Recipe: Great pumpkin cookies

Recipe: Great pumpkin cookies

Image excerpted from Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year by Julia M. Usher


Recipe: Great pumpkin cookies

Embellished with orange glaze, cinnamon stick stems, and green sugar vines, these pumpkins appear to be freshly plucked from the patch.




Pumpkin Spice Cookies

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1¼ cups canned pure pumpkin purée (with no added sugar or spices)
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups walnut halves, lightly toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 11⁄3 cups raisins (optional)

Makes: 2½ to 3 dozen (2-inch) “pumpkins”

Note: For smoother pumpkins for decorating, you may decrease or omit the raisins and walnuts. Without these add-ins, the recipe yields closer to 2½ dozen cookies.

Prep talk: Store in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days. Because of their high pumpkin content, these soft cookies will get even softer within a few days, especially under humid conditions. Eat freshly baked if you want to enjoy a crunchy exterior.

Orange icing and glaze (optional)

  • 1 recipe royal icing
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon water (to thin the icing)
  • About 60 drops orange soft gel food colouring
  • ½ teaspoon pure orange extract
  • About 3 drops red soft gel food colouring
  • About 3 drops brown soft gel food colouring
  • About 4 tablespoons strained freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Powdered sugar (as needed to thicken glaze)
  • Decoration (optional)
  • About 12 cinnamon sticks, cut into 2½ to 3 dozen small (¾- to 1-inch) pieces (1 per cookie)
  • 2½ to 3 dozen (¾- to 1-inch) fondant leaves (1 per cookie, see Fun with Fondant)
  • 2½ to 3 dozen (1½- to 2-inch) fondant vines (1 per cookie, see Fun with Fondant)


1 Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2 Mix the Pumpkin Spice Cookies. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Place the sugars and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium-low speed until well combined. Add the egg and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed and beat in the pumpkin purée and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing. Note: The batter will separate slightly after the addition of the pumpkin, but this is completely expected. Stir in the flour mixture, followed by the walnuts and raisins, if desired.

3 Portion the dough into mounds using a level 15⁄8-inch (#40) scoop or 1 heaping tablespoon per mound. Place the mounds about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. (A scoop will make rounder pumpkins than a tablespoon.)

4 Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until dry and firm on the outside and lightly browned on the bottom. Immediately transfer to wire racks and cool completely before storing or glazing.

5 Mix the Orange Icing and Glaze (optional). Prepare 1 recipe Royal Icing. Portion out ½ cup. Add enough water (½ to 1 teaspoon) to bring this portion to outlining consistency (p. 152). Stir in a drop of orange food colouring to make a pale shade. Cover the surface of the icing flush with plastic wrap and set aside for use in Step 7. To the remaining icing, add the orange extract and the rest of the orange food colouring, and mix until well combined. To enrich the bright orange to a burnished shade, add the red and brown food colouring, if desired. Gradually add enough orange juice to make a thick glaze. (The glaze should thinly coat a “test” cookie, but you should not be able to see through it. Adjust the glaze consistency as needed by adding more juice to thin it or powdered sugar to thicken it.)

6 Apply the glaze and cinnamon sticks (optional). Set a wire rack over a sheet of parchment paper. (The paper will catch the glaze drippings and make for easier cleanup later.) Work with one cookie at a time. Hold the cookie by the bottom and completely immerse its top in the dark orange glaze. Turn the cookie right side up and gently shake it to remove excess glaze and to smooth the top. Place on the rack and insert a small piece of cinnamon stick into the top centre of the cookie to make the pumpkin stem. Repeat with the remaining cookies. (Remember: Tell guests to remove the cinnamon sticks before eating.)

Before the glaze dries, slide a paring knife under each cookie to sever any drippings that may be clinging to the rack. (The glaze will otherwise dry onto the rack, making it more difficult to remove the cookies later.) Let the cookies dry until the glaze loses its sheen.

7 Add contours; decorate with fondant leaves and vines (optional). Fill a parchment paper cone with the reserved pale orange icing and cut a small (1⁄8-inch or less) hole in the tip. Add contours to the pumpkins by piping 8 to 9 thin lines radiating out from the cinnamon stick stem on each cookie. For the finishing touch, use the icing to glue a fondant leaf and vine around each stem.

8 Let the glaze (and any pumpkin contours) dry completely before storing.

Recipe: Royal icing

Makes about 4½ cups, enough to top-coat 4 to 5 dozen (3-inch) cookies

This icing is by far my favourite frosting for cutout cookies. Because it contains high-protein egg whites, it dries quickly with minimal spreading; it also holds food colouring quite well with limited to no bleeding. Use this thick formulation as edible “glue” for gingerbread construction projects, or adjust its consistency for other cookie decorating techniques.

Note: Since the egg whites in this recipe are not heated, it is best to use pasteurized whites to minimize the risk of food-borne illness, especially when serving the very young or old or those with compromised immune systems.


Royal Icing

  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • About 11 tablespoons pasteurized whites (or 5 large egg whites)
  • Flavouring, to taste
  • Soft gel food colouring (see “FAQ”) of your choice, to desired shade (optional)

Prep talk: Tinted icing is best used the day it is mixed because the color will dry more uniformly. Otherwise, the icing can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge. Bring the icing to room temperature when ready to use and stir vigorously to restore its original consistency. Once applied to cookies, the icing should remain at room temperature so it sets into a crunchy candy-like coating.

Important: Unless you’re using the icing, always cover the surface flush with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming.


1 Mix the powdered sugar and cream of tartar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the egg whites by hand to moisten the sugar. Fit the electric mixer with a whip attachment and beat the mixture on low speed to evenly distribute the egg whites. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and continue to beat about 2 minutes, until the icing is silky and very white. (The icing will lighten and thicken as you beat it.)

2 Beat in flavoring and/or food coloring, if desired. Mix well before using.

Consistency adjustments for royal icing
The following consistency adjustments are approximate guidelines for a single batch of un-tinted Royal Icing. The addition of food coloring or flavoring, beating time, and normal variations in egg size can all affect the end consistency. If you make an adjustment and still think your icing is too thin or too thick for your application, simply adjust by adding powdered sugar to thicken or water to thin.

For outlining

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water. For crisp, well-defined outlines, start with 1 tablespoon water. If the icing is too thick to easily pipe through a small (1⁄8-inch) hole in a parchment pastry cone, gradually add more water. When piped, the icing should hold a thin line with no—or minimal—spreading.

For top-coating

To avoid icing runoff on cookies under 2 inches, start by adding 2 to 3 tablespoons water. Gradually increase to 3 to 5 tablespoons as needed to improve spreadability on larger cookies.

For stencilling

Add 3 to 4 tablespoons water, but remember, the exact quantity will vary with egg size and the other factors. The icing must be thin enough to easily spread into the stencil openings without leaving peaks or “tracks” when the spatula is lifted. At the same time, it must be sufficiently thick to keep from creeping under the stencil into areas where it is not wanted.

For beadwork

About 4 tablespoons additional water works best, though exact quantities will vary, as noted above. At the proper consistency, a smooth, well-rounded dot should form when the icing is piped through a small (1⁄8-inch) opening in a parchment pastry cone. If the icing forms a peak, it is too thick. Conversely, if it spreads a great deal, it is too loose.

FAQ: Is a particular type of food colouring best for tinting royal icing?

While liquid, gel, paste, and soft gel food colourings can all be used to tint Royal Icing, I recommend soft gel colouring, a relatively thick, concentrated dye that comes in a container fitted with a dropper. A little soft gel colouring goes a very long way. The dropper also takes the guesswork out of getting the right colour. (Just count the drops the first time you mix.) Chefmaster Liqua-Gel is a widely available brand of soft gel colouring.


The next best choices are gel and paste food colorings. Both are very concentrated, but they come in small lidded jars and must be doled out with a toothpick or skewer—an often messy and unpredictable endeavor.

Fun with fondant

Fondant is a sugar dough that can be rolled and shaped into ribbons and other 3-D garnishes for cookies and cakes. When left to air-dry, it will harden and hold its shape. (It will also become brittle and fragile, so handle dried pieces carefully.) Fondant is available in most cake decorating supply stores and online.

Fondant is pure white, but it can be tinted to any shade simply by kneading in soft gel food coloring of your choice.

To make ribbons

Roll fondant into thin sheets with a pasta machine or rolling pin and cut out ribbons of the desired width and length using a ruler as your guide. Glue them into place on the cookies with Royal Icing while the fondant is still pliable.

For daisies and leaves

Roll fondant into thin sheets with a pasta machine or rolling pin, and cut out the desired shapes with cookie cutters. If you want the fondant pieces to conform to the cookies, secure them while the dough is still pliable. Otherwise, shape as you wish and let the pieces air-dry before attaching them.

For bows

Shape small segments of fondant ribbon into loops and stick the ends together with a bit of water to form bows. Cover the ends of the loops by wrapping another ribbon around the center of each bow. Allow the bows to air-dry until they hold their shape; then secure to gingerbread baskets or other cookies with thick Royal Icing. (Drying time varies with bow size.)

For cords

Roll fondant into two ropes of the desired diameter and length for your project. (For the handles on the baskets, I used two 26- to 30-inch ropes, each about ¼ inch in diameter.) Twist the two ropes together on your work surface to form a cord and trim the ends to neaten. Avoid lifting long cords while twisting, as they can stretch and misshape. To make a handle from the cord, shape it into an arc on a cookie sheet, and air-dry until it can be lifted without bending or breaking. (Very large handles, such as the ones on the baskets, may need to dry as long as a couple of weeks, so plan ahead.)

For vines, such as those on Great Pumpkin Cookies

Roll small portions of fondant into thin ropes that taper to a point at one end. Wrap each rope around a thin (¼-inch-diameter or less) dowel rod and dry a few minutes, or until the vine holds its shape when slipped off the rod. Apply the vines to the cookies while still pliable or allow them to dry completely for easier handling.




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Excerpted from Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year by Julia M. Usher. Copyright 2009 by Gibbs Smith. Excerpted with permission by Gibbs Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.




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Recipe: Great pumpkin cookies