Emma Adamski's holiday eating traditions include her mom's butter tarts and her family uniform—"buffet pants"—but wacky, hand-crafted sugar cookies? Not so much. A cook, not baker, by nature, Adamski is one-half Manual Food & Drink Co. (the other half is her other half, Sonny Adamski), maker of some of the most beautiful, artistic desserts in town.
"Sugar cookies are probably one of the most boring-tasting cookies. The dough lends itself really well to 'cut-outs' as it holds its shape decently when baked, but has little exciting or surprising potential flavour-wise," says the creator of this custom batch of beautiful and kind of creepy sugar cookies. She says the lame, one-note taste of the traditional holiday sweet is what makes it the perfect vessel for unexpected and over-the-top decor. "Suddenly something so boring becomes this supremely ironic homage to pop-culture, an inside joke or a beautiful piece of art." Here's how she went next level with these cookies.
1. Google dot com
It's totally OK to seek out a sugar cookie recipe via the internet since most of them are simple, and identical. "My main tip would be to always use salted butter instead of unsalted, and if you want them to taste more interesting, substitute the vanilla extract for almond or hazelnut," says Adamski. "I maintain that salt is the most important ingredient in anything sweet you will ever make. I always taste my raw cookie dough, pie crusts—whatever—to see if they are seasoned enough, just as I would if I were cooking something savoury."
2. Make a plan
"I think my desserts are unique because I try to bake like I cook," says Adamski. "I always start the process of cooking or baking by visualizing my end result and dissecting its components. I often make drawings and diagrams to help make sense of everything. I think this guides everything I do in an artistic direction."
3. The waiting is the hardest part
"Patience is a struggle with these cookies. In order for them to hold their shape when they bake, it's important for the dough to be thoroughly chilled before you roll them out." Adamski suggests chilling the dough for at least an hour before you get cutting, and popping the entire pan in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking.
4. Don't be afraid to improvise
"There are many places to buy cute cookie-cutters, but it's also fun to experiment with just free-handing your cut-outs with a paring knife dusted with flour," says Adamski, who carved out Woody, Storm Chips, the Sullivan's Pond geese and most of the pictured sugar cookies by hand. "You can also just use upside-down cups."
5. Get creative with icing
Adamski suggests whipping up an easy batch of royal icing (mix egg whites or meringue powder with powdered sugar and food colouring) and, if you're getting real artsy—like she did with this batch—mix a little vodka in with your gel food colouring with to create a watercolour-like glaze. "Pipe, or glaze the cookies however you want, allowing enough time in between colours for the icing to set. If it's not set, colours may bleed," she says. "Sometimes it takes forever for the icing to set, so make sure you have Netflix and wine."