Saturday, 22 March 2014

Easy Cookie Decorating for Spring

Once you've made your sugar cookies, you may be looking for ideas on how to decorate them. With so many cookie cutter shapes available, the decorating options are endless. There's just one catch, you have to actually be adept at icing cookies. 

Through my years of baking, preparing royal icing and icing cookies has always been a struggle for me. My icing was constantly to thin and runny, or if I managed to make the proper consistency, my icing colours would slowly bleed together once on the cookie. I had to learn that less is more when it comes to food colouring (I wanted powder blue for snowflakes and got a cookie monster shade instead) and I had to learn that Ziploc bags are no substitute for proper piping bags and tips. 

But after all my mistakes and lessons, here I am today: moderately good at icing cookies. Yeah, I'm not nearly a pro at it yet. I have many hobbies and interests, and cookie decorating is only one of them. So when Martha Stewart assumes that I can put tiny freckles on the face of my little red riding hood sugar cookie, she is dead wrong. My skill level is barely beyond beginner, but I do want to make pretty desserts. So this weekend I came up with an easy way to make impressive and lovely decorated sugar cookies that are great for the springtime.

First thing's first: here is a very good royal icing recipe. Royal icing is an icing made with no butter. It is primarily icing sugar and water, and when done properly, it should dry thin and hard- perfect for cookie decorating. My main advice when preparing royal icing is this: follow the directions to the letter! There is no room for improvising. If you follow the recipe exactly, you will have icing that is just right for cookie decor.

Royal Icing

4 1/2  cups powdered sugar
1/3  cup + 2 Tbsp  warm water
3  Tbsp meringue powder
1/2  tsp cream of tartar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat with a mixer on low speed until blended. 
Increase speed to high and beat until icing is very thick, stiff and glossy, about 7 minutes. 
When you are ready to ice cookies, let the icing mixture out with a bit of warm water, whisking lightly until you reach the desired consistency. 

Note: The final instruction may sound strange; why make thick icing and then thin it out again? The reason is that when you whip the mixture with your mixer, you activate the meringue powder (an egg product) which causes the icing to become firm and thick. The meringue powder ensures that your icing doesn't run, bleed or become watery once on the cookies. When you let the icing out with additional water, you achieve the proper consistency while maintaining firm glossy icing that is easy to work with. 

*You can purchase meringue powder at bulk food stores. 

Now on to the fun stuff! 
I wanted to come up with an icing project that would be pretty but also very achievable. I think these pansies are just that. Pansies have a sort of iconic colour combo, and when I began painting I realised that if you simply got all four colours on the page (purple, dark purple, yellow and green) you'd pretty much have yourself a picture of a pansie. And that is the idea behind these cookies. 

Here is the step-by-step photo tutorial:

Lay cool sugar cookies out on a drying rack. 
For these cookies I used a 2 inch round cookie cutter.

Separate out four small portions of icing into individual bowls. 
Cover each bowl with plastic wrap.
Put remaining icing into a large piping bag fitted with a #3 tip.

For the white icing, draw a circle on the cookie just shy of the edge.
Fill the circle with parallel lines.
Smooth out icing with a small offset spatula.

Leave cookies to dry.

While cookies are drying, mix your four icing colours.
Use toothpicks and gel food colouring to get desired colours.
For the dark purple I mixed purple with black and blue. 

For Pansies:
Put prepared purple icing in a piping bag fitted with a #3 tip. 
Draw four small swirls in the centre of the cookie.
Using a toothpick, blend or smooth out the lines to form the 'petals'.

Dip a toothpick in the dark purple icing and use toothpick to place lines or dots on petals.
Use another toothpick to place a dollop of yellow near the flower's centre.
Using a clean toothpick, draw little green lines for leaves.

Don't worry about getting any one shape exactly right.
Leaves can be a dot, a line or a splatter! 

Each one looks slightly different, but they all look like pansies!
Notice the one on the bottom right- super abstract!

Here's what my work space looked like:
(Have lots of toothpicks handy and keep an extra bowl ready to 
dispose of the used ones so you don't get icing all over the place).

And here is a picture of some of my rejects:
(Seriously not a big deal if you mess up, those are the ones you get to eat)!

All done!

As you can see in this photo, my icing was probably a little too stiff, 
I could have gone thinner but I thought better too thick than too runny.

 Enjoy your cookies!