This past weekend, I made a solo trip back to Massachusetts to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday. It was a huge gathering bringing together my mom’s siblings, step-siblings, their spouses and almost all of their kids. The party planning was a large collective effort that has been in the works for months and after my grandfather, the food was the next biggest star of the event. My mom and aunts put together a menu of their best recipes and family favorites. There were crab and scallop crostinis, a huge crudités, a cucumber, salmon and dill amuse-bouche and an antipasto platter to easy us in to afternoon of eating.
Dinner was a medley of family favorites and requests from my grandfather including beef bourguignon, chicken tetrazzini, orzo, a corn bread souffle, a squash and zucchini medley, salads and garlic bread.
The meal was capped off with coffee, espresso, tea, cookies and the birthday cake. The birthday cake was an ode to my grandparents’ love of sailing. It was a two tier marble cake filled with a chocolate French buttercream and frosted in Italian meringue buttercream. My mom decorated the cake with blue piped waves and nautical sugar cookies. The cake “topper” was a sailboat sugar cookie and maritime signal flags spelling out “Happy Birthday.”
Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 1 hour for dough to refrigerate (decorating time not included)
Bake Time: 10 minutes
Yields: 2 dozen cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy (can replace with milk if desired)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large egg whites (I use the pasteurized egg whites in a carton)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Food coloring, as needed
Preparing and baking cookies: Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; mix until light and fluffy. With mixer running, add egg, brandy, and vanilla; mix until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined.
Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Royal icing: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, egg whites and lemon juice. Mix on low speed. This can also be done using a hand mixer or a whisk as well. For a thinner consistency, usually used for flooding, add more lemon juice or water. A thicker consistency is generally used for outlining and adding details. Mix until icing holds a ribbon-like trail on the surface of the mixture for 5 seconds when you raise the paddle.
For a tutorial on “flooding” and decorating sugar cookies like a pro, see the Food Network’s slide show here.