certainly make these for Easter or Valentine's Day. It's definitely something that the more you do the better you'll get at it, so find lots of reasons to make them!