Friday, April 24, 2009

Cookies for a Cause

When I heard about the first annual Walk for MS being held in DC last year, I jumped at the chance to participate. Unfortunately, my aunt is a victim of multiple sclerosis, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to help out a cause close to my heart. The second annual Walk for MS sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton is tomorrow and I am so excited! I was a little leery about signing up for the walk months ago--I was afraid that whatever day the walk fell on would be sure to feature unseasonable blizzard-like temps or the monsoon of the millennium. But no! Tomorrow's forecast is a sunny 85 degrees and I hope this means a great turnout for the walk's organizers.

In addition to helping out a variety of worthy causes, another benefit of participating in charity walks and races in the nation's capitol is getting a bonus siteseeing tour. Kicking off at the Canadian Embassy, right next door to the Newseum, though the DC Walk for MS is only a quick 3.1 miles, its route meanders along the Capitol Building, the Congressional office buildings, the Botanic Gardens, and more. If you would like more information about multiple sclerosis, charity events in your area, or would like to pledge your support to this important cause, please visit my participant page.

The theme of of this year's event is showing your support for a world free of MS by wearing orange to this year's walk. Well, I don't actually own anything orange unfortunately, so I thought I'd show my spirit by decorating some cookies in honor of the walk's logo. I couldn't find any sugar cookie recipes for batches less than 6 dozen, so I just went with a packaged mix, BUT I'm very excited to say that I tried royal icing for the first time!

What is royal icing? Usually, whenever you see those beautiful, intricately decorated cookies on the covers of magazines around Christmas time, they've used royal icing. As opposed to frosting, royal icing dries to give a smooth, hard finish which allows you to better stack, wrap, freeze and decorate your cookies. Royal icing is simply a mixture of powdered sugar, lemon juice and egg whites. However, if you are concerned about salmonella, many recipes are also adapted for using meringue powder, which usually is found in a can in the baking aisle near the baking soda (my store was charging $6.99 so I went with the actual egg whites). One hazard of royal icing is that it dries out very quickly, so keep it covered with plastic as much as possible. Additionally, it can take several hours for the icing to dry completely, so keep this in mind if you're planning cookies for an event, or need to transport them. If your icing is too thick, simply add a little water, if it's too thin just add more sugar--simple!

I loved the outcome of these cookies and it's a great way to spread the message to my friends about the Walk for MS, and would be great for a bakesale to raise money for next year's walk. This type of icing is great for any type of cookie-writing you want to do--birthdays, baby showers, school sports teams, etc.

Royal Icing (egg whites)
2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups confectioners sugar

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice.
Add the powdered sugar and beat until combined and smooth. Use immediately or place in an airtight container. At this point add any flavorings or food color and stir by hand. Makes 3 cups.

Royal Icing (meringue powder)
4 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons meringue powder
1/2 teaspoon extract (vanilla, almond or lemon)
1/2-3/4 cup warm water

With an electric mixer, beat the sugar and meringue powder until, combined.
Add the water and beat on medium speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5-7 minutes).
At this point add any flavorings or food color and stir by hand. Makes 3 cups.

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