Whale Cookies

My beach/aquatic cookie cutter set that yielded last week’s octopus cookies also includes this adorable whale. It’s just such a fun, happy-looking cookie, I feel kind of bad eating them (but only for a second, because this recipe really is delicious).

I chose a light blue frosting for these cookies and frosted them by hand, then piped on the whiles of the eyes and water spouts, then the pupils and mouths. I decided to give these happy little whales smiles, but you could leave them without mouths if you like.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • dash of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Blue food coloring
  • Black food coloring

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy; add eggs and beat well.

Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in three portions and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each portion into a disc and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut with an octopus cookie cutter, placing cookies a few inches apart on your baking sheets; I fit 6 cookies on each sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden.

Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting:

Combine shortening, egg whites, salt, and one cup powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

Reserve a small portion (about 1/2 cup) of white frosting for eyes and water spouts; set aside.

Reserve a very small portion (about 4-5 tablespoons) of frosting for pupils and mouths; tint black and set aside.

Tint the remaining frosting pale blue and frost the bodies of the whales first.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with white frosting. Pipe on eyes, then switch to a star tip and pipe on water spouts.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with black frosting. Pipe on pupils, then mouths.

Allow frosting to set before storing; store cookies in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature for up to 3 days. The eyes and suction cups may flatten a bit, but that’s okay.

Makes about 48.

Octopus Cookies

Starbucks has these adorable octopus cut-out sugar cookies right now. I posted a picture of one on Facebook a few weeks back, and a friend of mine commented that I should make them. And so, I did.

I have a set of beach/sea life cookie cutters, and they just happen to include an octopus. The next time I make these, I may pipe their little eyes further down on their heads so they look more like real octopuses (much to my surprise, the plural of octopus is not octopi), but I think these turned out really well. I used a combination of piping/hand frosting for these, as it’s much easier to pipe the frosting onto the tentacles and up onto the body than it is to frost the whole cookie by hand.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • dash of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Blue food coloring
  • Green food coloring
  • Black food coloring

 

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy; add eggs and beat well.

Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in three portions and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each portion into a disc and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut with an octopus cookie cutter, placing cookies a few inches apart on your baking sheets; I fit 6 cookies on each sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden.

Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting:

Combine shortening, egg whites, salt, and one cup powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

Reserve a small portion (about 1/4 cup) of white frosting for eyes and suction cups; set aside.

Reserve a very small portion (just a few tablespoons) of frosting for pupils; tint black and set aside.

Tint remaining frosting using blue and green food coloring for a blue/green shade. Fit a large piping bag with a large plain tip and pipe frosting onto each cookie, filling in the tentacles first and piping up onto the rest of the body; use a small offset spatula to spread the frosting.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with white frosting. Pipe on eyes, then pipe suction cups on tentacles.

Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with black frosting. Pipe on pupils.

Allow frosting to set before storing; store cookies in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature for up to 3 days. The eyes and suction cups may flatten a bit, but that’s okay.

Makes about 36.

Lady Liberty Cookies

lady-liberty-cookiesMy friend Amanda and I have known each other for 25 years. We met freshman year of high school, and our mutual love of hockey bloomed into one of the most important friendships of my life. The hours we spent on the phone in high school probably funded AT&T throughout the 90s, and not a day goes by that I don’t wish we lived on the same side of the country (I’m in Pennsylvania, while she’s in California) so that we could actually see each other in person. Fortunately, Facebook and texting keep us closely connected, but sometimes I just wish I could sit in her living room with her, drinking tea, talking about everything and nothing.

Amanda is a remarkable woman, raising her son and daughter to be strong, independent thinkers just like she is. She’s also a fierce feminist just like me, so these cookies – named “Lady Liberty Cookies” by my equally feminist husband – are for her. I baked them in solidarity with her and with the millions of other women around the world who are fighting for equal rights, adapting them from The Essential Chewy Sugar Cookie from King Arthur Flour in honor of today’s Women’s March in Washington and various sister marches around the world.

I love you, Amanda! I could not be prouder to have such a strong and fantastic woman as my friend.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2.25-ounce bottle pink sugar crystals

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place pink sugar crystals in a small bowl; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute; add sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and egg and beat until well-combined.

Add flour and beat to combine.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough, roll into balls, and dip in sugar to coat completely.

Place cookies at least 2 inches apart on baking sheets; they will spread some when baking. I put 6 cookies per sheet, and that worked well.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges are barely beginning to brown and centers still look puffy. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature (or pack them and mail them to one of your best friends ever).

Makes 22.

Halloween Sugar Cut-Outs

halloween-cutoutsMike loves Halloween. Each year he impresses our neighbors with elaborately carved pumpkins, and this year I decided to make him some elaborately decorated cookies. A few weeks ago I picked up a set of Halloween cookie cutters, and I chose my favorites for this job. I admit, though, that I’ll never make 15 different varieties of cut-out cookies again in one project because it literally took me all afternoon – about four hours – to decorate them all.

Tips for decorating each type of cookie appear next to their photos below, but in general, I recommend baking the same (or similar) shape cookies in each batch so you get even browning; for example, I baked pumpkins and tombstones together because they are a similar size, but I wouldn’t put bats and pumpkins on the same cookie sheet. Also, I chose this icing recipe, my grandma Zella’s original, because it yields an easily spreadable icing that sets up very well once it dries, making stacking your cookies in a container much easier.

This batch made 70 cookies (yes, almost 6 dozen). Happy Halloween!

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons water

For the frosting & decorating

  • 3 egg whites*
  • 9 tablespoons shortening
  • Dash of salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Orange, green, yellow, brown, and black gel food coloring
  • Bat sprinkles
  • Flower-shaped sprinkles

*Your three leftover egg yolks will be great for pastry cream, which can be used for all types of other treats. If you’d like, tint it a fun Halloween color and use it in some cupcakes. 

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well.

Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. If necessary, add 1-2 teaspoons of water for a less crumbly dough; you’ll need a more pliable dough to roll and cut later.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before carefully transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

For the frosting, combine egg whites, shortening, salt, and 2 cups powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute.

Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, you can add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine

Decorating tips for each type of cookie appear below. In general, I recommend the following:

  • Tint your frosting in small batches. You’ll use several of these colors on more than one type of cookie, but you can always make more of a certain color from your main batch of white.
  • I started with the cookies that needed white bases first, then moved onto my other colors.
  • Once you’ve used your yellow for the witch brooms, you can tint whatever you have leftover orange for the pumpkins.
  • The remainder of the gray from your tombstones can become darker gray for your cauldrons.
  • The remainder of the dark gray from your cauldrons can become black for the witch hats, bats, and piping.

tombstonesTombstones

You’ll need gray frosting and black frosting, as well as black bat sprinkles.

Tint frosting gray by adding a small amount of black food coloring. Frost cookies as evenly as you can to create a smooth surface.

Tint frosting black using a generous amount of black food coloring. Fit a small but sturdy zip-top bag with a plain frosting tip and pipe letters, then add a bat to the corner of the tombstone.

 

 

 

jackolanterns

Jack-o-Lanterns

You will need orange, green, and black icing.

Frost pumpkins with orange icing, pulling your spatula or knife downward to create the pumpkin ridges.

Fit a small but sturdy zip-top bag with a plain or leaf tip, then pipe on stems.

Using black icing, pipe faces.

 

 

skullsSkulls

You will need white and black icing.

Frost cookies with white icing as evenly as you can to create a flat surface.

Using black frosting, pipe on faces.

 

 

 

 

batsBats

You will need black icing; frost to fill in the shape, then pull your spatula or knife downward to create texture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

mummiesMummies

These cookies use a coffin cutter. You will need brown and white icing.

Frost cookies with brown icing.

Fit a small but sturdy zip-top bag with white icing and pipe on mummies.

 

 

 

 

websSpiderwebs

You will need white and black icing.

Frosting cookies with white icing as evenly as you can to create a flat surface.

Pipe on webs; start with four lines that create a star shape, then fill in web strings by connecting each line.

 

 

 

pumpkinsPumpkins

You will need orange and green icing.

Frost pumpkins with orange icing, pulling your spatula or knife downward to create the pumpkin ridges.

Fit a small but sturdy zip-top bag with a plain or leaf tip, then pipe on stems.

 

 

 

cauldronsCauldrons

You will need dark gray/light black and green icing.

Frost cauldrons with dark gray icing, coming up to the top of the cauldron but leaving space in the middle for the witch’s brew.

Using green icing, pipe on witch’s brew.

 

 

 

 

candycornCandy Corn

You will need white, orange, and yellow icing.

Begin at the top with the white and frost each cookie with a band of white, orange, and yellow icing.

 

 

 

 

 

diadelosmuertosDia de los Muertos Skulls

These cookies celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, the Mexican celebration of those we’ve lost.

You will need white, black, and green icing, as well as flower sprinkles.

Frost cookies with white as evenly as you can to create a flat surface.

Using black frosting, pipe on faces and decorative swirls.

Using green frosting, outline the eyes, mouth, swirls, and edges of each cookie. Add flower sprinkles for eyes and other embellishments.

 

monstersMonsters

These cookies are a combination of spiderweb cut-outs and the scrap cookies that were left over from all of my rolling and cutting.

You will need green, orange, black, and white frosting.

Frost cookies with green, then pipe on eyes using orange and black frosting, fangs using white frosting, and fur using orange frosting.

 

 

 

broomsWitch’s Brooms

You will need yellow, brown, and orange icing.

Frost broom bottoms with yellow, pulling your spatula or knife back and forth to create the straw. Pipe on an orange line to show where the broom is gathered.

Frost broom handles with brown icing.

 

 

 

 

ghostsGhosts

You will need white and black icing.

Frost cookies with white icing, then use black icing to pipe on eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

catsCats

You will need brown and green icing.

Frost cookies with brown icing, pulling your spatula or knife back and forth to create the fur texture.

Pipe on green eyes.

 

 

 

 

hatsWitch Hats 

You will need black icing; frost hats with black and pull your spatula or knife back and forth to create a fabric texture.

 

Pastel Sugar Cookies

pastel sugar cookiesBetty Crocker wasn’t a real person, but I like to think there’s a bit of Betty in all bakers. General Mills now owns the Betty Crocker brand, which was created by another company back in 1921. The marketing folks who came up with the name thought “Betty” sounded all-American and cheerful, and I quite agree.

Throughout my childhood, my mom used both Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines (who was a real person, by the way) mixes to save time in baking. She gave me some Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix recently – probably purchased with holiday baking in mind – and I decided to use it as the base for some creative Easter sugar cookies. I don’t often bake with mixes, but they’re a great way to save time. These treats will be on their way to my darling goddaughter Maureen and her family in just a few days.

Ingredients

  • 1 17.5-ounce package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Pink and green colored sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment. Place colored sugars into separate bowls.

Place cookie mix and softened butter into a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, then add egg, increasing the speed to medium, and beat for another minute.

Add vanilla extract and almond extract; return to medium speed and beat until a soft dough forms.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls, then roll in colored sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 30 cookies.

Baseball Sugar Cut-Outs

baseballsOnce upon a time, I loathed making sugar cookies. I had a sketchy recipe that never seemed to come together and make for easy rolling, frosting them could take a while depending on the shape, and in the end, they just never seemed to be worth the trouble.

One autumn in DC, I discovered a new recipe, then added a few extra teaspoons of vanilla. From that dough, I created a platter of fall-themed treats – turkeys (complete with sprinkled-on plumage), acorns, pumpkins, and colorful leaves – and took it to my Aunt Liz’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a huge hit, to say the least.

Since then, I’ve used that same recipe to make treats for many seasons and reasons, including a fun batch of steamed crab cut-outs that my cousin-in-law Robb absolutely loved. Now, sugar cut-outs are among my favorite cookies to make.

These baseballs are for my nephew Roman, who turns 8 this week. Happy birthday, kiddo.

You will need:

Preparation

Bake cookies and allow them to cool completely before frosting.

Prepare frosting, reserving about 1/4 for red stitch details. I use flavorless red gel food coloring and added about 1/4 teaspoon to achieve a dark red.

Frost cookies with the white frosting, smoothing out each as much as you can.

Fit a pastry bag with a small plain tip. Pipe curved lines first, then add stitch details. Allow frosting to set before storing; store cookies between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to three days.

 

Italian Sugar Cookies

IMG_4140Pennsylvania Macaroni Company is my favorite shop in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. If you’ve never been, you simply must go and marvel at the bins of almonds, the shelves of pasta and olive oil and sauces, the room with the cheese counter that rivals any I’ve ever seen.

In the room with the bread and fresh pasta, there are boxes of mixed bakery-style cookies, and in those boxes are cookies like these. Tender, vanilla-scented, covered in just the right amount of icing. The kind of cookies your grandmother made, and you never forgot.

I enjoy recipes with lots of ingredients and advanced techniques for the fun challenge they present, but there is also great comfort in baking something simple. These cookies are easy to prepare and could take on any color icing, making them ideal for holidays and celebrations.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the icing

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • food coloring, if desired

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing between each. Dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl when it is the right consistency.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls. (You can use a smaller scoop if you like; next time, I’ll probably use a 1-inch scoop.) Place dough on parchment-lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool before dipping in icing.

To make the icing, in a small bowl, combine milk, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar until smooth. Tint with food coloring if desired.

Dip the tops of the cookies in icing; place on wire racks and allow excess to drip off. Let stand until set, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.