The religious fervour with which football is followed by our local fans equals no other sport. The football culture, rooted quite early in the average mauritian, sums up to diligently watching every single match that gets broadcast on MBC Sports11 [seulement les meilleurs matchs svp!] or on CanalSat to avoid fights with the TVSerial-loving wife. The process of viewing a football match is typically accompanied by comments regarding the players’ performances punctuated by sudden, ear-splitting victory cries whenever a team strikes a ‘gooooooaaall’ or louder groans of disappointment over a missed shot or a nasty foul or an undeserved yellow card.

The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, or Euro 2012 as we all know it here, is a much awaited tournament. The 14th edition of this competition is being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine where, out of the 16 selected teams, only 2 will be left to battle for the trophy on the 1st of July. Until then many a football fan will stay glued to his TV set munching peanuts/moolkoo/sev/other snacks while bookmakers and related  businesses try to reap as much benefit as they can from what, at first sight, seems to be just another sports challenge.

For me, it was a chance to try my hand at decorating sugar cookies. In honour of all the participating teams, I tinted my royal icing to match their national colours, shaping the cookies as flags for a more realistic touch. The recipe was one brought to us as the September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge, hosted by Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. What makes these cookies so impressive is that with just a little bit of imagination, they can be turned into real art pieces and make gorgeous giveaways for birthdays and weddings. So do give it a try, you might be in for a surprise!

BASIC SUGAR COOKIES

Ingredients:

For the Sugar Cookies

200 g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature

400 g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 tbs all purpose or plain flour

200 g / 7oz / 1 cup caster or superfine sugar

1 large egg, lightly beaten

5 ml / 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

For the Royal Icing

315 g – 375 g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ – 3 cups icing or confectioner’s sugar, unsifted

2 large egg whites, room temperature

10 ml / 2 tsp lemon juice

5 ml / 1 tsp almond extract, optional

Method:

  • Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture.
  • Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.
  • Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour.
  • Mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.

  • Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch).
  • Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins. Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
  • Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets.
  • Refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. It is very important to chill them again otherwise they will spread while baking.

  • Re-roll scraps and follow above process until all scraps are used up. Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted)/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
  • Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.
  • Bake same sized cookies together; mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in some being baked before others are done.
  • Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly. Leave to cool on cooling racks to cool completely.

  • Wrap in tinfoil or cling wrap or keep in an airtight container in a cool place. Undecorated cookies can last up to a month.
  • Makes approximately 36 x 10cm/4 inch cookies. For the royal icing, beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
  • It is important that the bowls, spoons, spatulaue and beaters used are thoroughly cleaned and grease free.
  • Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. The lesser amount of icing sugar is good for a flooding consistency.

  • The larger amount is for outlining but for a much thicker consistency, good for writing, add even more.
  • If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need. Beat on low until combined and smooth. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
  • Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it is in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.

Decorating your cookies with Royal Icing
The most important thing when it comes to decorating with Royal Icing is the consistency.

  • The Same Consistency Method:
    Consistency: Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions Drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing and count to 10 If the surface becomes smooth between 5 & 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency. If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, do the 10 second test, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc. To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.

  • Two Different Consistencies Method:
    Consistency: Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions. Separate into 2 different bowls, one lot of icing for outlining, the other for flooding. For the outlining icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing. If the surface becomes smooth at around 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency. If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 10 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc. To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test. For the flooding/filling icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing. If the surface becomes smooth at around 3-4 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency. If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 3-4 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc. To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 3-4 second test.

Colouring the Royal Icing
Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each colour you plan on using.
Make sure to cover the bowls with cling film or a damp cloth to prevent the top from setting and then making lumps.
Using a toothpick, add gel or paste colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached.
You can use liquid food colouring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of colour, liquid colouring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.

Getting the Piping Bags Ready
Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers.
You don’t need to use a coupler but it makes it easier if you want to change tip sizes.
A size 1 tip is best for doing intricate details. A size 2 tip is good for some details and outlining.
You don’t need a piping bag, you can use a ziplock bag with a tiny bit snipped off the corner.
Stand the piping bags in glasses with the tops of the bags folded over the top of the glass.
Fill your icing bags with each coloured icing. Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.

Decorating: Outlining
Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a Ziploc bag
Hold the piping bag at a 45 degree angle above the cookie where you want to start the outline.
Gently squeeze the piping bag and start moving in the direction you want to outline the cookie.
Start lifting the piping bag away from the cookie so that the flow of icing falls onto the cookie, making it an even and neater outline.
As you start to reach the beginning of the outline, bring the piping tip closer to the surface of the cookie to meet the start of the icing outline.
If you’re doing an intricate cookie, like a snow flake, you won’t be able to lift the tip as far away from the cookie.
If you’re doing a different colour border, eg a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same colour for the outline as you’re flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.

Decorating: Flooding Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip. Tip: Or cut slightly more off the corner of a Ziploc bag to create a slightly larger opening. Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill. Tip: You need to be quick when flooding the cookie so don’t worry too much if it’s not filled in neatly. Using a toothpick or clean paintbrush, push the icing around into the gaps that are still remaining. Either pick up the cookie and tip it from side to side to even out the filling, or lightly bang the cookie down on your kitchen counter.

General Baking Tips:
When measuring by volume (cup) always shift/aerate your flour/icing sugar in the container/bag before measuring because it settles as it sits and so you end up with more flour/icing sugar in your cup. I do this by moving the ingredient around with a spoon, whisk or fork. When measuring flour or icing sugar by volume (cup) never scoop the flour/icing sugar up with the cup otherwise you compress the contents and this can make a big difference in the amount you’re using. Rather, spoon the ingredient into the cup until level with the top. When measuring baking powder or baking soda, always level off the top of the measuring spoon with something flat (like the back of a knife) as these ingredients need to be accurately measured. When mixing your ingredients, always follow the recipe instructions, especially when it comes to beating in eggs and flour, so if it specifies to mix until just combined or to beat for 4 minutes, follow the instructions to get best results. Unless otherwise specified, always have your ingredients at room temperature. It’s always best to invest in an oven thermometer so that you know exactly the temperature you’re baking at then you can also find out if you have cold or hot spots in your oven. If you need to rotate your trays midst baking, always allow at least half the baking time to lapse before opening your oven to move baking trays around, this allows time for your baked goods to form a good structure so that they won’t flop.

General Royal Icing Tips:
Keep a damp cloth handy while decorating your cookies so that if you’re switching between different icing bags, you can keep the tips covered with the damp cloth so that the icing doesn’t dry and clog them. If your icing tips do clog, use a toothpick or pin to unclog them. Always pipe a little bit of royal icing onto a board/paper towel before you begin to make sure there are no air bubbles. Remember to always cover bowls containing royal icing wither cling wrap, a damp cloth or sealable lid so that the surface doesn’t dry. Do not store anything decorated with royal icing in the fridge otherwise the royal icing will become tacky.

Packaging and Storing: Once fully decorated, allow cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area. Stack cookies in an airtight container, from largest cookies at the bottom, to smallest and more intricate at the top, with parchment or wax free paper in between the layers. Store in a cool and dry area with the container’s lid firmly sealed. Will last for about a month if stored this way.

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