Saturday 27 August 2016

Iced Brown Sugar Cookies: Back to Basics & Teacher's Day Special

I have been wanting to do an updated brown sugar cookie and royal icing post for the longest time but haven't had the chance or discipline to do so. With this batch of cookies for Teacher's Day and a whooping order of 400 cookies for my cousin's wedding, I thought I would take the time to do a detailed documentation along with some updates from my previous write-up. I will highlight points to note and tips when making these cookies.

I am really eager to share this because all my recipients have waxed lyrical about the taste and smell of these cookies, with customers coming back for more and learning their lesson to reserve some for themselves before giving away to guests because it's so good.  I prefer brown sugar cookies as cookie base over regular sugar cookies that everyone else uses for iced cookies for precisely this reason. The taste is really good. From a baker's point of view, I love the fact that these cookies have a long shelf life (about 1.5-2 months) at cool room temperature, are forgiving so even new bakers are able to master it, and have a soft chewy texture by nature such that the cookie doesn't taste "lao hong" when covered with royal icing that would soften cookies that are crisp by nature, although in terms of  looks they are not as pretty as regular sugar cookies.

I have a request for brown sugar cookies for Teacher's Day so I decided to ride on the request and made some for my kids' teachers too. Sharing my first humble attempt at laced designs on iced brown sugar cookies.

There are more beautiful and intricately designed laced cookies out there that I could use as a reference but I have another whooping 400 iced cookies to make on the heels of this batch of 27 cookies for teachers. I didn't want to kill myself so I tried to look for a design that is elegant and simple.

My brown sugar cookie recipe is adapted from a gingerbread cookie recipe, minus the spices and using primarily brown sugar or a mixture of brown and white sugar as the sugar in the recipe. The golden syrup and caramelizing process of the sugar during baking, combined with good quality vanilla bean paste and good brand of butter is the secret to making these cookies smell so awesome.

Recipe for brown sugar cookies
Ingredients (makes about thirty-eight 7cm heart shaped cookies):
421g plain flour
1.25 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
135g unsalted butter ( I use Lurpak)
160g brown sugar (you may substitute parts of brown sugar with caster sugar if you wish to have a lighter coloured cookie)
58g egg (about 1 large egg 65g with shell on)
99g golden syrup
2.5 tsp vanilla bean paste

1. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

2. Add cubed pieces of cold butter and rub in with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3. Add in brown sugar into the mixture and mix well with fingertips. Remove any hard lumps of sugar before adding into the flour mix.

Brown sugar

4. Lightly beat egg in a bowl, add golden syrup and vanilla. Mix until well combined.

5. Add egg mixture to the flour mixture. Use a spatula to mix well until a ball of dough forms.

6. Divide dough into 3 portions (optional but I find it easier to work with smaller portions of dough when rolling and cutting). Place each portion between two baking sheets and roll to thickness of 5-6mm. If you are making cookiepops, roll to thickness of 3-4mm. Freeze the dough until firm. You may store the cookie dough in jumbo ziplock bags for a few months in the freezer.

7. Line baking tray/ cookie sheet with baking paper. Take out firm dough from freezer and let it sit at room temperature for a minute or two before cutting out the hearts. If you are making cookies without a cookie cutter, please refer to this post on how to make your own cookie templates. Place the cookie cut-outs spaced about 2cm apart. Note: If you are using a knife to cut out the cookies with complex shapes, you may find it helpful to place the sheet of cookie dough on reusable freezer packs to prevent the cookie dough from softening too fast. This dough tends to be sticky when soft so try to handle it while it is still firm but pliable. Pop the dough back in the fridge or freezer if it becomes too soft to work with.

8. Chill the whole tray of cookie cut-outs while preheating the oven to 160-170°C with oven rack in the middle. Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking tray halfway through baking. Note: Use your eyes and firmness of slightly cooled cookies to gauge doneness instead of baking time as size and thickness of cookie cut-outs vary. I tend to overbake slightly to compensate for some softening of the cookies due to royal icing. Baked cookies should be browned and firm when cooled. If the cookie still feels soft in the center, pop it back into the oven and bake for another 3-5 minutes and check again. It's ok to pop the tray of cookies in and out of the oven a few times.

Freshly baked!

Cool the cookies completely on tray or cooling rack before storing or icing. You may stack the cookies between baking sheets in a box for storage. Make sure that the storage container is airtight. Store in a cool and dry place. For best results, let the baked cookies rest for at least a day before icing.

Recipe for royal icing
500g icing sugar
36g meringue powder
86g water
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp caramel flavouring

Previously, I did not include salt in the recipe. This is to help counter the sweetness and enhance the flavour. Although expert advice suggest using colourless flavourings so as not to tint the royal icing, I still value taste above looks so I included vanilla and caramel in the royal icing. You may choose to use other extracts like lemon or almond if you wish but I prefer to compliment the flavour of the cookie base. Just to show some of the ingredients I use...

Meringue powder

Vanilla extract and caramel flavouring

1. Sift together icing sugar, meringue powder and salt in a clean, grease-free metal mixing bowl. Add water and flavourings.

2. Use electric mixer on low speed or hand whisk to whisk for about 7 minutes. Using hand whisk will require a lot of muscle strength for this quantity of ingredients so I used my stand mixer. Hand whisk is more suitable if your half the recipe. If using stand mixer, scrape down the sides every1-2 minutes. Beating on high speed with electric mixer is not recommended as it will introduce a lot of air bubbles.

Note that the icing will change from off-white to white in colour as it becomes ready for use.

Note: The resulting consistency of this icing is close to flooding consistency whereby any peaks will disappear within 10-20 seconds. Add more icing sugar if you want a stiffer consistency and more water if you want it to be runnier. Always add water a bit at a time to prevent it from becoming too watery. Remember to mix well.

Add colour to the icing with gel food colouring as you wish. I like to use charcoal powder for black and some cocoa powder for brown as I prefer natural sources of colouring.

Store any unused icing in airtight container with cling wrap touching the surface. You may refrigerate the icing for a month. Stir well before use.

Tips on icing cookies:
1. Arm yourself with a damp paper towel to wipe off any mistakes before icing hardens.

2. Use a toothpick to ease the icing into small corners or for drawing very fine features.

3. You may oven dry at 60°C using the fan mode to speed things up but be careful not to leave it in the oven too long as the oil from the cookie base will seep into the icing and make it look patchy. Alternatively, turn on the heat for several seconds before turning it off, with the fan mode on. It may take longer to dry but chances of the oil seeping from cookie base to icing layer is less.

4. Store the cookies in airtight container only when completely dry.

5. You may use piping bags fitted with piping tips or a squeeze bottle but I find that a lot of icing is wasted. I just cut a small hole in ziplock bags or piping bags. I only use piping tips if I need very neat outlines.

6. Use wet-on-wet icing technique (adding icing on top of wet icing) if you want the features to be flat. Wait for the bottom layer of icing to dry if you want the feature to stick out.

7. Practice makes perfect! I am still practising and learning :). Mastering the right consistency for icing takes time.

Just to share some photos of icing in progress...

I packed the cookies in self-seal bags with satin ribbons tied at one end.

Blessed Teacher's Day to all teachers!

With lots of love,
Phay Shing


  1. Hi, may I know if I can use egg white powder instead of meringue powder?

    1. Hi Eda,
      Meringue powder and egg white powder are different things. If you are unable to find meringue powder, you may use the traditional method of making royal icing using raw egg whites. You can do a search for the recipe for that easily. If you are concerned about feeding people raw egg whites, you may dry the iced cookies at 70°C fan mode in the oven to "cook" the egg whites a little.

  2. Oh..! Thank you so much!!

  3. Hi Phay Shing
    Do we beat the meringue til stiff peak or? How do we know if it is ready?

    1. Hi, you don't have to beat until stiff peak. Just beat for a few minutes if you are using electric mixer. Use medium low speed for beating. The resulting icing will be soft or firm peak, not stiff. Adjust the consistency that you need by adding more water for flooding consistency, or icing sugar.

  4. Hi Phay Shing,

    I am so glad that I found your blog! Have been trying to find The Best cookie recipe and here it is! Am so gonna try your other recipes too. Thank you for sharing your love! ❤


    1. Hi Vivien, I gathered you tried to make this and love the taste? So far everyone I baked this for love the aroma and taste 😊. Not as pretty as standard iced sugar cookies but definitely taste better.