One of my New Year’s goals was to try royal icing on cutout cookies. I have always been intimidated by pretty bakery cookies. I did not enjoy baking, and my artistic skills are rather limited. Combining these activities seemed like a bad idea. However, I read a great tutorial on Annie’s Eats, and she made the process seem very accessible. Baking is a terrific activity for kids during these blah winter months. It provides an alternative to television and video games, it reinforces math and science concepts, most of the mixing and measuring is done away from heat and flame, and it’s an invitation that is usually accepted with glee. Little Hippie and I took a stab at lemon-ish cutout cookies with Royal Icing for a Super Bowl Party. Half were football themed and half were Valentines (and a couple were butterflies because LH insisted). If you want to give it a try, check out Annie’s tutorial. I have compiled the lessons learned from our first attempt below:
- Mixer: I researched several websites and books before starting, and almost all suggested that this was a project for people who had access to stand mixers. I used my electric hand mixer, and it worked just fine. However, that motor was HOT by the end of the process – I doubt that it would survive too many royal icing projects. Reason #149 that I would love to have a stand mixer. Bottom line: if you have the means, use a stand mixer. If not, you can at least give it a whirl with your hand model.
- Pastry bags and tips.You don’t need an entire set of tips. Tips cost about 99 cents each, and you really only need a size three tip (I used a 2, a 3, and a 4 in the cookies pictured so that I could have 3 bags going at once). I would recommend having at least 3 tips. You will also need the couplers and coupler rings (about $4 for a set of 4). Disposable pastry bags are awesome.
- Cookie sheets with sides. I have some lovely baking sheets without raised sides. On their delicate surfaces, I watched my cutout cookies cook evenly. I then watched them slide off the sides when I tried to take them out of the oven. Blast! The 2-second rule really shouldn’t apply when your kitchen floor is so dirty. Pans with sides also make for easier transport during the icing process.
- Meringue powder. Unless you are comfortable working with raw egg whites.
- Squeeze bottles. This is another one you can live without. I used baby spoons for flooding a couple of the colors, and they worked just fine. The squeeze bottles are a lot faster, though. They can cover large areas quickly and efficiently. They are also especially helpful with smaller spaces.
- Break it into time chunks. This is an arduous process, especially when you try to do it all at once. This might be the root of my irritation with cutout cookies – as a child, I was so excited about decorating cookies, but by the time you get them mixed, rolled, cut, baked, and cooled, the magic is gone. Little Hippie and I made the dough one day, then rolled out and baked the cookies the following day. Once cooled, we froze the cookies in airtight containers for a week, using layers of wax paper to cushion them. They came out of the freezer about 36 hours before we started icing.
- Limit the shapes: Gentle curves are very helpful for a person new to the pastry bag. Try not to choose shapes with lots of points or that will require multiple initial colors (like the butterflies, though those turned out pretty well). Also, the more cookies you have in one particular shape, the more practice you get with perfecting your design.
- Limit the colors: 6 colors was way too many to coordinate for a beginner. Now that I have a clue about how the process really works, I know lots of different changes I should have made to make things a little less of a logistical mess. 2 colors (in addition to the original white) would have been much more manageable.
- Let the icing settle: The pros aren’t kidding when they tell you to let things rest so that the air bubbles can rise to the top. Bubbly icing dries terribly.
- Don’t expect perfection. There’s a bit of a learning curve for each step: piping, flooding, detailing. If, for some reason, you need especially pretty results, you should save the cookies you want as showpieces until the very end, then dismiss your helpers. They shake chefs, floors, and tables, all of which can be disastrous to the line you are piping.
In all, it went pretty well. LH and I are looking forward to our next encounter with royal icing. Easter eggs, perhaps?