Friday, April 19, 2013

How to Make Fancy Cookies AND Stay Out of the Insane Asylum

When I was a little girl, my mom’s family had a Christmas tradition. My mom and aunts would get all the cousins together and bake 7 million cookie cutter cookies. I loved it! And when I grew up, I always knew I’d carry that tradition on in some way. I bought a package of 100 animal cookie cutters just for fun. Then 100 random holiday ones. Then the entire alphabet. I was 21 at the time. Yes, I was a wild one.

I made Christmas cookies occasionally, but I was so excited when I finally had kids an excuse to make cute cookies all year. Reed’s first day care party Valentines were polka dotted monogram initials for each kid. I’m sure the birth-to-four year olds really appreciated the four hours it took me to roll out the dough, bake the cookies, delicately frost two letters for each child (one chocolate, one pink), and then polka dot each cookie by hand in the contrasting color. I even made extras of each letter in case there were any accidents. For Reed’s first birthday, I made number one cookies, and a new tradition was born.

#5s and Ninjagos

#7s, "dragons," and butt-ugly shields (mostly hidden)
(I promise Max gets # cookies too, but, like so many other things with the 3rd child, I didn't remember to get pictures. Or I did, but lost them.)

But somewhere along the way (ummm… I’m guessing it was when our second-born came along) the whole cookie thing got to be a little bit of a stressor. I seem to remember some fight with the hubs where I pulled the whole flour on the face, wiping of the forehead, “I’ve been slaving away over a hot oven all day” act and I was SO for real! So, below I share my tips on how to make fancy cookies without wanting to shoot yourself in the face. And a cookie recipe that has taken almost seven years of birthdays, Christmases, Valentine and Halloween parties to perfect. I have four of the transitional versions in my recipe box, but eventually came back to my mom’s buttery, yumilicious sugar cookie recipe with extra flour to make them roll-outable and almond extract to make them deliciouser. They are definitely the bomb!

Cookie Cutter Cookies
1 c sugar                                              1 t vanilla
 ½ c butter                                            1 t (or more!) almond extract
½ c shortening                                      1 egg
½ t cream of tartar                                2 ½ c flour
½ t baking soda

Cream wet ingredients and sugar. Add dry ingredients. Chill. Roll out about ¼ inch thick and bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

Homemade Frosting
      ½ bag powdered sugar                    food coloring
 ½ stick butter, softened                         ¼ c cocoa powder (for chocolate)
1 t vanilla
1 t (or more!) almond extract
2 glubs of milk (that’s a highly scientific precision measurement. Look it up)

You may have to add milk or powdered sugar to get the desired consistency. I like mine thin enough that peaks start to “melt” on their own, but not right away.


1)      Make your dough in advance       
If the cookies are being made for a party that is being held at your house, you’re going to have to cook and clean. Don’t add this to your insane list. Make the dough and chill for a few days or freeze for a few weeks.
2)      Freeze the cookies
Even if you only make them a few days before you have to frost/serve them, pop them in the freezer so they still taste fresh. You don’t even have to take them out of the freezer that long before you frost.
3)      Set aside a night to frost
Watch TV or chat with a friend. If you’re slow or creative or anal, it may be a long night. Get the icing to a thin enough consistency that you can kinda push it up to where you want it. That’s the trick to getting smooth edges. You can also pipe the edges and fill in with runny icing, but this takes longer. I used to suck at frosting, but practice has made me WAY better. Now I just suck frosting.

When I know a party is coming up, I’ll make the dough a week or two before, the cookies the following day, and then ice them the night before the event so they’re fresh. The only night I may want to choke on a sprinkle is the frosting night, but it’s honestly not that bad.

Day care treats - "Jesus is the star of Christmas"

P.S. After making cookies with my kids umpteen times, I gotta say that my mom and her sisters were SAINTS! My two drive me nuts! (Max has yet to help – since he came along, I work at night or naptime!) I can’t imagine having eleven munchkins in on the action. I’m sure my childhood creations weren’t super pretty and the whole point was sharing the experience. Yada yada yada. Call me a crappy mom, but I may be a teensy bit of a perfectionist and decorating these cookies is one of my few opportunities to be “artsy” and creative. Plus I’m a control freak. And dinosaurs are not Christmasy. And blue is a stupid color for a heart. And bats do NOT match my “cute  monster” theme! So our “experience” is less warm, fuzzy cookie baking with mommy and more your-ideas-are-dumb, don’t-you-dare-mess-up-my-masterpieces! Sue me.

Stupid bats
That's more like it

Tips for when your kids want to “help”
-          Give them Play-doh and their own cookie cutters at the other end of the table.
-          Let them just play with the cookie cutters on the floor.
-          Make extra dough and let them make whatever cookies they want to eat at home. Dinos for Christmas – no problem!
-          Explain salmonella poisoning in great detail. They’ll be too terrified to sneak cookie dough.
-          Inform them that salmonella can’t be caught by adults. You won’t have to be sneaky (well aside from the whole lying thing…)
-          Let them help with the first batch, but tell them that when the timer dings, they can taste-test the results. They’ll totally lose interest once they have something to eat.
-          Let them frost animal crackers while you frost cookies.
-          Just say no and work after dark.

Lingerie cookies for my sister's bachelorette shower

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