Saturday, December 29, 2012
It’s Just a Cookie
Many of you asked me for the recipe and how I made these cookies, so today I'm here to tell you what I know.
I did a lot of reading online and watched a few youtube videos on how to make iced cookies. While I'm not an expert by far, I did learn a lot this past month and am happy to share that knowledge (and useful tips) with you.
There is certainly a technique involved, as well as a significant monetary and time investment — at least for me.
Here's what I needed to make the cookies you have been seeing on RP:
A lot of powdered sugar
White flour (I prefer unbleached)
Cream of tartar (altho I made an icing recipe without it and my icing turned out just fine)
Merinque powder (hard to find!)
Vanilla extract (clear vanilla which is hard to find)
*Plastic squeeze bottles
*Plastic squeeze bottles with nibs and couplers
Americolor gel icing coloring
Metal nib #1
2 and 4 cup glass measuring bowls with pour spouts
Little tiny spoons or spreaders
lots of small scrapers
A stand mixer
a few cookies sheets
a couple drying racks
lots of plastic containers to keep your un-iced and iced-cookies fresh
parchment paper rolls
fun cookie cutters
a nice flat pancake turner to lift those cookies off the cookie sheets
sanding sugar and little non-pariels for detailing
*Note I prefer plastic bottles at this time. Many purists and traditional cookie decorators prefer icing bags and metal nibs. You can experiment, be my guest. There is no one right way to do this!
Oh where to begin?
Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe
The recipe I love best I found here.
I altered it a bit because I did not like how the cookies spread. So I only add 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and I add enough flour to make the batter just short of being "dry". The more flour (without it being crumbly) the less your cookies will spread.
These are cookies that did NOT spread:
You see how thick the cookie is? How you could actually measure its height? That is how you want your cookies to look. That's how I want my cookies to look. :)
Here are cookies that spread:
You see how the space between the arms of the snowflake are touching?
Compare it to this snowflake where there is a lot of space between the extensions.
It's kind of difficult to tell because there is frosting on the cookies that spread, so in the end, it may not matter to you one bit. However, I love a nice, clean canvas to work upon, therefore, I like a thick, clean cookie as my base.
Baked cookies can be stored in freezer as well and will last quite a long time. You may want to consider this option as iced cookies are definitely a time consuming effort.
The Icing Recipe
I've tried several icings this past month and have settled on this one being my favorite.
However, I don't follow that recipe exactly either! I add my flavoring to the egg mixture, like Sweet Sugarbelle does.
So you see, I borrow a little from one cookie artist and add to something else. It works for me. Do what you like best and what works for you.
In the end, remember, it's just a cookie! Don't get your undies in a bundle over something that people will love regardless of the boo boos and will devour in a matter of seconds.
A Cookie Story
Lest you forget it's just a cookie, realize this story could happen to you! Just the other night I took a beautiful cookie tray to a Christmas party. Thankfully, many had seen the tray when I had arrived. As the children's tiny hands were being swatted away from exploring these sugary delights before dinner, the host decided to put the cookie tray (filled with laborious hours of love) way up top of a cupboard in the kitchen to hide them from curious little tummies. I nervously watched this 6' man lift my beautiful cookie tray 7 feet up up up into the air... and... yep... the inevitable happened.
The entire tray turned upside down, toppling all of the cookies onto the ground, into display baskets, shelves and ceramic bowls of fruit.
Smashed and cracked cookies everywhere. Hours of work gone in seconds.
I had to repeat to myself over and over: It is just a cookie. They were only cookies.
The host felt terrible.
What could I do but laugh?
So remember, if you only take one thing from me today let it be this: It's just a cookie.
The best thing you can do is read here.
There are basically three types of consistency in icing world: Outline, Flood and 20-Second. You will use mainly outline and flood icing. I'm not discussing 20-Second today, but you can read about it on Sweet Sugarbelle. What I found is that you can have just the right consistency (by the book) and once you have it in your icing bag or bottle, the consistency is not spot on. :( Therefor, I've just had to practice several times in order to make things work the way I like.
You need to outline your cookie first with a thicker "outlining icing". That way when you put the flood icing on the cookie, it will not run off the cookie! This takes a LOT of practice, and I'm just not that good at it yet. For demo's read here.
See how the icing runs off the cookie, even tho I outlined it?
Here I have the outlining done correctly:
Once you outline the cookie, you can use flood icing to fill it.
Flood icing is thinner. It's slightly watered down outlining icing. When you make your icing, you'll make it very thick. You'll add the color to it and have enough to fill two bottles: thick icing (outline) and thinner icing (flood). You'll fill up your icing bottle with the outline consistency. You will then have to thin down the remaining colored icing and place that into another bottle so that you can flood the cookie.
You will have two bottles (or icing bags) for each color: outline and flood.
These bottles have been sitting overnight and so the icing has separated a bit.
Oy Vey. This is so much to explain. Rather, just read Sweet Sugarbelle's blog. She is my favorite resource for iced cookies and I'm a big big fan of hers! Pretty much everything I know I learned from her blog. And remember, I just started this hobby! I'm still learning and I'm sure 1 year from now I'll have more to say on the subject.
Now, once the flood icing is dry (about 8 hours) you can decorate on top of it! I use the outline bottle to draw lines and dots on the cookie.
However, you can see one weird thing on this cookie below.
I drew the arms of the star with the outline bottle. As I did not mix the outline icing bottle very well, the inside lines on the star "spread" a bit. The icing was not consistent throughout, something that is difficult to achieve in a plastic bottle which is why many people prefer icing bags.
Does it matter much if the icing spread in some areas and not in others? Not really. The cookie is still pretty and completely delicious and edible! :) I'm not selling my cookies, and even if I were, everyone knows decorated cookies are hand-made and supposed to be imperfect!
I show you this only for learning purposes. If you have your cookie icing too thin, it too will spread! And if you don't let that flood icing dry (underneath) before decorating on top, you will have another mess on your hands.
Here's a cookie that turned out pretty good. It baked just right. The outline and flood were pretty good, and then the detail atop the cookie is nearly just right as well!
Make sure your icing is completely dry before trying to package up your creations. It may take up to 6-8 hours or more to dry completely. And even when dry, layer the cookies atop of one another carefully.
I thought of a couple ways to package the cookies for sharing with friends. There are the obvious ways that you will find by doing a basic google search yourself.
One of my favorites is wrapping a large cookie in a cellophane bag and tying it up with a pretty twist or ribbon. This makes a single cookie look spectacular.
Here's one of Oliver's cookies he wanted to share. I am sorry, I don't have a lot of great photos of wrapped cookies. :(
Oliver and I attended my small group (church) holiday potluck. I had planned on bringing a tray of smaller, bit-sized cookies for guests to enjoy during the party. I thought perhaps each of the larger decorated cookies could be packaged up for guests to take home with them.
However, the potluck gather occurred just days following the Sandy Hook shootings. While the pain was fresh in my heart, it felt odd to celebrate without doing some thing to acknowledge the tragedy at hand. I attached a little card to each cookie.
The take-aways were put in cellophane bags and tied with twists or ribbons. Each had a tag attached which carried the name of one of the children from the shooting and his or her age. Guest were instructed to pray for that child and his or her family prior to opening the package and enjoying the treat. It was bittersweet, yes, but it was heavy on my heart, and it was something I felt I had to tie into the season. It didn't feel right to move thru the holiday season while our brothers and sisters in another part of the country were grieving so.
My son, of course, had no clue about this event, but it was so touching when he took the tray of wrapped cookies and passed them around the party. Guests were touched, and I felt a bit of resolve. The cookie above was one I took for myself. I loved my son's cookies the most. They reminded me of expressionist gesture paintings of 50's. At the party I realized I couldn't bear to let that one go. I've been praying for Caroline and her family ever since.
OK, now onto giving larger sums of cookies away. I thought it might be fun to pick up a brownie tray or something of the sort, fill it with "grass" and place the cookies ontop of that. However, I had no special way to wrap it up. If you have any great ideas on that, please let me know! I think I saw clear cellophane wrap at Target once. I may have to pick a roll of that up!
My sister-in-law was the lucky recipient of the tray below. She had to stay back in St Louis this year, so I asked my brother (who could visit) to bring her this tray. I'm hoping the cookies arrived in one piece! At one point I watched my brother toss them into his truck and they landed at a 45 degree angle, in tack. I promptly ordered him to level them out, and he kindly obliged (my SIL has him well-trained), but who knows what happened after we said our good-byes. :)
It doesn't matter too much however. Lest we forget, they are just cookies!
It's really just a matter of practice. And patience. And technique. And luck. :) Don't forget to have fun! And don't forget:
It's just a cookie!