Earning My Stripes: Argyle Sugar Cookies
I think I’ve got a problem. For the third or fourth time, I’ve taken on a substantial dessert project for a friend. A project that takes me a good solid week to accomplish. But that’s NOT the problem; the “problem” is that I really, really love it and wish I could do it all the time. I realized I get a sick amount of satisfaction and joy from sitting at my dining room table (my kitchen is just way too small) and rolling out dough, shaping cookies, setting up cooling racks and then — for HOURS — piping layers of elaborate decorations on cookie after cookie after cookie. I can spend as much time happily doing that as my husband can watching football for days at a time. It’s kind of sick, but I guess we’ve all got our thing.
My latest “project”…
…Argyle sugar cookies with a fondant initial for a friend’s baby shower
So what was the project this time? Custom-designed sugar cookies for a circus-themed baby shower. Specifically, I made 30 rectangular sugar cookies piped with a dual blue argyle pattern to match the baby shower invitation. Oh, and I also created 30 white fondant “E’s” (the baby’s name is Ethan), brushed them with luster dust (basically sparkle powder you mix with vodka and paint on the fondant), piped a white border and added white sanding sugar to each. Yeah, so that also goes on each cookie. Like I said, I think I have a problem…
Fondant “E’s” – The baby’s name is Ethan
If you have a “problem” similar to mine — basically, an insane love for baking and arts & crafts — here are the cookie and icing recipes plus step-by-step instructions and photos. Note that I’ve left out photos of mixing, rolling and cutting out the dough and have gone straight to the decorations. If you’d like to see the dough prep photos, check out my earlier sugar cookie project post here. Enjoy!
- 25 ounces (3 cups, 1 ounce) pastry flour or all-purpose flour
- 11 ounces (1 cup, 3 ounces) sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound (equivalent of four sticks) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vanilla (I prefer Madagascar vanilla paste)
- 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
Yields approximately 2 1/2 cups
- 16 ounces powdered sugar, sifted at least once
- 2-3 large egg whites (I used pasteurized egg whites in a carton, which is safer for pregnant women and children)
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
To make the sugar cookies: Add all dry ingredients into a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on LOW until combined. If you put it on a higher setting, you’ll end up wearing the dry ingredients. With mixer running on low, add in the cold butter pieces a few at a time until a crumbly, wet dough starts to form. You may to increase to speed as the dough thickens. Make sure you do not let it come together into a ball of dough, as you still have to add the cream cheese and vanilla paste. With the mixer still running, add the vanilla paste and cream cheese and mix on low until dough forms large clumps. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead lightly to finish. Break the dough into four equal portions and rap in plastic (13-14 oz. each). Chill for at least an hour, then roll out until the dough is 3/8”-1/4” thick. Cut or shape as desired. Re-roll scraps only once. Freeze shapes before baking and do NOT thaw before putting them in the oven. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat (nonstick) liner, add the frozen shapes and bake until the edges are a light golden brown and the center feels just set.
Important note about the dough: Since the dough is make primarily of butter, it softens very, very quickly. If you need it to harden a bit before working with it, I roll out the dough between two wax sheets of paper . That way, if it gets too soft, I can throw it back into the freezer for a few moments and then bring it back out. That way none of the dough sticks to your counter top or cutting board, either!
To make the royal icing: Put sifted powdered sugar and cream of tartar into the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. (I found you can also do this in a large bowl with a stainless steel whisk). Start the mixer running and begin streaming in one egg white at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together and resembles the consistency of toothpaste. I find that’s about the equivalent of 2 egg whites. Add a third egg white if you’re going for looser, runnier icing. If icing is too thick, as a tiny bit more egg white — a little bit goes a LONG way — until the proper consistency is achieved. If the icing is too thin, add a little more sifted powdered sugar until you get the consistency you’re after. Store the icing in an airtight container, with a damp paper towel pressed to the surface of the icing. Wrap in plastic wrap twice. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Keeps about 3-4 days.
Okay, now for the fun stuff! When I first thought to decorate the cookies in an argyle pattern, I knew I needed three shades of royal icing: sky blue and royal blue for the outlines and the argyle fillers, and white for the top decoration layer. Then came the issue of creating an argyle template for myself, because just like geometry in high school argyle can be tough to execute consistently; especially on 30 cookies. So I immediately made a template using a piece of wax paper and a ruler, creating a transparent argyle template that I could use as a guideline when piping each cookie. I then put each cookie on the template and made sure the lines matched up. Check out the template below:
Using a tiny bit of concentrated gel food coloring, I made three colors of royal icing: white, sky blue and royal blue
My wax paper argyle template – look carefully and you can see my pencil work
See how the icing lines on the cookie match the lines on the template?
After baking the dough I noticed that the cookies had changed their shape a bit, so I used a sharp knife to carefully cut off excess dough and shape the cookies into perfect rectangles. I then transferred the cookies to a cooling rack. When they were completely cool, I start piping. First, an outline on each cookie, followed by the argyle details. I let them both dry completely so when I flooded in the colors they wouldn’t bleed into each other.
Royal blue outline first…
… then the argyle pattern.
Once the royal icing was dry, I flooded one section of argyle with a thinner version of the royal blue icing.
Then I followed by flooding the remaining diamonds with the sky blue icing.
Once the royal and sky blue icings had dried completely, I used a stiff white royal icing to pipe the decorative top lines. I think they look pretty good!
Then I delicately took the fondant “E’s” and glued it onto each cookie with royal icing.
The finished product! Only 29 more to go…