You’ve seen a lot of baking/decorating in this space lately, haven’t you? I really don’t know why this intriguing hobby of mine has sprouted into new directions recently but it has.
It has been a really enjoyable new hobby. I’ve researched techniques, tried and failed, tried and succeeded, discovered a whole new world of tools out there, and really, have just discovered a new medium of creativity.
It’s ironic that the sugar Nazi over here (me!) would get into such a sweet hobby. In my defense, I’ve learned I can reduce the sugar in the baked goods (as I’ve always done) especially if I need to decorate with sweet, sweet royal icing. And I tell myself I can enjoy my hobby for those every-once-in-a-while celebrations or else I’ll go crazy with all the leftovers in my kitchen.
So I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the past few months of experimenting. Here’s my list in no particular order:
- Use cake flour whenever possible for cakes and cupcakes. It really makes the cake incredibly tender. Try this wonderful tender white cake recipe to see what I mean. It is my standard white cake recipe and I use King Arthur’s Unbleached Cake Flour. The cake recipe calls for both vanilla and almond extract and is wonderfully light and flavorful.
- Please get yourself a medium size cookie scoop for scooping your cupcake batter into your liners. I can’t believe how much time it has saved me having one. No more going back to add a bit of batter here and a bit there to get my cupcakes even.
- Always rotate your pans in the oven halfway through the baking process, even if your recipe doesn’t mention it. Your cake/cupcakes/cookies will thank you when they are evenly baked all around.
- If you want your sugar cookies to keep their shape from the cookie cutter, make sure you’re working with chilled dough. The chilled dough will really keep the shape quite well. When I take the time to put my cut cookie dough shapes back in the fridge before baking, I get crisp edges and uniformity in my cookies. (See below.)
- Don’t try to reroll your sugar cookie dough after the second roll-out to cut more cookies. The dough will be too over-worked to make pretty and tender cookies. I wrap my dough scraps after the second rolling into a dough ball covered in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge for the kiddos to use.
- Get comfortable looking at step by step pictures in decorating books (This is a great complete guide book with loads of pictures) and watching how-to videos online. I’ve learned how to ice a cake, ice a cupcake in unique ways, crumb coat, fill a cake, and really handle fondant in much more efficient ways than ever before by watching a professional do it. Beyond youtube, Craftsy has some excellent video tutorials on everything from basic decorating to intricate wedding cakes. Many tutorials are free and others you pay for.
- If you want professional results, use the right tools. Example: My pathetic iced cupcakes using too small of a tip compared to the exact same cupcake recipe using a large tip. (See below.) Huge difference. I finally broke down and bought the Ateco Large Tube Set and it has made decorating so much easier and more presentable.
- Be resourceful. If you have extra royal icing from bordering or flooding a cookie, store it in the fridge for another upcoming project. It lasts 1-2 weeks chilled and can be tinted, turned into runnier or stiffer icing with water or powdered sugar, (I used my leftover royal icing recently from these, darkened the green and made these ferns) or used on that leftover sugar cookie dough you have in your fridge for the kids! I also like to freeze any leftover cooked cupcakes that haven’t been iced for when I have extra butter cream icing or a decorating day I might have with the girls. I can pop out the cupcakes, let defrost, and let them have a spontaneous decorating day.
- Use nice and large (or XL) decorating/pastry bags for icing/piping. Fill your bag once with your icing and be done. No more fiddling with a small bag that you have to refill every five minutes. It isn’t worth your time.
The phenomenon of wafer paper:
What is wafer paper?
It is edible paper made of potato starch. It is an incredible cookie-decorating medium. You can either print on blank wafer paper any image you want using edible computer ink (but you have to have a wafer paper exclusive printer for the job) or buy pre-printed wafer paper. Cookie Pixie has quite a variety of pre-printed wafer paper from holiday paper to cowboys. I love their selection.
Here’s how I made Johanna’s mermaid cupcake-topper cookies:
- Baked and cooled rectangle sugar cookies with half of a lollipop stick inserted in the cookie.
2. With stiffer royal icing, piped a border. Then with runny “flooding”consistency royal icing, flooded each cookie. With a tooth pick, I poked any bubbles and smoothed the icing on each cookie. Let dry for 1-2 days.
3. Cut the images on your wafer paper to fit your cookies. Remember that you will be piping a border around each image so take account of that if you need to crop the image to fit the cookie.
4. With a brush and a bowl of corn syrup, use the syrup as glue on the back of each cut wafer paper image. Be especially mindful of the corners. Press the image onto the royal iced and dry cookie. Rub the image in place from the middle to the corners. You’ll probably come back to each cookie after a few minutes to rub the corners down again. Be extra careful not to touch the printed side of the wafer paper with wet or corn syrup fingers. It will affect the image. I would dip my fingertips in a bowl of water and then dry them in between each cookie.
5. Each cookie should be adhered and dry with in a few minutes.
6. Now pipe a border around your pretty cookies. You can choose to pipe a colored border or white border with stiff royal icing. I think white is classier. (I do love the red border on these vintage Valentine cookies.)
Aren’t they beautiful? They are a lot of work but feel like miniature pieces of art in the end.
You can of course just make them into cookies or into cupcake toppers.
I hope I’ve inspired you with trying something new for your next party or celebration. For the past few months I’ve gone to bed with ideas keeping me awake with this new mania. I am happy to take a break from party baking for a while. The girls and I will make some decorated gingerbread beach-themed cookies in a week in preparation for our upcoming trip but other than that I’m back to a “sweet treat” being a spoonful of peanut butter with a sprinkling of chocolate chips on top.
*See Johanna’s mermaid party if you missed it yesterday.
the sleepy time gal