Decorating cookies with intricate royal icing designs is a beloved holiday tradition, but achieving those fine details and vibrant colors can be time-consuming. However, these stunning cookies offer a quicker and more efficient approach. Once you've prepared the icing and added color, decorating takes just a few minutes.The technique involves pouring the icing directly over the cookies, drawing inspiration from the method used to create mesmerizing swirls of mirror glaze on smooth cakes. (If you prefer a faster alternative to royal icing, dip or drizzle the cookies with melted chocolate.) The unique beauty of these cookies lies in their individuality, as no two will look exactly alike. Beneath the eye-catching exterior is a delightful, crisp shortbread base infused with abundant orange zest and traditional winter spices, delivering a burst of flavor.
For the Cookie Dough:
- 2.5 cups 320 grams of all-purpose flour
- 1.5 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1.5 teaspoons of ground ginger
- 0.75 teaspoon of ground cardamom or 1 teaspoon of freshly crushed cardamom
- 0.5 teaspoon of baking powder
- 0.5 teaspoon of kosher salt such as Diamond Crystal
- 0.75 cup 169 grams of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 cup 200 grams of granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons of freshly grated orange zest from approximately 2 large navel oranges
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 1 large egg at room temperature
For the Royal Icing:
- 6 cups 680 grams of powdered sugar (equivalent to 1.5 pounds)
- 6 tablespoons 50 grams of meringue powder
- 4 different colors of gel food coloring
- Begin by making the cookies. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
- Combine the butter, granulated sugar, orange zest, vanilla extract, and egg in a large bowl using an electric mixer set to medium speed. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until they are well combined.
- Place a 12-by-16-inch sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Put the dough on top and cover it with another piece of parchment. Roll the dough into an even ¼-inch-thick rectangle, ensuring the edges are squared off. Transfer the dough, still sandwiched between the parchment layers, to a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate it until it becomes cold and firm, about 30 minutes.
- Next, prepare the royal icing. In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Add ⅔ cup of water and beat the mixture with an electric mixer set to medium speed until it becomes thick and glossy approximately 7 minutes. To check the icing's consistency, try drizzling it over itself—it should take about 10 seconds to reincorporate. Add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve that desired consistency.
- Now, divide the icing into 5 bowls and tint 4 as desired, leaving one bowl white. Cover these bowls and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Retrieve the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, working swiftly, cut it into rectangles measuring 1 by 2.5 inches. If the dough is still cold, separate the rectangles and place them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1/4 inch of space between each. If the dough has warmed up, chill (or freeze) it until it's cold enough for baking.
- Bake the cookies, rotating the sheets halfway through, until they turn a golden brown, typically taking 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and let them cool completely for approximately 30 minutes. Arrange the cookies on the rack with their sides touching, forming rows of 8.
- Place another rack over a parchment-lined sheet. Take a small (4-inch-diameter) bowl and spoon a bit of each colored icing into it, creating several parallel bands of colored icing. (Remember to cover any unused icing.) Pour the icing over the cookies in thin ribbons, moving from left to right, then right to left, and back again, filling in any gaps until you've used up all the icing. Repeat this process with more icing as needed. Immediately and carefully separate each cookie using an offset spatula and transfer them to the clean rack.
- Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature, uncovered, until the icing sets, which typically takes at least 6 hours.
You can prepare the cookie dough and refrigerate it, well wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 1 month. Alternatively, you can freeze the baked cookies without icing by wrapping them securely for up to 3 months.