Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresDoes anyone else think it’s weird that strawberries are considered Valentine’s Day-appropriate? I mean, I get that they’re an aphrodisiac and that their red color goes with the whole lovey-dovey puffy heart aesthetic of the holiday, but strawberries aren’t in season in February.

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresBefore I go any further: yes, I know that we live in a time where fresh strawberries are available year-round. I saw huge displays of them at Trader Joe’s yesterday. Available or not though, the fact remains that a mid-winter strawberry will never be as good as one you have in June. Period. End of story.

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresAll that said, today I’m bringing you some Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares. They may not be seasonal, but they are pink, fabulous, easy, and totally perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresThe strawberry flavor in these sweet squares comes from freeze dried strawberries. Their concentrated flavor, lack of moisture, year-round availability, and consistent quality make them perfect for all sorts of baked goods, especially cookies and bars. Here they’re pulverized in a food processor until they’re nothing but powder and then whipped into sugar cookie dough and a batch of fluffy buttercream.

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresStrawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresThese squares must be baked to be believed—if you’re into strawberry desserts, this recipe is absolutely for you. The strawberry flavor is decidedly real, unlike anything you’ll find in a boxed mix.

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresOh, did I mention that there’s no food coloring in these bars? That happy pink color is all from the pulverized strawberries 🙂

Well, I suppose there is food coloring in the sprinkles, but they’re just so cute! Feel free to leave them off though if sprinkles aren’t your thing.Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares

(They are definitely my thing. They are basically my favorite thing.)

Strawberry Sugar Cookie SquaresMake these Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares for someone you love ❤Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares

Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares
makes one 9-inch pan, about 9-16 bars

Cookie Layer:
1 1.2-ounce package freeze dried strawberries
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Frosting:
1 1.2-ounce package freeze dried strawberries
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups confectioners sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5-6 tablespoons heavy cream
sprinkles, for decorating (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil and grease lightly. Set aside.

Make the cookie layer. Place freeze dried strawberries in a food processor and process until they are powder, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in sugar, followed by egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add strawberry powder, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt, and mix until combined. Dough will be thick.

Press dough into prepared pan with a silicone spatula or lightly-oiled hands. Bake 20-22 minutes, or until no longer wet-looking. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let cookie layer cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Make the frosting. Place freeze dried strawberries in a food processor and process until they are powder, about 30 seconds.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low, beat in confectioner’s sugar, strawberry powder, and salt. Mixture may be alarmingly crumbly—this is normal. Add vanilla and 5 tablespoons of heavy cream. Beat until very fluffy, about 2 minutes. If desired, mix in another tablespoon of heavy cream until the proper consistency is reached.

Remove foil from the cookie layer and place on a cutting board. Spread a thick layer of frosting over the cookie later. Top with sprinkles, if desired. Let sit at room temperature for minutes, or until frosting crusts a bit.

Use a large, sharp chef’s knife, slice into squares. Wipe knife clean between cuts.

Serve squares. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days or in the refrigerator for up to five.

Strawberry Sugar Cookie Squares

Iced Sugar Cookies {Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing}

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Look at these cookies, y’all. Have you ever seen anything more festive?

Iced Sugar Cookies are a must-have this time of year. Unfortunately, they rarely taste as good as they look. The sugar cookies are often bland and hard, while the royal icing is sickly sweet and virtually flavorless otherwise. I don’t know about you, but for me, cookies need to be at least as delicious as they are pretty. Lucky for you, I have spent two years working on a roll-out sugar cookie that holds its shape, can handle a sheet of icing, and is delicious, and I’m excited to be posting it today!

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Where most roll-out sugar cookies are made with all butter (which can lead to spreading) or shortening (which lacks flavor and leaves a weird mouthfeel), mine are made with one of my favorite ingredients: cream cheese! Combined with a stick of butter, it gives these sugar cookies a crisp texture and keeps them from baking up overly hard. Cream cheese’s lower fat content (in comparison to butter) keeps the dough from spreading very much, so the cute cookie dough snowflakes and trees that you put in the oven will hold their shapes.

Aside from aesthetics, these Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies are delicious! They have that classic vanilla-almond flavor. And they’re only baked for a few minutes, so the edges get crispy and the centers stay a little bit soft. They are the best roll-out sugar cookies I’ve ever eaten–put them on your holiday baking list!

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)While you could certainly serve these cookies plain or dazzle them up with some colored sanding sugars, why not go all-in and try your hand at royal icing? It’s really not as difficult as it seems…and I say that as someone who is not a natural-born decorator. All it is, basically, is drawing an outline and filling it in. And maybe adding some sprinkles for flair.

As I said, royal icing isn’t difficult to make and use, but it does require some serious technique. Buttercream, this is not. Royal icing is made with meringue powder (in the cake decorating section of Target or crafting stores) which, along with the complete absence of fat, allows the finished icing to dry to a hard finish. The other ingredients include warm water, vanilla, almond extract (or lemon extract, if you want to be traditional), cream of tartar (for stability), confectioner’s sugar, and a bit of corn syrup for shine. The icing comes together in just a few minutes with an electric mixer. It will be super thick and bright white.

To make the icing ready for cookie decorating, divide it among smaller bowls (one for each color). Royal icing begins drying quickly, so press plastic wrap onto any exposed icing. Working with one bowl at a time, add water by the 1/2 teaspoon until the icing dribbles into the bowl when you scoop it up with a fork. The “ribbon” (pattern dribbled icing makes as it comes in contact with the icing in the bowl) should begin fading after a few seconds.

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Next, stir in gel food coloring until your desired colors are reached. Gel food coloring is preferable here because it’s highly concentrated and doesn’t change the consistency of the icing. Make sure to have a ton of red gel on hand–I find that it takes almost a whole container to make a cup of icing achieve a true red.

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Pack a small amount of the icing (roughly 1/4-1/3 cup) into a piping bag with a small circular tip. Or, if you’re like me and hate washing a thousand piping tips, load it into a small sandwich bag and snip off a teeny tiny corner. Now, draw outlines on all of your cookies. If your cookie shapes have sections, draw outlines for the various parts.

Let the outlines begin to dry while you make the fill icing. Add more water by the 1/2 teaspoon until the afore-mentioned ribbon begins fading within two seconds. Then, load the fill icing into squeeze bottles.

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Now, fill those outlines! Working with one cookie at a time, squeeze some icing into the outlined section. Then, use toothpicks to coax the icing evenly to the edges.

You may leave the cookies to dry after you fill them, or you can decorate! I like to drop dots of other colors of fill icing into freshly-filled cookies and then swirl a toothpick around to make designs. Another thing you can do while the fill icing is still wet? Go crazy with sprinkles! How cute are these gold stars?!

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)If you want 3D decorations, wait until the cookies have dried for at least a couple of hours and have developed a hard sort of edge. Use outline icing to draw designs on top of the cookies. I love the stripes on this snowflake!

Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)Once you’re done decorating, let the cookies dry uncovered for several hours. Most royal icing recipes take 24 hours to dry, but the recipe I use is quick-drying, so these decorated cookies are ready to eat in 4-6 hours 🎉🎉🎉

Now, go forth and make the cutest, most delicious Iced Sugar Cookies on the block!Iced Sugar Cookies (Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing)

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
makes 3-4 dozen medium cookies

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 oz (1/2 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Special Equipment:
rolling pin
cookie cutters

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Cream in granulated and light brown sugars, followed by the egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Add dry ingredients in 3 installments, combining completely after each. Divide dough into quarters and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.

Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin. Take one quarter of chilled dough at a time, roll it to 1/4-inch thickness, and cut with cookie cutters. Place cut cookies at least 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies 6-7 minutes, until no longer raw-looking. Let cookies cool on the pans for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Repeat rolling, cutting, and baking with any remaining dough.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Quick-Dry Royal Icing
recipe barely adapted from SugarDeaux

3 tablespoons meringue powder
5 ounces warm water
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar, divided
1 tablespoon corn syrup
water

Special Equipment:
small bowls
gel food coloring
piping bags (or plastic sandwich bags)
small round piping tips and couplers
squeeze bottles
toothpicks
sprinkles

In a large mixing bowl, combine meringue powder and warm water. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until doubled in size, about 1 minute. Mix in cream of tartar, vanilla, and almond extract. With the mixer running on low, add 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar. Mix in corn syrup. Add the remaining pound of confectioner’s sugar. Scrape down the bowl before beating on medium-low for an additional 30 seconds.

Divide icing among small bowls. Press plastic wrap to the surface of all exposed icing.

Make outline icing. Working with one bowl of icing at a time, add water 1/2 teaspoon at a time until icing dribbled into the bowl forms a ribbon that fades within a few seconds. Stir in gel food coloring until the desired color is reached. Place 1/4 cup of icing into a piping bag with a tip. Alternatively, load icing into a plastic sandwich bag and snip a very tiny corner. Outline all cookies. Set aside to dry while you prepare fill icing.

Add water by the 1/2 teaspoon until the ribbon of icing fades into the bowls within 2 seconds. Load icing into squeeze bottles. Working with one cookie at a time, fill icing into outlined sections. Use toothpicks to coax fill icing evenly to the outlines.

Decorate with more icing or sprinkles, as desired (see post above). Let cookies dry uncovered at room temperature for 4-6 hours.

Iced cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

For more information on decorating with royal icing, see this and this. Their royal icing recipes are not the same as the one used here, but the decorating tips are the same.

Iced Sugar Cookies {Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies & Quick-Dry Royal Icing}

Super Sprinkle Sugar Cookies

It’s gotten a little quiet around here over the last week, but for a good reason.

My little sister, Eliot (E3), moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to begin her masters degree at Harvard. Yes, that Harvard. I literally cannot stop bragging about her–so proud. 

In true Davenport style, we couldn’t let her do a cross-country move alone. Nope. My parents flew in and I took the bus up from New York, and we all set to work cleaning, painting, and organizing until we could barely move. <–Thank goodness Eliot is a yoga teacher.

After all the unpacking was done, we took a couple of days to enjoy Boston. On Saturday, our parents went to the airport, and Eliot and I packed up and hopped a bus to New York so she could have a mini-vacation before orientation starts.

When Eliot comes to New York, we don’t go sightseeing or do anything special beyond eat and make bad jokes. We ate tacos and watched Humphrey Bogart movies with my friend, VJ. We ate fancy pastries at Bien Cuit. We walked through Central Park and dropped a small fortune on hair products at Lush. She had never made pizza before, so we tested my pizza dough recipe (coming soon!). We watched all of New Girl season 2, even though we’ve seen it enough times to quote it beginning-to-end. Eliot and I don’t need to be entertained to have a great time together. We think we’re hilarious.

In all the chaos of Eliot’s move and visit, my responsibility to this little blog isn’t the only thing that went by the wayside. I woke up Monday morning remembering that I owed my roommate, Ed, some cookies. He did me a favor two weeks ago–he went to the post office to retrieve my new blender–and all he’d asked in return was that I make him some Super Sprinkle Sugar Cookies. Once Eliot and I were good and caffeinated, we hopped over to Sahadi’s for rainbow sprinkles and came home to make dough. A few hours later, we were all biting into soft, buttery sugar cookies coated in crunchy rainbow sprinkles 😊

Super Sprinkle Sugar Cookies are simple to put together. There are no unusual ingredients, save for a little light brown sugar to keep the finished cookies extra-soft. The dough is chilled before being scooped, rolled in a bowl of sprinkles, and baked until puffy. The middles are chewy, and the sprinkle coating gives every bite a bit of crunch. And of course, they are just about the most cheerful, colorful cookies in the world. Aren’t they adorable?!

These cookies are perfect for popping into school lunches, taking to parties, or saying “thanks” after sending your roommate into the doom-zone that is the post office. I ate two after putting Eliot on the bus back to Boston this morning–I needed a little pick-me-up after sending my sidekick home. Thank goodness she only lives four hours away now, so I can show up at her door with Super Sprinkle Sugar Cookies whenever the mood strikes.


Super Sprinkle Sugar Cookies

makes about 2.5 dozen cookies

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sprinkles,* for coating

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream butter until fluffy and lighter in color. Beat in granulated and light brown sugar, followed by egg and yolk. Mix in vanilla. Add dry ingredients in two installments, beating until combined. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours, or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.

Place sprinkles in a small bowl. Scoop chilled dough in 1 1/2 tablespoon* (1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons) increments, and roll into balls. Roll dough balls in sprinkles until fully coated. Place coated dough balls at least two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies 10-11 minutes, until puffy. Let cool on baking sheets for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Notes:

1.  I used nonpareils for the sprinkles in this recipe. Jimmies may be substituted. For information on the differences between the two, see this post.

2.  I used a medium cookie scoop.