“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
― Pride and Prejudice
While not quite a “Janeite”, completely obsessed with all things Jane Austen, I love the above quote. It is so me. Don’t tell me I can’t do something. I will do it, every time. Don’t try to back me into a corner. I’ll mow you over on my way out. Don’t try to put me in what you think is my “place”. I’ll show you where I belong and fiercely defend my right to thrive there. Don’t try to intimidate me. I can be very intimidating, myself. And I think this is why I love Jane Austen heroines –in particular, Elizabeth Bennet– and everything I’ve read about the author. And how can you not just love Mr. Darcy for allowing Elizabeth to be herself and for loving her for it, in spite of his initial feelings of superiority. And, a man who admits his faults? I’m just old-fashioned enough to feel weak-kneed at the idea.
These dainty little sugar cookies were intended to be cameo-style oval shapes, decorated with black icing stenciled from templates I drew and cut from sheets of transparent stencil plastic. I have been making stencils since I was a teenager obsessed with colonial decor and all the fun country stenciled things that were popular in the late 1980s. All you need is an idea of the image you want to create, a sturdy sheet of plastic or cardboard, a cutting board or surface that you don’t mind gouging and slicing up pretty good, and a very sharp blade. I have always used an X-acto knife. The only tricky part is deciding which portions of your image will need to remain connected to the sheet of plastic and which will be cut away. If you are good at drawing, no problem. You can decided how your finished image should look. Just place the image you would like to turn into a stencil behind the transparent plastic. Use a craft knife to cut along the outside edges of the image.
Pop out the cut plastic.
In addition to using some of my stencils, I also used rubber stamps to make these cookies. My local art store had so many to choose from that I was able to stay within my theme for this post while throwing a little steampunk fun into the mix. My bicycle cookie is about 20 years ahead of Lizzie’s time but was invented just three years after the book was published, so I included it.
My family members and I are steampunk nuts, attending steampunk conventions every chance we get.
So I am suddenly seeing cookie vending at a steampunk con a possibility in my future, with these fun creations.
And while black velvet or satin ribbons would have been ideal to use to tie up my little cookie packages, if I were selling them at an event, I kept them humble and “lower class”, in honor of Elizabeth Bennet, by tying them with the natural raffia that I love so much in my every day life.
Perfect for an 18th or early 19th Century themed book club meet or a later century, Victorian themed event, these cookies would even work well for an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Mad Hatter tea party.
The cookies need to be made at least two days in advance, as both the thick royal icing base and the additional stamped decorations need plenty of time to dry before being handled and packaged.
I used thinned black Wilton icing color for the stamps and stencils. You can speed up the drying time by placing the iced cookies in a dehydrator for a few hours.
Mixing the color with vodka or alcohol-based extract, like vanilla, to thin it, helps the moisture to evaporate off the surface. A dusting of confectioner’s sugar also advances the drying time.
The cutters I used were between 1 1/2 to 2 inches, length and width. The cookie dough does not spread during baking but makes firm, sturdy cookies that hold their shapes and have clean edges and corners, making them ideal for icing.
Iced Rolled Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 sticks (12 ounces or 3/4 c.) unsalted butter
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. Himalayan pink salt
1 T meringue powder
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
12 ounces confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. water (or more or less, depending on humidity level)
Gel icing colors (I use Wilton.) in royal blue, teal, and black.
Additional flour for rolling out the cookie dough.
Additional confectioner’s sugar for dusting iced cookies.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer. Whip in the egg until light yellow and thickened. Beat in the vanilla extract. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the creamed mixture. Mix just until moistened and the dough comes away from the walls of the bowl.
Cover and chill for at least an hour.
Roll on a floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters, placing each cookie one inch apart from the others on silicone baking mat or parchment lined cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes, or just until the edges begin to turn golden and the cookies are firm. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks and thoroughly cool.
Make the royal icing by whisking together the meringue powder, cream of tartar, and weighed and sifted confectioner’s sugar. Stir in the vanilla extract. Whisk in the water a little at a time until the icing is thick but still a bit runny, so it can flow through a squeeze bottle or small piping tip.
Divide the icing into one, two, or even three, to make different colored batches, if desired. Add color until the icing reaches the hue you are looking for. To make the robin egg blue icing, I barely dipped a table knife into royal blue icing colors, then repeated with teal.
Place each type of icing in a squeeze bottle or piping bag fitted with a small round tip.
To ice the cooled cookies, make a dam around the edge of each cookie with a bead of icing.
Then flood the inside of the dam with a nice puddle of icing.
You can wait a few seconds after piping the bead to let it dry a bit, preventing any of the icing from spilling over and out to run down the edge of the cookie, but the cookies will not have as smooth an appearance as if you fill them immediately after piping the dam. I like the look of a completely smooth top as well as a nice bead border around each cookie. So preference is up to the baker.
Allow the cookies to dry overnight before stamping or stenciling. A dehydrator helps the process along, but since heat builds inside my dehydrator, I put several empty trays between my cookie trays and the heating element of my unit. I also left the vents on the lid open to prevent a build-up of heat.
Using thinned black gel color, stamp or stencil away to your heart’s content, using any cookie stencil or craft stamp you’d like.
Allow the embellishments to dry for an hour in the dehydrator.
Using a pastry brush lightly dipped in confectioner’s sugar, dust the top of each stamped or stenciled embellishment, then lightly rub it with your finger to help your image lose some of the chalkiness created by the dusting of sugar. Store in air-tight containers or treat bags.
Yield: Between 2 and 3 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutters used.