With Halloween looming on the horizon, I decided it was high time to invest in some more cookie cutters (now, of course, I have way more than I’ll be able to use this holiday season). One of those new cutters was a skeleton gingerbread man cutter by Fred & Friends which I was pretty sure would make my cookie decorating life just a little easier. I know some cookiers hate cutters that come with indents, and certainly that limits the versatility of the cutters, but with the indented design being on the back of this cutter, it’s a great tool for beginners that helps you turn out consistent designs without limiting the versatility of the cutter. Certainly, it gave my slightly frazzled mind a break from concentrating on making perfect designs by hand!
Yields about 20 cookies
For the cookies:
1 cup (226 grams) butter, softened
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups flour
For the royal icing:
2 tbsp. meringue powder OR egg white powder
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 lb. (250 grams) powdered sugar
Before starting these cookies, keep in mind that they’ll need about an hour to chill in the refrigerator, and that they’ll need to be completely cooled before icing. If you have the time, it’s best to make the cookies one day and ice them the next. To make the cookies, cream the softened butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add the granulated sugar and mix until sugary lumps form. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, baking powder, and baking cocoa, and mix on low until all the ingredients are combined. You’ll probably have to scrape down the sides of your bowl several times as the cocoa powder has a tendency to shoot up the sides of the bowl as you mix. One cup at a time, add the flour, mixing between each new addition. This dough has a tendency to be a little sticky, so don’t be shy about adding extract flour if your dough is still sticky after 3 cups. The dough has reached the right consistency when you can pinch some between your fingers and your fingers come away mostly clean. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to chill in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until it’s firm but still workable.
Once the dough has chilled, you can preheat your oven to 350* Fahrenheit (175* Celsius) and line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out your dough. Again, this dough can be a little sticky, so don’t be afraid to knead in a little flour before you start to make it a little more workable. Roll the dough out to about a 1/4″ thick, and use your cookie cutter to cut out your cookies. If you’re using the same one I used, I transferred my cookies to my parchment before using the back of the cutter to make the impressions (otherwise you wind the risk of pressing the cookies further into your work surface, making them harder to peel up and transfer). Brush off any excess flour (it’ll become discolored during baking) and bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they’re no longer shiny. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
If you have the time, it’s a good idea to let the cookies sit over night before icing so they’re completely cool, and any grease that’s going to leach out does so before you’ve iced them. If you don’t have the time, just make sure they’re completely cool and pat them down with a paper towel to remove any excess grease. You can find directions on making royal icing and icing consistencies here. For this recipe, we’ll be using a 20 second consistency icing with no added color. Once your icing is ready and has been spooned into a bag (I used a ziploc bag with just a tiny bit of one of the corners cut off), you can start piping your skeletons. If you used the cookie cutter by Fred, it’s simply a matter of filling in the indents starting from the top and working your way down. Be careful not to overfill the indents since they can become overfilled and run over the sides. Instead, just use a toothpick to work the icing around and fill in any gaps. If there are still gaps or divots, add a little more icing.
If you’re using your own cookie cutter that doesn’t have the indents from the Fred cutter, the pattern is still a rather simple one. Just start at the head with the skull, leaving empty spaces for the eyes and nose. Work your way down by creating the spine and ribs. To make really simple bones for the arms and legs, pipe a long line of icing with two large blobs of icing on either end that just barely touch. Let the icing dry overnight night before packaging.
Cookies recipe adapted from Joy of Baking