It’s official – autumn starts right here. I’ve started wearing woolly jumpers, the Christmas shopping has begun. Heck, I’ve even gone and bought a new winter coat. There’s something special about this time of year that just gets me so excited for the next few months of cold crisp weather, dark evenings snuggled up under fluffy blankets, and Starbucks red cup hot chocolates. And now we’ve got some fall leaf cookies to top things off.
And they aren’t just any leaf cookies. These are peanut butter flavoured, no spread, royal iced beauties. This is my first ever experience with royal icing, and I’ve gotta say, it didn’t turn out to bad AT ALL. Lesson learned – royal icing isn’t anywhere near as scary as you think!
To be completely honest, I did take the easy royal icing route. There’s no complicated patterns or fiddly bits here. It’s as simple as piping a border around the outside of the cookie, and then filling in the middle. You can get a bit more creative than me if you want, but I think that drawing on the extra detail with an edible pen seemed to work pretty well. You’ve got to make sure they are completely dry before you try and write on them though, trust me!
But let’s rewind to the actual cookie batter. Once you’ve got the perfect vanilla sugar cookie recipe, the possibilities are endless, and so I swapped out some of the butter with smooth peanut butter. And that’s about it. I know this recipe is guaranteed not to spread in the oven, so I don’t have to worry about chilling the cookies before baking. It’s that good!
The only way you can really go wrong here is to leave the cookies in the oven for a bit too long. These cookies go from ‘ready’ to ‘over-done’ in about 2 minutes, so you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled. If you spot a little bit of browning on the edges, then whip them out straight away – they are more than ready. The perfect sugar cookie (in my opinion) is all one colour – no golden edges in sight!
Don’t worry if they seem a little underbaked when you get them out, as they will keep cooking for a little while longer as they cool off on the hot baking sheet. Don’t be tempted to move them off the baking sheet too soon, or they will break.
So, what about the icing? I was super sceptical that I would be able to pull these cookies off, which is why I skipped out on any frosting at all when I made both the vanilla sugar cookies, and last autumn’s pumpkin spice sugar cookies. But, after about three hours of non-stop cookie tutorials on YouTube, I finally felt ready. One little sugar cookies wasn’t going to defeat me.
Instead of making two different consistencies of royal icing (one for outlines and decoration, and one for flooding the middle of the cookie), it’s much easier to make one middle-strength batch that you can use for both. I guess it depends on how detailed you want to get, but if you’re just looking to do something a bit like these peanut butter sugar cookies, then you’ll be fine with just the one.
The only special ingredient you’re going to need is powdered egg whites (you can get them in little sachets at the supermarket – they’re in the baking aisle). Yes, you could use actual egg whites, but I’d much rather skip the chance of salmonella when powdered ones work just as well.
A couple of tips I picked up:
- Make sure you don’t leave the royal icing out for too long, as it will start to dry out. This is especially an issue at the very tip of your piping bags. I handled this by wiping the end of the piping bag with a piece of kitchen towel and then pressing the piping bag shut so no icing was touching the air
- The consistency of the royal icing is key – you don’t want it too runny, or it will run down the edges of the cookie, but also don’t want it too thick, or it will be impossible to get a nice smooth flat finish. There’s a nice trick to work out when you’ve added enough water: drizzle some of the icing back onto itself, and time how long it takes for the drizzle to completely disappear. You are aiming for 15 seconds, or just over.
If you’re a royal icing guru, then please let me know any tips you have to help me reach my sugar cookie goals. And if you’re a novice like me, then I hope I’ve convinced you to at least give it a go. If I can do it, anyone can.
- 115g (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 125g (½ cup) smooth peanut butter
- 200g (1 cup) caster sugar (US granulated sugar)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
- 500g (4 cups) plain or all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 400g (3¼ cups) icing sugar or powdered sugar
- 15g (2 tablespoons) powdered egg whites
- Food colouring (optional)
- Edible pen (optional)
- Beat the butter, peanut butter, and sugar together using a stand or hand mixer, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, along with the vanilla extract, beating well between each addition.
- Add the flour to the bowl, along with the baking powder and salt, and mix together on low until a dough forms. Split the dough in half, form into balls, and wrap in clingfilm or plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for an hour if possible, as this will make the dough much easier to work with, especially if you are going to stamp the top of the cookies. You can bake the dough without refrigerating though, and it still shouldn't spread.
- When you are ready to roll out the dough, preheat the oven to 180°C / 355°F (160°C fan), and line two large baking sheets with baking parchment or a silicone mat. Roll out the first ball of dough on a floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, until about ¼ inch thick. Using cookie cutters of your choice, cut out the cookies and place them on the baking sheets.
- Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Turn the baking sheet around half way through baking to make sure they are evenly baked. If you prefer your cookies soft, like I do, then remove them from the oven as soon as they start to go ever so slightly brown at the edges. Leave the cookies to cool for 5-10 minutes on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
- Sift the icing sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the powdered egg whites as well as 4 tablespoons of water. Beat for five minutes using the beater blade attachment. Add food colouring (or split the icing into separate bowls and colour each individually if using multiple colours). Add a little more water, half a tablespoon at a time, until the icing is at the right consistency for piping - see tip in post above.
- Pipe the icing around the edge of each cookie, and then fill the middle with more icing. Use a toothpick to even up the icing until it is smooth and covers the whole cookie. Leave the cookie to dry for 15 minutes before adding any further colours, so they don't bleed into each other. Leave the cookies to completely dry (overnight is best) before drawing on with an edible pen - I used a brown one.
- The baked and iced cookies will stay fresh in a air-tight container for almost a week - there is no need to keep them in the fridge. The baked (not iced) cookies can also be frozen for up to three months. Defrost at room temperature and then store in an air-tight container for up to 7 days.
- The unbaked cookie dough can be frozen for up to three months. Wrap the dough tightly in cling film or plastic wrap, and then defrost at room temperature before rolling out and baking.