A few weeks ago, the stars aligned and I had a day off. I often have an evening and a morning off (which somehow in my head, I rationalize as a whole day), but on this blessed Thursday, I had the whole day. What did I do?! Bake for eight hours, of course!
Took my recipes straight from Martha herself. When it comes to cookies, she really does know best.
So, first things first, I got the cookie dough made and in the fridge. It really is important to chill it for an hour or so. It makes it so much easier to roll out and cut out.
Now, when I make Christmas cookies, I only make snowflakes. There are a couple reasons for this. One, snowflakes are pretty. And they don't convey any sort of holiday (really, they're not even limited to Christmas. You can make them all winter long). The second reason is because my cookies are so involved, I really don't have the energy to make 15 colors of icing, nor do I have 15 pastry bags to go with those colors.
Enter: Royal Icing. It's really magical stuff. The recipe calls for meringue powder and this really is a must. You can find it at speciality food stores (like your lovely, neighborhood Williams Sonoma :) ). The beauty of Royal Icing is that you can make it as thick or as thin as you like. This is the secret to making your cookies just like all those professional cookies that look so complicated. It's really not as hard as you think. PROMISE.
After you let your cookies cool, you want to outline all your cookies with the "stiff" icing (I make the icing thick at first, portion what I need into a pastry bag, and then soldier on). Since I make all my cookies white and then decorate from there, I just keep it simple and outline them all with the white.
Next, take out some more of the stiff icing and dye it (I did an icy blue color). You'll use this later. Since I only use it for decorating and overall flourishing, I just pop it in a plastic baggie and trim the end off. Voila: instant pasty bag.
Now, you should still have a bunch of super thick, "what am I going to do with all this now?", Royal Icing. Add a little smidge of water and mix it in. Miraculously, you're thick icing will turn into a beautiful thin, glaze-like delicious-ness. This, my friends, is your "flood" icing. This is the secret to make cookies that are smooth as ice. Fill your pastry bag and hop to it. I usually flood just a few at a time and then decorate in batches. If you do the whole brood at once the icing will start to set before you've got them all decorated and you'll have quite the mess. Below you'll see a few examples of what I did with them. You can do everything from dusting them with a little superfine sugar, to drawing in snowflake designs, with your beautiful, reserved blue icing, to marbling (as easy as drawing a line as pulling a toothpick through it). I have to admit, this was not a quick process. By the end, I was exhausted. But look at the result! Delish.