Friday, December 19, 2008

Candy Cane Sugar Cookies

These candy cane cookies are always a big hit. And while the sugar cookie dough is pretty easy, I am not going to lie, I think rolling out the candy cane version is a lot of work. But I have a few tips and tricks I've learned along the way that I will pass along to you. I will also let you know a few other things you can do with this yummy, fluffy sugar cookie recipe I inherited from my mom. Here is a shot of the recipe I wrote in my old Franklin Day Planner when I was a freshman or sophomore in college after calling my mom for the ingredients. I first introduced this recipe to the blog at Halloween time last year. Ever since then, "fluffy sugar cookies", "how to make fluffy sugar cookies", "big yummy sugar cookies", "excellent sugar cookie recipes", "best sugar cookies" and other similar variations have been the most popular search terms landing people on my blog. So, if you want to try some big, yummy, fluffy, excellent - and in my opinion - best sugar cookies, try this recipe!
In a large mixing bowl -
{I suggest using a Kitchen Aid or other standing mixer if you have one, I don't so I have to make do with a hand mixer which can be hazardous as I will explain later}
combine 4 eggs (crack one in a measuring cup for easier measuring of the shortening),
1 cup shortening
And blend
(just don't peak at my distorted image reflected in the mixer)
Add 2 cups of sugar
And beat until fluffy
Next add 6 cups flour
I know that is a lot of flour and this is as good a place as any to explain that in baking - especially when trying a new recipe - it is important to use exact measurements. With flour, that means using a knife to scrape off the excess.
Because it is so much flour, I combine after every 1-2 cups of flour to integrate the flour without sending flour flying throughout my kitchen.
With this recipe, the dough will be slightly tacky at this stage. Take a close look at the texture for reference by blowing up the photo.
Add 8 teaspoons baking powder
No, that is not a mistake - I said Eight (8) teaspoons - again, be precise because this is the important ingredient that leads to fluffy cookies.
add 1/2 teaspoon salt
and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
DO NOT confuse the 8 teaspoons of baking powder with the 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda!!!
There is a substantial and disgusting taste difference if you reverse the two so just be careful.
After mixing in the final dry ingredients, add 1 cup sour milk.
Don't be afraid of sour milk. I don't literally mean use milk that has gone bad. I usually use whatever milk is in my fridge and add a tablespoon of vinegar. For this round I actually used buttermilk since I had some for some of my other recipes. It worked well and I didn't notice any difference in taste.
The dough will likely be pretty sticky after adding the milk. While the recipe is going to be tackier than others you might have tried, if it is too sticky and difficult to work with you may want to add some more flour.
I probably added another 1/2 cup to 1 cup of flour to get the dough to more of a tacky feeling as opposed to a sticky feeling.
Now, grab a second mixing bowl and separate about half the dough into the second bowl.
In one bowl of dough, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
(you can tell if you blow up the photo that the dough is still kind of sticky at this point)
After mixing in the vanilla, lightly flour a sheet of plastic wrap
shape the dough into a ball and wrap it up in the plastic wrap
(I over did it a bit with the flour here but my dough was still pretty sticky so I was being overly cautious)
With your second bowl of dough, add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract
1 teaspoon of this goes a long way so if you don't want a really strong peppermint flavor, you may want to cut this down a bit.
Now comes the fun part, turning the dough red!
This is the reason I could really use a more heavy duty mixer, I think I've had at least 2 hand mixers seize up on me when making these sugar cookies.
I had to add a bit more flour to get the texture right . . .
and since my original food coloring was turning my dough purple-ish, I switched to this decorating paste from William-Sonoma
And I finally started getting red dough:

As you can see,
my mixer was working over time. I had to clean this mess up with about a dozen q-tips!
Note that the dough is far from the crumbly "cookie dough" texture you would expect. Don't worry about this, just drop it onto another floured sheet of plastic wrap and put the peppermint dough in the fridge with the plain dough. I recommend chilling the dough overnight or at least 1-2 hours.
You can make it in advance and chill it for up to a week. Or even freeze it for a month or so if you don't want to make 100 sugar cookies all at once (it is a large yielding recipe!).

Rolling Out the Dough
I know I am obsessing over this texture issue but look at the difference in texture after the dough has firmed up in the fridge over night.
Break off small pieces at a time to work with and keep the rest in the fridge because it gets really difficult to work with if it warms up to room temperature.
Sprinkle a rolling mat or clean, dry surface with flour, then
roll one small ball of plain sugar cookie dough into a long snake
From Dessert Party 2007
Then do the same with a ball of red peppermint dough:
From Dessert Party 2007
Introduce the pair by twisting them together.
From Dessert Party 2007
Once they are completely intertwined, roll it out a bit more until they are seamlessly one long strand. Or you can leave them slightly lumpy like below.
From Dessert Party 2007
The strand will be longer than needed for one candy cane, so you can just use a knife to cut it into smaller pieces. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil and crook the top to complete the candy cane look.
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 cups flour
  • 8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sour milk (add 1 tablespoon to milk for sour milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

Just a few other tips:
  • don't overcook the cookies or they will get hard very quickly
  • if the cookies turn brown at all in the oven they are overcooked
  • store the baked cookies in an airtight container to keep them soft for up to a week
  • if you are using this recipe to make regular shaped sugar cookies by rolling out the dough, keep the dough pretty thick for fluffier baked cookies, the thinner the dough, the harder the cookies will turn out. The below photo is about the thickness you should be aiming for (sorry, I didn't measure).
Variations
I made these cookies by cutting out circles of sugar cookie dough with a biscuit cutter and baking them. I topped them with some chocolate ganache frosting I had hanging around (the recipe can be found here) and some crushed peppermints.
I also used the biscuit cutter to cut out the last of my peppermint dough. There wasn't enough frosting left to top them off so they ended up being my tasty fluffy snack for a week or two.
I don't need to tell you how to cut out and frost sugar cookies, but I will pass along this little tidbit I tested out this year that I thought worked really well (read: much faster and easier!). Over on Pioneer Woman's cooking blog, she has a recipe for her favorite childhood Christmas cookies. The portion of the recipe I adopted is the egg yolk dye. She dyes an egg yolk with food coloring and brushes it onto the pre-baked cookie shapes. The result is fantastic! My intention was to follow her advice and pipe on some finishing touches with frosting but the time crunch made me scratch this option. But I thought the trees looked great as is. And they tasted delicious! Check out her full instructions here.

1 comment:

autumn said...

I am so excited to try your recipe, I have one, but am on the look out for a better one. I love, love, love sugar cookies.

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