The Daring Bakers Make Decorated Sugar Cookies

In Cookies, Daring Bakers, Frostings and Icings on September 28, 2010 at 6:51 pm
From Adriana Baking

As I start high school I realize that the previous years could never have prepared me for what was to come. All throughout middle school, I listened to my teachers lecture about various subjects, searching for some genuine interest in their lessons. But I found none. While writing essays about Medieval Europe and proving theorems and postulates in math class were definitely not boring, I never found myself becoming excited about a class and looking forward to it – until now.

Maybe it’s the change in the atmosphere from middle school, or maybe it’s the fact that my teachers are all passionate about their fields, each one of them showing their excitement their own way. Some fill their voices with emotion as their faces become animated and their hand gestures elaborate. Others can’t help but go beyond the required teaching material, sharing their enthusiasm for the subject with the whole class. My classes are definitely harder, but I feel like I’m learning, grasping new ideas and eager to be taught.

From Adriana Baking

Last week, as I set out the ingredients to make this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, I realized too late that I had forgotten to soften the butter ahead of time. I was running on a tight schedule; my parents were cooking for a dinner party and I was to be out of the kitchen at 1 pm. And in a moment of inspiration, I diced up the cold butter and lay the cubes out onto a plate, all the while thinking about the biology lesson I had a couple of days before.  We had discussed the reason why cells remain small, and my science teacher mentioned the ratio of surface area to volume increasing as a cell’s size increased. If a cell has more volume than surface area, it is harder for it to transport materials in and out of itself. Though the lesson had nothing to do with butter,  I realized that by cutting the block of butter into cubes and increasing the surface area, it would heat up faster. Seldom do I apply what I learn in school to my every day life, but I find myself doing this more frequently.  In a matter of minutes, the butter had softened to the perfect temperature – it yielded to a firm finger without becoming greasy or melting. I didn’t make it out of the kitchen before my deadline, but dicing up the butter saved me valuable time.

From Adriana Baking

Luckily, not only do I apply what I learn to my every day life; school relates to my hobbies as well.

Take last week for example. We were practicing our descriptive writing in English class by describing the look, feel, and smell of the spices put out in front of us. Though big clouds of fragrance bloomed above each desk and mingled with the other spices, I immediately recognized the spice in front of me as ground ginger. Its sweet, peppery smell is one of my favorites, and I set to work writing soon after inhaling a whiff of the powder. A cascading waterfall of words flowed out the tip of my pen as I wrote about the ground ginger; writing about food is so natural to me – it’s one of my favorite things to do. That day, our teacher requested us to bring in a morsel of food in for our next class . I was overjoyed, as this assignment was practically the same as food blogging. After spending a considerable amount of time deciding what to bring, even tweeting for ideas, I decided that I would keep it simple with candied ginger.

The class was abuzz with the excitement of our descriptive food writing assignment the next day. Foil crackled as students unwrapped their snacks, and everyone wore a smile across their faces. As I bit into my piece of candied ginger, I pretended to be writing a post for Bittersweet Baker. And again, words flowed. When my teacher collected our work a mere ten minutes later, a sense of gratitude washed over me – for my school, my teachers, and that I’m blessed with a hobby as fulfilling as food blogging. I’ve never experienced such support and encouragement in my life before, especially coming from complete strangers. Food blogging is a part of me, complete with describing my bakes from the kitchen.

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’ll admit that I was a little bit disappointed after skimming through this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge. I was expecting a challenge in the baking – soon after I realized that that the challenge in this month’s recipe was in decorating, and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more. I baked a test batch of cookies the first few days of September and tried my hand at decorating them for the first time. Last week, I baked another batch, this time for “the real challenge”, and failed. I had added too much flour by measuring then sifting, which resulted in a dry, crumbly dough. The cookies themselves were bland, and an unpleasant paste coated the roof of my mouth once I bit into them. I made them once more after that, and the dough was beautiful – supple and smooth, once baked, the cookies had a sweet, buttery taste, and were crisp when bitten into. The only difference? I measured my flour with a scale.

I had no problems with the royal icing, except that my lines could have been neater if I hadn’t misplaced my #2 tip and used a ziploc bag instead. We were asked to decorate our cookies with the theme “September” in mind. I started making pumpkins, and realized too late that they reminded me more of October, so I made some autumnal trees as well. Thanks for such a creative, wonderful challenge, Mandy!

From Adriana Baking

Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes Approximately 36 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
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings 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.

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. Tip: I don’t have a stand mixer so I find it easier to switch to dough hooks at this stage to avoid
flour flying everywhere.

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 30mins.
Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap 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.
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.

Royal Icing:

315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ – 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
• Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and
grease free.

• Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
• Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
• Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.

• Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions.
• Separate into 2 different bowls, one lot of icing for outlining, the other for flooding.
• For the outlining icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
• If the surface becomes smooth at around 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
• Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 10 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
• Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.
• For the flooding/filling icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
• If the surface becomes smooth at around 3-4 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
• Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 3-4 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
• Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 3-4 second test.

• Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each colour you plan on using.
• Tip: Make sure to cover the bowls with cling film or a damp cloth to prevent the top from setting and then making lumps
• Using a toothpick, add gel or paste colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached
• Tip: You can use liquid food colouring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of colour, liquid colouring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.

Prepping and Filling Your Bag
• Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers
• Tip: You don’t need to use a coupler but it makes it easier if you want to change tip sizes
• Tip: A size 1 tip is best for doing intricate details. A size 2 tip is good for some details and outlining. Fill or flood with sizes 2 – 5.
Tip: You don’t need a piping bag, you can use a parchment cone or ziplock bag with a tiny bit snipped off the corner. I would however recommend getting a piping set if you don’t have one as it will be much easier and more precise.
• Stand the piping bags in glasses with the tops of the bags folded over the top of the glass.
• Fill your icing bags with each coloured icing.
• Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.

Decorating: Outlining
• Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip.
• Tip: Or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a parchment cone or Ziploc bag
• Hold the piping bag at a 45 degree angle above the cookie where you want to start the outline.
• Gently squeeze the piping bag and start moving in the direction you want to outline the cookie.
• Start lifting the piping bag away from the cookie so that the flow of icing falls onto the cookie, making it an even and neater outline.
• As you start to reach the beginning of the outline, bring the piping tip closer to the surface of the cookie to meet the start of the icing outline.
• Tip: If you’re doing an intricate cookie, like a snow flake, you won’t be able to lift the tip as far away from the cookie.
• If you’re doing a different colour border, eg a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same colour for the outline as you’re flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.

Decorating: Flooding
• Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip.
• Tip: Or cut slightly more off the corner of a Ziploc bag to create a slightly larger opening.
• Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill.
• Tip: You need to be quick when flooding the cookie so don’t worry too much if it’s not filled in neatly.
• Using a toothpick or clean paintbrush, push the icing around into the gaps that are still remaining.
• Either pick up the cookie and tip it from side to side to even out the filling, or lightly bang the cookie down on your kitchen counter.

Decorating: Melding Colours
• If you would like to add lines or dots to the base colour that you flooded the cookie with so that they meld and dry as a smooth surface, you need to add the lines/dots/patterns as quickly as possible after flooding and smoothing the surface of the cookie.
• Tip: Make sure to have all the colours you’re planning on using ready and close by so that you can switch between colours quickly
• Simply pipe other colours onto the flooded surface in patterns or lines which you can either leave as that or then drag a toothpick through to make marbling patterns.

Decorating: On top of flooding
• If you’d like to do other patterns/outlines or writing on top of the flooded surface so that they are raised above the flooded background, simply allow the icing to dry, preferably over night.
• Fit the piping bag with tip sizes 1-3.
• Pipe patterns or write on top of the dry icing
• Tip: For writing, the consistency of your icing should be thicker rather than thinner, drag a knife through your icing and when the surface smoothes around 12-15 seconds, the consistency is correct.

Packaging and Storing
• Once fully decorated, allow cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area.
• Stack cookies in an airtight container, from largest cookies at the bottom, to smallest and more intricate at the top, with parchment or wax free paper in between the layers.
• Store in a cool and dry area with the container’s lid firmly sealed.
• Will last for about a month if stored this way.

  1. Oh wow! Yours look so beautiful!I really love the tree ones 🙂
    Mine are going to be up a little later…maybe today i hope…

  2. Your trees are exquisite, they look too good to eat.
    Glad you are enjoying high school.

  3. I can only imagine how pleased your teachers were with your writing, seeing as your assignment seems to have been created with you in mind! 🙂 Your cookies look beautiful – the colors are so vibrant and your decorating so steady! Really amazing job.

  4. Wow! These cookies are BEAUTIFUL!! Love the way you decorated with the trees, very well done!

  5. YOur cookies are very, very pretty. A great job of decorating.

  6. I truly adore all the design of your suuagr cookies, and your photography is awesome! lovely! 🙂

  7. I’m definitely saving this recipe for the holidays! Beautiful decorating! 🙂

  8. Beautiful cookies! Amazing job!

  9. Girl, your pictures blow me away! You also have mad decorating skills– those cookies are B-E-A-utiful! How long have you been been a photographer, and what camera do you use??

    • VEGirl – Thank you – I’m so glad you like them! All photos shot as of July 6th were taken using our Nikon D90, which I adore. Honestly, my love for photography grew only after we acquired this camera; I used to take photos of food just so my readers would know what the recipe looked like. I started photographing when I started my blog, a little more than half a year ago. 🙂

  10. There’s nothing like an enthusiastic teacher. :)I had a history teacher who always taught us things far beyond the curriculum. He was wonderful and probably the reason I love history so much today. I enjoyed reading about your classes. They sound great.

    Your cookies are beautiful! I love the pumpkin design and your trees really capture the movement and colour of autumn. Lovely.

  11. Loved your cookies and loved your post:)

  12. Beautiful, hon. I love it. You are such a brilliant girl, bold and fun to be around! I’m so glad you’re loving high school and not despising it like most kids would. It’s a shame to miss out on all the learning that goes on in high school simply to go along with the “flow” and be cool! You stand out, and that’s a very good thing!

    PS: I can’t wait to do the daring bakers with everyone next month!

  13. Although I can’t say that my classes are quite as fun and interesting as yours, there are some teachers who can make even the most boring things seem so interesting! We never did anything as fun as what you did in english, although I did try to write a paragraph about food in one of my creative writing pieces this year =) It didn’t actually work out, because my story was too long and the food bit wasn’t too relevant to the plot, but, I find that writing about food is so much easier than writing about other things….
    Your cookies are so pretty! I’ve never used royal icing before, but it looks really good! I’ll have to play around with it sometime ;P But I’m hopeless when it comes to creative things so it probably wouldn’t end up looking that great. I love the last pumpkin!

  14. I too, was a bit dissappointed at first but then realised what it was all about and really enjoyed this challenge – looks like you did, too!

  15. You are amazing. I don’t know if I could have accomplished those cookies as well as you did. Amazing!!

  16. These look so beautiful!

  17. These look so great! I love anything related to fall – these cookies are so pretty!

  18. that butter trick is certainly an awesome one. I like to put it on my preheating stove. It makes the prep even shorter!

    It’s so cool that blogging has pervaded your schoolwork. I definitely feel gratitude towards the blogosphere every day for saving me from the miserable experience that is medical school.

    Great post and great cookies! i love that they are so festive!

  19. lovely biscuits/cookies 🙂 just darling

    Betty Bake Blog

  20. What great decorating!! You must have a very steady hand… my little lines of frosting would’ve been little zig-zags.

  21. soo pretty! You have real talent! I really love prettily decorated sugar cookies but have 0 patience for making all the frostings! 😛 lol but yours turned out really pretty 🙂

    and I’m glad you are enjoying school…and it shows through your blog that you have excellent writing skills 🙂

    As for the butter…I ALWAYS DO THAT TOO! 😮 though I dont understand all that fancy scientific terminology :p lol

  22. Wow! Those look professional! Amazing!

  23. These are soooo pretty! All the icing tips are fantastic too – I’ll be referring to them when I decorate our Dia de Los Muertos cookies today. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  24. I read about you in Girls Life magazine and I have to say I’m blown away by your recipes! And your writing too! Definitely gonna make these cookies soon!

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