Making cutout cookies is not as complicated as it seems if you can keep a couple of tips in mind.
First, I roll the room-temperature dough out between two Silpat mats, then place it inside a half-sheet pan and into the freezer for the dough to get cold. Note that I am not chilling the dough and then rolling it out as you ay have seen many people do before since rolling out cold dough is cumbersome.
Second, cold dough is important when baking cutout cookies. It should be cold before you place it in a hot oven so the butter doesn't melt all over and ruin your cookie. This is why I place the rolled dough into the freezer so it can get cold. By doing this, I can remove the cold dough from the freezer and cut my cookies at that time. I take off the scrap dough and then move the cookies if needed using a metal spatula or place back in the freezer for the dough to get firm again and move at that time so as to not damage the cookies shape.
Third, when icing these cookies you are using what is called two techniques - flooding and feathering. Flooding the cookie with icing is done be first making a border around the edge of the cookie - which is referred to as a wall, then you take your icing and go closely back and forth until the entire surface inside that wall is covered. Immediately after you have finished flooding the cookie, you will take your colored icing and pipe concentric circles inside your flooding. Then you will use a toothpick to drag the icing from the center to the outside, repeating this on the opposite side of the cookie on all four corners - cleaning the toothpick after every drag by wiping it off on a wet cloth. Then you take the toothpick and drag the icing in toward the center in the middle of each quadrant - cleaning the toothpick every time as instructed before. Allow the cookies to dry for at least eight hours or the icing can get damaged. Note, you can use a squirt bottle to do the icing techniques.
1/2 c. butter-flavored vegetable shortening
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tbsp. vanilla-bean paste + 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
OR 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 c. AP flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the shortening and sugar – beating until creamed, making sure to scrape the bowl if necessary. Add the eggs, one at at time – making sure they are incorporated, then add the cream and vanilla-bean paste. Turn the mixer off and add the baking soda, baking powder and salt – mix on low to combine.
NOTE: As with all my baking, I stir the flour with a whisk before scooping out each cup to aerate it. This makes sure I do not add too much flour to my recipe and creates a better finished product. Turn mixer off and add the all the flour, then turn mixer on low and mix until combined.
Turn dough out onto a Silpat and form into a ball, then cut in half. Roll out dough between two Silpats and place into the refrigerator or freezer to chill, repeat using second half.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut dough using desired cutter and place onto a Silpat-lined, half-sheet pan and bake for roughly 8-10 minutes. You do not want these cookies brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack – you can frost when they are completely cool
2 lbs (1 bag) powdered sugar
1/2 cup meringue powder
2/3 cup water (plus more to attain consistency desired)
1 tsp vanilla (regular or clear)
1 1/2 tsp butter flavoring
1/2 tsp almond extract
Place half of the powdered sugar, meringue powder, water and flavorings into the bowl of your mixer with paddle attachment. Turn mixer on medium and mix until well combined. Add remaining powdered sugar and mix well. Adjustments to the amount of powdered sugar may be necessary depending on the time of year and humidity levels. Remove 1/3 c. of the icing to attain each of the colors and mix with food paste - so 2/3 total.