When we enter the world of confectionery, as in any other, we become more and more perfectionists and what happened before in any way, now we want it to be totally perfect. And in the case of cookies, even more so, because each cookie is a small work of art that we want to be unbeatable. Therefore, when it comes to perfecting, the first and foremost thing to pay attention to is the canvas we are working on: our butter cookies . For an ideal result, our cookies must be smooth, without lumps, robust to withstand working hours, not deformed in the oven, and of course good to eat later. That is why we want to share with you our recipe for decorating cookies, and the tricks to make them , so that your cookies are always the perfect canvas on which to capture your best designs.
Cookies usually give us a lot of headaches. Why did I have lumps on the surface? Why do they expand and lose shape when baked? How can I make them smooth, what recipe should I use?
Well, the trick is not so much the recipe, but the way to make them. And there are a lot of details that you must take into account, but do not worry, you will see that they are very simple and easy things to do so that your cookies are ideal, with the desired "currency effect" or "perfect-stacked cookies" (Cookies that when stacked look like coins, all identical and very smooth).
But before you start reading this post, you have to make a promise to yourself : you are going to read this article to the end. Because even if it's a little long, believe me that the tricks to get the perfect cookie are at the end, so don't leave it halfway or you'll miss them!
So as not to waste any more time, let's get straight to the point ... we'll start with the cookie recipe to decorate 🙂
COOKIES RECIPE to decorate
It is quite logical to think that the recipe for the cookies to decorate must be a specific recipe, since we need robust cookies that can withstand the hours of work that lie ahead, and that are also delicious. We also need a cookie with a smooth surface and without imperfections, that keeps its shape well so that it does not expand during baking, that is rich and that is not excessively sweet (we are going to add enough sugar with the glaze)
INGREDIENTS - for 24 medium / 36 small cookies
- 250 gr. butter (unsalted, at room temperature)
- 125 gr. of icing sugar (or even better, if you have, 150 gr. of icing sugar)
- 1 large egg (size L, at room temperature)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or another flavor of your choice)
- 500 gr. plain wheat flour (sifted, yeast-free)
- a pinch of salt
1. We will work with an electric mixer and the paddle attachment (do not use the rods, so as not to introduce air into the dough). The first precaution we must take is not to beat the dough more than necessary, or we will add air that will later transform into bubbles and lumps on the surface of the baked cookie. In the bowl of the mixer we put the butter and sugar, and beat at minimum speed so that they are integrated. Nothing to beat until white as they usually tell us, as soon as the ingredients are mixed, we stop. One minute is usually enough.
2. Add the egg to the bowl (we break it in a separate bowl and beat it a little with a fork) and the vanilla. Again we beat at minimum speed until they are integrated, it will cost us more or less another minute. If necessary, we stop the mixer and with a spatula we lower the ingredients that are stuck on the walls of the bowl, we want a well homogeneous mixture. Do not forget to also check the bottom of the bowl, there is usually a little butter stuck in it, you must also lift it to mix.
3. Now add the flour and salt, and beat at low speed just until the dough comes off the sides of the bowl and forms a ball around the scoop. No more, no less, this will take about 30 seconds maximum.
4. We stop the mixer and sprinkle a little flour on our work surface. We put the dough in it, and we finish kneading it by hand little by little. If you see that it sticks a lot, add a little more flour until it does not stick and you have a smooth and uniform dough. And as soon as it is ready, we make a ball with the dough and leave it like that, uncovered and resting on the counter, for 15 minutes so that it settles and loses excess moisture.
5. When the dough has rested, cut it into two parts and place each of these parts between two sheets of greaseproof paper. We flatten it a little by hand to make it easier for us to stretch it and then, with the help of a roller, we spread it until we have a layer of a thickness of 6 mm. approximately (you can use a roller with rings to make them even, or some slats). It is best to stretch it from the center to the edges, so that we do not get wrinkles, and with care that it does not come out at the ends.
6. Once we have the dough well stretched, we slide a baking tray underneath, trying not to raise the dough too much and not deform it, and we take the tray to the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours (or half an hour in the freezer). If you put them in the fridge, the longer the dough is inside and the colder it is, the better! The cold is one of the keys to achieve a smooth surface and that the cookies do not expand.
7. Once we have the dough very cold, we are going to cut the shape of the cookies. We take the tray out of the oven and remove the baking paper from the top. We cut the shapes with a cutter, and being very careful not to handle the dough too much, we pass the cookies to the tray where we are going to bake them. To bring them back to temperature, we take them to the fridge for another half hour, while we finish cutting the rest of the cookies and while the oven is heating: we turn it on to 180ºC with heat up and down, without a fan.
8. When we have all the cookies cut, cold, and the oven ready, we are going to bake our cookies. The time will depend on the size, but to give you an idea:
- Small cookies: 8-10 minutes
- Medium cookies: between 10 and 12 minutes
- Large cookies: 12-13 minutes
- Extra-large cookies: we will double bake, 12 minutes + second bake with residual heat (we'll explain it to you below!)
The idea is to bake the cookies until the edges start to brown, but be careful not to lose sight of them, or they will not be a uniform color.
9. When the cookies are baked, we remove them from the oven and leave them on the same tray for 2 - 3 more minutes, then we will transfer them to a rack with the help of a spatula and leave them on it until they cool completely. We use the grid so that the cookies cool evenly, above and below, and the heat and humidity do not condense underneath (or they would be soft inside)
10. Once they have cooled down completely, our cookies are ready to decorate.
But before we get down to work, we have one more thing left… we owe you the explanation and the tricks that we promised you! Go for it…
Tricks to make the PERFECT Cookies to decorate
There are a ton of tricks you can apply while making your cookies to make sure they are totally perfect. We will divide them into two parts: a first part in which we will talk about the tools and materials to use, and a second part about the production process.
TOOLS AND MATERIALS:
Experience tells us that every time an ingredient works well, we must use them again, so always point out the brand names when something works for you. If you want to avoid headaches, always repeat the brand and forget about experiments!
It is best to use an electric mixer with which we can adjust the speed, and that has a paddle attachment. If it is a hand mixer, we can use the dough hooks instead of the rods, but in any case beat very slowly and be careful not to add air to the mixture.
Today there are rollers with rings that allow us to control the thickness, so that all our cookies are identical and the same size. If you do not have one of these rollers, you can also use some guides or slats that are placed on the sides of the dough and on which we pass the roller over, or you can use any other instrument you have at home (for example, the edges two identical cutting boards, two books from the same collection and equal thickness (cover them beforehand with plastic wrap so as not to stain anything!) or any other object that you can think of and have on hand.
The baking tray:
It is best to use a specific tray for cookies, for several reasons: first, because they have no edge and we can handle the cookies without hardly touching them; and second, because they are silver in color, so they distribute the heat and do not condense it (like the typical black ones), preventing the base from being burned underneath.
Professional cookie makers' best friend is the Silpain baking mat, a special mat on which cookies are baked, and whose material is a kind of grid that allows air to circulate inside. In addition, it leaves a beautiful texture at the base of the cookies, and helps us to make them smooth and not deformed. It's a little expensive, but if you're going to make a lot of cookies, this mat will be the best investment you will ever make and you won't be able to do without it.
Large, smooth spatula:
A large spatula helps us to transport the cookies without deforming them, both before baking them and afterwards. Use it to pick up your cookies so you won't leave finger marks on them or distort them when you touch them and pick them up with hot hands. But not only that, the spatula also has another "secret" use that you will love ... and that is that it can help you eliminate lumps in your cookies! During baking, as soon as you see that the surface of the cookie has already become matt, if any lump has come out on the surface you can open the oven and press the cookie gently with the spatula: it will disappear as if by magic. You can also flatten them just out of the oven, when they are still on the tray and before they start to harden, again very gently press the surface gently so that the air comes out from the sides and your cookie is flat. Trick, huh!
Surely they have already told you a thousand times: each oven is a world. And they are right. The ovens that we have at home are not usually well calibrated, they mark temperatures that are not 100% real and they usually have areas where they heat more than in others. Therefore, if you know your oven well and you know that there is an area where it heats up more, avoid putting cookies in that area so that they do not become more golden than the rest. If you cannot avoid it and you have to put cookies in that area, a good idea would be to turn the tray over halfway through baking, so that the cooking is more uniform and all the cookies are made equally. Another important detail is not to put the oven tray too high, the ideal is to put it in the middle of the oven down, so it will not give the strongest heat to the surface of the cookies and they will be with a more uniform tone throughout the upper part .
The temperature of the ingredients:
The ingredients must always be at room temperature, so that they are mixed evenly. And is that if we use for example a cold egg from the refrigerator, surely when mixing it with the flour it will make lumps and it will look like a cut mixture. Well, those lumps of butter will melt in the oven, forming bubbles inside your cookies that will make them weaker and more brittle. See how such a silly detail can break our cookies! To avoid this, the ideal is to remove the ingredients from the refrigerator an hour before in winter, or half an hour in summer, and let them all be at the same temperature.
Nor do they need to be very hot, for example butter when it is very melted, it will leave the dough as with a cellulite effect, full of lumps and leathery. Better that it is a little hard before it is melted, since during the kneading process we will add heat and it will finish integrating perfectly with the rest of the ingredients.
Avoid adding air to the dough:
When we have cookies with lumps on the surface, the reason is usually that we have added too much air to the dough during the manufacturing process. Either when beating it, or when kneading it by hand, if we leave air bubbles inside, they will come to the surface during baking, ruining our cookies. That is why we insist a lot on the fact that you have to beat and / or knead just enough, not to spend long minutes beating a dough just because.
Avoid surface cracks:
In order for the surface to be as smooth as possible, we must prevent cracks from forming. To do this, we must take into account two things. On the one hand, we should not add more flour than necessary, as we would have a very dry dough and cracks could occur when baking. If you are very sticky when kneading it by hand, add a maximum of 25 gr. of flour, but nothing else. On the other hand, when we stretch the dough between the sheets of baking paper, we will have to do it from the center outwards, so that the paper does not wrinkle and we have cracks on the surface of the dough.
The thickness of the dough:
Although the thickness of the dough is optional and to everyone's taste, the ideal is that they have a thickness between 5 mm (millimeters) and 1 cm (centimeter), so that they do not come out too hard or raw inside. Remember that the thinner they are, the less they will deform when baked. Our advice, based on baking a lot of cookies and having gotten the hang of it, is to cut them to a thickness of 6mm: this way they are robust to decorate as well as delicate to eat and easy to bake. For us, the perfect measure!
The cold, your best ally:
Cookie dough loves cold, the more the merrier. Once you have the dough made and stretched, the more you cool it the better it will be. The minimum is two hours, but if you can leave it even overnight, the result will be even better. Keep in mind that the cold is the most important factor to prevent the cookies from deforming during baking, so while it is not frozen, the colder the dough is, the better your cookies will be, smoother, with more defined edges and with that "currency effect" that we mentioned at the beginning.
A perfect cut:
When cutting the cookies, you can put a bowl of flour on the side and put the cutter in it to sprinkle it. This way nothing will stick to you, you will have a much cleaner cut, and it will be easier to handle the remains of the cut once you remove the cutter.
It is also important that the cuts of each cookie are close to each other, to avoid reusing the leftovers many times and that the successive cookies have imperfections. You can reuse the leftovers one or two times at most. If you do it more times you run the risk of overworking the dough and that, for sure, will cause your precious cookies to warp in the oven and have cracks and irregularities.
Double bake technique:
When we bake extra large cookies (10 cm or more), it is easy for the edges to brown and the center to be a little raw. To avoid an excess of baking, which would leave the edges burned, what we do is apply the double baking technique. This technique consists of baking the cookies for 12-13 minutes, as we normally would, and then removing them from the oven to cool. When we finish baking all the cookies and turn off the oven, we will put these cookies back to finish baking in the central area with the residual heat from the oven, so they will finish cooking well and we will avoid the disaster of the black edges.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, if there is too much ambient heat or we forget any of these tricks, our cookies can be deformed. Well, there is a trick that will help you "correct" the edges of your cookies and make them straighter and better defined: you can use a small fine grater to "sand" the cookies a little bit and give them that look of straighter edges. But do it carefully, holding the cookie gently and stroking it with the grater, because otherwise you will be in serious danger of breaking them!
Freezing and preservation:
If you want to keep the dough without baking, it is best to freeze it well wrapped in plastic wrap, and in an airtight container. In this way, it can be kept in the freezer for up to three months without losing any of its flavor or faculties. The day you want to use it, you just have to put it in the fridge for 24 hours and then stretch it out and follow the process as you normally would.
If you want to store your cookies already baked, it is important to do so when they have cooled down, and try to keep them in the best conditions of humidity and temperature. Ideally, put them in a cool, dry and dark place. You can put them in aluminum cans, with pieces of bread, toast or a bag of rice (these will absorb the moisture) until you are going to decorate them. You can also put pieces of parchment paper between the cookies, in case one has not been well cooked or has some moisture, you will prevent it from sticking to the one below
And if you still want more tricks, to know everything about icing and decoration, or to make incredible cookies, we recommend that you take a look at our online courses: they are to die for! Learn how to decorate cookies with great professionals like Aixa Zunino and Maribel Ríos , two of the best-known teachers in our country. In their online courses, without dates or times and with access for a lifetime , they will teach you all their secrets and help you answer questions so that your cookies are absolutely perfect.