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Sweets by Suz: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beginner's Tips - 1 does not equal 1

Notice the difference in the width of the lines when comparing brands

As a beginner there is a lot of confusion getting started decorating cookies. I would go to the cake store a little overwhelmed and end up with a little bit of everything. I have never taken formal classes but have always owned decorating tips, as a someday project. The first time I went to buy special tips I had no idea there was such a difference in various brands. I thought a one was a one and a two was a two no matter what the make. I told the store owner I needed some size one, two and three tips. I bought the least expensive; Baker’s Crafts size one and attempted to make some Halloween spiders. I wondered why they had such chubby little legs… I wasn't able to get results because I purchased a brand other than the ones listed in the tutorials.

A few months later, Marion at posted a tutorial on how to make lines and suggested the PME tips.

I was playing with the icing and various small round tips I own and I came up with the previous image. Today this outlining icing was a bit on the runny side, so I had the best results with the smaller tips. This sort of grid work takes a lot of patience I was easily able to see the difference between the different brands.

We have a winner!

My favorite (because of the consistency) today was the PME size one tip. The ribbons did not curl and I didn’t have to be at an exact 45 degree angle to make the lines. I have struggled with the blobs at the beginning of lines and noticed that with the PME the icing came out nice and slow. Other brands somehow allowed too much icing to fall out at the beginning and end of each line. I definitely had more control with the PME tips in general. The PME 1.5 would be great if the icing were not as runny.

Wilton size one is okay if you aren't able to find a PME tip - note it's harder to get clean edges

If the PME tips were not available I would use the Wilton size one tip; however, I had more problems with the line breaking and globs of icing at the beginning and the end. I also felt like I had to be more careful as to the angle of the tip.

Someday I want to master the PME size zero tip. For now, it showed my unsteady hand. As long as I went very very slow the ribbon of icing would not curl. It seemed the smaller the tip the slower I would have to move to avoid curling. I also didn’t have too many problems with the line of icing breaking.

The hardest to work with was the Baker’s Crafts tips. I would still use this to outline a cookie, but for details I will stick with PME.

In the end, you get what you pay for. I’m sure as skills improve it’s not as necessary, but if I were teaching a friend I would want the tools to help prevent frustration.

(Before I start, a disclaimer. I am no expert… but maybe someday I will be able to do my work out of a homemade parchment bag J). I hope this helps you when deciding what tips to purchase.

The royal icing was made using sweetsugarbelles recipe and tutorials.

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Alexandra's Simple Sugar Cookies

I have a daughter who doesn't like frosting or chocolate, so we make these. I've been trying to turn the TV off on weekdays and when she complained of being sooo bored we made the quick sugar cookie recipe by sweetsugarbelle. I like this version because it is by weight and we get to use the digital scale. (a must have for the kitchen!)
Here she is rolling it out between two sheets of parchment paper. This makes the process much neater, especially with kids. No flour everywhere and no little hands touching dough. Put a little bit of water under the parchment paper to get it to stick to the counter. I love these pre-cut sheets and try not to stress about using too many each time we bake.

I included this picture because it has one of my all-time favorite kitchen tools - a very thin metal spatula. It makes it so easy to lift the shapes without touching the dough.
I found this container of sprinkles at Smart and Final for about $5 or $6. Not the best price but the store is close to my house. I love the texture that these sugar crystals add to the cookie. It gives a nice crunch and just a hint of sweetness.

We added the sprinkles three different ways, first we just sprinkled them on. I don't like all the waste.
On the next batch we carefully pressed the dough into the sprinkles. This works for easy shapes like hearts.

The last group of cookies were done by kneading the sanding sugar into the dough. These came out cute and again I like the texture of the crystals. I would add a little frosting to these but we will keep these plain for Alexandra.
Here they are all lined up, you can see how the look changes depending on how the sprinkles were added.

And how do you not eat the cookies? After baking and cooling put together individual serving sizes of these and "hide" them in the freezer. The kids take these in their lunches and my brain sometimes forgets to look in the freezer for something to munch on. By the time they eat lunch they are just the right temperature. I'm too lazy to defrost a frozen cookie for a snack.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Hello Kitty Cookies

I made these cookies for my birthday in December. I love all things Hello Kitty. This was actually pretty simple following instructions found here. If I can do these anyone can do these. The hardest part again was getting the royal icing just right.

I love a cookie that is too pretty to eat...

Now let's learn from my mistakes here...
Pretty cute, but not perfect... what I did wrong - black icing was too thick. We added cocoa so we wouldn't have to put too much black dye (yes I have issues with dyes) but I think it was too much cocoa making it difficult to pipe the black lines and eyes. See the marks? It should be more rounded not showing every last movement of the tip. I also made the yellow too thick. That small wrinkle on her nose should be smooth. Also, if you go to the tutorial and link above, you would see I was not supposed to outline the bow with the thicker icing.

If you want to give royal icing a try, I would first go to your local cake decorating store and ask the experts what they are using in your climate. If not, just buy some meringue powder and follow the recipe on the container. That is how I started out.

For more information on royal icing look at these links and their tutorials on consistency
sweetopia (this dried rock hard for me, but I'm in Arizona & it's so arid here)

Once you've seen the videos and read the tutorials just give it a try. Don't go too goopy or thin with the icing. You can always make it thinner later. I made this mistake several times in the beginning. The best part about the whole cookie craft is you can just eat the ugly cookies. No big deal! I love being able to eat my mistakes.

I don't have my version of royal icing yet, I'm still deciding what works best for me.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Happy Birthday Scott

I had pastel icing left from the heart samples and it was Scott's birthday, and I had a new cookie cutter to try out. So I made a bunch of these cupcake cookies. I like cookies more than cupcakes, so why not make the cookie version. I think they look the best with the sprinkles, but it was late when I was decorating these and I was tired so I stuck with the white swirls... very fun.

I was happy how the numbers came out. These are from the Wilton 101 cookie cut set sold here. I would like a nicer metal set but these work fine. The kids had fun rearrangeing the numbers and telling Dad he was 99. haha.

I am still working on lettering. I see why people break down and purchase a KopyKake projector. It would suddenly save my handwriting.
Here are the cookies packaged and ready to go to Scott's work. I make so many, binge on a few then send them away. Usually I regret not keeping more at home once they are gone. Happy Birthday Scott


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Simple Valentines Day cookies

I wanted to try a quick sugar cookie recipe, one that wouldn't require 2 hrs in the refrigerator so I gave SweetSugarBelle's sugar cookie recipe a try. She is also baking in a dry climate so my results were great. I will use this recipe again if I am in a hurry. One complaint, using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar gives the cookie a slightly different texture.

Now I'm going to ramble a bit. When my sister Rebecca and I were kids my Mom signed us up for a sugar cookie class at the Bloomfield Hills Public Library. We made dinosaurs out of cookie dough!!!! Amazing! My Mom raised seventeen kids and needless to say there was not much time for baking cookies. Anyhow, I can remember to this day the taste of those cookies and have searched and searched for a recipe that tasted just like those little Brontosaurs cookies. I have easily tried 20 or more different sugar cookie recipes in the past 15 years. For a long time I used this old Conant School recipe provided by my Sister Alison and posted by my sister Cathy. (She gives a lot of great tips on making rolled cookies).

Then this Fall, with the discovery of Pinterest, Becca found this recipe from the blog beeinourbonnet. I made it and called Becca right back with the happy realization that the beeinourbonnet cookies tasted just like the cookies we had made more than 25 years ago. We had been adding almond extract, but that little hint of lemon extract gave it the flavor we were looking for.

My point is, there is no perfect recipe for anything. You need to try as many as you can until you find that magical flavor you are looking for. And don't give up! (I still want to know the secret ingredients in a Cafe Rio salad and maybe it is crack after all).

So if you are in a hurry use SweetSugarBelle's recipe - just know the texture will ever so slightly resemble that of a mint milano, a little too melt in your mouth for me. For cookies with more of a bite to them, stick with the recipe from beeinourbonnet. She also gives great decorating tips and a royal icing recipe. I'm still trying out several types of icing and don't have a favorite - yet.

As to decorating these cookies, I outlined them working with about eight at a time then immediately flooded with Royal Icing. I keep my icing on the thin side so that the frosting layer is not too thick. Some I immediately covered in sanding sugar and the others I added sugar just to the edges the next day once the Royal Icing had time to dry. These were really easy and turned out cute. I feel a need to make more because I forgot to mix orange for this project. DOH! I wanted to have all the colors of the traditional conversation hearts.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Tough Mudder Arizona

We hosted several friends for Arizona's Tough Mudder. I just had to make Tough Mudder cookies, even though there is absolutely no connection between this crazy tough guy obstacle course and cookies. I tried to use their logo as inspiration,

a man running through fire. I used a really thick royal icing for the orange fire. The green was too thin and the little cacti look like they are melting. This icing is so challenging I keep coming back for more. I liked the way the Saguaro Cacti came out. I had some prickly pear cacti cookies cut out, they made me so mad I ate them while I was decorating. My piping handwriting is up to speed with my regular handwriting. Maybe I should take calligraphy classes to make my cookies prettier. The team names were Bruised Cattle and Super Freaks. Everyone did great. I sort of felt left out limping alongside them all, but even in better shape I don't think I could deal with all the mud or cold water.

Here is another picture of a cookie:

That is one Ugly T, but this is the only closeup. I really really need to work on my cookie handwriting...

Here's a picture of Angie towards the end of the event

And here is Scott and the bruised cattle team at the finish

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Valentines Day Cookies

I love the way the red accents look with the chocolate cookie. I used one of my new favorite recipes, LilaLoa's Chocolate cookie recipe. Found here at Lilaloa. It's for those days when you are craving chocolate but feel like making a cookie. Here are some pictures of the grouping! Thank you Lilaloa for this recipe, I had no idea a chocolate cookie could be this delicious!

It tastes great with just the slightest touch of Royal Icing. We made fondant decorations that make the cookie pretty with out causing a t00-much-icing gag reflex. For more info on preparing the fondant for embellishments look at this post.
I will definitely make these again. More photos to come... someone is screaming in the background.