For most of my professional career I worked for a Scottish geneticist. I could tell you many stories, but suffice it to say he was (and still is) quite a character. One thing I want to share with you is the shortbread cookies that would make their way into the office on a regular basis. They were baked by his wife– also a brilliant geneticist– using his mother’s recipe. As the years went by and they had daughters the cookies would often come in decorated with royal icing. I’m calling them Mrs. P’s Shortbread Cookies in honor of the lady who passed down her recipe to another Mrs. P who in turn graciously shared it with anyone who would ask.
I’ve decorated the cookies with royal icing, Easter sprinkles found at the store, and crushed Robin’s Eggs candies (my Easter weakness). I purchased a beginner’s cake decorating kit which had icing bags and a couple tips for less than $10. I think I’ll get my money’s worth out of it and maybe get some other tips to play around with. It was only my second attempt with royal icing and I have had fun with it, although I have a long way to go. There seems to be a learning curve to get the consistency right. My first batch was too thin and the icing ran off the cookies. Adding more sugar to the second batch helped with that. Now it’s a matter of having a steady hand.
The original recipe for the shortbreads goes like this:
- 1/2 pound butter
- 9 oz flour
- 4 oz powdered sugar
- 4 oz cornstarch
- pinch salt
- Bake 40 minutes at 300°
I don’t have a kitchen scale, but a little time on the web helped me figure out the conversions and come up with something that works to give a nice flaky cookie with the typical shortbread flavor. Instead of cornstarch in the cookies I used arrowroot powder to good effect.
For just Rick and I, a half batch will make just about 2 dozen cookies, using a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter. With a half batch, I don’t bother with the mixer but will pinch the butter into the dry ingredients and work it until a ball of dough forms, then roll them out about a quarter inch thick. They seem to get thinner as I attempt to squeeze another cookie out of the dough. Mrs P’s cookies run a bit thicker, so the yield will naturally be less, but there will be more of that shortbread goodness in every bite.
For the royal icing, I am going to refer you to this video on YouTube where you’ll be able to see how to mix a small amount of royal icing without at mixer as well as this one and this one which will demonstrate how to flood the cookie with the icing and get some decorative effects. You’ll need to use an egg white for this recipe. If the idea of using raw eggs bothers you, use pasteurized eggs or egg whites, or find an icing recipe which doesn’t require an egg white.
- 2 sticks butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ¾ cup cornstarch OR ½ cup arrowroot powder
- pinch salt
- 1 egg white
- 2 cups powdered sugar, more or less
- water, if needed
- icing coloring, optional
- candies, sprinkles or other edible decorations, optional
- Preheat oven to 300° and prepare baking sheets with a small amount of oil or baking spray.
- Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and work the butter into the dry stuff. (Use a mixer for a full batch, I find it easier to use my hands for a half batch.)
- If dough is too crumbly to form a ball add a small amount of water (less than a ½ teaspoon) and continue to work it.
- Roll the dough between ¼" and ⅜" thickness and cut out several pieces with a cookie cutter.
- Transfer to the baking sheet.
- Re-roll the remaining dough and cut out more cookies until there's no more dough left. (I won't judge if you eat the remaining dough).
- Place baking sheets in oven and bake until the shortbreads are light golden brown. Start checking at 25 minutes, but it can take up to 40 minutes depending on your oven and how thick the cookies are. Rotate the trays every 15 mnutes or so.
- Remove cookies to a rack and allow to cool completely before decorating.
- Please refer to this video on YouTube.
- Measure 2 cups powdered sugar into a bowl (Depending on the size of the egg white, you may not use all of it.)
- Separate an egg white into another bowl.
- Sift about ⅔ of the powdered sugar on top of the egg white and use the whisk to blend them together.
- At some point you'll need to switch to a wooden spoon and continue beating.
- Add more sugar and continue beating until you have an icing that's very glossy and forms ribbons. (See the video because this is difficult to explain).
- Add coloring if desired.
- Apply the icing to the cookies using an icing bag fitted with a small tip in whatever manner pleases you.
- Decorate with sprinkles or candy if desired.
- Allow the cookies to sit undisturbed while the icing sets up.
I’m starting to like working with the Royal Icing. My experience has been limited to buttercreams or cream cheese based frostings. It was fun playing with the candies. I like the mosaic effect of the crushed candy, but my favorite cookie (eaten shortly after the photo was taken) was the pink one set in the frosting like a scarab.
Have you worked with royal icing before? How many cookie cutters do you have?
A group of bloggers have teamed up to bring you a collection of great Easter recipes and projects. You’ll find the others here:
A Conquered Mess – DIY Easter Mason Jar Gift
I Love My Disorganized Life – Strawberry Cobbler with Chocolate Hazelnut Swirl
Mooshu Jenne – Easter Egg Salad