Special equipment: Thin cardboard cut into tree, snowflake, star, and bird patterns Green, yellow, red, blue, and black food coloring Small offset spatulas Gold and silver dragees Edible glitter Colored sprinkles Small paint brush Pastry bags with couplers Pastry tip sizes 1, 2, 3, 101, and 46 White and yellow nonpareils White, yellow, red, and green sanding sugar Multicolored mini-jawbreakers (about 1/4-inch round) Piping gel
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, beat the shortening at low speed until fluffy. Add the sugar and corn syrup and beat until well blended, then add the egg and the vanilla, beating continuously on low. Slowly add the flour mixture, about 2 tablespoons at a time. (If you are not using a heavy-duty mixer, the dough may become too stiff for the mixer to handle. If so, you may have to add the last of the flour by hand, kneading the dough until all of the flour is fully incorporated.)
Put the dough in a large plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours.
To make decorated cutout cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out the dough using tree, snowflake, star, and bird patterns. Place the cookies on greased cookie sheets and bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool the cookies on racks before decorating.
To decorate, tint a recipe of Royal Icing to your desired colors. Keep the icing covered with a damp towel while you are working to prevent it from drying out. To cover a cookie with icing, thin some of the icing with a little water and spread it on the cookie with a knife or metal spatula. Leave some of the icing thick for piping borders or other designs, using the #2 tip. Add dragees, edible glitter, colored sprinkles, or other decorations to the wet icing. To attach candies to un-iced cookies, brush a thin layer of clear piping gel on the cookie with a small paintbrush and add decorations.
Royal Icing is very versatile. It is pure white and dries very hard, so it is perfect for making flowers and bows and delicate piped work. It can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks. You should stir the icing to restore its original consistency after storage, but do not rebeat. Royal Icing does not work well in high humidity.
Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat slowly until they are all blended. Then beat at medium speed until the icing forms stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. Add more sugar if the icing is not stiff enough, or a few drops of water if it is too stiff. Use immediately or cover the bowl with a damp cloth to prevent drying when not in use. Allow at least 24 hours for royal icing decorations to dry, at room temperature.
Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs, shellfish and meat may increase the risk of foodborne illness.
Recipe courtesy of Colette Peters, Colette's Christmas, Little, Brown & Co., 1993