Flipping through the pages of innumerable baking catalogs that all feature the same immaculately clean kitchens, state-of-the-art appliances, and flawlessly decorated cookies, even a five-year old could tell you that these images are all fake. Staged, meticulously constructed down to the very last crumb; Those cookies that look so incredible on the page could even plastic, for all we know! So why is it that despite the knowledge of this visible lie, I always work myself up into a frenzy, trying to recreate those impossibly perfect sweets? Because when a theme so powerfully tied to the season and holiday nostalgia keeps popping up, taunting me with my lack of decorating skills, well… If for no other reason, it’s because I want to prove to myself that I can too decorate like the best of them.
Of course, my results fall far below that standard, but I think I’m finally making some progress in this field. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never actually tried icing cookies quite like this before, choosing instead to just slap different colors of goopy sugar all over dry cookies instead. That being said, I would love to give other wannabe cookie artists 10 small tips that would have been helpful to know before I got started myself! It was a long process of trial and error, but I think that there are some important lessons to be learned here, starting with…
1. Go big or go home. If you’re going to go all out and make intricately decorated cookies, don’t plan on making a million little morsels to stack up on a plate as gifts. Instead, make just one or two bigger cookies for each person you want to treat. It will make the cookies all the more special, not to mention create a whole lot less work for you.
2. Quality tools matter. Yes, you already know this, but it bears repeating. If you don’t already have some basic metal tips and disposable pastry bags, BUY THEM. Consider it a holiday gift to yourself! I start out using a wimpy little plastic sandwich baggie, hoping to save my quickly dwindling supply of pastry bags, but I was paid back for my cheating ways quickly- The bag burst before I finished decorating even a single cookie, and a good portion of the table, floor, and myself were covered in sticky sugar icing.
3. K.I.S.S: Keep it simple, stupid. The point of going all out for intricately iced cookies is to impress your friends and loved ones with incredible patterns, but if the whole design starts to go awry, simplify. Fill in open shapes that are bleeding too much, do fewer lines if they don’t end up fitting, but whatever you do, don’t panic. Additionally, I would suggest starting out with easier patterns to begin with until you get the hang of it. Worst comes to worst, you’ll get a couple of ugly but tasty cookies to snack on while you work.
4. Know before you go. You’re raring to go, excited to get started, but put on the the brakes for just a minute and think about what you’re doing. Have a picture in your mind of what you want the finished cookie to look like so you don’t end up becoming a deer in the headlights with icing dripping all over the place. Envision the final outcome as a guide to your design, but don’t be afraid to change it up as you go along, too.
5. Let it flow. If you’re squeezing the bejebus out of our pastry bag to get a thin stream of icing, STOP, before you put someone’s eye out with a blob of projectile frosting! You should only need to apply gentle pressure to the bag while twisting the extra plastic above the icing mass so that it doesn’t spurt out the top. After decorating for a while, the icing will begin to harden and gunk up the tip, so make sure you keep a sewing needle or paper clip nearby to poke it clean.
6. Ice away. No, I don’t mean “just go ice the darn things already,” I mean, ice away from your body. I don’t know about you, but when there’s a giant pastry bag headed straight for me, I can’t see a darn thing around it; For all I know, I could be icing the table! Stop and turn the cookie if you have to, but always make sure move the bag outwards in order to clearly see your full shape and the path you want the icing to follow.
7. Keep it up. Moving in between lines and switching over to different areas of the cookie, make sure to turn the bag of icing so that the tip is pointed upwards. Otherwise, the icing will continue to dribble all over your finished work, and everything else in a 5-foot radius. Trust me on this one.
8. Start at the beginning. Personally, I always like to start by tracing the outline of my cookie, just so I can get a better idea of the shape in the first place. Sometimes the baking process will cause the cookies to spread and distort a bit, so it helps to see exactly what shape you’re working with here.
9. Take your time. I didn’t have any cookie cutters here at school with me, so I ended up doing an extra step- Sculpting each and every cookie by hand (They always say that no two snowflakes are alike…) which means it took me even longer to finish. All said and done, from cutting to baking to decorating, it took me three hours to complete one dozen cookies. I know, it’s a little bit crazy… But with the help of cookie cutters, I bet you can shave a good hour, hour and a half off of that. Just don’t plan anything time-sensitive afterwards, okay?
10. Have fun with it. Don’t stress out, this is is supposed to be an enjoyable, relaxing project after all! But you knew that I was going to say that, right?
While I certainly didn’t attain the level of perfection displayed by “professionals,” I’m still quite proud of my end results. Don’t forget, you can also go crazy with color if you so choose- My limited supply of kitchen staples left me without dyes, so I just went with a simple, elegant while. It’s all up to you… So now go forth and ice those cookies! Just don’t blame me for the mess that may follow.