All Posts Tagged ‘decoration

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Sugar cookie decorating tips

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naked cookies on a cookie rack.jpg

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!

icing tubes

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.

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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.

overcooked sugar cookies.jpgfour cookies iced in progress.jpg

Recipes

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.

Tools

icing tools.jpgPiping 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.

Decoration tips

royal icing in progress.jpg

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.

flood icing in progress.JPG

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!

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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.

pink heart cookie without bubbles.jpg

Voila!

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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).

birds eye view of cookie icing in progress.jpg

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!

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Fourth of July flag cake (and that time I dropped a four layer cake)

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Flag cake on a cake stand.jpg

Have you ever started a project with a bad feeling? I know it sounds so corny, but from the moment I started this cake on Friday night, I had a bad feeling about it. I can’t describe it exactly, but I just knew things were not going to end well.

I usually get nervous at some point during the baking process (Will it rise ok? Did I mix it too much? Is this thing even going to taste good?), so I chocked up my nerves to a weird week and tried to move on.

When I set out to make this flag cake, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I didn’t think I’d go so far as accidentally dropping it.

Destroyed flag cake next to a slice.jpg

Let me set the scene for you: I made the layers Friday night, so I woke up early Saturday to ice the cake and shoot photos so I’d have time to enjoy the weekend (aka I was rushing. Which I should know by now never ends well).

In order to get my favorite light, I shoot photos on a very small end table near our windows which you can see in these pictures. I’m able to move the table around and take pictures around it without there ever being an issue.

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As I was assembling this bad boy, it was as easy as I remembered it being when I made this cake last year. The flag makes it look 10x more difficult than it is, I swear. The design is made by cutting out the middle of the blue layer(s) and doing the same to the red and white, but keeping the middles and discarding the edges as shown above. I used a spaceship mug because why buy a circular cookie cutter when drinking glasses work so well? 😉 Then the red and white replace the inside blue layers. Like Russian nesting dolls! That’s it. Easy peasy.

So here I was cutting the pieces, sneaking bites of frosting and icing, when after I finished icing and cut a slice, the sun shifted and cast a nasty shadow. I set the slice aside (but not the cake what was I thinking?!) and moved the cake and end table to the other side of the living room to check out the lighting there. It was even worse. And this! This, my friends, is when things got ugly. I decided to move the cake back. Should’ve been easy enough right?

Red, white and blue cake layers.jpg

I lifted the tiny end table with the cake on top when halfway through carrying it back to its original spot (mind you, our apartment is small so this is not the hoof it might sound like it is. Although I would like to lie and tell you I had to jump through fiery hoops down the hallway and a flight of moving stairs to make this whole thing sound more impressive.) when the end table leg caught on our leather loveseat. The cake stand nudged a little toward the edge. It sounded like the world’s most ominous game piece moving across a game board and in that moment I knew.

I knew I could not salvage what had already begun. Instead, I remember my gasps growing increasingly louder and faster as my mind raced and I tried to back out of the situation. Do I keep moving forward? Put the thing down? Scoot to the side? All logical ideas! Yet all I did was tilt the table further. And thud.

Destroyed flag cake in a heap.jpg

Have you ever heard a cake drop? I can’t think of a single time before now where I witnessed an entire cake fall to the floor. (Is it too late to add this to my bucket list just so I can cross it off?) The best analogy I can think of is that a cake falling straight onto carpet (carpet. Ugh, kill me now.) sounds a lot like the thump of a human body meeting a hotel bed.

For a hot second, you expect yourself to bounce back. Surely this can’t be that anti-climactic, I always think to myself when I throw myself on top of the sheets. But then you realize you’re face down on a hotel bed going nowhere. Much like a dropped cake.

Side view of a flag cake.jpg

The whole premise of my original blog post was going to be, “See! This cake’s presentation looks intimidating, but it’s so easy to make!” Now, the whole premise is, “If you make this cake, don’t drop it and you’ll already one up me!”

Betty Crocker icing.jpg

I was also planning on outing myself that this particular Fourth of July-themed cake is from a box mix and pre-made frosting! When the first step of a recipe is, “Make six layers” I’m all for allowing ourselves some leeway and doing what we can to skip a few steps.

Fool me once, Betty Crocker! Although as much as I’d like to blame this tumble on the cake’s sticky consistency or the thin frosting which is less than ideal for decorating, I’ve got nothing to blame but myself. This might be the first time I dropped a cake, but I’m certain it won’t be my last.

Inside of the fourth of july flag cake.jpg

I hope my Great Cake Fall of 2017 hasn’t scared you away from trying this cake at home. The time spent decorating and assembling are so worth it to see everyone’s face when you cut into it!

As for me, I’m planning on serving these cake balls this holiday weekend instead.

Flag cake next to a pile of cake on a cake stand.jpg

p.s. Follow the directions on the box, and you’ll be just fine! For each of the six cakes, I used 3/4 cup of mix and added food coloring until I reached the desired colors. The grocery store only had gel food dye, so don’t fret if you can’t find liquid: the gel works just fine. 

Here are the cake pans I used and highly recommend.

And one last thing: I recommend mixing the dye into the cake mix in a glass mixing cup. That way you can more easily make sure your color is consistently mixed. Good luck!

Have you ever dropped food or a dessert you were cooking all day? I would love to know I’m not alone, so tell me more in the comments!

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Scrabble tile shortbread cookies

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Scrabble tiles which say Happy Everything.jpg

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?

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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!

Scrabble tiles spilled from the bag.jpgBunch of scrabble tiles.jpg

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!

Scrabble cookies spelling Congrats.JPG

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!

Scrabble cookies spelling Game Night

Shortbread cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Cube the butter and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar. Combine until fluffy and well incorporated.
  3. Add the flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium for 5 minutes.
  4. When the dough begins to stick together or to the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a well-floured surface for rolling.
  5. 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.
  6. Flatten dough. Cut desired shapes. For these tiles, I cut strips of dough and then cut the strips into smaller squares.
  7. Place shapes on cookie sheets and place in the oven. Decrease the oven’s temp. to 325.
  8. 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

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • A pinch of salt
  • Food coloring

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients until well-incorporated.
  2. 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.