Sunday, September 23, 2012

Butter. Sugar. Eggs. Flour. Magic.

I found some seriously amazing friends in high school.  There was a group of us that grew close over those four years and since 1996, we have had 4 weddings, 3 babies (all boys) and countless memories made.  And no matter the time or distance, we gather and reconnect and before we know it, it's like we never left our teens. I have no "real" sisters, but I have these girls. And for that I am forever grateful.  They say friends are the family you chose for yourself. Well, my family is amazing.

We have regularly joked that no one can get married or have baby unless Kate makes chicken salad and I make sugar cookies. Kate's chicken salad is perfect...every. time. She doesn't have a recipe and no one's is even close to as delicious. I have watched her many times. She just chops things and stirs and suddenly, it's perfect. Slap that on a croissant and honestly, it is HEAVEN.

Marina is having a baby. A NEW YEARS baby. And another boy! We will have five of them now. And to celebrate her first born, we gathered to, you guessed it, eat chicken salad and sugar cookies. So here's my first of many posts, about sugar cookies. My mom made sugar cookies for every holiday as I grew up. She still has cookie cutters that pre-date me. And they were always delicious. If you've ever wanted to try homemade, I can PROMISE YOU, it's worth it. Over the years, I have put own spin on them and I can assure you, these are as good as you will buy anywhere. They are some work but frankly, follow my time line and you can work them in to your busy schedule too.

Day 1: Make your dough. (This time, I made it Wednesday but it can be made up to a week in advance or you can freeze it. I've had it frozen at the end of this stage for up to 4 months and it still turned out a beautiful cookie.)

Combine 3 sticks of softened, unsalted butter with 2 cups of sugar:

This butter was out at room temperature for over an hour. Three sticks of butter = the start of something very good.
After you mix together your butter and sugar, it will be light and fluffy. Like a cloud, full of saturated fat instead of rain. Like a happy face without the soul-less black eyes. Like fat cottony petals of yellow roses.
 Then add 4 whole eggs and two teaspoons of vanilla extract:

Dough will be fairly runny after you add these babies.
Then the dry ingredients. Add 6 cups of flour; 2 teaspoons of baking powder; and 2 teaspoons of salt:

All in all, it's about as simple of a recipe as you can get.

This is basically found in my kitchen around any major holiday; birthday; or anytime anyone for any reason decides to throw a party to celebrate marriage or children.
Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time so you aren't sloshing flour everywhere.  Scrape your dough out of your bowl and store in the fridge until you're ready for the next step. It works fine to freeze in ziplocks or bowls or whatever you have on hand but regardless, the dough needs to chill overnight.

15-20 minutes; 7 easily available ingredients; and good memories are about to be made.
Day 2: Bake Cookies (I did this on Friday night).

There are literally thousands of cookie cutters out there. THOUSANDS. The best ones are copper. The stainless ones can lose their shape and get rust but they still work well. Most of what you will find out there is stainless. Plastic cookie cutters (in my humble opinion) are just plain crap.

So now you are ready to roll out your cookies.  Even though you have to let the dough chill overnight, it's probably too cold to work with very easily. You will have to spend a little time kneeding the dough into a workable mound/ ball. Take about 1/4 of the dough in your dough blob and work until it becomes a ball.

Then get yourself more flour. Floured work surface; floured hands and floured rolling pin. Turn that ball into a large 1/4 thick rough of dough. Work from the center out with your rolling pin.

Doesn't have to be pretty. The goal here is even thickness throughout your blob. Let's all submit ideas about what this blob looks like. I'll start. Grimace from McDonalds.
Time to get adorable up in here. Rocking horse; baby bottle; stroller cookie cutters. CHECK!

Stainless cookie cutter. Not always perfect but definitely gets the job done.

Can you feel how precious it's about to get in my kitchen???
And now we bake. 375 for 8-12 minutes. They are done when there is the tiniest bit of tan around the edges. Remove to a cooling rack as soon as you take them out of the oven. You can frost these as soon as they are cool but frankly, I prefer to just focus on baking and save frosting for another day.

Baking on parchment or a silpat...ALWAYS a good result.
Baby bottle sugar cookies. Baked up, delicious and adorable.
One batch of cookies in three shapes took close to an hour to bake and get cooling on racks.

Day 3: Frosting/ icing/ decorating. (Icing takes 5 minutes to make; cookies took probably 30-45 minutes to decorate.)

Another day I will post about icing. I work with no less than FIVE icing recipes and depending on the occasion, I have a recipe that will work well. This time around absolutely #1 issue was taste. So we used my mom's recipe. It's a "true" buttercream but isn't the prettiest of options. That said, with just a little work you can have very cute cookies that taste like small doses of hedonism.

Combine 1 1/2 sticks SOFTENED (very soft) unsalted butter; 2 teaspoons vanilla; 1/4 teaspoon salt and 6 tablespoons milk.

I put a little of my powdered sugar quantity in at this time so it isn't quite so liquidy or splashy. (Yes those are WORDS.)
This is what a good recipe looks like. Handwritten; stained; smudged.
Add 6 3/4 cups powdered sugar, incrementally. I usually add in 4 separate additions. After mixing with a hand or a stand mixer for about 4-5 minutes, it will be light, fluffy and off white. And ready to be dyed to make your cookie a small piece of art!

We put the butter in buttercream.
I was surprised by how my blue was. Undeterred, I started smearing icing on the cookies. With reckless abandon.

Behold. Electric blue.
Some delicious goodness. Right. Here.
This icing sets up a little so that you can add some detail to your decoration.With very little work, (I seriously just outlined the shapes in white), the cookies are very cute, and most importantly, delicious! Like I said, other icing options offer you the ability to make a prettier cookie, but none of them will have the taste of this--this little stroller, right here, tasted like the morning dew from a rainbow wrapped in the buttery sweetness of perfection that smelled of fresh lilies while someone played Mozart's Moonlight Sonata on the piano with such passion that you were moved to tears. Never had that experience while eating a cookie? I'm sorry for your loss.    

Nothing fancy here. Just some good clean fun. And cookies!
The horses manes are made from a tiny little Wilton star tip.
This icing probably needs 15-30 minutes to set up before you stack the cookies on top of each other. But the nice thing is that at least this frosting recipe allows that to happen.

But most importantly, now we are safe. Marina can now have her baby as the time honored chicken salad/ cookie ritual is complete.

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