After many attempts at a perfect dough, and many recipes tried, there is one that I come back to time and again. It makes a very large batch of dough (although I can't see a reason to ever make less of it, because it freezes really well and it's nice to have on hand). Here are your list of ingredients:
2 cups butter, softened (I use salted and I don't find the cookies too salty)
3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you don't have this you can use another tsp regular vanilla)
1 cup sour cream
9 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
and here's what you do:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees
cream together your butter and sugar
then beat in your eggs, vanilla, and sour cream
mix together all of your dry ingredients and run a whisk through them to mix them thoroughly
and add to your creamed butter/sugar
it'll leave you with a very sticky dough, but this is ok.
I roll out the dough straight onto a countertop with PLENTY of flour. The reason it's okay to use suck a sticky dough is because it'll get the rest of it's flour while you're rolling it out. I am, of course, using my favorite rolling pin too. :)
Roll the dough out thick and even. I use the 1/4 inch setting on my rolling pin.
and cut out whatever your desired shapes are. If you're using more than one shape, make sure you bake like-sized cookies on each tray. Baking small cookies and large cookies together only means something's getting burned.
Since you've heavily floured your surface, these should lift right off with a spatula and can be easily placed on a cookie sheet. I cook them on parchment, just to make it easy to take them off to cool and continue using the cookie sheets in rotation. These cookies were about 3 inches across, so they needed about 20 minutes in the oven. Your baking time is going to depend on the size of your cookie, so just test bake the first batch and make sure you keep an eye on them to get the time right. They'll puff up a little but will still keep their shape. And then should be slightly golden brown on the bottom but still pale on top.
and they'll be uniform and easy to stack and store. I think we got between 50 -60 cookies of this size out of the one batch of dough. Not bad.
Next, we mixed up a batch of royal icing. The idea with these particular cookies was to do a dry run of a monogram to be used for wedding cookies. So we wanted some white (for the monogram itself) and some flood icing of a pale color.
For the royal icing you will need:
21/4 lb powdered sugar (that's POUNDS, not cups)
3/4 cup warm water
5 Tbl meringue powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
If you're a good kid, you sift your powdered sugar first. If you're a little bit lazy, you put it in a bowl and run the whisk through it.
Start by mixing up the warm water and meringue powder in the mixing bowl. Mix with a whisk until frothy and slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.
Add cream of tartar and mix in mixer 30 seconds
Add all powdered sugar and mix slowly for 10 minutes.
After the 10 minutes, your icing will be well-formed and nice and thick. This is not the thickness of a meringue peak, it's a little heavier than this...so if you turned it rightside up, it would fall over a little.
I like to thin it just a little bit in the bowl to make it the perfect consistency for piping outlines on cookies. Just a touch more water from here makes it perfect for such a purpose. Set aside what you want in terms of white, and color the rest as appropriate. Using the Americolor gel paste colors, you need very little color. You can see this one dot and this enormous bowl of icing...it turned the whole bowl a lovely peach color.
The peach I knew we'd be using as our flood color, so I thinned this using the 10 second rule. Basically, you run your spoon through the frosting (below) and drizzle a little on top in a stripey pattern. This stripey pattern should disappear back into the rest of the icing in about 10 seconds.
Put the white piping consistency icing into a piping bag. I use many of the disposable piping bags, plastic couplers, and metal tips from Wilton. Cut the bag to the appropriate sized opening to insert the coupler (I never get this right the first time, hence the extra tiny piece of bag cut off. I prefer to be conservative because once the hole is too big, there's nothing you can do other than throw the bag away)
This is a #2 tip, I believe we ended up using a #3, just so we didn't have to squeeze quite so hard with the more firm white frosting.
The best tip I've heard for filling a piping bag? Put it in a tall glass so you're not stuck trying to hold it open with one hand and fill it with the other...that never works.
The flood consistency icing you want to put into a decorating bottle. You just pour it in. :)
Then the cookies get outlined with the piping consistency
and flooded with the flood consistency. I like to zig zag back and forth to fill in the area. It helps make sure you don't overfill your cookie and have icing spill outside of your outline. Another helpful tip is to make sure that you start the flooding at the edges, right by the outline, so you know they get filled in.
once you're at this point, shake the cookie gently back and forth to watch the icing spread evenly. It's like magic!
In our case, we went back through the cookies and piped small dots along the outside.
Waited for the flood icing to dry a bit and then piped on the monogram free-hand.
If you don't trust yourself to do it free handed, another trick you can use for lettering is to print out what you want to letter and then put a piece of wax paper over it and pipe on the wax paper. You can let it dry overnight and gently peel it off of the wax paper and adhere to the dry cookie the next day with a little fresh royal icing.
and that's the long and short of it. Happy Baking!