Friday, February 12, 2010

Decorated Cutout Cookies: Part I (Cookie Prep)

It's that time of year again...cookie time!!! Well, I guess for most people it's actually Valentine's Day, but I use any excuse to make cutout cookies with decorative icing. They can be challenging and they do take some time from start to finish, so I typically make the process stretch over several days, broken into smaller steps. They aren't as difficult as one might think if you follow a few important tips. And they are so worth it!

Preparing Cookie Dough
I use the recipe for cookie dough found here. My stand mixer, a trusty old Oster from the 80's, can barely handle it when I double the recipe--but that's what I recommend if your mixer can handle it. I have been known to quadruple this recipe, making two double batches all at once. (It you're going to the trouble of making decorated cutout cookies, you might as well make a bunch! Then you will have at least SOME cookies left to decorate after your family members scarf down the warm, buttery cookies right when they come out of the oven...)

Tips for mixing cookie dough:
  • Start with ingredients (butter and eggs) at room temperature
  • Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy
  • Add flour relatively quickly, mixing until just blended (to avoid overmixing flour)

I like the recipe's detailed instructions on how to cut out the cookies. The most important tip is to keep the dough very cold. Turn portions of the dough out onto a piece of wax paper (I prefer wax paper; Raeanne uses plastic wrap) and pat it into a disk.
You're supposed to chill the dough at this point, but I find it works just as well to get the dough rolled out right away and then chill it. (What you see above are chilled disks, because I didn't have time to roll the dough out when I made it, but that is what I prefer to do.) It is much easier to roll out the dough if you place another piece of wax paper on top of the disk. The recipe calls for rolling the dough to 1/8 of an inch. I roll mine a little bit thicker by rolling the edges of the rolling pin on paint stirrers (free from the hardware store! Not ever used in paint!)
You may think the next step is to cut out the cookies, but it isn't. The next step is to pop your rolled dough disks into the freezer and go do something else.

Later (or the next day) when you are ready to bake the cookies, remove one disk from the freezer and gently peel both the top and bottom wax paper pieces from the disk, leaving one in place under the dough. Put a piece of parchment paper on your cookie sheet, and you are ready to cut cookies!

You can accumulate the scraps and then reroll them out in the wax paper layers and return them to the freezer to re-chill before cutting.
Another one of Raeanne's great tricks is to chill the cutout cookies for 10 minutes or so before baking them in the oven. This helps the dough avoid getting all blobby while baking; cold dough is more likely to retain its cutout shape. So the flat disk comes out of the freezer, gets cut and placed on the cookie sheet, goes in the fridge, then bakes in the oven until uniformly golden brown. I turn mine every 5 minutes or so. After a while you get the feel for how long your cutouts need to bake in your oven. You want them to be golden because that enhances the crisp buttery taste. Mmmmmm.... Try not to eat them all at this point.

After the cookies cool, store them in airtight containers and hide them. Seriously! If you want to have cookies left to decorate when you return, you will need to store them in a secure location. I have stowed my stash in two different secure locations that I cannot disclose here because The Cookie Thieves might read this.
I'll be back tomorrow to share my icing tips and techniques.

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