When my kids were young, I did not make any decorated sugar cookies--not even at Christmas. When I was blessed with a grandson, I decided I needed to know how to make fantabulous sugar cookies and how to decorate them. After trying about ten different recipes, I settled on this one. In deciding on this one, I had to decide what I was looking for. Some people like a sweet cookies, and the icing makes the cookie even sweeter. Some people like a more shortbread type cookie, and the icing makes the cookie sweet enough. I went for the latter. I was also looking for a dough that would be easy to roll out and not get tough if overworked. This is the recipe I decided on.
Sour Cream Cookies
1 c. butter
2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
7 c. flour
1 cup sour cream
Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs. Soft baking soda, salt and two cups of flour and add to mixture. Add sour cream to above. Add our flour (about 5 cups) to make soft dough. Roll 1/4 inch thick. Cut and lay on greased cookie sheet. Bake in 375 oven for 11 - 15 minutes. Dough may be kept in refrigerator. Cookies freeze well. Makes 5-7 dozen depending on the size of the cookie.
I use some guides on my rolling pin to get a consistent thickness of cookie. The guides look like rubber bands. You put them on the ends of the pin and roll the dough. You won't be able to roll the dough any thinner than the guide you have put on the pin. You will want your cookies to be done but not brown, so you may need to play with the baking time until you get it right. Another nice thing about this dough is that the cookies stay true to the shape you cut them out. They don't spread much. I can usually get 16 cookies on a cookie sheet (obviously it depends on the size of the cookie).
For the frosting, I use a Royal Icing recipe.
4 c. powdered sugar
4 T. meringue powder (comes in a can in the cake decorating supply section of craft stores or WalMart)
1 t. almond extract
1/4 cup water
Blend well. Use liquid or gel food color to get desired colors. You may need to add water to get the consistency you need. I use squeeze bottles to ice the cookies. They work just like a marker. I use the dam and flood method. Outline the cookie with the icing and then flood the area to fill in. I use the tip of the squeeze bottle to spread the icing. Some people use a toothpick or spreading knife. The icing needs to be thin enough to flood, but not so thin that that icing falls off the cookie. The royal icing will dry hard on the cookie within 3 hours.
As you well know, presentation is everything. If I am taking the cookies someplace, I individually bag the cookies and seal them with a twist tie. I carry in a big basket of cookies. It makes quite an impression to give someone a beautiful cookie in an individual bag. The cookies pictured are some examples of my cookies.
I have also discovered that colored sanding sugars give a richness to the cookies that you would not believe. The shamrocks, valentines and some of the Christmas cookies pictured were made using this technique. You just frost them like usual, and while the frosting is still wet, you sprinkle the sugar on and shake off the excess--just like using glitter.
If you are making a face, instead of putting a lot of detail into the face, sometimes just putting two little black eyes will bring the face to life (snowman). I did a bunch of animal cookies. I just frosted them with one color and just putting the eyes on the cookies, made them come to life.