Highland Christmas Cookies
The idea for this project took seed while I was visiting my friend Lori in Louisiana. We found a set of barnyard animal cookie cutters on my last day in Baton Rouge, and I've had gingerbread highland cows on the brain ever since! The belted-kilt men are made from a small gingerbread woman cutter I found at the island thrift store soon after I got home.
Considering that I've never attempted cookie decorating before (and that I was given a C in Grade 8 art if I promised never to take another class with the teacher ever again), I'm over the moon with how they turned out.
The cows make me coo whenever I walk by them on the kitchen table...I've even been caught petting one by My Englishman...but you probably don't need to know that.
I made a mix of gingerbread and buttery sugar cookies and decorated them with royal icing.
Aside from the cutters, you'll also need some way to dispense the icing. Pastry bags and decorating tips are the obvious option, but they can be hard to control for newbies like me.
I decided on squeeze bottles - they're easier to work with, and I just happened to have a couple hanging around. If you don't have any squeeze bottles, but are going to buy some for this project, I recommend specialized cake-decorating ones, as the tips are smaller than the ketchup/mustard ones in my catering cupboard.
Of course, you can also use ziploc bags and just snip off the corner. This is a great option if you just want to have some fun and keep the costs down, but they can be hard to control, especially when you're trying to draw a straight line.
After your cookies are baked and cooled, the first step is to outline the shape with royal icing. While the outline is still wet, you "pool" the interior with more icing. Fill about 75% of the shape in with icing, then use a toothpick to spread the wet icing to cover the surface completely.
Allow the base layer to dry completely before adding the details.
Here's an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. I should have done a base layer of brown on my cows before adding the black hooves, white horns/udders and pink noses/ears/teats (giggle).
I ended up fiddling with a toothpick to spread the brown icing around the details I had already added, and my efforts weren't perfect, especially around the horns and ears.
I used a box of regular food colouring from the grocery store, as well as a bottle of Super Black, which is the only way to get true black. You can try mixing all of the colours together to get black, but it will never even get close.
Similarly, getting brown from a mix of colours is almost impossible. I did what the internet told me: I mixed red and yellow to get a deep orange, then added a couple of drops of green. The result was a muddy green that I eventually made into black.
My final brown is actually chocolate royal icing, made with cocoa. When the base coat was dry, I squeezed on the first layer of shag and allowed it to dry before adding a few more strands for depth.
The sheep are the easiest of the three shapes to make. Two squeeze bottles and one batch of icing is all you need. Divide the icing in half, mix super black into one half, and go crazy!
The gingerbread kilties proved to be a bit trickier. As you can see from my cute, but imperfect attempts, squeeze bottles with tiny decorator tips are what's needed here. Either that, or a larger cookie cutter so that the stripes don't look so out of proportion.
More colours require more squeeze bottles, and a strategic approach. Start with the lighter colours, like white and yellow, then add the darker food colouring when you're ready for a new colour.
I used this recipe for the gingerbread, and this one for the sugar cookies. Both are delicious, and I've bookmarked them on my browser for next year. I cut both recipes in half and rolled the dough out to a thickness of 1/4". I got a total of about 4 dozen cookies. Tip: flour the cutters so that the feet don't stick.
I used Martha's royal icing recipe, with real egg whites and NO water. Meringue powder is not available on my tiny island, but if you have any fear of salmonella, or are making these for young children, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system, raw eggs are not an option. Meringue powder is available in specialty baking stores or online.
Chocolate Royal Icing
:Brown icing, perfect for highland cow gingerbread cookies. Made with raw egg whites.
Yield: About 4 cups
- Icing Sugar – 3 Cups
- Cocoa - 1/3 Cup
- Egg Whites - 2 large
- Vanilla - 1 tsp
Using a stand or hand-held mixer with a whip attachment, mix together the icing sugar and cocoa on low speed. Add the egg whites and vanilla, mix on low until combined. Increase to high speed and whip for 3 to 5 minutes, until stiff like meringue.
Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days or freeze indefinitely.
For the highland cows, divide the finished icing in half. Thin one portion with water, one teaspoon at a time, until it spreads easily enough to ice the base layer. Use the stiffer half to pipe on the shag.