This week was my friend Leah's birthday. She hails from coastal Maine town called Belfast, which, amongst many other lovely Maine things, is known for its lobsters. To go with Leah's lobster roll b-day dinner, I made crunchy, lemon-infused roll-out sugar cookies in the shape of the main course.
I chose to tint the dough itself, rather than ice the cookies, because I wanted bright, fun colors without the added sweetness and mess of icing. You can use your favorite roll-out sugar cookie recipe, though I recommend a couple of good ones below. The following is a how-to, with hints that will help with any roll-out cookie project:
The Kitchn's Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookie recipe is delicious because it contains a mixture of cream cheese and butter. Any recipe that has cream cheese or sour cream along with butter will have a wonderful, melting flavor, but the dough will be more tender than a pure butter recipe. That's fine if you're cutting out simple shapes like circles. However, if you're cutting out detailed shapes like lobsters, the dough isn't strong enough, and the finished cookies have a tendency to break. I strongly recommend using Martha Stewart's Basic Sugar Cookie recipe, which uses butter as its only fat. I've used it many times, and the dough is very forgiving of temperature variances and produces a sturdy cookie that tastes good and travels well.
2. PARCHMENT PAPER IS YOUR FRIEND.
Parchment paper is paper that is coated with silicone, making it heat resistant and non-stick. (No, it's not the same as waxed paper, so please don't substitute!) I always roll out my cookie dough in between two sheets of parchment. It eliminates the need for rolling out with flour, which is not only MUCH less messy, but prevents your cookies from becoming inedibly tough, dry, and flour-y tasting. (Especially when the weather is warm, your dough can soften very quickly, prompting you to add more and more flour as your roll out your dough.)
I also line all my baking sheets with parchment. When the cookies are baked and you take the pans out of the oven, all you have to do is lift the whole sheet of parchment off the pan and transfer all the cookies at once to a cooling rack. This allows for quicker turnaround of your pans when you're doing a large batch, because you don't have to wait for the cookies to cool before you remove them from the pan. (The cookies generally need a few minutes to harden up on the baking sheet before you transfer them to a cooling rack - otherwise they will break.)
3. COLD IS YOUR FRIEND.
Chilling the dough before rolling is imperative to cutting crisp, defined shapes that you can easily remove from the surrounding dough and transfer to the baking sheet without tearing. Chilling also helps the cookies keep a sharp outline while baking. Especially in hot weather, you may find that you need to repeatedly return the dough to the fridge or freezer for a quick 10 minute cool down.
I used gel food color, which you can get in any cooking or baking supply store, because the colors come out truer than with liquid food color. You can also choose not to color the cookies, or use an all natural, food-based dye. Most recipes have you chill the dough for several hours before rolling and baking, so make sure to tint the tough right after you mix it, and before chilling.
To create detail, I first rolled out a sheet of the dough I was cutting from. Then I added bits of dough in contrasting colors to accent the shape of the lobsters, and pressed those bits in lightly with my finger before cutting out the cookie shape.
I highlighted the cookies with red sparkling sugar, which you can get in any large supermarket in the baking section.
To achieve a strong lemon flavor, I eliminated the vanilla and almond extracts in the dough and used 2 teaspoons of lemon extract for flavor. I also used 2-3 teaspoons of lemon zest for tang and tartness, about the amount you get from zesting a medium-sized lemon with a microplane grater.