Up, Up and Away…

…In my beautiful, my beautiful, hot air balloon… cookies for Maddie’s 1st birthday. Who’s Maddie? I’ve never met the adorable little bundle of joy, but Russ works with her mom Shin. It so happens whenever I make my decorated sugar cookies, Russ’ coworkers are the happy recipients of the “extra” cookies which he dutifully totes into the office. And Shin LOVES them! She admitted to having five the last time Russ brought some in.

So apparently Shin got to thinking they would make a great addition to her pastel-palette, hot air balloon-themed daughter’s 1st birthday party (for 100 people no less!) I received a text from her one week before deadline, which would necessitate Russ to deliver them via a work transfer toward the end of the week (because Shin and her family live nowhere near us.) Not a lot of time to plan, purchase, bake and decorate—but I sometimes work better “under pressure” (the melody to Queen’s song playing in my head.)


Knowing from past experience that each batch makes 2-3 dozen—depending on size of the cookie cutter—I made three batches of dough. But I had to wait a day to cut out and bake them until the cookie cutters that I ordered through Amazon were delivered (to add variety, I decided to also make some “1” cookies.) After all were cut out and baked, it made just over 6 dozen, with the leftover two cookies going to Russ for taste-testing purposes 😉

Shin’s color scheme included touches of gold so I dabbed on a bit of gold powder on the basket portion of the cookies and added two edible gold stars on the chute portion. The number “1” treats also each contained a gold star as part of the decor.

While the cookie dough itself is easy-peasy, if you’ve never worked with Royal Icing, it can be a bit tricky and takes patience and practice to get the feel of the consistency and technique for both the piping (which is stiffer) and flooding (which is thinner). And, if like me, you start getting elaborate with the designs, it can take hours, even days, to complete the task of icing. So you might want to start with a single batch, just sayin’…


I incorporate an “assembly-line” technique to create my designs, knowing when to pipe and flood, then add flourishes and final embellishments. Often, one layer of the icing will need to dry before you can begin the next step, so plan on blocking out large chunks of time to complete your designs.


PS—Shin actually took the time to individually wrap each cookie for the guests. As I understand it, the poor mom and Maddie were both under the weather for the party, but they “rose” to the occasion and were party troopers instead of party poopers…

Staying-in-Shape Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 3-6 dozen
  • Difficulty: cookie is easy; icing takes practice
  • Print


  • 2 sticks (1 cup), room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Zest from ½ a lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups unsifted flour (plus more for rolling cookies out)
  • ½ tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the butter sticks and the sugar and cream together in a stand mixer, about 3 minutes.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg, lemon zest, baking powder and vanilla extract, then beat again for 2 minutes until a creamy.
  4. Add 3 cups flour and ½ teaspoon salt and mix on low speed to combine about 2 minutes.
  5. When done, form the dough into a ball.
  6. On a floured surface or pastry cloth, roll out the cookie dough ball to desired thickness level, about an 1/8″ or a little thicker. Cut out shapes and place on an unrimmed baking sheet.
  7. Reform any leftover dough into another ball and repeat the process.
  8. Put baking sheet(s) in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  9. After 10 minutes take the baking sheet out of the freezer and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges just start to turn a light brown. (Mine took the full 12 minutes.)
  10. Remove cookies from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. Decorate—or not—with Royal Icing.



  • 1 lb. confectioners sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup warm water


  1. In a stand mixer, beat the meringue powder and water for about 30 seconds on med-high speed.
  2. Stop the mixer, add the confectioners sugar and beat on low until incorporated. turn the speed up to high and beat for 7 minutes. Stiff peaks will form.
  3. Divide the frosting into bowls based on the number of colors you are using, remember white is a color too.
  4. Add your food coloring and mix each bowl thoroughly, adding a few drops of water as necessary.
  5. Put about 1/3 of each color in separate pastry bags for piping. Thin out the remainder with more water (a 1/2 teaspoon at a time) to achieve a flooding consistency and add that to squeezable bottles as shown.
  6. Add finishing touches as desired.


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