Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Posted by Lara.
3 cups flour, plus more if needed
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
10 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup molasses
2 Tbs. milk
1 lb. powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
dark-green food coloring gel
Colored sanding sugar, for garnish (optional)
Edible silver pearls, for garnish (optional)
6-7 star shaped cookie cutters (I bought a 4-piece graduated cookie cutter set and a 4 piece graduated fondant cutter set (in the cake aisle at the craft store), but I would have bought this inexpensive cookie cutter kit from Amazon that was created for just this purpose if I had seen it first)
FOR THE COOKIES:
Combine the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking soda in large bowl. Whisk to aerate and mix well.
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on low speed, then on medium speed until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the molasses and milk; beat on low speed until incorporated.
Add the flour mixture in thirds, beating on low speed until well combined after the first two additions and stopping to scrape down the bowl after each addition. After the last of the flour is added, beat on low speed until just incorporated. The dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl and be soft yet very pliable.
Prepare 6 sheets of parchment paper about 18 by 13 inches (baking sheet size). Divide the dough into thirds; place each portion of dough between two sheets of the parchment; roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Stack them onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour before cutting the cookies.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with racks positioned in the upper and lower middle of the oven. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
Working with one portion of dough at a time (while the other two remain in the freezer), peel away both sides of parchment paper, but lay the dough back down on one piece of the parchment. (my kids that these frozen dough sheets were hilarious)
Use the seven graduated sizes of cookie cutters to cut 3 cookies each, for a total of 21 cookies.
Cut the cookies while the dough is frozen and position them on the parchment-lined baking sheets. If the dough defrosts too much to easily move cookies that have been cut out, replace the top sheet of parchment and refreeze until the dough is easy to work with. Do that as many times as needed; scraps can be re-rolled twice. Use all of the dough.
Bake the cookies on the upper and lower racks for 9 to 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have browned but do not appear to be burned on the bottoms; a few minutes after you rotate the baking sheets, check the smaller-size cookies for doneness, removing any that might be done sooner. NOTE: I just baked them one pan at a time for 8-10 minutes)
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
FOR THE ICING:
(NOTE: I used a regular buttercream frosting recipe for the following pictures. If you use the icing recipe included here it will result in a shinier, smoother icing. )
Working in batches, combine the confectioners' sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on low speed until all is well blended. Add the lemon or lime juice, beating until the icing is smooth and fluffy and holds a soft peak, adding water if needed. The yield is about 2 1/2 cups, about half of which is used in this recipe. You will have leftover icing, which can be refrigerated (see headnote). Cover the bowl with a dampened dish towel until ready to use. (Exposed royal icing will begin to crust over, rendering it lumpy and difficult to apply, and the final product will be uneven.)
To assemble: Use half of the icing to cover the tops of the cookies; sprinkle the exposed star tips with the sanding sugar. Let dry for 1 hour. Alternatively, use enough food color gel to color all of the icing. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small leaf tip and decorate the star tips. If desired, place silver pearls on some or all of the star tips. Let dry for 1 hour.
Use some of the remaining icing as "glue" to stack and build the cookie tree, using a pastry bag fitted with the round tip to place the icing at the center of each cookie, making sure they are centered atop each other as you work. Offset the stars so their points do not line up directly. Let the cookie tree set for 1 hour before serving.
Display on a platter covered with a mini tree skirt for an extra dose of festivity!