Grammie Sue’s Perfect Frosted Sugar Cookies

April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

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These cookies really are perfect. The flavor of this sugar cookie plus this frosting strikes the perfect balance between sweet and salty. Something about the delicate texture of the cookie calls for the lightest tint to the icing, which I think gives them a whimsical quality, making them a wonderful cookie for Easter. This is my mother-in-law’s recipe. Her cookies have the softest bite to them, which I have been unable to duplicate. One theory is that the elevation and lack of humidity in her high desert Pacific Northwest kitchen is so different from my sea-level, damp-ish Bay Area kitchen. Either way, super-soft or almost crisp, these cookies are amazingly delicious and never linger long.
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I mix the cookie dough right in the bowl, using my rubber spatula. I don’t actually own a flour sifter but manage to get the same effect with my mesh strainer. I use all organic, unbleached ingredients so the color of the cookie is a little more golden than if you used the traditionally highly refined and bleached varieties. The shortening I use is Spectrum organic all-vegetable, non-hydrogenated shortening, which seems to be a little less “whipped” seeming than Crisco or other standard brands. It doesn’t seem to affect the flavor of the cookie at all.
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When the dough is mostly mixed, it might still seem a little dry and crumbly. Use your hands to gently pat it into a ball, but don’t overwork it. You will get a tough cookie if the dough is overworked.

While the dough is chilling in the fridge, I turn my oven on to preheat and get to work on the icing. I normally recommend butter over margarine for most cooking or baking, but here is one case where it just has to be margarine. I’ve tried butter, and it just isn’t the same in this icing. I use Earth Balance organic margarine because it is non-hydrogenated.
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The only beef I have with organic powdered sugar is that it is so darned crumby… literally! You’ve got to sift it, or at least run it through a metal strainer like I do.
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One trick I learned with this icing by watching my mother-in-law over the years: do not be afraid to apply heat in order to mix and or spread the icing properly. If I find the consistency of the icing is just wrong, or it is getting crumbly, I zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds and try again. I have seen Grammie Sue do this multiple times with the same batch of icing.
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See, above, the difference between icing mixed before heating and adding two tablespoons of half and half (left), and after (right). That is a substantial difference in texture and spreadability.
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To get the frosting right for these Easter Egg shaped cookies, I used the microwave many times: once to pull the initial batch together, then again with each mini-batch in order to smoothly blend the color, then again with each mini-batch just before icing the cookies. As I mentioned, I like a delicate blushy color for my icing, so I only use one drop of coloring, adding a second if it seems necessary. Once your icing is tinted, you can set it aside and get back to making your cookies. If preferred, stop here and put the icing in the fridge, then make your cookies and ice them tomorrow, or even the next day, if you want.

But for now, back to the cookies…
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The chilled cookie dough is easy to roll. I roll it out just like you would roll pie crust, but instead of using flour to prevent the pin from sticking, I use powdered sugar. Just a little trick I’ve learned over the years. My other secret weapon? Parchment paper. I will never bake cookies (or cake, or brownies, or other items) without parchment paper ever again. Well, as long as I have parchment paper in the house.
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You can see there is little difference in the color of the dough before baking, and the color of the fully baked cookies after. The texture changes, clearly the cookies bake, but you do not want to brown the cookies. That will change the look, the texture, and the flavor.

When cookies are cooled, it is time to ice them. You can get fancy or keep it simple with just one color. I kind of like the simplicity of these pastel Easter eggs. I initially thought I’d at least make some chevron-style zigzags or stripes with some candy pearls, but ended up leaving them as is. Aren’t they gorgeous?
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RECIPE:
Grammie Sue’s Perfect Frosted Sugar Cookies
with only the slightest changes

Cookies

Mix well:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift and stir in:
1 1 /2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Chill dough at least 30 minutes; roll out on flat, floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Bake on (parchment-lined) cookie sheet 8 to 10 minutes at 325° Do NOT brown. Cool cookies on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

NOTE: This recipe can be doubled (and usually is)

Frosting

3/4 stick margarine, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons half and half
gel food coloring

Add vanilla to melted butter and stir in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Once all sugar has been added, microwave mix for 30 seconds, then add the half and half and stir until smooth. Add more half and half or sugar until frosting is the consistency you want it to be. See my notes regarding coloring, applying heat, and stirring icing before use (earlier in this post).

Once iced, the cookies should be refrigerated until you’re ready to serve them. Cookies can also be frozen for up to a month or so.

Happy nibbling,
Sarah

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