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December 15: Lunchbreak - Snowglobe Cookies

Julia Usher

To purchase a copy of the book:

Ultimate Cookies

Snow Globe Cookie Project Instructions:

What You Need:
About 1 pound 5 ounces (1/2 recipe) Cutout Cookie Gingerbread or 1 recipe of sugar cookie dough
12-piece fluted round cookie cutter set
12-piece plain round cookie cutter set
About 3 cups Royal Icing divided; quantity will vary Soft-gel food colorings of your choice
Small craft paintbrush (handle about 1/4-inch diameter)
Parchment pastry cones
A few tablespoons sanding sugar, nonpareils, and/or edible glitter
Assorted small (1/2 - 1 1/4-inch) readymade royal icing embellishments (such as santas, snowmen, penguins, and Christmas trees), for central vignettes
snowflake sugar confetti
Assorted (2 to 3 mm) dragées or sugar beads
Pastry bag fitted with tip of your choice, for borders


Cut and bake the snow globe pieces
Each snow globe will be comprised of 4 cookies: 1 (3 1/2-inch) plain round cookie for the central vignette; 2 (4 1/8-inch) fluted rounds (the first cut into a ring to frame the central vignette; the other left solid to reinforce the back of the vignette); and 1 (2 1/2-inch) fluted round for the base. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/8 to 3/16 inch thickness. Start by cutting out the 4 1/8-inch fluted rounds and rings. It's best to cut the latter directly on prepared cookie sheets to minimize the misshaping that can occur in transferring from work surface to cookie sheet. Cut out 12 rounds with the 4 1/8-inch fluted cutter; then cut out a window in the center of half of the rounds using a 2 7/8-inch plain round cutter. Reroll the remaining dough to the same thickness and cut out 6 (3 1/2-inch) plain rounds and 6 (2 1/2-inch) fluted rounds. Group like-size cookies on the same cookie sheet. Bake as directed for the dough you are using until lightly browned around the edges, or about 9 to 11 minutes for the 4 1/8-inch rings (or frames) and 2 1/2-inch rounds and 11 to 13 minutes for the 3 1/2-inch and 4 1/8-inch rounds. Cool completely before decorating.

Prepare the Royal Icing
Reserve about 1/2 cup for beadwork, 1/2 cup for "glue,"1/4 cup for flocking (aka sanding), and 1/2 cup for inner borders on the rings. Note: The quantity of icing will vary with the number of colors and consistencies mixed. It's best to allow no less than 1/4 to 1/2 cup icing per color or consistency for easiest mixing and handling.

Top-coat the bases, central vignettes, and rings
Divide the remaining 1 1/4 cups icing into as many portions as the number of top-coating colors you want. For this quantity of icing, I usually limit the colors to three: pale blue for sky and white for snow on the central vignettes (3 1/2-inch rounds), and another color, such as red or green, for the bases and the 4 1/8-inch rings. (Note: It isn't necessary to top-coat the solid 4 1/8-inch rounds; they will be used as props to keep the vignettes from leaning and will not be seen in the final construction.) Thin each icing to top-coating consistency. Using the handle-end of a craft paintbrush, apply a smooth coat of icing to each cookie top. As noted above, I usually ice the bottom halves of the 3 1/2-inch rounds in white and the top halves in blue, for snow and sky. For greater control over the placement of these icings, outline each area first and then flood inside, as pictured right. Let the icing dry until very firm.

Add dots to the outer rings and bases
Tint the 1⁄2 cup icing reserved for beadwork to a color that complements the top-coating colors; then thin to the proper consistency. Transfer the icing to a parchment pastry cone and cut a small (1/16-inch or more) hole in the tip. Pipe small dots around the outside edge of each 2 1/2-inch base and each 4 1/8-inch frame. Let the icing dry to the touch.

Frame and create central vignettes
Use the 1/2 cup icing reserved for "glue" to tack a ring onto each 3 1/2-inch round, taking care to center the rings on top. Create a holiday-themed vignette inside each ring by flocking (aka sanding) areas with sanding sugar, nonpareils, and/or edible glitter and then gluing readymade royal icing embellishments, snowflake confetti, and/or dragées or sugar beads on top. Note: I usually flock the bottom half of each round with white nonpareils and edible glitter to mimic snow. To flock, thin the 1/4 cup icing reserved for this purpose to top-coating consistency and spread a thin layer on the area to be flocked. Sprinkle nonpareils or sanding sugar over the wet icing and shake off the excess into a bowl. Lastly, glue a solid 4 1/8-inch round to the back of each 3 1/2-inch round, so that the 4 1/8-inch ring and the 4 1/8-inch round line up.

Add borders to the inner rings
Tint the 1/2 cup icing reserved for inner ring borders to a color of your choice and choose a border style. Adjust the icing to the appropriate consistency for your border and transfer to a parchment pastry cone or pastry bag fitted with the right tip. Proceed to pipe a border around the inner edge of each ring.

Assemble the snow globes
Work on one snow globe at a time. Glue a framed cookie vignette upright to the center of a cookie base using as little icing "glue" as possible to keep it from showing. Prop the vignette, as needed, until the "glue" is dry. Repeat to assemble 6 snow globes in total. Do not move until completely dry. Snow globes can go from frivolous favor to polished place card simply by swapping the readymade royal icing figures for mini roses and names printed on wafer paper.

Signature Sugar Cookie Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Additional spices**
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup (1/3 stick) shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or to taste)

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and any additional spices of your choice in a small bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Do not over-beat, or your cookies will dome upon baking, making them more difficult to decorate later. Whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla extract in another bowl. Add additional flavoring(s) to taste. Slowly blend into the butter mixture on low to medium speed and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed, to ensure even mixing. Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add the reserved dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate about 3 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking mats) and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/8- to 3/16-inch thickness. (Note: It's best to roll these cookies no thicker than 3/16 inch in order to keep them their flattest for decorating.) Cut out shapes. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets with an offset spatula, leaving no less than 3/4 inch between each cutout. Baking time will vary considerably with cookie size and thickness. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned around their edges, about 8 to 10 minutes for 2 1/2-inch round cookies or as specified in your project. Let particularly long or delicately shaped cookies cool 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks. Otherwise, immediately transfer to racks and cool completely before frosting and/or assembling with Royal Icing or storing.

**Flavor Variations
Add 1/2 teaspoon anise extract along with the vanilla extract. Sprinkle each cookie sheet with 1 1/2 teaspoons whole anise seed before placing and baking the cookies. The seeds will bake into the bottom of the cookies and impart a tasty crunch.

Add 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients. Increase the vanilla extract to 3/4 teaspoon. Note: The ground cinnamon will tint the dough pale brown.

Add 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom to the dry ingredients. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest along with the vanilla extract.

Add 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves to the dry ingredients. Increase the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon and add 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest with the liquid ingredients.

Royal Icing

2 pounds powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 large egg whites, cold (about 11 to 12 Tablespoons pasteurized whites)
Flavoring(s) of your choice, to taste (Note: Don't skimp on the flavoring, or the icing can taste chalky)
Soft-gel food coloring

Combine the powdered sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix in the egg whites by hand to moisten the sugar. Fit the electric mixer with a whip attachment. To avoid a flurry of powdered sugar, beat the mixture on low speed just until the egg whites are evenly incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; then turn the mixer to its highest speed and continue to beat about 2 to 3 minutes. (The icing will lighten and thicken as you beat it. However, avoid beating too long; you'll introduce excess air bubbles, which are tough to remove and interfere with smooth top-coating.) When done, the icing should be bright white, glossy, and very thick -- and at what I call "glue" consistency. At this consistency, the icing will cling to a spoon (held upside down) indefinitely without falling off. Beat in flavoring(s) and/or coloring, as desired. Mix well before using or store, covered flush with plastic wrap.

If tinted, the icing is best used the day it's mixed. Otherwise, the icing can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge. When ready to use, bring the icing to room temperature, stir vigorously to restore its original consistency (especially if any separation has occurred), and tint as desired. Once applied to cookies, the icing should remain at room temperature so it sets into a crunchy candy-like coating. Important: Unless you're using the icing, always cover the surface flush with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from quickly forming.

Consistency Adjustments

For outlining:
Add about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons water per 1 cup icing "glue." For crisp, well-defined outlines, start with 1⁄2 teaspoon water. If the icing is too thick to easily pipe through the desired hole in your parchment pastry cone (or tip in your pastry bag), gradually add more water.

For stenciling:
Generally, 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons water per 1 cup icing "glue" works best, though the exact quantity will vary with the size and complexity of your stencil and the other variables noted above. The icing must be thin enough to spread easily into the stencil openings without leaving peaks or tracks when the spatula is lifted. At the same time, it must be sufficiently thick to keep from creeping under the stencil into areas where it's not wanted. For stencils with delicate, closely spaced openings, it's best to start on the thicker end of this spectrum to avoid icing creep and blurring of the pattern. Stencils with more space (1/8 inch or more) between openings are less sensitive to icing creep and, therefore, icing consistency. Lastly, large stencils (greater than about 2 inches across) typically require icing on the thinner end of this spectrum so that they can be smoothly covered without leaving tracks.

For marbling:
Generally, marbling begins with the application of top-coating icing to a cookie; then contrasting icings of marbling consistency are immediately piped on top. For the marbling icings, I like to use icing that is slightly thicker than the one used for top-coating, i.e., mixed in the ratio of about 3/4 to 1 1/3 teaspoons water per 1 cup icing "glue." A thinner consistency will marble smoothly, but as you add more water, you're more likely to experience bleeding of colors as the icing dries.
Conversely, thicker marbling icings will marble less smoothly; that is, the trussing needle or toothpick (used to marble the colors) may actually break the marbling icing rather than leave behind long, graceful tracks.

For top-coating:
Ideal top-coating consistency usually varies from about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons water per 1 cup icing "glue," depending on cookie size. To avoid icing runoff on cookies under 2 inches, start on the lower end of this spectrum. Gradually increase to 2 1/2 teaspoons water, as needed, to improve spreadability on larger cookies.

For beadwork:
About 2 to 3 teaspoons per 1 cup icing "glue" works best, though expect some variability. At the proper consistency, a smooth, well rounded dot should form when the icing is piped through a small (1/16-inch or more) hole in a parchment pastry cone. If the icing forms a peak, it is too thick. Conversely, if it spreads a great deal, it is too loose.

For flooding:
Ideal flooding consistency varies widely with cookie size and also icing color. I generally add anywhere from 2 to 3 or more teaspoons water per 1 cup icing "glue." However, the goal should be to keep the icing as thick as possible, yet still flowing freely enough to prevent tracks. Why? Again, the thinner the icing, the greater the likelihood of colors bleeding, especially if the flooding color is much darker (or lighter) than the adjacent outlining color. As a rule of thumb, 2 teaspoons should be plenty for cookies under 2 inches; only very large cookies, in excess of 5 to 6 inches, will require 3 or more teaspoons to ensure smooth spreading.

For dipping: Again, ideal dipping consistency varies with cookie size and also the type of dipping, i.e., either Nose-Dive Dipping or Roundabout Dipping. I generally add anywhere from 2 to 4 teaspoons of water per 1 cup icing "glue" -- lesser amounts for Roundabout Dipping or Nose-Dive Dipping of small (2-inch or less) cookies, and larger amounts for Nose-Dive Dipping of larger cookies.

Hints on Tints

For best results, tint Royal Icing at "glue" consistency, before thinning it with water. I've found that if icings are tinted when very thick, they are less likely to dry with spotting or mottling, even if later loosened. (Don't ask me to explain the food science here! You'll just have to take my word for it!)

I recommend only one food coloring for cookie decorating: soft-gel coloring, a relatively thick, concentrated dye that comes in a container fitted with a dropper. A little goes a long way; it is less likely to alter your icing consistency than is liquid coloring; and the dropper takes the guesswork out of getting the right color. And, again, my preferred brand is Chefmaster; it doesn't have the strong taste of some other brands.

Count the drops of coloring as you add them to the icing. This way, if you run out of icing later, you can more easily match the original color.

Tinted icing will dry darker than it appears wet, and some colors (such as red) are notorious for drying much darker than others. To get a truer sense of the end color, I recommend painting a test splotch on a piece of white cardboard and allowing the splotch to dry before applying any icing to your cookies. If the icing dries too dark for your tastes, you can lighten it by adding untinted Royal Icing. Note: When working with a lot of colors, I always paint a full test palette, let it dry, and then check to make sure the dried colors work in harmony together.

Avoid mixing lots of colors together, as the final color is more likely to migrate and mottle upon drying. Fortunately, this is easy to do, since soft-gel coloring comes in almost every shade of the rainbow. I usually limit my color mixing to adding a small amount of brown or black to tone down brighter colors, or yellow to brighten darker, duller colors.

If the particular decorating technique you're using permits, it's best to allow a tinted icing, especially a very dark one, to dry until it is dull and firm to the touch before applying another color, especially a much lighter one, next to it. This precaution reduces the risk of the darker color bleeding into the lighter one. Note: For techniques that require direct application of pressure, such as stenciling, the top-coating icing, regardless of color, must dry even longer -- generally overnight or until completely solid -- before applying more icing on top.

Some techniques, such as marbling and wet-on-wet layering, call for different icing colors to touch when wet. In these cases, I always push the icing to the thickest possible consistency for the technique at hand. Thicker icings dry faster and will minimize the chances of bleeding.

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