Drop in, decorate, donate (Recipe: sugar cookies)
If it weren't for Martha Stewart, and a friend's absolute belief that we could master the flooded-icing technique Martha uses to decorate cookies, none of this would have happened.
[Anyone who's ever spent time in my kitchen must be consumed with laughter right about now. Me? A baker? A cookie decorator? More perfect than Martha? Hah!]
The year was 2002. My friend Candy and I decided to give this cookie decorating thing a try. She is an artist, and an experienced baker. I am a notorious bake-o-phobe; to me, the word "cookies" generally means the Toll House chocolate chip cookies that are Ted's specialty.
On a Saturday in December, we baked a few dozen cookies with two different types of dough. (Thank me for shortening this story by many, many hours, wherein we waited for gingerbread dough to chill, and get rolled out, and chill again. That was the first and only time we made gingerbread cookies.)
Our husbands helped by mixing the icing colors. Darlings that they are, they just didn't seem to understand that fuschia, aubergine, yellow and something turquoise-ish weren't the ideal colors over the dark brown of the gingerbread.
I rallied a couple of friends to redecorate; they were fantastic and enthusiastic, mixing bright new icing and helping us overpaint those cookies. We wrapped each cookie in a cellophane bag, tied with beautiful ribbons. I called an agency that provides emergency shelter for Latino families, and asked the director if they'd like our cookies.
When we delivered the cookies, we saw the smiles on the faces of the shelter staff, and heard the gasps ("We had no idea your cookies would look like this!" -- meant in a good way, not the "oh, yuck" way). I imagined how the children's faces would light up when they saw our cookie creations.
I knew just what to do. Sort of.
By the time the next December rolled around, I had a name -- Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation -- and a plan: Come up with a simple cookie recipe. Practice my icing technique, so I could teach it to others (though, in truth, I was counting on my baker friends to teach me). Bake cookies ahead of time. Invite friends and family to drop in on a weekend and decorate. Connect with a local agency that serves adults and children, and that would like the gift of cookies. Find some wrapping supplies.
Turns out, it was easy. I contacted the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which represents six emergency shelters for women and children, and they were thrilled. We decorated enough cookies for them and for our town's food pantry, too.
People had so much fun that they asked to be invited to my next Drop In & Decorate party (Next party? Oh yes, said I, realizing I was on to something, of course I will do this again.), and now, in our sixth year, more than sixty decorators ranging in age from 10 to 70+ will be providing cookies to seven family shelters and two food pantries -- more than 400 families served each year, more than 750 cookies decorated.
But that's me.
Now let's talk about you, and a few things you should know about a Drop In & Decorate event:
- It's fun!
- It's a wonderful way to bring people together to "give back", without spending a lot of money.
- It can be an event for school groups or book groups, neighborhood associations, family reunions, scout troops, or a gathering of friends, OR
- It can be you, or you and your significant other, making a dozen cookies and delivering them to your community food bank.
- It's fun! (Did I mention that already? Well, I have to say it twice, because it's true.)
- Everything you need to know, including how/where to donate your cookies, how to organize a decorating party, where to find supplies, and cookie and icing recipes, is available in our free HOW TO HOST YOUR OWN PARTY guide.
Last year, a group of parents and children as young as three years old, using pastry bags and the flooded-icing technique, decorated cookies for Providence Ronald McDonald House. My friend Mary had a small Drop In party with her family. In December, the Sargent Rehabilitation Center will host its second Drop In & Decorate event, where adult clients and staff decorate cookies for children. Parents and kids at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School will decorate cookies at their school fair and donate them to a local agency. And one of Ted's employees and her friends are organizing their first Drop In party this year.
(By the way, cookie decorating for donation isn't just a winter holiday idea. How about Mother's Day, or your birthday? It's a great way to spend time with friends and family, and agencies need donations year-round.)
To learn more about Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation, and see lots of wonderful photos, visit www.dropinanddecorate.org.
Lucia, a dedicated volunteer who makes our palette of icing colors every year, says: "Drop In & Decorate captures what I value about the holiday season: fun, togetherness, not consumer oriented, not about spending lots of money, giving to others, creating something unique and homemade."
I couldn't say it better than that.
Drop In & Decorate sugar cookies
Reprinted from the archives, our best, most delicious sugar cookie recipe. See note below for making multiple batches. Makes 16-20 large (4-5 inch) sugar cookies.
3-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups best quality unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp milk
2-1/2 tsp best quality pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a couple of baking sheets with a Silpat or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
In another large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar, until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla, and continue to beat until well blended and smooth. Beat flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth.
Divide dough in half. Place one half on a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper; cover with another sheet and roll to 1/4 inch. Repeat with second half of dough. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes, or up to a couple of days (or, if making far in advance, you can freeze at this point. Wrap sheets tightly in plastic wrap).
Remove one sheet from the refrigerator; peel off the top wax paper, then replace paper and invert dough. Peel off and discard what is now the top sheet of paper, and cut out the cookies. (cookies will spread, so do not place too close together on the baking sheet). Reroll scraps, refrigerating if necessary to firm the dough.
Bake for 6-9 minutes, or until just lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges. Rotate sheets halfway through for even browning. Remove pans from oven and let cookies cool 2-3 minutes. Then remove cookies to a rack and let cool completely. (At this point, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks, in layers separated by parchment or wax paper.)
After the cookies are completely cooled, decorate with Royal Icing. Place the decorated cookies on a tray and leave out overnight, uncovered, to harden. The next morning, package in food-safe cellophane bags or cookie tins.
*Note: to make multiple batches, do NOT double the recipe. It’s hard to control proportions. Instead, make multiples of the original recipe, one batch at a time, for guaranteed success!
*Another note: Rolled sheets of cookie dough can be made ahead and frozen (or, if you're going to use them within a day or two, you can stack the rolled sheets of dough on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator). Let defrost until dough is pliable enough to be cut without breaking cookies, but not necessarily completely defrosted.