Tuesday 11 March 2014

Oh Sugar, Sugar {Cookies} Part 1: Demystifying Terms, Tricks and Techniques

I absolutely adore sugar cookies. I love the entire process of making the dough, cutting out fun shapes and decorating them with beautiful colours and accents. 

I have decided to share a few of my favourite tools, techniques and recipes with you should an occasion rise where you want to make beautifully decorated cookies! I personally get really excited during ANY holiday because I get to bake something themed. It also has occurred to me I am extremely odd. There is A LOT to take in here. But I wanted a one-stop shop for cookie decorating. I will add to this as time goes on :) 

Today's Buzz Words:

  • Royal Icing
  • Piping Tips
  • Flooding & Piping
  • Decorated Cookie Tips
  • Food Colouring, Lustre Dust, Cookie Painting 

Cookie-curious? Let's go!

Tricks of the Trade

I am not a professional. Nor anywhere near it. But my Aunt is and the bloggers and YouTubers I follow are...and so I have gained (some) knowledge to share!

First would be what do you need, REALLY? Cookie decorators can have thousands of dollars worth of supplies...and unless you happen to have the cash and space, that's not necessary!

 Key Words:
  • Royal Icing: Icing made from icing sugar, water, meringue powder or egg whites and flavour. It sets to a hard consistency allowing you to decorate on top of it. Most popular icing for decorating sugar cookies. Here is a recipe: Wilton's Royal Icing **find Meringue powder in the spices aisle or specialty aisle of cake/craft stores like Michael's**
  • Flooding Icing: This means to fill the entire surface of a cookie- This is Royal Icing that has been thinned VERY carefully with water. Always let flooding dry before decorating on top. This can take a few hours- overnight. Consistency: honey or shampoo
  • Piping Icing: Royal Icing that is thick enough to pipe details--around the consistency of toothpaste.
  • 15 or 20-second icing: Cookie decorators use this term for royal icing that takes 15- 20 (or however many) seconds for a line to disappear. So for example, I run a knife through the icing, it takes 20 seconds for the line to disappear. I use 15-20 second icing for flooding. But I measure more the consistency to gauge the icing I need
  • Wet-on-Wet Technique: This refers to decorating on top of flood icing that is still wet! This is how you do marbling techniques, polka dots, etc. which lay flat on the cookie as opposed to on top! This can be done for many things but now all, because you don't want all your colours to melt together!
  • Lustre Dust, Disco Dust, Petal Dust: You can find these at craft stores, online shops and even sometimes at Wal-Mart! These are all edible powder dusts which can be painted on cookies or fondant. Petal dusts are flat, lustre dusts are shimmery and disco dusts are VERY glittery!

  • Below is what these icings look like 'in play'. Always start with your base or flooding icing and let dry completely! Many baker's say to let it dry over night. 
  • PLAN! Decide the design, colours, amount of cookies, etc. all ahead of time! Not sure how to get a specific colour? Sweet Sugar Belle's Amazing Colour Chart!  For my superbowl cookies, I had to make a bunch of colours for the teams that were playing:

  • CONSERVE! If you make your royal icing in a big batch, store it in an airtight container and take as much as you need at a time, dying each batch individually and watering it down based on your needs. For example, I started with brown, flooding icing. Let my cookies dry overnight and then made more icing from my 'master batch'. Sugar cookies are pretty forgiving and taste good even after a week (or two!)

Nifty Icing Diagram! HO YEAH!

List of Essentials:
  • Ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar (granulated), vanilla extract, butter, eggs, icing sugar and meringue powder (if you choose to use Royal Icing for decorating *I use RI for my cookies*)

From the Wilton Site. Can be found at: Bulk Barn, Wal-Mart, Michael's and online!
  • Piping bags or heavy duty ziploc bags which you can use to pipe icing onto cookies. I personally love the Wilton bags and recently discovered a cool trick to re-use bags! **elastic bands for your piping bags! Once you have your bag ready to go, push your icing down to the bottom, collect the top of the bag and secure with an elastic to prevent icing spillage!**
  • Piping Tips for special designs: this will depend on what you want to do. But the most versatile tips are the round tips like the #1, #2 and #3 from Wilton
  • Couplers- these are the white plastic pieces on piping bags that help secure your tip in place--I think these are helpful because without them the tips can slide back into the bags. Further, without couplers you cannot easily switch the tips out! With the coupler you can change tips easily.
  • Food Colouring: The gel colours are probably the best bet because they are so concentrated! I find mine at Wal-Mart, Bulk Barn and Michael's craft stores. Mine are all Wilton brand but the Americolour gel pastes are supposedly amazing! You can colour both cookies and the icing, too! 
  • Toothpicks- these are great for popping air-bubbles, marbling designs and cleaning up 'whoopsies'
  • Icing bottles-- these are optional and are best suited if you are using a watery icing for flooding cookies
  • Parchment paper: this is great to decorate on and also to bake on, it prevents cookies from browning too fast 
  • Cookie cutters: this is up to you: I would say buy only as many as you need for the occasion and get the most versatile shapes: circles, squares, etc. That you can then pipe any design you want on to! Lots of expert bakers create their own templates and use that to cut-out cookies. 
A-typical Scenario ;)

Baking Tips 

  • Have a good recipe! Sweetopia is an AMAZING cookie blogger. Like...unreal! Here is Sweetopia's Sugar Cookie Recipe
  • Don't over-bake sugar cookies. They are fairly delicate and cook quickly depending on how thick you cut them, the thinner they are the quicker they will cook. Your oven temperature will also vary so while you should follow the recipe's directions, also keep a close watch!
  • Use a cookie sheet. They work best for...well, cookies! 
  • Use your dough wisely! Cut as many cookies as possible from one 'roll' of dough then use the scraps in your next 'roll'. If you constantly have scraps to roll and re-roll your dough will become dry and crumbly!
  • Use less baking powder for a flatter cookie
  • Don't over-mix ingredients which can cause uneven, flat cookies
  • Use a good pan! Darker pans may cause your cookies to brown faster--parchment paper helps with this!
  • If you want the cookies to spread LESS, make sure your dough has chilled. If possible, freeze cookies for a few minutes before baking them to help them keep their shape
  • HAVE FUN! Cookie decorating can be easy! You can buy store bough icing, sprinkles, sanding sugar and omit the royal icing aspect of the decorating process and still have amazingly perfect cookies!

I hope this helps clarify some of the mystique of cookie decorating terminology and products. I intend to post lots of my designs and cookies and want to a have a foundation upon which to build.

Anything I missed? Any techniques you want me to talk about? Let me know! 

Okay sweet, sweet sugary people, 

Happy Baking!

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