With rolled fondants, various icings, nonpareils, colored sugars, or sweet candies, transforming plain cookies into charming treats is a delightful and creative experience. You don't need fancy or expensive supplies to create that charm, either. The rule of thumb in decorating is that 'less is more.' Avoid using too many colors on your cookie. Two-toned iced cookies look great, and occasionally a third color of icing will be stunning. For the most part though, stick to one or two colors.
When using sprinkles, remember simplicity. If you try every sprinkle you own on one cookie, it will be less than appetizing. Use decorations to accent, not overpower, your cookies. You want people to find the cookies enticing to look at as well as to eat. Of course, if you're cooking with children, you can throw all this advice to the wind. Children love to try every color and every decoration on each cookie. They find color extremely appetizing. Don't stifle their creativity with rules. Instead, let them enjoy the experience and create their own unique and highly decorated treasures!
You can buy reusable decorating cones and tips from a bakery or kitchen supply store, or you can refuse clean up and use disposable parchment paper or sealable bags for great results. Decorating bags work well for piping lettering, borders, or filigree. Swiss dots, swirls, beading, and other small lines can be very attractive and are a simple way to dress up cookies.
To make a parchment cone, cut a sheet of parchment in half diagonally to form two triangles. Hold one triangle in front of you with the longest side away from your body. Roll the left-hand point down to the point nearest you, match points, and tape as desired. A cone shape begins to form. Next, roll the right-hand point around the cone until it meets and joins the other triangle points. Look to ensure the pointed end of the cone is tightly closed. Tape to secure the points and the back seam or fold the edges down to secure the cone.
To use, fill the cone up to half full. Bring the top sides together and roll them down to meet the filling. Cut off the tip with sharp scissors. If you wish to use a metal tip with the cone, cut1/2-inch off the cone tip. Drop the tip into the bag before filling. To use without a tip, cut only a small opening (about 1/4-inch). Continue cutting the tip up the cone until you achieve the desired flow of filling.
You can also purchase disposable plastic pastry bags in kitchen, bakery supply shops, or craft stores. Just fill and use. Plastic tubes, filled with frosting, available in major supermarkets make decorating a breeze. However, the icing dries out quickly. For longer usage, minimize air-exposure and cover the tips with a wet paper towel before storing them inside sealable plastic bags. You can use sealable bags for more than storage, too. For a quick decorating tool, simply fill the bag, twist it into a cone shape, and snip off a corner. Squeeze away!
Store bought or homemade, icing possibilities are endless. You can spread them on with a spatula or butter knife, or pipe them through decorating bags for sweet results. The recipes included here are different than run-of-the-mill buttercream icing, and they store well so you can make them once and decorate for a couple weeks. Test them out for lovely sheen and flavor.
Makes 2 cups
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons milk or water
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
Flavoring (1 teaspoon concentrated extract or 2-3 drops concentrated candy oil)
Mix the sugar and milk or water thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Mix until icing is soft and cream like in texture. Then, add the corn syrup. Mix just until combined. Divide icing into several bowls and flavor and color to choice. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
Store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, tightly covered (place a layer of plastic wrap directly atop the icing before capping with the lid.) The icing will store up to 3 weeks if water is used instead of milk. When ready to reuse, stir the icing until it flows.
Royal Icing for Piping
1/4 cup meringue powder (available in kitchen, craft, and some grocery stores)
1/2 cup cold water
1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
In a mixing bowl, mix the meringue powder and cold water. Beat to a soft-peak stage (about 3 minutes). Add the confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating between each cup. Add the lemon juice. Beat for 3-5 more minutes on medium-high speed or until the icing forms medium to stiff peaks. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use to prevent drying out.
This icing stores for several weeks at room temperature. Store in a grease free container.
Royal Icing for Flooding
1 cup Royal Icing (see above recipe)
2-4 tablespoons water or 1-2 ounces pasteurized egg whites
Stir the water or egg whites carefully into the royal icing a little at a time. After adding half the liquid, check to see if the consistency is right using this test. Draw a knife through the icing. If it comes completely together after you count 10 seconds, it is the right consistency. If it pulls together before 7 seconds, add a little more royal icing to thicken it. If it takes longer than 10 seconds to draw together, add more water.
Store the icing in a grease-free glass container and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it atop the icing, before capping with a tight-fitting lid. Use the icing within 3-5 days, or refrigerate for up to one week.
To 'flood' a cookie, pipe a border, if desired, around the perimeter of the cookie using piping icing. Fill a decorating bag with the flooding icing. Starting at the center of the cookie, squeeze the icing out toward the perimeter. Avoid pressing out too much icing. Use a toothpick to move the icing out towards the piped border. Work quickly to move the icing before it begins to set up. Once area is filled, don't touch the cookie for at least 20-25 minutes. Then, move the cookie with a metal spatula to an area where it can dry completely (2-4 hours for surface dry; 6-12 hours for hard dry).
Jams and Jellies
Fruit spreads add color and glitz to cookies and add fruity tartness. Sandwich jam between cookies. Heat it up and spread it for a light glaze, or pipe it through decorating bags for borders, fillers, or simple designs. It also works well for attaching rolled fondant shapes to cookies. Running the jam through a sieve before applying and thinning with water can help make it more spreadable and take out any seeds or fruit chunks. The recipe below can be used with any type of jam. It will store well in an air-tight container for several months in the refrigerator, so whip up a batch to frost cookies in a hurry or use it as an ice-cream topper.
1 cup jam
1/2 cup water
Mix the jam and water together in a pan and bring to a simmer. Strain the mixture through a sieve. Cool. Place it in an air-tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
You've painted houses and walls, wood and metal, but have you tried painting cookies? You can paint a simple border or color the entire top of a cookie with edible paint before or after baking. The various sizes of paintbrushes available give you extra control for fancy designs; however you can us a pastry brush if you aren't going for detail. Using stencils, paint clever designs or lettering atop crisp cookies, or try dabs of dots, lines, or squiggles.
Before Baking Cookie Paint
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon water
Whisk together. If you want blue paint, use an egg white instead of the yolk. (The yellow egg yolk and blue food coloring will turn your paint green.)
After Baking Cookie Paint
Combine a bit of water with food color and stir to reach desired color intensity. Add more water as needed.
Melted chocolate, drizzled atop cookies or bars, looks very classy and rich! Alternatively, paint the entire surface of a cookie with melted tempered chocolate. Once the chocolate sets, accent it with dots or drizzles of melted white chocolate. Garnish frosted cookies with chocolate shavings, curls, or shapes made in candy molds. For information on tempering, melting chocolate, or making chocolate curls, see the February 2003 Chocolate issue of Home Cook'n.
You can cover entire cookie surfaces with rolled fondant or icing. This comes in various colors or you can purchase white fondant and knead in your own coloring. You can also make your own fondant. To apply, use the same cookie cutter or template of the cookie you wish to cover. Cut out the shape from the fondant. It will be slightly larger than the cookie, which shrinks during baking. Dust the cookie with cornstarch or powdered sugar (for light fondant colors) or with cocoa powder (for dark fondant colors). Brush the cookie with corn syrup or sieved jam. Place the fondant cut-out carefully atop the cookie.
You can cut out miniature shapes (stars, hearts, squares, ovals, diamonds, etc.), flowers, leaves, and so forth from fondant too. Apply them to frosted cookies for 3-dimensional effects using icing or a dab of water as "glue".
Toothpicks can add textural dimension to fondant, as well as icings. Use them to create wavy lines, poke holes, or to marbleize thin frostings into mosaic patterns.
Nonpareils, Sprinkles, and Colored Sugars
It doesn't get any easier! Large selections of holiday sprinkles and nonpareils are available in kitchen and bakery supply shops. Some major grocery stores are also beginning to offer seasonal selections. These can be applied prior to or after baking. Before baking, you'll need to press the sprinkles firmly into the dough to keep them from rolling off the cookies as you move the baking sheet to and from the oven. Use a metal spatula and just give them a quick press into shaped cookies. After baking, you'll need to secure them using icing. Sprinkle them on before the icing dries, so they'll stick well.
Candy, Edible Flowers, Nuts, and Seeds
You've seen cookies topped with a chocolate star or chocolate kiss, no doubt. Simple but winning! Candy, in its various shapes, colors, and sizes, makes for many decorating possibilities. Nuts and seeds do the same. A half peanut pressed into the center of peanut-butter cookies, for example, gives a clue to their flavor, and is a variation on the traditional fork-tined criss-cross design. Arrange nuts or seeds in spoke fashion atop cookies pulled fresh from the oven. Sprinkle frosted cookies with crushed candy or chopped nuts, or roll drop cookies in chopped nuts prior to baking. Don't forget the stained glass window look, either. Before baking, cut shapes out of cookies and fill with crushed hard candy in a variety of colors. The candy will melt in the oven and fill the holes with see-through beauty. Candied fruits and edible flowers (violets, rose petals, herb flowers) add Victorian elegance to cookies. Find them in specialty food shops.
Ribbons and Bows
For hanging cookies or just as a dressy decoration, don't forget satin ribbon. It comes in various widths and is available in craft stores. You can tie a bow atop a cookie, make a ribbon border, or lace thin ribbon in an intricate pattern through holes made with drinking straws. Prior to baking, poke holes in the cookies using the straw. Baking will close the hole somewhat, so once cookies are removed from the oven, poke the holes again to open them up. Thread the ribbon through the holes for a hanger or tie it into a lovely bow. For ribbon borders, poke holes around the cookie's perimeter. Weave the ribbon through the holes and tie off with a bow.
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