I was doing some Christmas shopping at Michael’s craft store the other day and couldn’t resist the adorable assortment of cookie cutters.
WHAT? Michael’s has great percent-off coupons!
I NEVER make rolled cookies and I NEVER have the time to decorate rolled cookies without a small child at my side.
This week, I had the time. And obviously I now had the cutters. I know, you’re shocked. My resistance is really low at Michael’s, Target, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
It was cookie week on the Martha Stewart Show, and in between loads of laundry, sinks full of dishes, vacuuming, tree decorating and cat wrangling, I was able to catch a segment on decorating rolled cookies. Well… that just clinched it. It must be fate calling me to make my favorite ginger cookies.
Please tell me you clicked on the link in my last post and read BraveTart’s Holiday Cookie Survival Guide… So worth it! Now that you have, and you’ve baked a ton of cookies, you may commence decorating.
This leads us to royal icing.
The creative artsy side of me loves the idea of decorating with royal icing, too, but it gets messy. The icing is made with only egg whites, powdered sugar and lemon juice (a little vanilla helps too) and it hardens completely within a few hours. It’s the kind of stuff they use to make Candy Dots — you know, the ones on the paper strip? The ones that would never come off that paper strip without a bit of paper but of course you’d eat them anyway and then spend a few minutes picking little bits of paper off your tongue?
Yeah, well…this is the stuff. And what an awesome “vintage” stocking stuffer homemade Candy Dots would make, no?
Basic Standard Royal (decorating) Icing
2 egg whites
1t lemon juice
3/4t vanilla or lemon extract (optional)
1 lb powdered sugar, SIFTED
If you don’t already have one of these cute little acrylic scoops, get one. I use it all the time when recipes, such as this one, call for you to add the dry ingredients to the bowl of your mixer GRADUALLY.
Combine the egg whites, lemon juice and vanilla (mint extract would work, too, or maybe coconut or rum? Whatever flavors work well with the flavorings in your cookies.) in the bowl of your mixer and whisk on med-low to start. Gradually (there ya go with that scoop!) add the powdered sugar, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. If med-low is too high and the sugar is flying up in clouds, turn the speed down to low.
Once all the sugar has been added, scrape down the sides again and give it a good minute or so of beating at medium speed.
The icing is now ready for you to play with – separate into bowls for mixing up colors (gel or paste colors work better than the old drops you get at the grocery store, and they’re easily found in craft stores now) or just remove to a bowl and cover tightly so it’s not exposed to air.
So my point…and I do have a point. I have two actually.
First, royal icing tends to dry and crust up quickly, so quickly, in fact, that it will inevitably clog up the tiny pastry tips while your bags are resting between uses. Anything that is exposed to the air will develop a crust. Keep your royal icing covered, either with plastic wrap or in a tightly covered container. If it’s already in the pastry bag, and while you’re working with one bag, cover the tips of all your other bags with a damp paper towel . If they clog up a bit despite your best efforts, just poke a toothpick in the hole and pull out the dried icing.
Second point regarding clean-up: food coloring and sugary icing can be messy. Ok, they ARE messy, especially if you have helpers that are under 48″ tall. You’ll probably end up with some tie-dyed fingertips. It will make your life much easier if you assemble everything you need before you get involved in the next task (the fun part, decorating!)
One of the other things I saw on Martha’s show was this awesome trick . This is essentially what convinced me that I can do this project without making me want to scream about the mess left behind. With this? There IS NO MESS!
The video link (http://www.karenscookies.net) above shows this ‘technique’ but here’s a brief rundown on how it goes:
Lay a square of plastic wrap on a flat surface and spoon the royal icing into the center. Fold the plastic wrap over, corner to corner, to tightly enclose the icing.
Roll the icing completely in the plastic wrap…
then pick up the ends of the plastic wrap, holding one in each hand lightly, and spin it around until the ends are very tight.
Mix all your colors and wrap them in the same manner.
Prepare a pastry bag by inserting a coupler (unscrew and remove the ring first) into the bag to determine where you need to cut off the tip of the bag. If you use the disposable plastic pastry bags you can either chuck ’em or rinse and reuse them because the little packet of icing comes right out, no fuss, no muss!
Cut off the tip of the bag (bet you didn’t know THAT was coming, huh)
Push the coupler through the opening.
Hold the bag open and drop in one of your little icing ‘pillows’ with a plastic wrap tail hanging through the coupler. Using scissors, snip off as much of the tail as possible. Place a decorating tip on the coupler and screw on the ring to secure the tip.
This coupler thingy enables you to change pastry tips (say from a plain tip to a star tip) mid-way through decorating without removing all the icing from your bag – which would be a total pain in the ass. $1 and change gets you a coupler, and even if you only do a few cakes and cookies a year, it would be worth it to get yourself a handful so you’ve always got what you need.
Give your bag a practice squeeze to make sure you’ve gotten out any air bubbles. You DON’T want to discover them as your piping icing on a cookie.
Prepare and fill all of your bags, then get ready for the fun to start!