Decorating cookies is fun for the family, as well as the extended family, during holiday season. Depending on how much time is available, you can purchase a tube of ready-made cookie dough or a bag (or box) of sugar cookie mix.
I use the recipe below for my classes. It is delicious and good when when time is plentiful. I found it on the King Author Flour website.
I use cans of ready-made icing, divide it up into bowls to make a variety of colors with food coloring. If you are really adventurous, I have included a royal cream icing below. Royal cream is a little better, because it drys a little harder than cake frosting.
Instead of using real pastry bags to pipe the cookies, I cut a tiny hole in the corner of Ziplocks and use them like pastry bags. I suggest buying cheap tablecloths from the dollar store to decorate the cookies on.The tablecloths can be rolled up, along with all the used ziplocks and cookie mess, and thrown away.
Cut-out Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
5 cups Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
To make the dough: Beat the butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow in appearance. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
With the mixer on low, slowly add the vanilla and almond extracts; mix until combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low, slowly add to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter and scoop half of the dough out onto it. Gently pull the sides of the plastic up and over the dough and flatten it into a disc. Wrap dough securely and repeat with the remaining dough. Chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment.
To shape and bake: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll approximately 1/4" thick and cut out cookies. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake the cookies for approximately 10 to 12 minutes, until they just barely start to turn golden on the edges and the center doesn't look moist. Remove from the oven and cool completely before decorating.
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
4 ½ teaspoons meringue powder*
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup warm water
½ teaspoon vanilla
In a large bowl, stir together powdered sugar, meringue powder, and cream of tartar. Add warm water and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Beat on high speed for 7 to 10 minutes or until mixture is very stiff. Makes about 2-1/2 cups icing.
*Test Kitchen Tip:
Meringue powder is a mixture of pasteurized dried egg whites, sugar, and edible gums. Look for it in the baking aisle of your supermarket or at a specialty food store.
My children are no longer children. They grew up years ago. We may have been a family much like yours. My son and daughter went to school and liked to play, but they had homework and responsibilities that kept them from playing as much as they would have liked.
Like most parents, their father and I worked a lot, so that we could provide them with everything they needed and many of the things they wanted. Since there were four of us, we had a lot to keep us busy. We often got frustrated because there never seemed to be enough time in the day to do anything but work. One or more of us was always busy with a project or a deadline.
One cold November day before Thanksgiving one year, it snowed. It snowed so much that school and work were called off. Our house was warm. We had warm, waterproof clothes. We had lots of food. Best of all, our whole family was together, including the dog. We spent all morning playing in the snow making a snowman and sledding down hills. When we finally came in to have lunch, the dog had icicles and snow hanging off his fur. After changing clothes, drying out and warming up the dog, we ate a hot lunch together at the dinner table and everyone got to talk. The entire family got to say what they wanted and we all listened, because we had the time.
After lunch, we made cookie dough and used the cookie cutters we had always intended to use but never had time for. We spent the afternoon baking and decorating little cookie people.
As we were making the cookies, we were filled with gratitude for this special day and how lucky we were to have each other. There are not many days when we get to play, share a leisurely meal, talk and make ridiculously funny cookies. We laughed so hard our stomachs ached and we encouraged each other’s creative ideas.
I created a cookie family to resemble my own. The mother and father and two children, just like us.
Not to be outdone, my two children created cookies to represent the things they were grateful for. My son made bats and balls. My daughter made cats, dogs and snowmen. Needless to say we made more cookies than we could possibly eat.
We spent the rest of the afternoon packaging the cookies to give away to the people we were grateful for in our lives.
The next day the snow melted, school was back in session and work began again, but it was okay. We were filled with unexpected gratitude and joy. Our snow day was a gift from nature. It was a day to slow down, reconnect and remember how much we love each other and how grateful we are for what we have. Each of us took our cookie people, pets and snowmen to school and work to give to teachers, friends and co-workders. We told them how much they meant to us and thanked them. We all came home happy because our cookies made other people happy.
At the dinner table that night I told my family that I wanted Thanksgiving to be just like our snow day. We all agreed that sometimes the most special days in our lives are days we do not anticipate.
The pilgrims must have felt a tremendous gratitude for the natives after spending their first year in the new world. Their new friends taught them how to harvest the crops they were unfamiliar with. During planting and growing season they may have been too busy to be grateful. It probably wasn’t until after the harvest that they had time to realize how valuable the natives had been to their survival. That must have been when they decided to honor them with a Thanksgiving feast. If they had not had a moment to rest, we may never have had Thanksgiving.
America is not the only culture to celebrate Thanksgiving, nor the first. Most thanksgivings come at the end of the harvest season. It is a time to rest, be grateful for and enjoy the fruits of our labor and the gifts from nature, as well as the important people in our lives.
In ancient times Egyptians had a harvest festival in the fall honoring Min the God of vegetation.
The Chinese celebrate the end of harvest with a Moon Festival, always on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. The moon is suppose to be the roundest and brightest to rekindle friendships. They make, share and eat moon cakes during their celebration.
Korea celebrates the harvest with a feast called Chuseok, eaten after a memorial service to pay respect to their ancestors.
The Japanese celebrate Kinrō Kansha no Hi on November 23rd. This is a day of thanksgiving for all of the laborers. It is a day to focus on human rights.
England’s day of thanksgiving is called Lammas Day, where families take the first bread from their wheat harvest to the church to be blessed.
Thanksgiving seems to be a natural response to the enjoyment of life. It is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.
The magic only works when everyone in the family leaves their stresses and worries outside the door to make cookies together. Stress and worry will always be ready to come back when invited, but maybe they won’t be as powerful once gratitude and joy are present.