We tried to tie in Valentine's Day with the new treats we sent, so we made a batch of Rolled Sugar Cookie Dough, cut it into a heart shape and then topped it with a special addition! And just because they have been having a very busy week at Jeff's office, I did make another entire batch for Jeff to bring in and share with his co-workers yesterday.
The dough we made for these worked fantastic for a cut-out cookie. To condition the dough and make the cookies a little more tender, a few tablespoons of potato starch is added to the dry ingredients - if you don't happen to have that, cornstarch would be a good substitute. To scent the dough with the sweet essence of vanilla, I broke into our jar of vanilla sugar I've had stashed away in the pantry. All you need to do to make your own vanilla sugar is to stick a couple used vanilla beans into a jar with sugar and let it gently perfume the coarse grains. You can certainly buy it already made, but it will be more expensive... you don't have to use it either, but its subtle flavor that adds such a charming sweetness will grow on you! I did work in some brown sugar to add a little oomph to the cookies, but you could use completely granulated if you choose.
The vanilla flavor also pulses through these another way in the form of vanilla extract - with sugar cookies, we've also come to like adding just a small amount of almond extract to give extra dimension. I don't think they made them taste like almond extract by any means, but the subtleness it adds makes you think "hmm... what makes these just a little different and so good?!". While you do want to chill this dough, I do have a tip for the rolling out process to go a little easier just like we used with those Graham Crackers the other day.
Right after mixing the dough together, I divided it in half and placed each portion between two sheets of parchment paper (you could even use two silpats or wax paper) - while the dough is still supple and soft, it rolls out like a dream without much pressure or force at all. However, because it is soft and full of butter, you need to refrigerate it before you cut out the cookies. And since it is already thin and flat, it won't take nearly as long to chill down as a full disc of dough would!
Jeff and I thought about what we wanted to do for decorating the tops of the baked cookies. We thought about slathering them in buttercream, but since we were going to ship the cookies, we thought it might end up be a little messy when they got to his neice. We then thought about using royal icing, which would have worked fine, but we wanted them to be more special. What did we end up doing? I made a batch of marshmallow fondant instead! I think it tastes better and is not quite as assaultingly sweet as regular fondant can be. It was not as daunting as I thought it would be to make, but it does give you quite a workout... here's a link to the directions that we followed. I did add a couple teaspoons worth of vanilla as part of the liquid needed when you melt the marshmallows to echo the flavor in the cookies. I'm already going long in this post, so I'll try not to babble on about this, but if you do have any questions about preparing it, don't hesitate to ask!
Rather than doing a single color, Jeff asked if there was any way we could add some flare to the fondant. I took half of the very white marshmallow fondant and added a few drops of red gel coloring. After kneading the color in well (and oops, subsequently staining my hands pink!), I rolled both portions (the white and now-pink) into long ropes, squished them together and then twisted them like you would ring out a rag. I coiled the rope up, formed it into a ball, repeated the twisting process and then rolled it out to form the striking marbled appearance! What fun - kind of like edible play dough! So as to avoid additional sweetness to the fondant, I did use potato starch, instead of confectioners' sugar, to ensure it wasn't sticking as I rolled it out. Thinner is better here - we kept it just shy of 1/8" thick so it wasn't overpowering.
The same cutters that we used on the sugar cookie dough, I also used to cut out the fondant so the two would match well. To stick the fondant on, we simply painted on a light layer of decorating gel onto the cookies and slid the fondant right on top - instead of the gel, you could also use a very thin layer of buttercream. What a fun process from start to finish - just different enough and boy, what a way to present simple sugar cookies!
Rolled Sugar Cookie Dough