Who are your favorite cooks and bakers to follow on Instagram? For the sake of brevity and self restraint, I’ve rounded up nine bakers whose work always makes me happy and inspired when I see them on Instagram…
I will probably never create a sugar cookie as picture perfect as Kim Kardashian, and I am totally ok with that.
Recently I got so caught up dreaming of designs for the world’s best cookies that my stress levels shot through the roof. I sweat through my shirt. I overcooked a batch of cookies. I quite literally poured icing all over my hand in the process of transferring it to a squeezable condiment bottle. I was a mess!
I finally began having fun when I gave myself permission to make mistakes and just move on.
I didn’t create this blog to spend hours worrying about designing sugar cookies for a picture on Instagram so I could sit back and watch the Likes roll in. I created this blog with the intention of learning how to use my camera and to share my adventures in the kitchen.
Since then, my number one goal has become sharing my baking experiences as honestly and empathetically as possible. Curated social feeds shouldn’t prevent any of us from having fun and making mistakes in the kitchen.
Put another way: I’m not here for the ‘gram. Baking is messy, and I’ve learned something from every one of my projects – including the time I dropped a four-layer Fourth of July flag cake.
So if you’re intimidated as hell by royal icing, and your cookies don’t yet look like the ones around every digital corner, girl, you are not alone. We’re all just doing the best we can, and done is better than perfect.
Below are some tips I’ve learned during my quest for the perfect sugar cookie and pictures that illustrate my process. I hope that by sharing what baking in my house actually looks like, we can break down the lofty ideals of perfection one imperfect cookie at a time.
Cookie: Can you believe I almost threw out the cookies pictured above? Sure they’re pretty ugly, and I bet the cracked surface means I did something wrong, but they’re tasty and that’s what matters most. Plus they make for excellent practice cookies (as you can see in the heart in the bottom right above). There are a million and one sugar cookie recipes online, but I used Sally’s snowman sugar cookie recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
Icing: Sugar cookies usually require two kinds of icing: royal icing and flood icing. Royal icing icing is thicker and dries faster, so you can create borders and other designs on your cookies. Flood icing is royal icing thinned with water and you use it to fill in the shape of your outlines. You only need one recipe for both, and if you only use one, stick with royal icing.
Piping bags: Piping bags are ideal for royal icing. You can cut the exact size hole you want in the bag which will determine the width of your icing lines. Bigger opening = thicker border. I cut about 1/4 inch from each bag’s end and propped the bags up in a glass cup while working. Royal icing is usually thick enough that it won’t ooze out the bottom.
Thanks to my one of my best friends, I have a box of disposable piping bags that I can’t recommend enough! I also have washable, reusable bags, but I usually make so much of a mess (or forget about the icing in the fridge until it expires – oops!) that it’s nice to purge bags after using. One less thing to clean.
Piping bag alternative: If you don’t have piping bags, use a sandwich baggie! Just make sure you don’t zip it closed. This will cause the pressure to build inside the bag and the icing will spill out the top when it finally breaks open. Yes, I learned this the hard way.
Condiment bottles: Squeezable condiment bottles are great for flood icing. I use these from Amazon. They stand upright so you don’t have to worry about the icing leaking everywhere, and most have openings which are the perfect size for cookie decoration.
Condiment bottle alternative: If you don’t have condiment bottles, I recommend adding flood icing and then using something smaller like a toothpick or butter knife to spread it.
Always start with royal icing. It creates the barrier which will contain your flood icing.
While moving slowly in most decoration processes tends to yield the best results, I find the less precious you treat a cookie, the less shaky your icing will turn out. Hold your royal icing tip slightly above the cookie as you draw your desired border, and watch the icing fall into place. Floating the icing will help maintain clean lines.
I like to outline every cookie and let them set before moving on to flood icing. Royal icing should be hard to the touch when it’s done drying.
Use flood icing to fill your cookie. There is no wrong way to fill in the empty space. I like to flood the outline first and then fill in the middle of the cookie. Just do whatever your heart moves you to do!
You know those Instagram videos where someone uses a small gray needle-like tool on the flood icing? I always thought they were spreading the icing. During my icing class this past spring at Biscuiteers, I learned they’re actually popping air bubbles in the icing.
Do you see the four bubbles on the flood icing in the picture above? To remove them, gently poke them with a toothpick or pick up the cookie an inch or two from a surface and drop it. The pressure is usually enough to pop the bubbles as seen below.
My biggest tip (and yes I feel like a big cheese ball saying this) is to be kind to yourself and just have fun. Your first, second, and third batches will be far from perfect, but don’t let that stop you!
Once I threw perfection out the window, I had way more fun piping and throwing sprinkles around with reckless abandon (there may or may not have been several Jackson Pollock shoutouts).
So your lines are crooked and they’re giving you an eye twitch? Just add more lines! Your royal icing broke and now flood icing is pouring out the side of the cookie which is most definitely happening in the picture above? Move that cookie to a plate and pop it in the fridge so the icing can harden. I guarantee no one will care. At the end of the day, you’ve got cookies in your house and that’s all that really matters.
Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! And an especially Happy Valentine’s Day to Kevin, who has eaten his fair share of imperfect cookies and doesn’t make me feel any less because of it!
After the 2016 election, I wanted to do something for friends to brighten their day. I posted a callout on social media asking for eight people who would like homemade desserts shipped straight to their door.
There were no rules aside from 1. The desserts would come on a surprise date anytime within the calendar year and 2. The recipients had no say in their desserts (aside from allergies taken into consideration).
Throughout 2017, cookies of all varieties traveled to eight friends in Bloomington, IN; Austin, TX; San Francisco, CA; Saint John, IN; Richmond, VA and Carbondale, IL. I finally sent the last box just this past December – more than a year after the original callout. Thankfully surprise baked goods taste just as delicious in the summer as they do in the winter.
I had never shipped baked goods before this challenge. But the best part of existing in the twenty-first century is that if you’re interested in doing something, you can always find advice from someone on the internet who has done it before.
- Wrap each treat individually to ensure freshness
- Bake something sturdy enough to endure transit
- Pick something which will last several days
Here’s extra criteria I considered while picking recipes. Sadly, keeping these things in mind eliminated many options except shortbread and cookies:
- No icing
- Nothing dipped in chocolate – in case it melts in transit
- No cupcakes – because an un-iced cupcake is just a muffin*
- Nothing fruity or prone to spoil – “Happy baked goods! Enjoy the mold!” No, thank you.
- Include at least two kinds so if one doesn’t hold up, there’s always another option
*Muffins are delightful, and I don’t make them as much as I should. But the best muffins are soft muffins. And if I was going to ship something soft, I figured I might as well ship a Nature Valley granola bar since I feared anything soft would just turn to crumbs.
The very scientific methodology
I baked the cookies on a Saturday or Sunday evening and individually wrapped them after cooling on these delightful space savers. Then I packed a gallon-sized ziploc bag (or two) with 12-18 cookies total. I then tucked the bags in boxes as big as shoe boxes so they would jostle as little as possible while in transit. Finally, I shipped the cookies first thing Monday morning, and they usually arrived no later than Friday depending on the destination.
It should come as no surprise that the best part of sending cookies to my friends were the messages they sent after the cookies arrived. I assume hearing the cookies were nearly gone made me just as happy as my friends were when they found cookies on their doorstep (I did have to test the batches too after all!). 2017 was a long year, but knowing I made someone’s day made me even more excited than usual to get in the kitchen!
If you’re interested in sending cookies to your friends, here are the treats I shipped on several occasions with no complaints from the recipients:
American Girl doll’s chocolate chip cookies – My family and I usually tell anyone we don’t know very well this recipe is Grandma’s secret recipe 😉
If you have any questions about shipping your own desserts, email me at emmagrdina(at)gmail(dot)com!
The first snowfall has landed in D.C. and the rest of the country too judging by all of the Instagram Stories I just watched. Is there anything as magical as living in a snow globe?
I’m torn between baking up a storm and watching holiday movies all day. Alas, I used up all the eggs in a frittata this morning (a rare activity reserved for weekend mornings when I can pull myself out of bed early enough), and I’m not about to leave the house anytime soon for said eggs. Holiday movies it is!
I thought it might be helpful to wrap up the (semi-holiday, always delicious) recipes I recommend to friends in one neat list. I’ve tried and loved most of the recipes listed below with the exception of the chai cookies, Italian wedding cookies and the peanut butter blossoms. But I’m including them here a. because they look delicious and b. because I’ve made recipes from these bakers before, and everything has turned out wonderfully. I’m sure these will be no different!
The recipes are separated into categories based on how I tend to categorize treats this time of year: Sharing, Shipping, Last-minute baking, and Lazy weekend recipes.
Sharing – Treats which are too decadent to keep to yourself and deserve to be shared
Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate peanut butter tart – Tarts always sound intimidating to me, but this one is a lot less scary if you think of it like a giant Reese’s cup.
Shipping – Snacks to send to friends in all corners of the world
Criteria for shippable cookies includes, but is not limited to: must hold up to being jostled around, nothing dipped lest it melt en route and nothing iced with soft buttercream.
Last-minute baking – Recipes to make when you remember you’ve got a cookie swap in less than 24 hours
Shortbread cookies – Skip the icing, and just bring shortbread! No one will know anything’s missing.
Lazy weekend recipes – For when you’ve got extra time on your hands
Is this round-up helpful? Is there a recipe you think I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re reading this on Wednesday, there’s a good chance we’re 30,000 feet in the air pretending like there’s more than a paper-thin carpet and a giant floating body of aluminum separating us and the ocean beneath us. Aluminum. The thing which can barely contain hot dogs and hamburgers when they’re fresh off the grill! I should’ve never googled “what are planes made of.” I was better off not knowing.
I’m a bit of a nervous flyer, and after an especially turbulent (and teary) flight last month, I’m crossing my fingers that our flights throughout the next week are a lot smoother! Or at the very least, that I fall asleep for every single one. Knowing we’ll soon see geysers and waterfalls in Iceland makes boarding the plane a lot easier. Plus I’m hoping I can drown out all the weird plane noises with some Jonsi! If I listen hard enough, I’ll better understand Icelandic by the time we arrive, right?
I’ve been anxiously anticipating this trip for many reasons, but mostly I’m excited to feel very small! I can’t wait to consume the news from a different viewpoint, to lay off the social media, and to meet new people from all over the world! There’s nothing like time away from home in a new place to make you realize how much is out there.
To say nothing of all the food and sights! And audio tours! All the audio tours in the land!
Who am I kidding. I’m way too excited to sleep!
I wish I could take these Scrabble tiles (and all of you!) with me for an on-the-go game! The best part is, the set I made has neither a Z nor Q because I ate them. I also drew an exclamation point which I promptly ate before Kevin could see it and remind me that exclamation points aren’t regulation tiles. But wouldn’t scrabble be more fun if punctuation was allowed? That sounds like a game I’d like to play.
I used the same sugar cookie recipe as the softball cookies, and I’m happy to report the recipe made about 150 Scrabble tiles to scale. I took these photos in a bit of a hurry before a game night at a friend’s, and at the very least I’m glad I noticed I originally spelled “Congrats” as “Congarts” before I took the picture. Phew!
These cookies are the perfect addition to game night, and I guarantee if you eat two dozen while you’re icing them, you’re in good company 😉 They’re incredibly snackable and instantly recognizable, and as a result, they won’t last long!
- 2 sticks of butter
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 cups of flour
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Cube the butter and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar. Combine until fluffy and well incorporated.
- Add the flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium for 5 minutes.
- When the dough begins to stick together or to the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a well-floured surface for rolling.
- Place a wooden spoon on either side of the dough (but not wider than your rolling pin), so the roller stops flattening the cookies after a certain height.
- Flatten dough. Cut desired shapes. For these tiles, I cut strips of dough and then cut the strips into smaller squares.
- Place shapes on cookie sheets and place in the oven. Decrease the oven’s temp. to 325.
- Rotate cookies after 10 minutes and cook for another 5-6 minutes until golden brown on the edges, but mostly the bottoms.
Tip: When I make cookies, I take them out of the oven just before I think they’re fully done so they can cool on the pan for 10 minutes before I transfer them to a cooling rack.
Royal icing recipe
- 2 cups of powdered sugar
- 2 egg whites
- A pinch of salt
- Food coloring
- Combine all ingredients until well-incorporated.
- If you want to make black icing for writing, I set aside about 2/3 of the royal icing for white icing and then combined the remaining 1/3 with equal parts of red, blue, and green food coloring until the desired color was achieved.
My sister is visiting DC! Wahoo! The only thing better than sitting on the couch all weekend eating Milkbar cookies is sitting on the couch all weekend eating Milkbar cookies with friends and family.
Just kidding. We’re not going to sit inside eating cookies all weekend. We planned our itinerary two weeks ago! What follows is a suggested itinerary for Someone Who Has Visited DC More Than Once But Still Wants to See A Few Things DC Has to Offer.
This guide is mostly food related (as the best ones are) with a few sights thrown in. I’m no D.C. Tour Guide so take all of these recommendations with a grain of salt. And a cookie.
Places to eat and drink
- Ghibellina – This Italian restaurant’s walls hold much sister gossip I’m sure. I’ve never not seen Ghibellina packed to the gills, but thanks to the loud music, tasty pizzas and open kitchen, you are likely the last thing your neighbors are paying attention to.
- Le Diplomate – If you’re in the mood for a fancy brunch, this Parisian bistro on 14th St. is the spot. It’s like walking straight into Amelie!
- DC Noodles – Get a double order of the pork belly buns. They taste like a delightfully soft cloud filled with sweet bbq pork.
- The Pretzel Bakery – I have yet to visit, but this is the kind of place that makes people’s eyes roll into the back of their head when they talk about it. What’s not to love about a bakery full of pretzels!?
- Toki Underground – This no reservations ramen bar is well worth the wait! The communal seating and big-head action figures around the room are the perfect atmosphere for a small group.
- Baked and Wired – Don’t listen to TLC, this is the best cupcake in the city. I recommend the Uniporns and Rainhoes (Sorry, Dad.).
- My house! Hit me up if you’re ever in the city. I’d love to bake with you.
Things to See and Do
- Atlantic Plumbing Cinema – The stuff (contemporary, cocktail-loving, armchair enthusiast) movie lover’s dreams are made of!
- Salt and Sundry – How I ever manage to leave Salt and Sundry empty-handed I’ll never know. The paper goods! The cake stands! The candles! My sister better leave room in her suitcase is all I’m sayin.
- The Botanical Gardens – These gardens have something for everyone – even a tropical rainforest! Guaranteed plans no matter the weather.
- The Renwick Gallery – Any description I provide won’t do the Renwick justice. Check out the hashtag on Instagram. And tell me these cookie stacks don’t at least remind you a little of the paper stacks?
The cookies pictured here are the Confetti cookies from the Milkbar cookbook. They have a similar recipe for the birthday cake truffles on their site as well which have almost the exact same components. Don’t let the directions intimidate you! It requires multiple recipes but the best part is, the ingredients all store very well. And let me just add that you won’t be the first one to use store-bought vanilla extract instead of the clear vanilla extract it calls for 😉
If you really have your heart set on these cookies but don’t want to buy the book, I recommend adding the birthday sand (pictured on the paddle in the third photo) to a standard sugar cookie recipe and throwing in some extra sprinkles for good measure.
And if all else fails, you can’t go wrong with the mix.
Safe travels, sis! I hope you’re hungry.
DC friends, anything you’d add to the list for someone who’s visited before? I’m sure there are tons of places I’ve left out. I’d love to hear what your staples are!