Saturday, November 30, 2013

Easy Holiday Cookie Decorating, Plus All-Purpose Powdered Sugar Icing

It' s time to polish off the last of the pumpkin pie, strike the Thanksgiving set, and get focused on what's next. In my kitchen that means holiday sugar cookies, of course! (A good, basic, easy dough recipe is posted here.)

I've been busy trying out some fun decorating designs, techniques, and recipes for holiday cutout cookies and icings to share with you. I wanted to offer a number of options, some really quick (like those at left) and others a bit fancier (like the "marbled" cookies at the top right and bottom) in case you enjoy pulling out a few more stops. Along with the pics here, I've posted two new YouTube videos basic piping here and fancier piping here that show you step-by-step how to produce these various eye-catching yet very doable effects.

One video, called, Cookie Decorating Basics shows how to use a small plastic baggie as a piping bag and to just zig-zag  or lightly accent with a little icing to jazz  up cookies in any season. Note that all the piping lines were applied with only baggies; of course if you have pastry bags and tips, do use them! In case you're curious, the cookies at right look very smooth and glossy because I used an icing containing a little corn syrup and piped on the accent lines while the bottom icing layer was still wet. This allows the accents to blend right into the base coat. The method is aptly called "wet-on-wet" piping.

Though it isn't certainly isn't necessary for decorating success, I featured only dye-free, botanically colored icings on all these cookies: My matcha green tea icing recipe is here; info in using botanical colors such as cranberry juice concentrate and purchased botanical dyes is posted here.  A variety of botanical dyes, including many shown here can be purchased on-line from ChocolateCraftColors.

 The all-purpose powdered sugar icing below works with either purchased botanical dyes or the regular little bottles of synthetic food dyes found in supermarkets. (BTW, I have a lot more info and recipes for those interested in dye-free decorating in my latest book cookie cookbook, Simply Sensational Cookies. It has won several awards and has been on a number of "great holiday gifts" lists, including the Huffington Post list.)

The fancier decorating look shown at the top, with the book, and at right is a slightly more advanced wet-on-wet icing technique called "marbling." My newest YouTube marbling video here shows step-by-step how to make all the marbled cookies shown--trees, candy canes, stockings, and six-pointed stars. Honestly, though they may look tricky, as the video reveals they are both surprisingly quick and fun to create. (My elementary school grandkids just love making them with me!)

If you feel you could use some guidance on rolling and cutting out cookie dough, I provide a how-to on the best and easiest rolling out method in a video here, and handy tips for cutting out sugar cookies here.

Basic Powdered Sugar Cookie Icing

The egg white powder (available in some supermarkets) or meringue powder (often found with Wilton decorating supplies) is optional, but it will produce a more durable icing that will also hold its color better during shipping or storage. For good icing consistency and spreadability, don't try to omit the corn syrup; if you wish to avoid high-fructose corn syrup just be sure to use the Karo brand.

Tip: If using botanical dyes be sure not to add any acid (such as lemon juice), as it can react with and change the color of some natural color pigments. Also, botanical colors are more fragile than the synthetic petrochemical dyes, so if possible, it's best to include the egg white or meringue powder to help set and hold their colors.

1 16-ounce box confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon egg white powder or meringue power, optional
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
About 31/2 to 5 1/2 tablespoons water, as necessary to yield a spreading or piping consistency
Assorted purchased botanical food colors or regular synthetic food colors

Put the sugar in a large bowl. If using the egg white or meringue powder, stir it in thoroughly. Add the corn syrup, extract and a generous 3 tablespoons water. Beat on low speed until blended and smooth, adding in more water as needed for a smooth, yet slightly stiff consistency, and scraping down the sides several times.

Divide the icing into four or five portions, placing in small deep bowls. Thoroughly stir as many drops of color into each bowl as needed to yield the hue desired. Icings that will be piped need to be just slightly stiff; those spread over cookies should be slightly fluid, so adjust the consistency by thoroughly stirring in a bit more water (or powdered sugar if icings are runny). Use the icings immediately or store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week. Stir well and let warm to room temperature before using.

Yield: Depending on the cookie size and whether simple piped on accents or a full base coat and top coat are added, the batch of icing will decorate anywhere from 2 to 5 dozen cookies. For wet-on-wet decorating you may want to double the recipe.

For more simple yet festive ideas for decorating holiday cookies, check out the tips and pics here.


Rebecca York on December 10, 2013 at 10:20 PM said...

This looks fun and easy.

Kathryn Johnson on December 10, 2013 at 10:31 PM said...

Wow! These are just breathtaking cookies. I know mine could never come out looking quite this wonderful, but it's worth a try. I'll be thrilled if mine turn out even half this beautiful

toby devens said...

Honestly, these cookies look like works of art. Also: I see you use vanilla or almond extract in your powdered sugar icing. Can you also use the citrus flavors, like lemon or orange, or is there acidity in these extracts that affect the consistency of the icing?

Nancy Baggett on December 11, 2013 at 4:48 PM said...

Toby, you can use lemon or orange--not a problem. I don't suggest them because I don't the flavor of either is particularly natural tasting unless I also add a little freshly grated zest from the fresh fruit as well. And, when I do this, the icing then has little bits in it, which affects the appearance.

Louisa said...

I can just imagine what fun children will have with these easy techniques.


Anonymous said...

Can the egg white powder be replaced with real egg white?

Nancy Baggett on December 18, 2013 at 8:55 AM said...

I don't really recommend raw egg white in this recipe. It wouldn't blend in well, plus many health experts no longer consider it safe. If you are using regular synthetic food colors, just leave it out. If you are using botanical dyes, it is worth keeping meringue powder or dried egg white powder around, as it definitely helps set and hold their colors.

Jamie on January 1, 2014 at 7:47 AM said...

I love the book and one of my 2014 resolutions is definitely to try more of the recipes!



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