Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lemon-Vanilla Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

Frosted sugar cookies are my mom's favorite cookie. If you ask her what she wants for Christmas, she will always say sugar cookies. I have made her sugar cookies in the past but I always used simple buttercream frosting. They tasted delicious but the decorations were always pretty boring and definitely not suitable for shipping. Now that I don't live near her anymore, I figured that I better start working on my sugar cookie - royal icing decorating skills (I need to get lots of practice before Christmas!). Royal icing makes such pretty cookies and the icing hardens so you can ship and store these cookies for much longer. 

This is a lemon-vanilla sugar cookie recipe which I think is great for spring or summer (a fall and winter sugar cookie recipe to come). The cookie was light and moist and held its shape nicely, perfect for frosting. Now the cookie was the easy part...

I had no idea what I was getting in to with royal icing. There is so much to say about royal icing and how to use it that I think it would be better suited for another post. There are lots of great tutorials out there on the web if you would like extra tips. My biggest piece of advice is don't over-extend yourself on your first try, like I did. I tried multiple cookie shapes and colors; and I tried to do it all in one day. The only cookies that ended up getting icing were the watermelons because I was so exhausted by the end of it. But, I learned from my mistakes and I am so excited to try again!

Lemon-Vanilla Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
Servings: depends on your cookie cutter

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
2 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest from 1/2 of a lemon

Royal Icing:
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder (such as Ateco)
5 tbsp. water

Gel icing color (such as Wilton)

For the cookies, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Set aside. In a large electric mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on med-high speed until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest; mixing until combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours, or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Transfer the chilled dough to a well-floured surface and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Add extra flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Cut out shapes using a cookie cutter and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. (Save the dough scraps in the refrigerator and roll out again at the end). 

Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, or until just cooked and before they begin to brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the royal icing, in an electric mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, and water on low for 7-10 minutes or until the icing has a matte appearance and forms stiff peaks. Transfer the icing to an air-tight container and keep covered until ready for use. 

Thin out the icing for piping by adding a small amount of water and stirring with a spoon. Add enough water so that the icing is thick but still able to be easily piped. Divide the thinned icing into individual air-tight containers (one for each color), adjusting the proportions based on the amount of icing needed for that color. Keep in mind that the same icing will be thinned later for flooding. Keep covered until ready for use.

Add the gel icing color, using a toothpick, to the icing and mix with a spoon. Transfer the icing to a pastry bag fitted with the desired tip, usually #2, and pipe around the edge of the cookie. Let the icing dry completely before flooding. (Note: store the pastry bags in a tall glass filled with enough water to cover the tips to prevent drying out).

To prepare the icing for flooding, thin out the icing that was previously prepared for piping using small amounts of water and stirring with a spoon. To test the consistency, drizzle a spoonful of icing back into the pool of icing. The ribbon of icing should disappear in 10 seconds. After the desired consistency is reached, let the icing rest for 10 minutes so air bubbles can rise to the top. Gently stir the icing with a spoon to remove the air bubbles. Transfer the icing into a plastic squeeze bottle. 

To flood the cookies, drizzle the icing onto the cookie using the squeeze bottle. Use a toothpick to help spread the icing and reach the edges. Let the icing dry completely, at least 1-2 hours or overnight, before adding additional detail. Add additional detail, as desired, using the thicker icing. 

Store the cookies in an air-tight container up to one week.

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats (both the cookies and icing)


  1. These would be nice to send home for an upcoming baby shower in baby shapes and colors!

  2. Hi i got a question. Can i use this same recipe without the zest to make regular sugar cookie's. And how do you keep your cookies from spreading when baking?

    1. Yes, you can use the same recipe without lemon zest, but I usually add an extra 1/2 tsp. almond extract. I also switched to using the Lemon-Vanilla Sugar Cookie II recipe on this site. From lots of trial and error (trust me, I have had my fair share of spreading cookies), I have found that butter temperature is the key to perfectly shaped cookies. I take the butter out of the refrigerator, cut it into cubes, and leave it on the counter for exactly 30 minutes before using. I know some bakers like to refrigerate or freeze their cookies before baking, but with the Lemon-Vanilla Sugar Cookie II recipe, I have never had to do this. Hope this helps and good luck! :)