The Departed: Day of the Dead Sugar Skull Cookies

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I am a little bit excited about this … This post was so much fun to create and I think the results are really striking.

Ok, so first things first: 1) I stole this idea from Sugarbelle’s amazing blog (here). If you enjoy this post then I would highly recommend browsing her site. She has really good ideas and very clear, easy to follow instructions. 2) You’re gonna need to set aside a little bit of time to make these cookies. There are 3 stages. The first two involve making the cookie dough and baking it. The third step involves icing, and this can take a while. I would recommend setting aside at least 2 hours to do this. I know – this seems like a lot of time – but trust me, it is really fun and well worth it.

OK so let’s get cracking: Part 1 baking the cookies.

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Cookie dough – this recipe comes from the book Cookie Swap by Julia M Usher (buy here). It’s incredible. Buy it. 

This recipe makes roughly 2 dozen 5cm cookies. Allow 45 minutes for baking and cooking, plus 3 hours to chill the dough.

– 2 cups all purpose flour

– 1and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

– 1/3 cup shortening

– 3/4 cup granulated sugar

– 1 large egg

– 1 tablespoon whole milk

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– skull cookie cutter or skull template to cut around

1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and shortening on a medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Whisk the egg, milk and vanilla extract together in another bowl. Slowly add the liquid to the butter mixture and blend thoroughly on low to medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing.

4. Turn the mixer to a low speed and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.

5. Flatten the dough into a disc shape, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking.

6. Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

7. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/3cm thickness. Cut out shapes using the skull cookie cutter. Transfer to baking sheets, leaving about 2.5cm between each cookie. If you are using a skull template to cut around to get the cookie shape, I would recommend rolling out the cookie dough in two separate batches as the dough softens fairly quickly and becomes difficult to handle.

8. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Leave to cool completely before icing. Once cool store in an airtight container.

Part 2: Icing the cookies (I haven’t gone into a huge amount of detail about the ins and outs of cookie icing. If you want more info, have a look at this link)

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You will need:

– 2 cup of royal icing* (if you don’t use it all you can keep it in the fridge for about a  month)

– black food colouring

– plastic icing bags x2

– small icing bottles x2

– 1.5 icing point

*I used powdered royal icing and just added water to that. If you want to make your own, there are lots of recipes on the internet, but I would recommend following the recipe and instructions on the Sugarbelle blog (here).

I have listed the very basic equipment you will need – because I find it infuriating when you want to make something but have to spend a small fortune to buy the equipment. If however, this post sparks your enthusiasm for cookie icing, then I would suggest reading the following about basic equipment (click here).

Finally – if all the piping seems like far too much work – consider drawing on the design with a food writing pen.

1. You want your cup of icing to be very stiff – so stiff you can stand a spoon up in it. Divide the icing into 4 equal parts.

2. For the piping icing – you want to thin this icing until it is the consistency of toothpaste. Be very, very careful when you do this and only add a teeny, tiny drop of water at a time. You want both black and white piping icing. Remember for any icing that you colour – the food colouring will affect the consistency. I used the gel colouring. Usually you only need to use a tiny bit of these to get vivid colours, however I found that I needed to use a lot of colouring to get a strong black colour.

3. Put the piping icing into the plastic icing bags fitted with a 1.5 point tip.

4. For the flood icing – you want to thin this icing to the consistency of shower gel. Colour one portion with black colouring. Pour the icing into 2 plastic icing bottles – one for white and the other for black.

5. Using the piping icing, outline the cookies. This provides a barrier which stops the flood icing from flowing off the edge of the cookie. If it’s a bit wobbly – like mine was – don’t worry, no one will notice! Just make sure there are no gaps in the icing. This will take a little bit of practise- may sacrifice one cookie to practise on.

P10402086. Now you want to fill in the middle of the cookie with the flood icing. Squeeze on enough icing to just about cover the entire cookie. Then use a butter knife to carefully “push” the flood icing out to the edges of the piping. Leave this to dry for at least half an hour. If you don’t do this any colours you pipe on top will bleed. I chose to flood half my cookies with black icing and the other half with white icing.

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7. For the actual decoration on the skulls I printed off a copy of a sugar skull that I found from a google image search (there are loads! I would suggest choosing something with a simple design). I then iced the cookie freehand. If you are not totally confident about doing this, then resize the image of a skull to the size of your cookie. Place this on top of the cookie and then using a pin, prick out the outline of your design. This will provide you with a guide when you are piping.

8. If you are icing freehand, I’ve given you a brief tutorial below of the steps to follow to get the basic skull decoration. But I’m sure you will have better ideas than me – so this is by no means the only way to do this!

9. Store your cookies in an airtight container for up to a week. Don’t stack them on top of each other (like I did!) Don’t store them in the fridge either – the colours will bleed.