Easter Cookies

I enjoy making sugar cookies because it can suit any occasion, it allows me to be creative, it’s portable and gosh darn it, people like them!! I’ve tried a few recipes but the one that I keep going back to is a recipe from Joyofbaking.com. I also use the Royal Icing recipe with Meringue Powder and substitute almond extract for vanilla extract.

Every Easter, my sister and close family friends make Easter baskets for all our kids (a total of 9). This year, we all made a pact to NOT put candy, particularly jellybeans, in the baskets. So I decided on making cookie pops.

I searched high and low for cute (cheap) cookie cutters and I found a 4-piece set at Wal-Mart for $1.88. They were cheap alright… the cutters were plastic and a little flimsy. If I could quote my father-in-law, “whoever designed this should be shot.” Well, I’m exaggerating. They were flimsy and there were sections that were so narrow that the dough would break when you removed them from the cutter or the board. Bottom line, I bought them without really looking at them and for the most part, they worked.

Since I was planning on making these cookies into lollipops, I needed sticks. I was in a rush while at Wal-Mart and got 50 Wilton lollipop sticks without really thinking it through. What’s that you say? Yes, I’m a mom and I’ve lost some brain cells due to pregnancy. Plus, I had my 2-year-old with me whining, “I’m hungry.” So you take what you can get when you need to hurry up and get out, right? But I digress… Lollipop sticks, the kind you use for candy, shouldn’t be put in the oven because they are made out of paper. There are sticks made especially for cookie lollipops that are pretty much wooden dowels. You can also use popsicle sticks. But I had what I had and I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t set my house on fire.

Rolling the dough
I usually experiment with different techniques when making sugar cookies. The recipe calls for refrigerating the dough before rolling it out. I’ve done this in the past and have found the dough awfully hard to roll out without cracking. But, cutting out cookies is very challenging when the dough is very soft. My solution – roll it out on parchment paper then refrigerate it.

I worked with 1/4 of the dough at a time. Because these cookies have to be thick to insert the sticks, I needed to have something to make sure that the dough is rolled out evenly and at the perfect thickness. I found two 1/4-inch dowels leftover from a cake project and placed them on opposite sides of the dough. The dowels worked as guide to keep the dough at 1/4 inch thickness while the rolling pin does it’s job. There was some sticking – a good tip I learned from Alton Brown is to use powdered sugar instead of flour to prevent the dough from sticking to your rolling pin. Adding more flour to the dough will make it tough. I have a powdered sugar shaker that puts just the right amount on the dough.

Once the dough is at the proper thickness, I place it on a cookie sheet, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it. I work with the rest of the dough, stacking them on top of each other in the fridge when I’m finished with them. After an hour, the dough is ready to be cut.

Cutting and Baking
Preheat the oven to 350°F (sorry, I don’t have any high-altitude settings) and start cutting. Cutting is pretty straightforward. But there is a little technique to inserting the sticks. It’s simple, really. When you insert the sticks, the dough will shift and create a bump. All you do is tap the dough where it bumps up as you insert the sticks to flatten it out. No need to worry that your once-flat dough is a little buckled. You’re going to cover that with icing anyway. Gently place the cookie dough pops on a new parchment-covered cookie sheet and place them in the oven when filled.

Bake at 350°F – ovens vary but start out with 10 minutes. Because my oven always takes a little longer to get good results, my cookies turn out perfect after 14 minutes. I usually cut more cookies as I bake and place them in the fridge until they’re ready to go in the oven. Keeping your cookies cold will prevent them from spreading and losing their shape.

Icing
Allow the cookies to cool completely and then start icing. As I said, I make the Royal Icing using the Powdered Meringue recipe and vanilla extract. There are some purists who say NOT to use regular vanilla extract but to use clear vanilla so that it doesn’t discolor your white icing. I haven’t had any complaints that the icing is slightly off-white. I don’t even notice it myself! Besides, I’m usually adding food coloring so it doesn’t matter. I think almond extract gives it a little bit of a chemical taste and I just like the flavor of vanilla.

Start out by piping the outline of the cookie. If you’re using several colors, one tip I have is to use plastic zip bags to pipe icing. That way you’re not constantly cleaning your reusable piping bags. I still use my small round piping tip to make the outlines just because cutting the tip of the bag gives me unexpected shapes and results when I pipe the outline of the cookies.

After the outlines have dried, thin out the icing with a LITTLE bit of water. I emphasize “little” because it’s easy to make it too runny and unmanageable. Place in another zip bag, cut the tip and pipe it inside the outline. Don’t put too much, you can get an offset spatula and spread out the frosting. It will come out smooth if you thinned it out enough. While you’re doing all of this, cover the unused icing with a wet towel so it doesn’t dry out.

If you’re going to add more details (like the eyes and nose on the bunny) wait until the icing has completely dried or the colors will run. My bunny has as sort-of anime look to it with it’s wide tiny eyes.

Allow them to dry completely before transporting or wrapping. And there you have it! Cookies on a stick. My house didn’t burn down, by the way. The sticks worked out perfectly and I didn’t feel bad about disposing them. I hate wasting things and feel more guilty disposing real wood vs. paper. So I think I’ll stick to paper next time. I guess as long as my oven temp stays at 350°F it won’t burn.

I made a double batch of this recipe for Easter and gave out cookies to the choir at church and some of the kids. Even the adults became like kids when they got these cookies… they were fighting over the bunnies.