While Christmas may be over, cookies are always in season!
So even though this post comes a little late for the holidays, you can still make your own fabulously decorated cookies using any of the techniques I'll talk about in this post.
These cookies were about a 4 day process.
Day 1: Make Dough.
Sugar Cookie Lesson 1: Use salted butter!!!! I'd been on an unsalted butter kick, and didn't even think about it when I set about to make my cookies. But the first batch of dough tasted like cardboard, and it took me a minute to figure out why...
I simply used my favorite childhood sugar cookie recipe, and then wrapped it up and stored it in a tupperware in the fridge overnight.
Day 2: Roll, cut and bake!
I rolled out my dough on a Sil-pat on a cookie sheet, and cut right on there, removing the dough between the cutouts. In this way, I didn't have to move the cookies once they'd been cut. (This helps keep shape distortion to a minimum.) While I had to cook them in smaller batches, I'd just rinse the sil-pat and alternate it to another cookie sheet between batches.
Day 3: Initial Frosting Operations
All the cookies received a base coat of smooth royal icing... how to do this?
I used this recipe for the royal icing: Royal Icing Recipe, more or less. I used a little more water than the recipe called for, so as not to give myself carpal tunnel while doing the piping. Also, I made part of the batch stiff and part of the batch runny. Even for the stiff batch, I used a little extra water. When I was satisfied, I took some out and put it in a parchment cone (to be used right away), and put a little more in 3 different containers: one for white decorating, one for green, and one for blue. (Note: keep the icing covered when not in use-- royal icing hardens quickly when in contact with air.) The remaining icing I watered down significantly so that the features in the mixing bowl disappeared after about 10 seconds. This is what gives the cookies their smooth finish.
To ice the cookies, I used the parchment cone that I filled with white icing to pipe a dam along the edge (this could also be done with a #2 tip). After I piped all the dams, I filled in the cookies carefully with the thinner icing, which I think I did with a cut disposable pastry bag, though I don't actually remember anymore.
For trees like these:
I piped on a few stripes of green into the wet icing and swirled with a toothpick to make the patterns in the background. I only did this on a few of the cookies.
The whole icing process took a couple of hours. Then, I let the cookies dry overnight.
Day 4: Decorate!
Okay, so I had some pretty strict rules that I set for myself. For one thing, no two snowflakes could be the same. Even most of the other designs were unique (I only made snowflakes, trees, and stars). I may have repeated one of my tree designs once or twice. :)
Most of these designs were piped on using parchment cones and the reserved icing (white, green, and blue).
Some of the snowflakes were brushed with pearl dust or sprinkled with white sanding sugar (over a layer of brushed on piping gel) before I piped the design in white or blue. Some featured silver dragees, which I applied using a tweezers or a bamboo skewer with a little bit of piping gel on the tip to hold the dragee.
Another tool I used was royal icing dots, which I made on the sil-pat (similar to the buzz cake, only smaller). I used some of the leftover runny icing and made dots of various sizes and let them harden overnight as well. You can see them on these snowflakes:
The one on the left has sanding sugar, the one on the right is brushed with pearl dust.
These both have 1 or more royal icing dots and pearl dust.
These were 2 of my favorites-- just pearl dust, white piping, and silver dragees.
I thought these were cute too. Green piping, and silver dragees.
Sometimes I used a paintbrush to blend the frosting a little.
I liked the sanding sugar applied selectively to the tree. I brushed on some piping gel using a paintbrush and then sprinkled the sugar so it would only stay where I wanted it.
To do the holly tree, I used some store bought sprinkles that contained holly and berries, and selectively stuck on using small dots of royal icing and a bamboo skewer with a little piping gel on the tip to pick up the sprinkles.
I drew the design on this one using Wilton food color pens. Neat, right?
They came out pretty tasty too!
I packed them all up in cling wrap and in baggies with some air inside of tupperwares and packed them all in my (checked) suitcase to take home for the holidays. None broke, and they were a big success!
Cookies are definitely a fun, low-key way to practice your piping and challenge yourself to come up with new patterns. Though I'll admit I was pretty attached to all these cookies-- sometimes it was hard to let people eat them. :)