I knew I wanted to do something with decorative frosting. I'd really like to try my hand with royal icing and flooding, but I'm a little gun-shy, despite several amazing instructional posts I've seen recently. That kind of intricacy requires much more time - and probably patience - than I was going to be able to devote, so I decided to stick with a traditional drag-the-toothpick-through-the-icing approach and used a simple powdered sugar/milk/vanilla glaze.
I also tried a new recipe for vanilla cream cheese sugar cookies. Look at the top picture with those gigantic sugar crystals - don't you just want to gobble that cookie up? Natalie's cookies did not disappoint. The dough was easy to work with, just as she said, and the cookies were soft, a little cakey, and very tasty. Perfect for the kiddos, whose sugar consumption was just beginning its slow, pre-Halloween incline.
Vanilla Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (I'm sure I forgot that step)
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
3 ounces cream cheese, softened (I'm sure I forgot that step, too)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, separated
2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) flour
Glaze (powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla; see below) or sanding sugar
Cream butter, sugar, cream cheese, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add salt and egg yolk (save the white for later; we're going to need it if we're using sanding sugar). Add flour and mix until just combined; do not over-mix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove a quarter of the dough from the fridge (leave the rest in there to stay cool). Using a floured rolling pin and a floured pastry board/counter/rolling mat, roll out the dough to 1/4" thick. Cut out shapes with your preferred cookie cutters and place them on cookie sheets lined with a silpat or parchment paper.
If you'd like to use sanding sugar, here's how to proceed. Whisk the egg white (you can add a tiny bit of water). Brush on the cookies and sprinkle them with sugar.
Either way, bake for 6-8 minutes, depending on how large your cookies are, until the cookies are just barely starting to tan around the edges. Let them cool for a minute, and then remove them to a cookie rack.
If you're glazing, here's where the fun starts for you. Let the cookies cool completely, and meanwhile, make the glaze. Depending on what kind of decorations you want, the glaze may need to be a little thinner or a little thicker. A good base ratio is 1 cup of powdered sugar to 1-2 tablespoons milk, with a little vanilla (1/2 teaspoon?) thrown in for nice flavor. Whisk that up until it's completely incorporated and runny. If you need multiple colors, divide the glaze into a few bowls and color each one. I like the gel paste food coloring because a little goes a long way, the colors are vibrant, and it doesn't affect the taste.
My plan was to apply a thicker orange (-colored) glaze to the cookie with an offset spatula, and then pipe concentric circles of thinner black glaze. So I added a few drops more milk to the black glaze. When I say, "drops," I mean it! A little goes a long way. After piping on the black, I gently dragged a toothpick from the center to the edge of the cookie, eight or nine times. It pulls the frosting along with it, making a cool spiderweb effect. It takes a little practice to get the consistency just right; too thick, and it won't spread, but too thin, and it will drip down the sides of the cookie. You definitely want the glaze to stay put.
Here was my mistake: I frosted all the orange bases first, and then went back and applied the black piped glaze. By the time I got back around, after frosting two dozen cookies, the frosting had started to set up. So when I dragged the toothpick through, it created lines that didn't immediately fill themselves in, as the more liquid glaze would have done when first piped on. Lesson learned: for this style of decoration, deal with one cookie at a time, from start to finish. Royal icing may require time in between each stage to dry, but the point of the glaze is to take advantage of its runny-ness - while it's still runny!
Please note that this glaze will eventually harden though the cookies may have to sit out for several hours. It's not as rock-hard as royal icing, but definitely serviceable.