Saturday, December 22, 2007
How to Make Awesome Cut-Out Cookies
Lots of people are making Christmas cookies this weekend. I suck at decorating cookies, but I'm really good at making them up to that point. So, ignore my crappy decorating and use Hannah's guide to that over at Bittersweet. Her cookies look amazing, but she's a little crazy, she didn't even use cookie cutters for those. I know, right. I only had a few cookie cutters, a snowman and some stars, so I used those. Some people are so intimidated by making cut-out cookies, so I decided to make a little guide via photos for all of you.
I used Isa and Terry's gingerbread cookie recipe for this, but you can use any recipe you want, gingerbread, sugar cookies, whatever.
Gingerbread Cookies (originally posted on the PPK Blog)
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup plain soymilk
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour (or a mix of both)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
In a large bowl beat together oil and sugar for about 3 minutes. Add molasses and soymilk. The molasses and soymilk won't really blend with the oil but that's ok.
In a sepearte bowl, sift together all the other ingredients.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches. Mix together with a firm spoon or spatula until well combined. You should have a pretty stiff dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or up to 3 days in advance. (If you chill longer than an hour you may want to let it sit for 10 minutes to loosen up a bit before proceeding).
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease your cookie sheets.
On a floured surface roll you dough out to a little less than 1/4 inch thick. You can do this in 2 batches if you don't have the space. Cut out your shapes with your cookie cutters and gently place on cookie sheets (if you are using them to decorate with remember to cut a hole with a straw or something before baking). Bake for 8 minutes.
Remove from oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet then move to a cooling rack. Wait until they are completely cool before icing.
Okay, now that you have your dough made and chilled, here's where I come in. The biggest favor that you can do for yourself is to get some waxed paper and tape it down to the counter with masking tape. Trust me, once you do this, you'll never want to roll out cookies on just the counter again. Make sure that you already have your cookie cutters out and your rolling pin. You don't want to be digging through the cabinets and drawers looking for that perfect cookie cutter when your hands are all floured.
Sprinkle just a tiny bit of flour on your waxed paper before you roll out the dough. Like this:
Put a little bit of flour in a bowl or plate or hell, just put it on the counter. You want to use this to dip your cookie cutters into. The coolest thing is that once you cut out one cookie, the flour will stick to the cutter quite nicely. Why do you want to do this? Because it helps to keep the dough from sticking to the cutter. It'll help keep your cookie shapes intact and make it easier to get them away from the rest of the surrounding dough later.
One very important thing to remember - Keep the dough that you're not using in the fridge at all times! You don't want it to warm up and get sticky while you're rolling out other bits. Don't try and roll out all of the dough at one time. Divide it in half at least. Roll out one half and keep the other in the fridge while you're doing that.
So now you're starting to cut out your cookie shapes. Before you start, take a second and look at the dough you have rolled out. Try and maximize the space. Cut the shapes as close together as you can. If you have some smaller cookie cutters, use those for those little in between spots. Why is this important? Because the goal here is to re-roll the dough as few times as possible. The more times you roll out the dough, the tougher your cookies will be in the end. The last thing you want is a hard cookie.
So you've got all of the cookies cut. Now comes the part where most people screw things up. Resist the urge to pick up the dough shapes with your hands. Smack yourself if you start wanting to remove the shapes immediately, too. What you want to do is remove the dough from around the shapes first.
Keep the dough scraps! You're going to mush them all together and roll them out again later. But - if you still have some dough that you haven't rolled yet, don't add the scraps to that! You're just begging for tough cookies if you do that. Roll scraps with scraps, never with fresh dough. Put the scraps in the fridge until you need them again. Also - when you roll out the scraps, you need even less flour on your work surface since the dough is already drier. You will need a tiny bit just to ensure there's no sticking, though.
Now that you've removed the dough from around the shapes with your hands, there's probably a few little scrap pieces still hanging out here and there. Use a little paring knife to cut those away.
Now you should have a bunch of cute cookie shapes hanging out on your wax paper.
Pick the cookies up with a spatula. Not your hands! Resist the urge to use your hands!!! I'm not kidding people. Consider this a cyber slap on the hand if you try it. You can dip your spatula in flour before you try and slide it under the dough shapes. Don't worry if there are little bits of flour hanging out on the sides of the cookie, it won't hurt anything.
If you have some smaller dough shapes like I did, use that same paring knife to lift those. The spatula will likely be too large and screw up your cookie shapes otherwise.
Now bake those suckers. Once they're completely cooled, decorate them and you're done! Roman and I decorated these. You can tell who decorated which ones. I always accidentally make the icing too runny. One of these days I'll get it right. Ah, they still tasted good.
It's also a good idea to lay down some parchment or wax paper under your cookies when you decorate them. It helps to keep the mess to a minimum.