Every other third decade or so, I have an inexplicable urge to decorate sugar cookies. And then I do it. And then I remember why the last time I did it I swore off the practice entirely and vowed to stay upon the straight and narrow path of chocolate chip cookies from here on out. It’s all those little squirty bags and decorator tips and blops of icing everywhere and the high-powered food coloring that gets on your dishrag and the cookies that look nowhere near as good as they clearly ought to, given the amount of fiddly preparation that went into them. That’s the part that gets me down.
The cookies pictured above are the results of my own little baking spree. The cookies pictured at left are the ones which made me decide that it would be a good idea to make some Valentine cookies. Are you drinking in the discrepancy between the two photos?
Once, many years ago, back in the olden days, probably when I was fluffing my bangs into a swoop and spraying them put with White Rain, I saw a picture of some cast stone candlestick holders in a catalog. Don’t ask me why I was so taken with them – I was clearly not in the market for candlestick holders. I was pegging my pants and wearing Keds with no laces, not putting together my stylish Tuscan villa. (Actually, I take that back. It might have been more the Doc Martin era than Keds.) But nonetheless, I deeply loved those candlestick holders. And I figured that I could totally make them myself. That’s always been my downfall. More times than I can count. That nagging little voice that won’t shut up that says, “I’ll bet I could make that myself.”
My plan was to first sculpt one candlestick, make a mold, and then I could produce as many cast stone candlestick holders as I could ever want. Which at the time seemed like it would be really useful. (Rachel tries to distance herself now, and pretend that she was a skeptical bystander throughout this entire episode, but I’m convinced that she was deeply involved herself.) As far as it went, it was a good plan. But I was doubtful about my ability to produce a truly round shape with clay since I didn’t have a potter’s wheel. And I had good reason to doubt my abilities – I believe there had been a major clay incident in my life only a short while before which ended in Mom’s kitchen having a skim coat of clay over every single surface and nothing of any value to show for it. (Not as bad of a mess, however, as the time Rachel and I decided to make some batik on Mom’s stove.) Anyway, on this project I felt I needed to think outside the box. Clay wasn’t going to work. What then? After racking my brain for a while, I came up with what seemed like an obvious solution. I’m sure you’ve thought of it already in fact. Spray foam.
Spray foam could be squirted right out of the can into a perfectly round shape . . . and I could keep building up layers until I had myself a nice neoclassical looking candlestick holder which could then be reproduced in cast stone form. What could go wrong?
Looking back on it, I can of course see a few flaws in my reasoning, beginning with the decision to sculpt with spray foam, and ending with my decision to sculpt with spray foam. Other than that though, it was a pretty good plan. I wish I had saved that valiant effort as a little reminder to myself, a little memento to pull out and gaze at whenever the mood takes me to start a project like this. The end result was sort of like a cross between a pancake and a muffin . . . but not a very symmetrical pancake-muffin. Sort of lopping over to one side and listing to starboard in a depressed sort of way.
This is how I feel about sugar cookies. In my mind I envision the beautiful stone candlestick holder – but in actual fact I am left with a spray foam muffin squash. In my mind, the cookies will turn out like the beautiful Martha Stewart picture, in actual fact we are left with something quite a bit less glamorous. If I had remembered this, I probably wouldn’t have whipped up these Valentine cookies this weekend – I would have just made the kids some brownies and called it a day.
On the other hand though, these cookies ended up tasting really good, which sugar cookies sometimes don’t. You know how they can be just kind of sickly sweet, with a weird acidic aftertaste? Well these don’t do that. They are really good sugar cookies, and the lemony frosting gives them a little pop of something more interesting.
So if you’re in the mood to sculpt a candlestick holder, try these instead. They may not look any better, but I guarantee they’ll taste better:
Sugar Cookies with Lemon Frosting:
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/8 c. sugar
1 c. shortening
1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla.
Sift together all dry ingredients and cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Blend egg, milk, and vanilla together. Add to dry ingredients. Roll out, cut into desired shapes, and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
5 Tbsp. meringue powder
1/3 c. water
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 cups powdered sugar
Beat meringue powder and water until stiff peaks form. Add sugar and lemon juice. Beat for 1 minute more. Add food coloring and frost your cookies.