Saturday, October 30, 2010

Better-Late-Than-Never Halloween Cookies

Halloween is here. I figured this out because I live next door to a Ricky’s store, which is known for its impressive selection of Halloween costumes. Kids have been lining up for days to nab the right costume before the parties start—they even one of those rope 

barriers outside with a store employee on duty to control the lines. When did Halloween get so popular? I mean, I loved the whole free candy thing when I was a kid, but I always sort of dreaded the costume part. So much pressure to come up with something

clever, yet fashionable and timely! And then there’s the whole house decorating program, which is driven by people watching too many Martha Stewart Halloween craft shows. Brownstone dwellers in my zip code have clearly been preparing for weeks, decorating 

their houses with skeletons, cobwebs, monsters and ghosts, in every imaginable permutation. Though I’ve been a little slow to embrace the Halloween spirit this year, I finally jumped on the spooky bandwagon and made some Halloweeny cookies. I made 

pumpkins, bats, black cats, ghosts and autumn leaves, but the options are endless, as there’s a huge selection of great Halloween-themed cookie cutters available. And if you don’t have any, you can just make free-form tombstones with semi-clever sayings on them, like “Yul B. Next” or “Myra Mains”.

Halloween Cookies

Storage: The dough can be stored, well wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month. Baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment or beaters, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and orange zest and mix until well blended. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, one-third at a time, mixing just until combined. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Shape each piece into a disc, wrap it well in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to 2 days).
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll 1of the dough discs out to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Using desired cookie cutters, cut the dough into various shapes (save the scraps for re-rolling). Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets and bake, one sheet at a time, for 10 to 15 minutes, until pale golden brown (baking time will vary depending on the size and shape of the cookies). Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Lemon-scented Decorative Cookie Dough: reduce the amount of vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon, and substitute 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest for orange zest in the above recipe.

Decorator’s Icing

While working, keep the bowl of icing covered with a damp paper towel to prevent drying. Store any unused icing in an airtight container. This recipe may be doubled.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Storage: In an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Stir the icing after storage to restore its original consistency.

3 tablespoons meringue powder (available at cake decorating supply stores)
6 tablespoons warm water
1 pound confectioners' sugar
Paste food coloring in assorted colors

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the meringue powder, water, and confectioners' sugar at medium-low speed until the icing forms stiff peaks, about 7 minutes. Thin the icing to the consistency you want by adding warm water, a few drops at a time.  Add coloring in small amounts, stirring thoroughly to get a consistent color.

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