..with royal icing.
There are few things in life that one is 100% sure about when it comes to oneself, and as you grow and learn, they start to add up. For one, I know I’ll never be a blonde because I love being a brunette, and the only time I will ever dye my hair is when the gray starts to creep in, but only brunette. Two, I will never eat veal because of how they treat those poor, baby calves. Okay, I could fill a novel with ‘I will nevers‘, so I’ll stop at three. #3 – I know I will never be or make a cent as a cookie decorator because I suck at it.
The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.
I cannot say enough about Mandy. We became fast friends via Daring Bakers, and we can just talk for hours on end about anything and everything. She is truly a special gal, and when her turn to host the Daring Bakers challenge came up, I couldn’t have been more excited for her, plus, I knew she’d give us a goody, and she did. It’s just too bad I’m such a royal icing slob with shaky hands, not to mention my blog stage fright.
Example of ‘flooding’ the cookie. Outlining with a thick to medium consistency icing, filling (or flooding in cookie decorator speak) with a looser consistency icing, then using a skewer to drag it into the corners and even it out. This gives you a nice, crisp and neat border. Not on mine, of course, because I can’t do neat borders.
As always, I left the challenge to the last minute, and as I type this entry, I still have gel paste all over my hands and crusty remnants of royal icing decorating my t-shirt. You don’t even want to see the table where I worked on these cookies. It looks a hurricane of technicolor shit ran over it about 8 times. I’m so, so dreading cleaning up this disaster. I envy people who can work neat when it comes to cake and cookie decorating and more than two colors of frosting or royal icing.
Also, as always, I had loads of great ideas running through my head when Mandy asked us to pick a theme that ‘said’ September to us. I knew instantly where I was going. September is the stretch before the baseball post season starts, and YES, it’s looking like my World Series defending champion NY Yankees will be in again (although they’re not looking like they’ll go past the first round at this time). Boo.
No idea why I didn’t leave well enough alone with just the yellow stripe and one red dot. The caterpillar looks like it has a festering, pus-filled infection of some sort.
I had round cookie cutters for the baseballs, but that’s it, so I went ahead and ordered a baseball bat cookie cutter, a t-shirt cookie cutter that I could morph into a Yankee pinstripe jersey, and bid on a great baseball cap cookie cutter on ebay. I lost the baseball cap at the very last second, (who are these ebay’ers who are able to sneak in a bid with 1 second left?? Let me at ’em! – I was the only bid prior!). I couldn’t find another one like it locally and didn’t like the other caps I saw online, so I begrudgingly decided to just cut out a cookie circle, color it with navy royal icing, pipe the Yankee logo on it, and boom, pretend you’re looking at the baseball cap super close up – your chin resting on the bill. Thank you.
I made four bats, but two broke, and one was eaten, so I only had one left for photos. I also made four Yankee ‘authentic’ jerseys, two of which sucked, I mean really sucked, so much so that I don’t even want you to see them. The two that made the cut suck too (I had no idea how hard it is to squeeze out perfectly thin pinstripes and a teeny, tiny interlocking NY). A friend thought it was a jail uniform and I completely concur that it could be Black Bart’s daily wear.
In any event, my ball cookies turned out the best, so I will proudly showcase them and slip the other stuff in flattering positions that hide how hideously crappy they are. Ooops, it didn’t work, crap on full display. Even the interlocking NY on the baseball cap looks like crap, and I initially thought I nailed it.
Again, I will never, ever be a cookie decorator.
Why did I outline the baseball bat with black royal icing? Where in baseball are there bats with black trim? God I really really suck at this cookie decorating thing.
On to part two. I perused through Flickr to see what other cookie decorators do, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re all freakin’ professionals. Why aren’t there flaws in their designs and dents in their royal icing? The perfection and awe factor is just mind- blowing! So talented!
I knew there was no way I was even coming to close to that kind of artistry with my cookies, but I really wanted to do ladybugs..and flowers..and more bugs. I saw a gal who did just that and decided to do a take on her gorgeous, flawlessly royal iced ‘Spring’ cookies. I know; not a September theme here in the Northeast US, but I don’t care. Just pretend I live down under, k? Hey mates, put another caterpillar on the barbie! More crappy decor is on its way!
To decorate the flower and bug cookies, I purchased squeeze bottles for the royal icing colors. It just seemed so much easier and less messy than pastry bags and tips..plus, these bottles are equipped with couplers and tips aka jackpot! Well..I was wrong. Maybe a teeny bit easier, but the mess is no different once you’ve got the bottles loaded and ready to go, especially since I had to use pastry bags to fill the small necked bottles! Mess doubled, but I was pumped; how hard can using a squeeze bottle be? I always use them to decorate plates with sauces, and it always turns out beautiful.
Well, when you’re trying to pipe intricate stuff onto small cookies, and your hand is shaking, not to mention bottle clog when you’re in the middle of an attempt at a perfectly straight border or line, it doesn’t matter what you use. I should have just finger-painted the damn cookies. Most would think I did by the look of my cookies….and hands.
Here’s some notes from my cookie decorating (baking the cookies was the waaaay easy part):
- Adding the food color to the royal icing can be deceiving. The bright red with a bit of orange for the ladybugs looked too light as I was mixing it in, so I kept adding more until it was perfect. It looked great freshly piped, but dried into an almost dull maroon. Apparently, gel paste colors take a bit of sitting to fully morph into the color you want, so adding more will screw you every.single.time. No maroon ladybugs in nature.
- My flowers obviously also do not exist in nature, but it would be cool if they did. I did try to give the yellow flowers (sunflowers, possibly?) some shading with orange powdered food color, but it looks more like someone spilled Tang on them.
- My caterpillars looked great, but I had to keep adding and adding, ending up with bloody, pus filled, festering wounds instead of the pretty dots I was going for.
- Trying to pipe the Yankee logo freehand is near impossible; you need some kind of stencil, unless you’re good at piping or a pro. Note to self: Next time find and use a stencil.
All in all, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED this challenge because it was like being back in HS art class; minus the teacher breathing over my shoulder and telling me to go easy on the color. However, I probably won’t be decorating cookies again because I suck at it.
UPDATE: Since The Daring Kitchen is no longer with us, HERE is a great recipe for perfect, cut-out sugar cookies to decorate. She also has fantastic royal icing recipes, and well, she’s pretty much the most amazing cookie decorator I’ve ever seen. Enjoy!