2 1/2-inch round cutter; 2 1/4-inch round cutter; 9 wooden pop sticks; 3 pastry bags; 2 small round piping tips; 1 small closed star piping tip
For the dough: Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Beat together the egg and vanilla in a small bowl.
Beat the butter, granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed. Once incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat until slightly creamy, about 3 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Reduce the speed to low again and slowly pour in the egg mixture; beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, in 3 additions, increasing the speed as the dough gets thicker to keep the beaters spinning. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters as needed. Once all the flour is just incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is very smooth, about 5 minutes.
Turn the dough out of the bowl and bring it together. Divide into 2 even pieces. Shape each piece into a flat square and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 3 hours or overnight.
To roll, cut and bake the cookies: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust another sheet of parchment paper with flour and put 1 piece of the dough on top.
Dust with more flour and top with another sheet of parchment. Roll the dough out between the parchment sheets into a square about 1/4-inch thick and place in the freezer for 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.
From 1 piece of rolled dough, cut out 8 cookies with a 2 1/2-inch cutter and 4 cookies with a 2 1/4-inch cutter. Make the masks by placing 2 of the larger cookies on the prepared baking sheet next to each other so they are barely touching. Place one of the wooden sticks in the middle of the cookies. Place one of the smaller cookies on top of the stick to secure the pieces together. Repeat with remaining cookies, placing each mask about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Refrigerate while you cut the remaining cookies. Reroll any scraps of dough and repeat the freezing, cutting and refrigerating process until all the dough is used.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets front to back and bottom to top about halfway through, until golden brown around the edges, about 12 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheets set on a wire cooling rack, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the royal icing: Combine the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder in a large bowl. Add 4 tablespoons water and the vanilla and whip with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the icing forms thick and glossy peaks, about 2 minutes (adding up to 1 tablespoon more water if needed). The white will be your muzzle, so it needs to be very stiff so that it holds a textured shape.
Fit 3 pastry bags with a small tips – 2 with small round tips and 1 with a small closed star tip. Remove 1 cup of frosting and place in the piping bag with a small closed star tip.
Put 1/4 cup of the remaining frosting into a small bowl. Add 12 drops of the dark brown food coloring and whisk until combined. This will be used to outline the cheeks and to draw the mouth, so it needs to be thick but not as stiff as the white. (The food coloring should be enough added liquid but add a drop of water if it is still too thick.)
Add 7 to 9 drops of the light brown food coloring to the frosting still in the mixer. Add a few drops of water. Beat until combined and loose, adding more water if necessary. This will be the flood color for the cheeks, so it needs to be loose but not watery.
Pipe a line of the dark brown icing around the outer edge of each cheek (the large cookies). This will be the rim that contains the light brown flood so make sure there are no gaps or holes. Repeat with remaining cookies. Once you have finished the edges of all the cookies, check to make sure the first cookie is dry. If not, wait 5 to 10 more minutes until the edges are dry. Then flood each of the cheeks with the light brown frosting. Allow the cookies to dry for 10 to 15 minutes before continuing to decorate (depending on how fast you are, this might be as long as it takes you to flood all the cookies). Once the cheeks are dry, fill the center circle with piped white swirls. Place a red gummy candy halve in the middle of each circle just above the center. Lastly, pipe a mouth onto your mask – starting at the candy nose, pipe a small line down that curves out into hooks in opposite directions. Repeat with remaining noses. Let the cookies dry completely before serving and wearing.
When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)
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