Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Baker Challenge September 2010: Sugar Cookies.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

I guess to be honest, I wasn't overly excited about making sugar cookies for this month's challenge. And also, to be honest, I've never made properly thick and decorated ones. Never having made something is one of the best reasons to become a Daring Baker, but I still wasn't excited. For our challenge, we were to make cookies using Peggy Porschen's recipe and to decorate them with Royal Icing in the theme of "September".

September. I kind of consider the whole month my birthday, and my son started school, and the great Midwestern humidity usually subsides, breathing into us the idea of Fall. What theme could I choose? Pencils or apples for school? A birthday cake or candle? Pretty little Autumn leaves in shades of orange and yellow? Well, I guess it's time to confess I only truly completed half of my challenge this month.

Since my little Boy-O is completely fascinated by sea life right now, we went to the local restaurant supply last Thursday and looked hopefully for a whale cookie cutter. There were no whales, or sharks, or any other sea creature. There was a little train, so that is what he picked. I imagined that I could maybe eliminate use of food coloring by just piping white accents on them, because ever since I read this article, I can not bring myself to knowingly purchase or make anything with artificial color. It actually makes me mad that so many things have fake color, and also that I have a tiny little 4 color box in my pantry for emergency egg colorant needs.

I originally thought that if we found a whale, I could tint the icing the palest shade of blue imaginable, and use an inedible dried black bean for an eye... but since we got a train, I didn't know what I would end up with.

This sugar cookie dough recipe is the last one you will ever need. It is simple to work with because it is so soft. Instead of chilling the dough and then trying to roll, it is rolled out to almost a half inch (!) thickness and then chilled. No refrigerator hard butter to try and subdue into a workable sheet of dough. Since it was soft, I used the flat edge of my chef's knife to 'knock' in into a square and then eased it into the thickest sugar cookie I've ever made. My family traditionally has sugar cookies at Christmas and Valentine's Day, and my Mom always rolled them on the thin side. When I've made them myself, I've rolled them impossibly thin as well, so much so that they tend to brown unevenly, yet be delightfully crisp.

I rolled mine so thick that they bordered on shortbread. I was happy that we chose such a small cookie cutter, since they are so rich, but I'm happy I made them so formidable. I still had no idea, even as they baked, what I was going to do to decorate them. I was remembering the painstakingly painted sugar cookies I saw at Dean & Deluca the first time E and I went to New York. They were $10 a piece. I remember thinking as I stared at a mountain of cookies in every conceivable color that someone would likely come in and purchase a dozen. They were impressive, and obviously left an imprint on my mind - a vision that I still have no real desire to attack personally.

As I began pulling the cookies out of the oven, a strange thing happened. The trains turned into something else. For the life of me, I could only see Pachucos. My mind raced to see how in the world I could come up with natural black food colorant so I could ink in fedoras and faint mustaches, suit coats and white ties.

There he is: El Pachuco

Then I realized, that I do have a theme, and it is school related. In college, I was fortunate to have one really great drawing teacher. I'm not so into drawing really, but as it turns out, I have a gift for talking my way into being a good artist of sorts. I found that at our critique sessions that followed each assignment, I could wiggle my way into having a passable piece of art, and it's funny that I ended up liking whatever it was that I concocted a whole lot more after the fact. I had no idea what I was going to say going in to it, but I was able to defend myself and my work with tenacious, lawyer like prowess.

So, peering over my cooling cookies, my head filling up with drawings of zoot suits and baggy trousers, I figured that in my own way, I did accomplish my Daring Baker Challenge - even without putting icing on the cookie. These cookies last without frosting for a good 30 days, and I have a fridge with 3 kinds of leftover frostings and a good amount of Dorie Greenspan's chocolate pastry cream. Dorie's pastry cream on top of these cookies is probably the most decadent and butter/egg laden thing you could consume, but it would also be one of the most opulent cookies ever to make the journey down to your belly. Fully worthy in my book of $10 each, even if not beautiful drawn upon.

I realized this month that I wish I could have a bakeshop where I could draw pachucos on cookies for hours at a time if I felt like it. Maybe I wouldn't feel guilty about colarants and I could make them any color I wanted. I ask you, where have you ever seen a lucha libre pachuco cookie? And, one that tastes as good as this one did? I can promise you if CakeWalk ever opens it's doors, this cookie will be on the shelves:

This dough would be easily adaptable to many flavor variations. Since it was my first time with it, I stayed the normal, vanilla extract route. When I make them again I'm looking forward to playing around, lime zest comes immediately to mind. The baking time does vary depending on the thickness and shape of your cookie, and also the pan. I baked some on a perforated pizza pan, and they were done much quicker than the ones baked on a regular sheet pan. You can also decide to bake them soft or a little on the crispy side.

This recipe was also dead on in the weight measurements. I measured by standard means, and for fun checked the grams and ounces. It was on in every instance.

Basic Sugar Cookies: (The Daring Kitchen, via Mandy Mortimer and Peggy Porschen)
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies

  • 200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
  • 400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
  • 200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar (I spun my regular sugar in a coffee grinder/spice mill)
  • 1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
  • 5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavorings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture. (Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.) (I mixed it on the lowest setting of my stand mixer using the paddle attachment.)

Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.

Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.

Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)

Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes. (I left mine at least an hour or more.) (Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in cling wrap and then refrigerate it for an hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.)

Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. (I just left in on the parchment that I rolled it out on and rolled it out between two sheets of parchment. Then, I recycled the parchment by using it on the baking sheets...)

Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.

Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. (Tip: It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking.)

Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.

Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. (Tip: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in
some cookies being baked before others are done.
) (Tip: Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly.)

Leave to cool on cooling racks.

Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.

(Tip: If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated cookies can last up to a month.)

Since it is such a good combination, you must have the chocolate pastry cream recipe firmly at hand as well... It makes quite a lot, but you will eat it all, trust me.

Dorie's Chocolate Pastry Cream (Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours)

  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 6 T. sugar
  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces, at room temperature
Bring the milk to a boil.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. (I used my 5 1/5 qt. dutch oven, and I wasn't sorry I did.) Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about 1/4 c. hot milk - this tempers the yolks so they don't curdle. Still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a stady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (make sure to get the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Whisk in the melted chocolate, and let stand for 5 minutes. Then whisk in the pieces of butter, stirring until they are are fully incorporated and the cream is smooth and silky. Press a piece of chocolate wrap on the surface of the cream, and refrigerate until chilled. (I like to transfer it to a clean bowl after all that mixing, and before putting it in the fridge.)

Dorie says that it lasts 3 days, but I think you can let it go a little longer. She used this particular cream as a cake filling, and also recommends it as a dip for madeleines or sables...

And so I make my case for icing-less sugar cookies. Dip them in what you like: coffee, tea, chocolate, or dare I say melted cheese... leftover frostings cluttering up your fridge. And when you go through the process of rolling and chilling and baking, maybe your cookie cutters will morph on you and something you haven't thought about in a long time will emerge, ready for story telling time.

A very big thank you to Mandy at What the Fruitcake? - and you must go and check out her site. She is amazing!!! Also remember to check in at the Daring Kitchen website to find links to other Daring Bakers and their takes on the humble sugar cookie.


  1. these cookies look so delicious!

    have a nice time!

  2. A good sugar cookie should always hold its own flavor without any icing. Sounds like yours did that! Great job on the challenge!

  3. Your cookies look great! Without icing you can really focus on the actual cookie itself! Great job!


Communication is a good thing, most of the time...