What a Merry Christmas and New Year we had, enjoying these crisp, buttery, cut-out cookies which brought out the kid in anyone who tasted them. These creative extravaganza was an inspiration from Renee who consider the cookies a blank canvas for her sweetest artistic skills - with my help of course.
This recipe is for HIGH ALITITIDE and made with all-purpose flour which is moderately strong although cake flour is softer and contains less protein, and makes a more tender cookie, but at high elevations, cake flour made this recipe too soft, so that it needed extra flour or chilling to get to the right consistency or it will spread too much when baked. The cookies are perfectly tender using all-purpose flour when you roll them thin.
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose, plus extra for rolling out
3/4 tsp baking powder(for friends who reside at sea-level - use 1 tsp)
1 tsp salt
1 egg white or whole egg, beaten
1 tsp water
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or fresh lemon juice
2 - 3 tbsp milk or water as needed
Divide the oven into thirds and position the racks. Preheat the oven at 350 f .
Line Cookie sheets with baking parchment or nonstick baking mats or light coat with butter.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, preferably with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time and vanilla, then scrape down the bowl and beater. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand.
Place a sifter over the bowl and measure the flour, baking powder and salt into it. Stir/sift the dry ingredients onto the egg mixture, then beat with a sturdy spoon or the electric mixer on the lowest speed until well incorporated. Form the dough into a ball. If it feels too sticky, add 1 or 2 tbsps flour, until it is easier to handle (in very hot weather, if dough still feels too soft, divide it into four pieces, shape into flat disks and refrigerate in a plastic bag until firm).
Work with about one-third to one-half of the dough at a time and keep the rest in the refrigerator. For ease in handling, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out each portion of the dough about 1/8 inch thick on a piece of baking parchment or on a Silpat or other baking mat fitted to a coookie sheet. Dip the cookie cutters in flour to prevent sticking, and thhen cut out shapes. Use the tip of a knife to help lift and peel away the between-cookie bits, leaving the cookies in place. Slide the parchment or other liner with the cut-out cookies onto a cookie sheet.
Gather the dough scraps together, reroll, and cut out more cookies.
Alternatively, roll out the dough on a lightly floured counter, cut out the cookies, and use a broad spatula to transfer them to a prepared cookie sheet.
If desired, brush each cookie with a little egg glaze(egg white makes a clear glaze, whole egg gives a golden color) and sprinkle with finely chopped nuts, cinnamon, or sugar. Or you can decorate the cookies with icing after baking and cooling.
Bake the cookies for 8 - 12 minutes or until they look slightly golden around the edges. If baking seems uneven, rotate the pans back to front in the oven halfway through the baking time.
Cool cookies on a wire rack. If cookies were baked on parchment or baking mat, simply slide it off the cookie sheet onto the wire rack to cool.
If using the icing, mix it while the cookies cool. When the cookies are completely cooled, spread on the icing with a butter knife. Or put some of each color in a plastic bag, seal the top(s) and cut a tiny hole in one corner of each bag with scissors. If you want a carefully controlled fine line, drop a metal decorating tip into the corner of the bag before adding the icing. Squeese the icing out of the bag to make designs. Leave the decorated cookies on the wire racks to air-dry the icing. At sea-level, this can take an hour or more, at higher altitudes, the icing will dry more quickly. When the icing is hard, store the cookies in an airtight container, separated by layers of wax paper or plastic wrap.
Method of icing:
Combine the butter, sifted sugar and vanilla or lemon juice in a medium bown and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add enough milk or water a drop at a time to make the icing smooth enough to spread. If desired, put a couple of tablespoons of plain icing in each of several cups and stir a scat drop of color into each, then add more color a tiny bit at a time if necesarry. Cover unused icing (especially at high altitudes) with plastic wrap, to prevent it from drying out.