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Perfect Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

Martha Stewart Living, August 2005

Sugar cookies are buttery classics that are delicious anytime on their own -- but they also make ideal holiday cookies when festively decorated with icing. Try customizing them to your taste with an addition such as lemon zest, a bit of brandy, or a hint of cinnamon.

Tips for Baking Cookies
Chilled dough will help retain the shape of the cookies; soft, warm dough tends to lose its shape when cut and moved. Rolling out the dough is sometimes difficult. Roll out the dough in small batches, make sure it's cold, and use a light dusting of flour or sugar to keep it from sticking to the work surface. Don't overmix the dough once you have added the dry ingredients. Overmixing will make the cookies tough. Dip cookie cutters in flour to prevent sticking. Rotate baking sheets halfway through baking to ensure that the cookies bake evenly.

Tips for Decorating Cookies
Keep sanding sugar (a large-grain decorating sugar) in a variety of colors on hand. Place the unbaked cookie on a sheet of parchment paper, and sprinkle the sugar on top. Tip the cookie upside down to remove excess sugar.Try coating your cookies with royal icing in a variety of colors. Use a #1 or #2 Ateco pastry tip fitted in a pastry bag. Once the cookies are baked and cooled, carefully pipe a border of royal icing. Then "flood" the outline using a thinner blend of royal icing to coat the cookies. Use a toothpick or skewer to help push icing into place. Allow the icing to dry completely, up to one day. Dragging is the process of adding a second color through flooded icing. Use a toothpick to pull the icing; pull in alternate directions for a marbleized look. Keep filled pastry bags upright in a glass lined with a damp paper towel or use squeeze bottles. To create raised designs, pipe icing on top of dried flooded areas.Pipe icing onto the cookies, and sprinkle with sanding sugar for a sparkling effect called sugaring. Tip the cookie to remove excess sugar.

Recipes and Gift Ideas
Once you've mastered Martha's signature sugar cookies with royal icing, try some of Martha's favorite tips for creating beautiful gift packages for your friends and family.

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