While I was fiddling around with the finicky royal icing Sunday morning, I kept thinking about how I used to make Christmas cookies with my mother. She did all of the hard parts--not letting the cookies get too golden in the oven, making sure the pesky royal icing wasn't too loose or too stiff. All I had to do was decorate (and taste test, of course).
I kept thinking, too, about how I'd like to do the hard parts for my children one day. And hoped that they would one day with theirs, the way these things get passed down, if we're lucky.
My mom and I made a lot of cookies together, but never watercolor cookies. As someone who loved to paint, I think she would have had fun with these. They're a little more free spirited than your average Christmas cookie.
As most of you know, I try to use local/organic/natural etc etc as much as possible when I cook. So I was planning to make my own nontoxic plant-based food dyes with beets, carrots, turmeric, spinach and berries. But I ran out of time (next year, perhaps?). Instead, I pulled out the same old gel colors my mom used to use. They last forever and stain your hands and I'm sure they're all kinds of toxic, but it's once a year, right?
These cookies take some time to make, so plan to hunker down on a chilly December Sunday. While you're at it, why not recruit some helpers (big or small) and turn it into a holiday party?
Wishing you peace and joy this holiday season.
Watercolor Sugar Cookies
1 batch sugar cookies, recipe follows
Royal icing, recipe follows
Add water by the teaspoon to the icing and stir until slightly runny. Transfer the icing to a wide shallow dish.
Dip the cookies into the icing and shake to smooth. Place on a rack and let the icing set, at least 2 hours.
Fill palette wells with some lemon extract. Add a small amount of food coloring using a toothpick. Paint onto cookies. Let dry.
Adapted from Rhoda Boone
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg
Sift together the flour and salt in a bowl.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl once, about 3 minutes. Add the almond extract and egg and beat until combined. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture until just combined.
Turn the dough out and divide into two balls. Press the balls into discs, wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.
Pull out one of the discs and let it warm up for a minute or two. Flour a work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to a little less than a 1/4-inch thick round. Cut shapes and transfer them to 2 ungreased baking sheets. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining disk. (You can collect the scraps, chill and reroll once.)
Bake, rotating half way through until the cookies are just turning golden at the edges, about 10 minutes.
Let cool for a few minutes on the sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
Adapted from Ree Drummond
One 1-pound box powdered sugar, sifted
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
Place the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement. Mix on low speed until combined. Beat on medium speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes. Press plastic wrap on the surface until using.