Sunday, February 6, 2011

How to Make Smiley Cookies

I started this blog because we were mobile and constantly doing interesting(ish) new things and being in new places. Now we're sedentary, at least for a couple years, so I've been thinking about the directions I want to take the blog in. I'd like to add more of the things that I actually do for fun - movie and book critiques, posts about yoga and dance, restaurant reviews, and posts about recipes and food we make at home. Hopefully this will get us away from the all-animals-all-the-time rut.

Hey Trust!

Who, me?

They are super cute though. In one brief bit of animal news, our former foster Butternut AND the orange kitten Thistle have been adopted. Trust's sister Hope has also been adopted. Big virtual high-fives for all of them!

Less happy news is that our dog Nova had a seizure on Thursday. It was terrifying, I think the world actually sort of collapsed around her like that special effect in horror movies. I picked her up while she was still seizing and drove to the vet. The episode ended during the drive and she was suddenly fine and super-excited to be in the car. She may have epilepsy, she may need medication, or she might never have a seizure again. Epilepsy is a common condition in dogs, so I've learned, and usually very controllable.

But onward to the meat of the post: it's Super Bowl Sunday! And the Steelers are playing the Packers. Not only am I required by marital law to support the Steelers, as a Minnesota native I must root for whoever is playing against the Packers.

Then there is the obligatory Super Bowl party with the friends and other nice people, and of course we need to bring something. So on a whim, I decided to make smiley cookies, beloved dessert of the chain restaurant Eat n' Park, which began in Pittsburgh and has locations throughout the area. They are a true icon of the region and Eat n' Park always makes Steelers Smiley Cookies during football season.

This is our goal, people.

To begin, you need cooled sugar cookies, lots of powdered sugar, milk, and food coloring. I'm not going to include my sugar cookie recipe because I think that would break some copyright laws, but it's the sugar cookie recipe from Baking Illustrated by America's Test Kitchen. I'm pretty lazy and I usually don't do anything that seems slightly optional in recipes (like rotating the cookie sheets halfway through cooking), but I slavishly do everything in an America's Test Kitchen recipe because they are The. Best. Ever.

They will tell you how to do everything and why you should do it that way. It's great!

Making the Cookies:

Two years ago I tried a Smiley Cookies recipe I found online that was supposed to mimic the Eat n Park recipe. Don't do that. It was tremendously disappointing. Just use your favorite sugar cookies recipe. Your sugar cookies should be large and soft in the middle. Probably you will need to make a double batch of whatever recipe you use, because most cookies are not intended to be as large as SCs. If you're like me, you always make cookies too large anyway. I'm always having this conversation with myself: "this recipe is supposed to make 30 cookies?! It only made six (om nom nom), uh, five!"

Cooking time and temperature needs to be adjusted accordingly. I found I needed to put the temp about 10 degrees lower than the recipe called for and needed to bake 2 minutes less.

Dip your hands in cool water, then take a fistful of dough (literally). Roll the dough into a ball then press gently down into a circle. The water will keep the dough from sticking to your hands.

Scale! With slight perspective problems because I was trying to hold the camera with one hand!

That thing the cookies are on is called a silpat and they are freaking sweet. You lay them over your cookie sheets and nothing sticks to them - no greasing or spraying required. Your dough may spread or rise or not spread or not rise depending on the recipe. Cookies will spread more if the dough has been sitting out, so put the dough in the fridge while the first batch is baking.

Tower of cookies!

(By the way, if anyone is thinking about birthday or Christmas presents for me, you can get me cooling racks. I have one. This is insufficient.)

Cookies must be cool before you ice them. Don't be a jerk and start icing too early!

Making the Icing

This is a very simple, utilitarian icing. Put some powdered sugar in a bowl. You know, some. A cup or so. Then put in a slosh of milk. A little slosh. Start with a tablespoon or thereabouts. Stir it in with a fork. I'm warning you to start with just a tiny bit of milk because you only need a little bit. The icing shouldn't be too runny, it should be a bit difficult to stir. You can add more sugar or more water as needed. If you want to get all crazy put in a drop of vanilla, almond extract, peppermint extract, or anything really. (But don't you do this if you're making Smiley Cookies! Unless you are not a Smiley Cookie Purist!)

Then comes the fun part, making the colors. The traditional SC has a white background with colored features. For our Steelers and Packers cookies we need four colors: Steelers yellow, Packers yellow, Packers green, and black.

Steelers yellow: lots of yellow food coloring. One SINGLE drop of red. I mean it, just one. And then add more yellow to keep it from going too orange.

Packers yellow: lots of yellow food coloring and that's it.

Packers green: lots of green food coloring. Two drops of red, two drops of blue. This will give you a nice dark green that is still bright.

black: the hardest color to screw up. Just keep adding colors! Start out with equal parts green, blue, and red. If it looks too green, add more red. Too blue, add more green. Just keep going. If you're desperate, add yellow. If the icing gets too runny from all the liquid, add more sugar and then more of all the other colors. If it's too gray, double all the colors. It's hard to get a true-looking black, but you can come close.

Ok, now it's time to run out to the store, because you didn't believe me when I told you you'd need a lot of powdered sugar. A LOT. Maybe your roommate or significant other will go for you, but probably they'll just whine about how you never go to the store for them when they run out of something. You could try threatening this person by telling them you'll withhold cookies from them, but this is a largely empty threat unless you're a true jerk.

Woo-hoo, icing time!

Oh crap, icing is harder than it looks.

Lay down parchment paper first, cause things are about to get MESSY. Put the foundation color (white for standard, Steelers yellow, or Packers yellow) into a sandwich baggie and cut off a SMALL corner to make your own icing bag. To get down the foundation color, put a bunch in the very center of the cookie and use an angled spatula to spread out to the edges.

Now is when you'll find out if your icing is too runny. If it is, oh well. Your friends are going to eat them anyway.

After you're done spreading the base layer, WAIT. I mean it, take a nap, clean the kitchen, go do something else for at least a half an hour. You're giving the bottom layer time to set up a bit and get a little hard so that the eyes, nose, and smile will sit on top of the icing instead of sinking into it.

See? This looks dumb! I told you to wait.

Now you may proceed. Don't worry, you'll finally get the hang of it by the last cookie.

The single good-looking one.

Look, he has a head injury. Two differently sized pupils. And some kind of skin condition (those are just cookie crumbs, I SWEAR).

90% of the cookies will look like a kindergartner's craft project. Whatever. They're still cookies. How often does someone make and decorate homemade cookies for you? Not very often. Your friends will still eat them, and they'll think its adorable that you brought them all your stupid looking cookies.

And that's it!

Go Steelers!


  1. i'm watching the game tonight with two psychotically devoted cheeseheads, one of whom is from wisconsin. it's going to get tense, at times, i think. i'm going to wear my gopher football sweatshirt and try to ignore the game the best i can.

  2. and i almost forgot - cute cookies!!

  3. I totally have to make these - Chicago is, of course, sadly lacking in Eat 'n Parks (and Chick-fil-A's, Nate and I recently learned). Any chance I can talk you into emailing me the actual cookie recipe?

    P.S. For the record, I love all your animal-related posts.