I have always had a bit of a thing for beautifully decorated cookies,
like these from www.sweetsugarbelle.com
or these from bakeat350.blogspot.co.uk
or these from sweetopia.net
The transformation of something as humble, sweet and delicious as a simple cookie into a totally beautiful and totally edible mini work of art has always seemed a bit magical.
Unfortunately, I am but a mere mortal, and the ability to ice those intricate and pretty designs has always intimidated the pants off me! My attempts at icing on Christmas cakes and the like always ended up being a bit ….. well ……. splodgy. I also seemed to get as much icing on my hands as on the cake.
So I decided that for our big first blogiversary (which was last week, and incase you missed it you can find it right here :D), I would face down the beast and have a go at icing our very own blogiversary cookies.
So, first things first I did what any self respecting girl does when faced with a technical challenge …. I Googled it. Luckily, the internet is a wonderful place and there are some very talented bakers out there, who have been kind enough to share their wisdom. Mainly I relied on the sound advice of Bridget at bakeat350.blogspot.co.uk and The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle over at www.sweetsugarbelle.com
I learned two things right off the bat. 1) I needed a bigger piping bag, which I went and duly bought, and 2) I needed a smaller icing tip, which handily was right next to the icing bags in my local baking store.
These things purchased I came home and had a bash and here is what I came up with …..
…. not bad in the end for a first attempt (kinda). :S
The good news is that I now have the cookie icing bug! Poor Phil may have more than his fair share of sugar cookies coming his way over the winter. I’m sure he won’t complain too loudly :D.
So, I guess the message of today’s post is, if there is something you fancy doing, have a go! It might turn out ok and give you the enthusiasm to keep trying (or it might be a disaster and you have to eat and entire plate of cookies so no one else can see them ….. either way, you win! :D).
I have shared the method I followed below, but with the proviso that I am absolutely a total beginner and hoping that before you give it a go yourselves you have a Google or head on over to one of the websites I learned from to get some advice from an expert! Never the less, here are my attempts!
Almond Cookies for Icing
Having the right base for your work of art is so important. You want a sugar cookie recipe which will bake flat and even and not loose its shape too much in the baking process.
For my almond cookies I used this recipe which I found on Bake at 350, which I have reproduced below, making a couple of minor tweaks of my own. It is also worth saying that the almond flavor is totally optional. You could go for any flavor which took your fancy!
Will make around 25 – 30 3″ square cookies
1/2 cup of white sugar (we used granulated because we had run out of caster, but caster would probably work better)
110 grams of butter
1 small egg (or half a medium / large egg – just whisk it and only add half in the recipe)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 and 1/2 cups of plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1) Mix mix mix – Cream together your butter and sugar. Then add in your egg, vanilla extract and almond extract and beat to combine. Mixing on low speed, gradually add in you flour and baking powder. Scrape down the sides of your bowl and mix again until just combined.
Bake at 350 notes that your dough should be crumbly, which mine was. Phew!
2) Knead and Roll – Scoop your dough out of your bowl onto a floured surface and give it a gentle knead until it comes together into a ball.
Now, gently roll roll roll out your dough to around 1/8th to a 1/4 inch thick. We had much too much dough to roll out at once on our kitchen table, so I rolled it out in two halves. I found that the key to stopping my dough ripping when rolling it was to follow Martha Stewart’s advice and only push with the rolling pin, never pull. Also, make sure your surface is very well floured to stop any sticking situations.
3) Cut your shapes – The next task is to cut out your cookie shapes. You could use a cookie cutter to do this or if you are feeling adventurous and don’t have a specific shaped cutter, you could have a go and using a template and cutting with a knife, like we did.
We made a template by drawing out the shape of cookie we wanted onto a thick card and then simply cut around it. Then for each cookie we placed the card on the dough and drew around it using a sharp kitchen knife (a clean craft knife would also work just as well).
Now transfer your cookies to a baking parchment lined cookie sheet. After mashing a few cookies trying to pick them up with our fingers, we learned the easiest way to transfer them was to use a palette knife.
4) Freeze and Bake – This step is the most most most important step for getting cookies which hold their shape when you bake them. While you pre-heat your oven, pop the cookies on the baking sheet in the freezer for just 5 minutes. This really does make all the difference.
Bake at 175 °C, 350 F for around 10 to 12 minutes, until they are nicely golden around the edges.
Take out and pop on a cooling rack. Don’t try to ice them until they are totally cooled 😀
Decorating Cookies with Royal Icing
First you will need to make your Royal Icing. When dried, royal icing will give you a smooth, hard and matt finish to your cookies. 😀
There are three ways to make royal icing:
1) Make using meringue powder. You can find a full recipe for that on Bake at 350. This is most definitely your best bet if you live in the US because the meringue powder uses pasteurized egg whites.
2) Make using fresh egg whites. This is probably your best bet if you live in the UK as meringue powder is super hard to find.
(Mini health warning, if you are using raw eggs make sure they are clean, stored in a fridge and are lion-marked to avoid any risks of salmonella).
3) Buy a royal icing mix. You can buy this from the supermarket and make to the specifications on the bag ….. I’m pretty sure they only make the pre-mixed stuff in the UK though.
I made mine using fresh egg whites and it was surprisingly simple! 😀
Just mix 2 egg whites, 3 cups of icing sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar in a stand mixer on medium speed for around 5 minutes. When it is done you should have a glossy meringue which forms stiff peaks when you lift up the beater.
This thick mix is used for piping the outlines and any detailing.
The first order of business is to outline the design on each of your cookies using a small number 3 sized piping tip. Once iced, the outlines need to be left for a short while to just set firm on the surface before continuing, but I found that by the time I had finished outlining the last cookie my first was ready to use.
To fill the blocks of colour on each cookie we need to colour the icing. There are some really good powdered food colourings available for icing but we just used the standard liquid colourings available from the supermarket to colour small batches of icing at a time, mixing until we got a colour we were happy with. A good tip is to use a straw to add your liquid food colouring a drop at a time (then you can just bin it afterwards and save getting your fingers all stained).
The icing used to fill the big blocks of colour are poured rather than piped to give that really smooth finish. To do this it needs to be slightly more runny. To each of your coloured batches of icing, slowly add half a teaspoon of water at a time and mix thoroughly until you are left with icing the consistency of syrup.
Using a teaspoon slowly pour the coloured icing onto your cookies. We found it useful to take a small pin (a toothpick would work equally well) to help tease the icing into the corners of our outlined shape and pop any air bubbles.
Once filled with coloured icing, the cookies will take about an hour before the surface is set enough to allow you to add any further embellishment on top (like the C Q M & B piped on ours), and overnight before they are set firm.
We finished our cookies by mixing up a small amount of yellow icing at a piping consistency to add flames to our candles.
Phew, all done!
So, there you have it. Decorating iced cookies attempt number 1, finished. It was definitely a learning curve, but a very tasty fun one! Have you tackled any craft or baking challenges recently? You know we love to hear about them!
Hope your having a lovely weekend!