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Sugar Cookies

Here I am, sitting in the corner of my kitchen on a stool, looking out the window. I have cookies baking in the oven. The kitchen smells like sugar and vanilla. I have Andrea Bocelli playing on my iHome in the background, singing songs filled with emotion that rises in my heart and spreads over me like a magic cloak, transforming all that is cold, pale or unsubstantial. I have no idea what the Italian words he is singing mean but the rich sound of the music and the thick amber tone of his voice is like honey. Warm and sticky with the sweetness I feel like a contented cinnamon roll.

I am waiting for the oven timer to go off. Often enough when I am baking I wander and get involved elsewhere and lose track of the timing, ruining a promising foray in the kitchen. I don’t want that to happen today. I want the cookies to be perfect.

So I sit here, near the oven, and I look out the window. I consider the landscape, inspect the beds from this distance. I cleaned up most of the plant debris from withered perennials last fall but there were a few plants that I skipped because something about them seemed interesting or beautiful as they were and I didn’t want to cut them back yet. One such clump of daylilies is framed, from this angle, by my kitchen window.

Last season’s tall sword-like leaves are now gray-brown and bent, folded onto themselves, kneeling toward the ground. Their tips look as if they have melted into the bark mulch beneath them. They are dismal and spent. The Zen garden rake lies beside them and my four ornamental bunnies sit in front of the clump somewhat out of kilter.

As I sit and gaze at this scene my first thoughts are of what I need to do in the yard, of how I need to get things cleaned up for spring… but then I stop myself. My eyes rest on the bunnies.

I study them. They seem to be wallowing in the spent leaves. I think they are whispering and laughing. One is so amused he has fallen over and mashed his ear.

Then I study the gray clump of daylilies and realize that new blades of spring green are poking up through the nest of old leaves, reaching toward the light like baby birds with their mouths wide open.

They are tall for so early in the year, no doubt warmed by the mellowing of their nest of last years leaves. The bright green rising above and surpassing the gray is really quite beautiful in a strange way and suddenly I forget everything, my cookies, the music, the yard work I need to do, and think instead that I must get my camera and take a picture of this beautiful thing that God has done in my yard. And then I notice that I am smiling. What’s more I realize that to find beauty and to notice that I am smiling must mean that I am happy, and, for some reason, that amazes me. Not that I have any reason not to be, but, then again, this quirky Spring moment seems huge.

I am happy with my camera and the fact that there are a million incredible revelations to photograph. I am happy that I have the opportunity to take those photos and to share them with others. I am also happy that I have my writing, to share what’s in my heart.

Outside I see that there are laughing concrete bunnies in my yard watching spring break out of winter’s cold gray bed, break out and push up toward the sky, spiky and green. No matter that their nest is messy and in disarray, no matter that the bunnies are laughing, they break forth in their own time and show their colors to the world. I join the bunnies and laugh, and with the daylilies I stretch toward the sky.

The timer goes off, yikes, I should have checked sooner. Some of my cookies are a little too brown around the edges and I broke one putting it onto the wire rack. Yet even that seems right. I will decorate it as a broken heart. These cookies are big enough to share anyway. This one isn’t perfect, but it can be meaningful and beautiful in it’s own way.

In the words of a baker, “To make a cake, you have to break some eggs.” We have to break open and offer what we know we have in order to create more. It is like the Parable of the Talents in the Bible or the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. My writing “encourager” recently shared these words, “taken, blessed, broken, shared.” It is a reference to faith, and to the act of offering our gifts. So often we find that what is offered, spread and shared, brings back more.

So...I offer you my photos and my words as I try to share my joy. And then there is this recipe for cookies too.....

Note: I searched through many cookbooks to come up with a Sugar Cookie recipe I wanted to try. I have tried many over the years but have not settled on one I think is ideal in both taste and texture and ease of use. Do you have a favorite Sugar Cookie recipe? Would you share it with me? I would love to hear about it!

This recipe comes from “Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.” This is the first time I have tried this recipe. It seems to use a lot of butter and the taste is fine, though I did not care for the texture. The cookies seemed tough. Perhaps I overworked the dough. These cookies did hold their shape well through baking (they didn’t spread much) and they were easy to work with and decorate.

Sugar Cookies

4 sticks (1 pound) butter
3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ teaspoons salt
5 cups flour

Decorator sugars

Royal Icing (recipe below)

Place butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer and allow to come to room temperature. Beat the butter and sugar on high speed until it is light and fluffy (approximately 5 minutes). Add eggs, vanilla and salt and mix until combined. Add flour, mixing until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Flatten each half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, (approximately 2 hours, but can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll cookie dough on a floured surface, or flour dusted Silpat Nonstick Mat, to a ¼ inch thickness. Cut out dough with cookie cutters. Carefully place cut shapes on the parchment lined baking sheets, two inches apart. When the cookie sheet is full, place it in the refrigerator for approximately 15 minutes, or until cookies are firm to the touch.

Sprinkle cookies with decorator sugar if desired, or leave plain and ice the cookies later.

Bake cookies at 350 degrees until lightly golden at the edges, approximately 15 minutes.

Carefully place the cookies on a wire rack to cool. When cool ice as desired.

Store in an airtight container or cookie tin.

Royal Icing

1 pound confectioners’ sugar
5 Tablespoons meringue powder
½ cup water

Combine ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix at high speed until fluffy, approximately 7 minutes. Add food coloring to tint the icing as desired. Thin icing, adding a little bit of water at a time, to achieve the desired consistency.

Cookies can be smoothly coated with icing by piping an outline around each cookie using a pastry bag and then flooding the area between the piping with thinner icing. Dots of icing can be added and made into a heart outline by dragging a toothpick through the dots, or decorator sugar can be sprinkled onto the wet icing. Have fun. Experiment!

Keep Royal Icing covered as it dries quickly when exposed to the air. Icing can be stored at room temperature, in an air tight container, up to one week. Stir thoroughly before each use.

Note: Royal Icing dries crisp and hard. It can be used to make beautiful decorations but I don’t really like the taste. A simple icing of 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, approximately 1 Tablespoon of milk or water, and a few drops of vanilla can be used instead, spread on the cookies and then sprinkled with decorator sugar. Or use a favorite icing of your choice.


Alanna Kellogg said...

Lovely! Your garden is way ahead of mine, just last week the first tippy tips of laff-o-dils started to poke through, a good month behind. re the cookies, I use lemon extract (or peppermint at Christmas) in both the dough and the royal icing and that seems to make all the difference. Your 'Love' cookies are so pretty!

Patricia Scarpin said...

These would make the most beautiful gift. I love the shapes you used!

PheMom said...

Those are the prettiest sugar cookies I have seen in a long time. I have struggled to find the "perfect" recipe for years too. I have found that the recipe I like most is Alton Brown's. If you search Good Eats Sugar Cookies on FoodNetwork you should find it. Also, if you like a softer cookie, adapt the recipe with just a little sour cream in it.

I also LOVE Andrea Bocelli and loved your words about his music. It was exactly how I feel too. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing!

Lisa said...

Alanna - I like the idea of adding clear extracts. I think I will try the lemon when I make icing for my peanut butter fudge eggs today!

Patricia - Thank you! I have a huge collection of nostalgic cookie cutters and sometimes it is hard to choose. Other times serendipity steps in... I am still amazed at how perfectly that one heart broke!

Phemom - Thanks for the recipe tips. I found the Alton Brown recipe and will tuck it away for next time. I also appreciate your comment on Andrea Bocelli. I almost left that part out...but it's true and was a part of my morning. Thanks for the affirmation!