My first cake/cookie decorating set was one I purchased from Martha Stewart's Martha by Mail catalog. It came in a lovely little tin and contained all the basics for decorating: a piping bag, a variety of tips, sanding sugars in oh-so-martha pastels and a little book of inspiration. The little book was one of a few Martha included with her baking supplies and cookie cutters. Each contained lovely examples of cookies decorated to perfection. These little gems are now collector items and sell for a pretty penny, with or without the cookie cutters or baking items they traveled with originally.
The Martha by Mail cookie cutters are also prized possessions. And sadly, I don't have any. But, I did some digging and found the coppersmith who designed and handcrafted most of Martha's cutters! I now have a sizable collection of made-to-order Michael Bonne copper cookie cutters. Who could blame me? They're amazing! So, even though I didn't know I was destined to be a baker and my original Martha by Mail decorating set is no longer in tact, I can celebrate her designs with Michael's help. Thanks Michael!
The sugar squirrel & mighty acorn were one of Martha's fall cutter sets. Like all of the Martha by Mail copper cutters they're not petite. In fact, they're gigantic! (I think their ambitious size makes them perfect for gifts or party favors). I've seen photos of the little book that shipped with these and to my surprise (and delight) Martha kept the decorating on these woodland creatures to a minimum and used sanding sugar to give them a furry coat. So, I decided to do the same. Less is more, right?
I used naturally colored sanding sugar from Williams-Sonoma on royal icing for the squirrel tails and acorn caps. I painted egg whites on the squirrel bodies and acorn nuts, sprinkled with sugar quickly before the egg white dried, and shook off the excess. The result is a natural and woodsy cookie perfect for a late fall or early winter gathering.
Grandma's Molasses Cutout Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen 2" cookies
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup unflavored shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1 large free-range egg
2/3 cup molasses
Sift dry ingredients and spices into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using the the paddle attachment, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg and molasses. Mix well.
Add half of the dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated on low speed. Repeat with the remaining half. Mix until dough starts to clump. Divide dough and form into 2 equal discs. wrap separately in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. Can be chilled overnight.
If dough has been chilling for more than an hour, let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove the plastic wrap and place dough between two 1/2 sheets of floured parchment paper. Roll out to less than 1/8-inch thick. Chill rolled dough for at least 15 minutes (longer will make cutting and transferring easier).
Preheat oven to 375º.
Cut dough to desired shapes and place on baking sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Re-roll scraps only once to avoid tough cookies. Chill again until ready to bake.
Bake for 5-8 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown (about 6 minutes for convection ovens). Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes in the pan then transfer to wire racks to cool at room temperature.
Source: ©1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book
Don’t forget to lightly flour your parchment paper. This will make transferring the cookies a breeze!
Jes Best Royal Icing
Makes enough to decorate 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on size
970 g [2 lb bag] confectioners' sugar, no need to sift
80g [or 8-10 tablespoons] meringue powder (CK or Henry & Henry)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (to keep icing bright white)
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons water
Food coloring (optional)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, meringue powder and cream of tartar on low for just a bit to incorporate evenly.
Slowly add 1/2 cup water while mixing at a low speed. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until sugar is just wet.
Scrape sides of the mixing bowl. Increase speed one notch (#2 on Kitchenaid stand mixer). Mix for five minutes. When finished icing should have a matte (not glossy) finish and hold it's shape on the paddle when pulled up/out of the bowl.
Separate into clean, oil-free containers and tint with gel food coloring.
This recipe yields "stiff" consistency for piping details. Add water as needed to achieve flooding consistency.
Keep covered tightly and store for up to a week in a cool dry place or 10 days in the refrigerator. Mix well when ready to use.