So many holiday gatherings involve cutout cookies. Even Santa himself requires a couple of the sugary treats for dropping off his goods. With all of that pressure to execute the perfect batch, it's no wonder that sometimes we mess up. We'll fill you in on some common mistakes and how to avoid them so that you can stay on Santa's 'nice' list.
For busy parents, time is the most valuable commodity, especially during the holidays. But when you are making cookies, you shouldn't try to multitask or complete the cookies in an hour. You have to allot time to create the dough, roll it, cut it, bake the cutouts, and then decorate the cookies, so be patient and allow half of a day or even a whole day for the process.
Perhaps you have a tried-and-true cutout cookie recipe that's been handed down for generations. If not, check out this recipe created by a pastry chef. You can always find your own recipe, but you want to make sure it doesn't contain leavening agents like baking soda or baking powder. You want your cutout cookies to be flat and retain their shape for decorating. A leavening agent will puff them up, turning your would-be snowmen into little sausages.
For the perfect cutout cookies, it's important to fully cream the butter and sugar so that the mixture takes on the consistency of thick toothpaste. This step is crucial because you aren't using leavening agents. Creaming the butter and sugar well will allow air to enter the batter, which will make the cookies soft enough to eat but firm enough to retain their shape.
Chill the dough even if the recipe doesn't call for it. It is important that the batter is firm so that the cookies retain their shape during baking. If you don't chill your dough, you'll end up with swollen cookies and a poor foundation upon which to decorate.
Too much flour will result in hard, overbaked cookies. Too little flour will cause the cutouts to become sticky and lose their shape. Make sure you dust your rolling pin and rolling surface with flour, too.
This is where patience is crucial. If your cookies are still warm when you start decorating, your icing will melt. While you're waiting for your cookies to cool completely, open up the wine that was chilling alongside your dough or call your mom and tell her how awesome your cookies look.
Icing can quickly become too thin when you add food coloring to it (you want the icing to be the consistency of toothpaste), so it's important to add a thicker food coloring. Use gel food coloring instead of the four-pack of basic colors. Gel food coloring is thicker and less likely to thin out your icing too much. Plus, it comes in a variety of fun colors.
Try using Henry Ford's mass-production process: instead of decorating one cookie at a time, do all of the blues on each cookie, then the reds, then the greens, etc. This method will save you lots of time!
Instead of practicing on baked cookies, trace the outline of each cookie cutter on regular paper. Place wax paper over the outlines, and then begin piping. You will quickly learn how to squeeze your bag, how fast to draw your lines, and how to navigate turns.
If you avoid these errors, your cookies will be both beautiful and delicious. And who knows -- maybe Santa will recognize your extra effort and give you something special!