Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crash Course in Cut-Out Cookies

So, this is what has been keeping me so busy this past week:  Cookies, Cookies, Cookies.

God bless Karen at KarensCookies.net for all the info she put online... videos, tutorials, recipes...!  And thanks to all the people who put cookie decorating things on YouTube - too many people, names and URLs I don't remember!

Prior to this past week, I think I decorated cookies - hmmm... maybe three times?  I'm not sure what ever possessed me to think that I could do a cookie decorating demonstration for the ladies at church, but I crammed and learned a LOT in a week's time. 

I started on a Friday, I think, making cookie dough.  I used to hate making rolled cut-out cookies because just the process of rolling and cutting the cookies seemed to be so time-consuming.  Now I think that is the easiest part!  I made at least four batches of dough:  two different recipes of "plain" sugar cookies - one with leavening, one without, and a brown sugar cookie dough - one with chocolate chips, one without.

I made three kinds of icing:  meringue buttercream, corn syrup icing, and royal icing. 

I needed to make some cookies on sticks for table centerpieces.  (Unfortunately, it appears that I neglected to get any photos of the bouquets that I made in plastic watering cans for table decorations.)  

Cookies on Sticks.  Now, that was an interesting experiment.  As promised, this is where you get to see what NOT to do when making cookies on a stick!  I definitely have a favorite way of doing those now, but it's not the way Karen suggests doing it.  

Karen suggested putting the stick into the dough before baking, and then patching over the stick to hold the stick in place.  I didn't have much success with that technique.  When I picked up the cookies by the stick, the dough on back fell off.

The plain sugar cookies were the worst... the patches on the backs of the cookies fell off, so the sticks fell out.

Here is the "before" photo.  Patch on back on the left, front of the cookie on right.  Sure.  Looks okay until you pick up the cookie to stick it in a bouquet.

Then... it fell off on the plain sugar cookie recipe.  

So, I tried doubling up the cookies - putting a stick in the middle.  It was WAY too HUGE! 

So, I also tried just using a cookie-shaped patch, but that was before I knew the patches weren't going to stick.

 OK.  Maybe I should try this again ... WITH THE OVEN WORKING!!!  It wasn't until the Wednesday before I needed to have all my cookies done for the demo on Saturday that we realized the oven wasn't working!  I had thought that, because I was making cookies so much thicker in order to get the sticks in them, that they were taking longer to bake.  NO!  The fan in the convection oven quit working!  Fortunately, the repair guy came out the very next day (Thursday), but by that time I was ready to get into full force decorating.

The brown sugar chocolate chip cookie dough held together pretty well.  You could see where the dough was patched, which would be okay in a bouquet; but I needed to make sure all the cookies would hold together for my centerpieces.

I returned to an old favorite website, kitchengifts.com, to see if Lesley had any recommendations for doing cookies on sticks. I really liked her technique better, where you couldn't see any patching.  I baked the cookies until they were nearly done, and then inserted a cookie stick (actually, I used lollipop sticks because they were thinner), and popped the cookies back into the oven a little while longer to make sure the sticks were really baked in place in the dough.  Lesley even recommended "gluing" the stick in place at the base of the cookie with a little bit of royal icing, but I didn't need to do that on any of mine. 

By Thursday, I realized I was baking too many cookies because I was probably intimidated about actually having to decorate them - I really hadn't done much decorating, and that was what I needed to demo!  I'd spent a long time looking at tools and accessories online, videos on how to decorate cookies, books with pictures of ideas for decorating cookies... I knew I couldn't put that decorating off any longer or the cookies would never get done on time, nor would I actually even learn how to decorate cookies well enough to show the ladies at church how to decorate them. 

I had to just dig in and get it done. So, I ended up with some really pretty cookies...

Some wildly colored flowers...

Some bright pansy-ish flowers...

Not sure what you'd call these... very abstract flowers....

More bright flowers that don't resemble anything in real life (not that they needed to)...

A bunch of yellow and white flowers, some of which looked like they had egg yolks in the middle of them...

And my favorites... brush embroidery cookies...

I filled the plastic watering cans with floral foam, stuffed in some green tissue paper around the foam to resemble "leaves", and stuck cookies-on-a-stick into the foam to make a flower arrangement.  

This is the only photo I got of one of the watering can centerpieces, and it isn't very clear.  It's my friend Lisa acting like she was going to take a bite out of one of the cookies.

At the church, Careta set up a beautiful main table display with birds, a mini bird bath, watering cans, and some real flowers...

We had eight card tables set up, each one with a watering can cookie flower arrangement in the middle...

I can hardly believe it, but I managed to get a pretty good night's sleep on Friday night, so by my demo on Saturday I was feeling "okay."  I had extra batches of icing made up, blank cookies to use to show starting techniques, and some cookies that had the base glazing done already so that I could show how to finish techniques.  I felt pretty comfortable demonstrating techniques when I realized everyone was enjoying the presentation and having as much fun with it as I was.

There was one minor "equipment malfunction" when I was demonstrating how to fill a pastry bag with meringue buttercream using Karen's technique... plopping the icing in the middle of plastic wrap, folding the wrap over the icing, twirling the whole package in mid-air in order to get the air out of the wrap... then sliding the whole thing down into a pastry bag.  I know.  This description leaves a lot to the imagination.  You should go to her website and watch the video to get the full picture.

Well... what happened next was simply amazing.  I was twirling the icing around when all of a sudden the plastic wrap split and icing went flying everywhere!  People standing in front of me to watch quickly flew backward as the icing was propelled directly at them.

Now, if THAT wasn't impressive, I don't know what else was!  They loved the "feathering" technique, and they loved learning about different kinds of icing, and seeing how to do the brush embroidery.  I think everyone left feeling pretty confident that, if I could learn how to do all this decorating in just a week's time, they could do it at home, too.  I was relieved that everyone seemed to enjoy the demo.  I was relieved that it was over, too.  I know they loved eating the cookies, and I gave them a chance to decorate a few for themselves, too.

So, in between making meals for family and pets, working at my part time job, and searching the internet for instructions on how to do things - including filling those little icing bottles with icing, I managed to get some cookies made.  I learned a LOT.

It turned out to be a super learning experience for me.  :-)  It was one crazy week... but I think I have a good handle on cookie decorating.  Now I just need practice.

Oh... one of the side benefits of this week was that, in my search for the little ends for my rolling pin so that I could make sure my cookie dough was the same thickness everywhere when I rolled it, I had to clean out some more cabinets (this was also a diversion so that I wouldn't have to face learning all that I needed to learn).  I just hauled a huge pile of stuff down to Colorado yesterday to get rid of all the stuff that we decided to get rid of to make room for better organization of the rest of our "stuff".


  1. The cookies turned out so pretty! Great job!

  2. Oh my gosh, Cat! Those cookies are AWESOME!! The embroidery cookies are my most favorite. I can't even imagine the time (and neck pain) it must've taken. I wouldn't have the patience for it, but I'm in awe of you having done it :}