The following is a transcript for the above video.
Hey guys - Kookie here, and today I am going to show you how to assemble a DIY cookie kit. There isn't a whole lot of information out there about making them, and I figured - ya know what, I've made enough of them to show others how to make them. And I'm always getting messages from people asking specific questions about them, so I wanted to go in depth. Because that's what I like to do - I like details. So let's get into it.
First things first. The box. I love these boxes - they're cheap, they're plain, and it doesn't take much to gussy them up. These are actually PIE boxes, and they are 9 x 9 x 2.5", which is the absolute perfect size for your average sized cookie kit. They have a window in the top, too, so they showcase your kit beautifully. If these aren't big enough for what you need, look up cake or bakery boxes, and find something in your size - these boxes sometimes come in different colours and can come with or without windows in the top.
I like to line my box with a little bit of fluff. It keeps the contents safe, it adds a pop of colour to an otherwise kinda drab looking box, and presentation is always important. This stuff is called "sizzle" and it's made out of paper - it comes in all sorts of different colours. Tissue paper would also look really nice.
It's always important to give your cookie decorator a little bit of direction. You don't need to go into a crazy amount of detail, but I'll give some sample directions below in the description. Add your logo or something pretty, give it your own little spin, print them, and cut them out. I cut mine so that they are about 1/4 of a piece of paper.
INSTRUCTIONS: Use kit within 1-2 weeks. Keep at room temperature. May be frozen up to 3 months. Important: Bring to room temperature before using. Unpack all materials from your kit. Assemble sugar cookies onto plate or cookie sheet. Gently knead each icing bag for 1-2 minutes. Separation is normal. Cut a small hole in each piping bag by snipping the pointy end with a pair of sharp scissors. Decorate your cookies with the icing and sprinkles, using the wooden tools provided. Have fun. Enjoy immediately, or dry cookies overnight and then package using the baggies and twist ties provided. Enjoy cookies within 1-2 weeks.
Now these things aren't absolutely necessary, but I've found that customers really appreciate them. You could always add them as an option, too - kind of like when you go through drive-through and they ask you if you want any ketchup or utensils. Some might say no, some might say yes. These polypropelene baggies have little white dots and are super cute for packaging. Pair them with some twist ties, and your customer has their own packaging so that they can share their cookie creations with friends and family. People love packaging their cookies, it makes the cookies feel a lot more special.
I've added some wooden utensils, as well. You can use coffee stir sticks, popsicle sticks, errr... sorry, craft sticks, I ain't sponsored by popsicles, guys, or tongue depressors. They're all wooden sticks, just different sizes. I also found these adorable little spoons for sprinkles. Which, I mean, are totally un-necessary... but look at them, they're so CuTe. *uWu*
Now, for the sugar cookies themselves, I've seen a lot of people who will individually package the cookies, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, since most people are just going to rip open the packages of cookies and decorate them all in one afternoon. Which defeats the purpose of individually packaging them. If you do individually package the cookies, don't heat seal them, just put them all in individual baggies and add a twist tie, that way, the decorator can remove the cookie, decorate it, and then package them when they're dry. Then you can skip adding baggies and twist ties. But honestly, I just like to stack the cookies and heat seal in one bag. It's a lot less work, and you can leave the individual packaging thing as optional. I packaged 8 cookies, which is a good average number. 6 seems to be too little, 12 seems to be too many - I've determined 8 to be my magic number, so I'm sticking with it. I'm using a 2lb polypropelene bag, which 4 x 2 x 10", and then I use my heat sealer at the #5 setting to seal it.
For the icing, I'm using royal icing. Some cookie decorators use buttercream, but this is all personal preference. Royal icing is what I personally use to decorate my own sugar cookies, so I want the customer to decorate with the same icing I use. I know that a lot of people aren't really keen on the flavour of royal icing either, so that's why it's important to have a good tasting product. I mean, that's always important. But it's especially important in this case. I'm confident in the flavour of my cookies and my royal icing. I've found over the years while decorating cookies that there is definitely a looming misconception that sugar cookies taste bad. And, some do, unfortunately. But, prove people wrong. Splurge on some good flavourings, and spend the time on perfecting your recipe so that it tastes good. Be that exception, and surprise people.
You definitely want to use a medium consistency icing, or what a lot of people call a 20 second icing, meaning that if you draw a line in the icing with your spoon, it should disappear after about 20 seconds, because the decorator is going to be using it to do everything from flooding, to outlining and detailing. So it needs to be thin enough to spread out a little bit, but not thin enough that it's going to run off the cookie. It still needs to hold it's shape. This can be a tricky consistency to get, but with a little practice, becomes easier with time. Add a little bit of water at a time to get it to this consistency. My favourite disposable piping bags to use are by Truly Mad Plastics. They come in Small, Medium, and Large - I'm using Medium. If you do end up going with a buttercream, though, you'll definitely need to go with a more durable piping bag, as these ones might be a little bit too thin. Buttercream is thick. In my kits, I offer three different colours of icing, and I fill these piping bags between 70-80g full, which is around 2.5 oz. Squeeze the icing to the tip, and tie a knot in the top of the bag, but leave a little room at the top. There's a really important reason for this. Your icing will separate after sitting, and the decorator will need to be able to re-mix the icing by kneading the icing bag in their hand for about 1-2 minutes. If you tie the knot right above the icing, making the bag tight, you can't knead the icing bag very easily without the risk of popping a hole in the bag from so much pressure. Leaving a little room at the top gives the icing some space to move. It doesn't look as pretty when the icing bag isn't as tight, but we'll fix that later.
I could probably do a whole video on sprinkles, honestly. There are so many options, and most cookie decorators are sprinkle hoarders, so this will be a good chance to use up some of your collection. I do three different sprinkles, about 1 tbsp of each. I use these little 2 oz portion containers, which are super handy because a lot of the time, the decorator might have some left at the end, so this way they can just put the lid back on and save them for future baking projects. You could also use small re-sealable bags. Choose colours that go with your theme. But when in doubt - rainbow is always a favourite. You can buy sprinkle mixes, or you can make your own, which is a lot less expensive. Some of the designer sprinkles can be pretty pricey for the quantity that you get. But if you have a lot of different types and colours, you can make your own mixes. I know I'm probably going to slaughter some of these words, but you use dragees, non-pareils (which are those super tiny round sprinkles), sanding sugar, rock sugar, sugar pearls, sixlets (which are like sugar pearls with chocolate in the middle), jimmies (which are long sprinkles), and then you think outside the sprinkle realm and use other candies and toppings like chocolate chips, marshmallows, small chewy candies, coloured coconut, the list goes on. One of my favourite non-sprinkles are these Calebaut crispearls which are chococolate on the outside and crispy cereal on the inside.
For the packaging, I've counted out 8 bags, as well as 8 twist ties. Again - this is optional, but I find a lot of customers really like to package and share their cookies. Then I've counted out 6 wooden sticks to use for the icing, as two kids seems to be the average for my kits and I want to give them a stick for each colour of icing, as well as a wooden spoon to share for the sprinkles. If you wanted, you could also include things like toothpicks, as well. I'm taking all of these loose things and tucking them into the top bag so they're not moving around the box. If you're not including any packaging, you could always just tie the utensils together with some pretty butchers twine or a twist tie, or omit them if that's what you choose to do.
To further personalize the packaging, I'm adding a sticker to the box with my logo on it. If you buy these in bulk, they're fairly inexpensive, and they are a simple way to make your packaging look great - and professional. You could even make your own, or print some logos onto paper and stick them on with tape. Or you could simply use your business card in place of the sticker so that the customer can keep it. That works, too. I'm using these cute stickers to fasten the boxes closed when I'm finished packaging. That way, they're not going to flop open when a customer picks them up. It's also that little sense of security, too. There's always something a little more exciting about opening a sealed box. You could use plain tape, or you could use some decorative washi tape.
Now comes the fun part - assembling the box. It's like cookie kit tetris. Tuck in your cookies, add your bags and utensils to the back, along with your instructions, and then add your sprinkles to the top. Add back to what I said before about the icing bags, how we we were going to fix them up to make them look a little more pretty? All you have to do is twist them so that the icing bag becomes tight and then tuck the top underneath. See how nice that looks? Assemble the icing bags top to bottom beside the cookies. And there we go. Close the box, add your sticker, fasten the box closed, and you've got your finished kit.
I hope that this video was informative for you. When you compare cookie kits to actual cookie decorating, it probably doesn't feel as creative, but you can totally get creative with ideas when it comes to themes and sprinkle mixes. For example, this was a May Garden themed kit and I included a watering can, tulip, and potted plant cookie, as well as some sprinkles in Spring green and soft pastel colours. And yeah, there's some rainbow sprinkles in there, too, because kids love rainbow. I'll be sure to share some more theme ideas in the description below, and if you have any theme ideas with some interesting cookie shapes and sprinkle mixes, share them in the comments.
It always seems, though, that no matter how many cookie cutters you have, there is always one that you do not have, and there are always more to add to the collection.
I operate my business out of my inspected home kitchen, so it certainly isn't equipped with the storage and space of a bakery kitchen, so I've been making some attempts at maximizing the space that I'm in and really making it my own.
The kitchen is completely functional, but this is the first time in my life that I actually had any control over what I could do with it. Up until last year, when we made the dive into home ownership, I have always just worked with what I had. My first oven in my first apartment was Hells fire - all I had to do was set it at 350*F and it would shoot straight up to 500*F. Pretty sure I learned that the hard way. And my second apartment had leaky kitchen cupboards - figure that one out.
I spend most of my days in this room - sometimes 12+ hours a day, mostly all at once. I felt it was only fitting to give the kitchen a little freshening up. The cupboards, specifically. It's hard to see from the photo, but many of them have started to wear. The wood laminate on the cupboards closest to the sink have peeled and warped, so we had to remove the laminate entirely.
I also got sucked into the Ikea website - it was my first time on there, actually. I ordered up some reasonably priced storage cabinets for the dining room, as the plastic storage shelves I have now are open, warped, and starting to buckle from all of the weight from packaging materials. It'll be nice to have storage with doors that I can close and the packaging mess instantly disappears.
Enough yammering, though - I should get back to "not working" for a change. Though blogging doesn't feel much like work.
Just look at those gorgeous little things! I took those beautiful espresso flavoured macaron shells with a light dusting of cocoa and filled them with a 55% dark chocolate ganache. My newest flavour, and one worth adding to my upcoming macaron menu: Cafe Mocha. Oh yes - get in my mouth, sweet little bonbon.
The time had come to prove my theory, and I needed to pull of a successful batch of Italian method macarons. If I really did have faith in my skills and that it was simply the almond flour all along, then it should be a pinch. And you know what? I was right, this time.
Julien wasn't gentle, and he certainly didn't make a fuss over all the little things. I approached my macarons with the same confidence, and just look at these beauties! Those feet! Those smooth tops! It really had been the almond meal this whole entire time. Now, what it was about the almond meal brands, I'm not quite sure. There didn't seem to be any different in fat or protein content, so perhaps it was a freshness or processing thing? Fellow food geeks: feel free to weigh in on your theories!
These vanilla bean macarons will be filled with a combo of dark chocolate ganache and strawberry chocolate ganache - sound familiar? It's the Neapolitan ice cream of all our childhoods.
So what do I take away from this? Well. A little more confidence in my abilities, for one. Yes, a lot of footless and cracked macarons perished throughout the experience, but I got plenty more practice. And like anything, practice makes perfect - not to mention, patience and persistence. At several points throughout these fails, I did lose confidence in myself as a baker. Having finally succeeded (and over something as silly as an almond meal brand), I feel pretty damn good right now. Or is it the St. Paddy's Day beer? Maybe a bit of both.
I had actually ordered some decent quality almond meal to play with (I thought that the generic bulk grocery store stuff was maybe letting me down), but - surprise, surprise - when I wanted to continue my macaron experiment, my expected package was unexpectedly late. Gotta love Canada Post, sometimes.
So I went for some generic almond meal, again. I got enough to make a few batches, just to be on the safe side. But this time, I was gonna get it right - I was gonna make sure my sieve was desert-dry and I was gonna make sure that my almond meal was too. I spread it out in a thin layer on my cookie sheet lined with parchment, and baked it on low heat - 200*F for 30 minutes. Then I let it cool.
For my first attempt, I kept the espresso flavour with a dash of cocoa to top them off. Italian method. Cracked on the tops with no feet. A big fail.
Okay, so it's not a moisture problem. Then what the heck is it?
Well, all of the fails so far had yet another thing in common - the flavour. Maybe the espresso powder and the addition of cocoa powder topping them off was messing them up somehow. At this point, I really wasn't sure anymore.
It's 10pm, and by this point, Jason - my partner in crime - starts to take interest in my experiment and begins troubleshooting with me. The last variable had to be the almond meal - not the moisture content, but the quality itself. The grocery store was still open, but not for long, so we got our butts down to the store and went on a hunt for the best almond flour we could find. Something comparable to the Mandelin brand that had given me so many successes before.
I stumbled on some super-fine blanched almond flour made by Bob's Red Mill. It looked promising, and very similar to the stuff that I had used in the beginning. I grabbed it, as well as an awful Salisbury steak TV dinner to soothe my macaron depression...
Perfect macarons. Nice feet, beautiful smooth surface. Absolutely no sticking to the parchment. I ran across the kitchen and downstairs. Jason heard my commotion as I went to fetch him and he knew - he knew. He ran back after me to the kitchen and stared into the glass of the oven and smiled at me as I beamed and smiled with delight - it really was the damn almond meal all along, wasn't it.
The moral of story? Don't skimp on quality when it comes to the almond flour - it is the back bone of your recipe. When sieving the cheap generic bulk stuff vs the decent quality packaged stuff on the shelf, I saw the difference - but I didn't think anything of it. There was little left at the bottom of the sieve when it came to the good stuff, but with the cheap stuff, there was much bigger and greasier chunks of almond left. And that was even after throwing it in the food processor or coffee grinder. Maybe it was the fact that I used almond meal instead of almond flour? Is there even a difference? I'm so confused.
I cannot make a conclusion at this point - only a half-conclusion. I need to attempt the macaron using the same almond flour, but with the Italian method this time. Only then can I say that it really was the almond meal. But I am pretty confident that this is the issue, and I'm also confident that after all of this, I'm sitting down and having a beer...
I think where I went wrong was being over-confident. "Pfffft, I made five batches of them and they came out great. This next batch won't be any different". "HAH!", said the macaron. "I'll show her..." And it did.
My first five batches were great! First batch, French method - great. Second batch, French method - I undermixed it a tad bit and a few of them ended up with tiny nubbies. That's okay. Third batch, French method - great. Fourth batch, French method - my best yet. I ran out of almond flour. Fifth batch, Italian method - quite a few had cracks, but the remaining were beautiful. Okay. Sixth batch, French method, and seventh batch, Italian method - okay, something is definitely wrong...
I wish I had taken photos of the sixth batch (French method). Many of them were cracked, but there were a few nice looking ones... on the outside, that is. I tried to remove them from the parchment, and the skin completely separated from the bottom. The inside was sticky and the skin itself wasn't hard and crunchy like it was supposed to be. It was moist and immediately broke when I applied any pressure at all. I scrapped these after stuffing a few in my face. Delicious, by the way, but completely unusable.
So what else do the two issues have in common? Too much moisture, apparently, says the internet. An "ah-ha" moment came over me.
I had ran out of my almond flour, and for the last three batches, I had been using some new stuff that I got in the bulk section at the grocery store. It had felt a little moist, but I didn't think anything of it. And an even newer discovery that I made? My brand new sieve that I had been using, with it's big thick plastic brim, I discovered... holds water. I discovered this after washing it and rinsing it not too long after. I gave it a shake, and I could hear water splashing around inside the brim. Could it be that some of this water had gotten into my macarons when I sieved the almond meal? Bingo...
So now that I have ran out of this bulk almond flour, feeling like a failure at life, and thrown out this new (but awfully useless) sieve, I am in the midst of mentally preparing myself for another batch. I've ordered a new sieve (and am leaving a review for my old water logged sieve) and I've ordered more almond flour from one of my favourite companies. It isn't the almond flour that I originally used for all those successful batches, but the company I ordered it from this time around has never failed me with it's quality. So we'll see.
The almond flour I originally used for those first four batches? Mandelin brand. The stuff is amazing. It's delicious. It made amazing macarons, and it's easy to see why - it is world renowned for having amazing quality... but it was also getting expensive, which is why the distributor I got it from in the first place had to discontinue it. I can't find it anywhere else.
The great macaron adventure continues, guys, and you know that I'll keep you posted, of course - whether I succeed or not!
Wanna follow along with me? Indulge With Mimi and Entertaining With Beth are great places to start for a French method macaron.
Take my recipe, for example. After mixing, I chill my dough. And after rolling and cutting, I chill my dough. But then you read other recipes claiming that they're "no chill" and, like it says, there is no chilling required. So which one is right?
What it all comes down to isn't the recipe itself, but your interpretation of the recipe. The recipe may claim that it needs to be chilled, but you ran out of time one day and stuck the cookies in the oven without chilling them at all - they came out the same as usual. Or you followed a "no chill" recipe right down to the last detail, and they came out of the oven as sugar cookie blobs.
The thing is, we all read recipes differently, and we all have our own way of doing things. You tell ten people to follow a recipe, and they are going to come up with ten different results. As a baker sharing her sugar cookie recipe online, all I can do is tell you exactly what I do and hope for the best.
I swear by chilling my dough - both after mixing and after rolling and cutting. My dough is mega buttery, and if I were to try to roll it out without chilling, I'd end up with a sticky mess. Trust me, I've tried it. I always let it chill in the fridge for atleast 4 hours or so after mixing and portioning it (into flat 1kg blocks - I make a lot of cookies). As long as you chill it for that minimum time, it's very forgiving - you could chill it over night or even make a whole bunch of dough ahead of time, portion it, and freeze it. The key is making sure you bring the dough out to room temperature and roll it while it's still cool but not cold. Too cold, and you'll break your wrists trying to roll it. Too warm, and it'll stick to everything.
I always chill my sugar cookies after rolling and cutting, as well. I find it helps the cookies from spreading in the oven. Many many cookie decorators swear by this, but you'll also get a lot of cookie decorators that don't feel the need to chill their cookies before baking. I throw mine in the freezer for about a half hour (I'm sure even 15-20 minutes would be sufficient) and again, the freezing process is rather forgiving - you could freeze them overnight if you ran out of time in the kitchen that day. I've tried rolling and cutting my sugar cookies and then putting directly in the oven - sometimes they spread, sometimes they don't. It could depend on a lot of factors, especially things like heat and humidity. Heat and humidity seem to have quite a big spotlight in cookie decorating, don't they?
So what's the answer? Well, it all depends on you - the dough handler. You may have great success in chilling your dough, and some of you may not find it necessary. Like I said, it's the interpretation of the recipe, and not always the recipe itself. So what's your preference? Let me know in the comments below!
So I sat back and asked myself, "Just what do I do to get a flat sugar cookie?" and I came up with a few tips that may help you get that lovely flat decorating surface. If you're having trouble getting a good level cookie surface, or you just wanna do a little light cookie-theory reading, this one's for you!
Leaveners. You might notice that my sugar cookie recipe doesn't use a lot of baking powder (aka, a leavener). Leavener = rise, and you don't want a whole lot of rise out of your cookies. Do you have a tried and true sugar cookie recipe that you love, but the cookies come out a little too domed? Try reducing the leavener (such as baking powder) by a half to a quarter and see what happens. It should definitely help!
Dough, incorporated. Have you ever been rolling out your dough only to find little blobs of butter? They may look small, but they can mean big pains in your cookie baking future. Dough that is not thoroughly mixed will contain bits of unincorporated butter, and when baking, these bits of butter create lots of steam and seep and bubble out of your cookie, creating a misshapen mess along with it. Always mix your dough until these blobs of butter are no longer visible. But not a moment longer, unless you like tough cookies.
Sticky dough. If your dough is too sticky, you may notice that your sugar cookies aren't turning out as flat as you'd like them too. To make sure that your flour measurement is the most accurate it can be for your recipe, weigh the flour using a digital scale. Every baker should own one! As a general rule of thumb, 1 cup of all-purpose flour is around 120 grams. You'd be surprised how much of a difference it can make. Volume measurements are great for liquid, but over and under measuring dry ingredients like flour is easy to fall into. And don't be afraid to use a little flour when rolling out your dough - but not too much! Too much flour = a dry sugar cookie.
Chill out. I like to work with a chilled dough when rolling (not chilled enough that it'll break your arms or rolling pin, but chilled enough that you aren't trying to roll a gooey sticky mess) and I also chill my cookie dough in the freezer after rolling, cutting, and placing on parchment lined cookie sheets. 30 minutes usually does the trick. Some people swear by chilling, and others don't. Personally, I've tried putting my cookies in the oven straight after cutting and placing on cookie sheets, and I didn't end up with a very flat sugar cookie.
Getting rid of a little puffiness. Okay, so you followed all these tips and your cookies still came out of the oven looking a little puffy. If it's not too bad, they can be saved! Grab a plastic fondant smoother and gently press it on your sugar cookies and glide the smoother over their surface while still applying pressure. This trick only works while the cookies are still hot and fresh from the oven, but don't press down too hard - sugar cookies can be fragile things. This should get rid of any puffiness or bubbles.
So in addition to these two amazing orders, there was a real interesting variety this month, in addition to the huge amount of Valentines Day sugar cookies. Those are always fun, too! My favourite are the ones with the roses. I actually made a tutorial for it on YouTube, recently. They are one of those cookies that look a lot more complicated than they actually are. And they remind me of fancy tea china...
25 dozen cupcakes seems to be my comfortable limit for a day. This year, I'm in a different kitchen, so it should be a lot more comfortable this time around! And I've got my handy-dandy rolling rack, so I won't have to fill my kitchen with tables to hold all the cupcakes. I still have just a regular home oven that'll bake no more than two dozen at a time, but hey, who knows what the future will bring.
I've been looking at my kitchen, knowing that it's all mine and that we actually *own* the house we are in, as opposed to renting, and I've been thinking of the things that I could do to it. It could definitely use a facelift. I'll have to do some more research into it, but I honestly have no idea where to start. A kitchen reno seems pretty overwhelming. Have you guys renovated your kitchen before? I don't want to do a huge reno - just a lick of paint on the cabinets/drawers/etc. and some general cosmetic things. I don't want to set the bar too high, ya know? It'd be my first reno, and I don't wanna freak myself out.
Anyways - until next time. What great cookie mysteries do you guys want me to write about?
So, I just started a blog - finally, I guess. I figured there was enough random cookie and baking knowledge in my head over the past few years that I could share it with the world. I set a goal of writing in my blog just once a week, and we'll see how it goes.
I've always loved writing, so I can't imagine it'll be too difficult.
Just to give you a very short blurb about myself, I started cookie decorating about three years ago, now. And like a lot of cookie decorators, I started with things like cakes and cupcakes and whatnot. I still do these things, but I haven't delved into the world of sculpted, fondant covered, multiple tiered cakes. Instead, I decided to jump into decorated sugar cookies. And living in rural Southwestern Ontario, Canada, decorated sugar cookies were definitely an unheard of type of thing... people seemed really intrigued, though!
So I started doing live feeds on Facebook. People were messaging me and commenting, telling me how relaxing it was to watch and that they enjoyed it quite a lot, so I started making edited video tutorials, emphasis on one cookie and design at a time. All of a sudden, Buzzfeed Food got interested and did a video about me. And then a month later, they shared the same video on Tasty, too. I went from almost 200 followers on Instagram in December to 10.7k followers within just a few months. Plus noteable jumps in subscriptions, views, and likes on my YouTube channel, website, and Facebook page. That was definitely an interesting experience!
So now I've got all these new eyes on me, worldwide, so I guess I can't stop decorating sugar cookies, now can I? Honestly. I'm just glad that the eyes are on my cookies and not actually on me, because I'm a shy and quiet person that just keeps to themselves most of the time. That probably sounds mega-cliche, but it's true.
I actually started out apprenticing at a local fine dining restaurant as a teenager (that's where I got my nickname, Kookie, actually), and went from living in a town of 8,000 people for my whole life to living in a city of 2.8 million people - the big smoke of Toronto - while I attended chef school. Definitely a huge change, that's for sure, but I wanted to do something more different than moving to London, a smaller city closer to home, like every other teenager seemed to do at the time.
Much like a lot of other people who attend college in their teenage years, though, I ended up doing something pretty unrelated to my schooling for a living. I've always been an artsy and creative kinda girl, so I picked up polymer clay sculpting one day and stuck at it for eight years under my alias of Monster Kookies. But I was missing home, and after a few years of living in a tiny basement apartment on the Danforth, I decided to move back to my oh-so-small-and-delightful home town.
As well as working part-time at a local candy store making gelato and chocolate (which I loved), I was basically sculpting all day and all night, doing custom orders, and having other folks on the internet ripping off every single one of my ideas. I put every last bit of myself into what I sculpted, and it burnt me right out. And not only that, I ended up losing my job after a tornado destroyed the candy store. It never re-opened.
I put Monster Kookies on the back burner, and eventually got a retail job at another local shop - periodically making chocolate, but mostly scooping ice cream and making lattes. I was definitely missing something. People would come into the store once in awhile and ask us to make a cake - it'd get pawned off on me because I was the creative one, and I was most definitely okay with that. Those were my little happy moments. I decided I needed more of those moments, so I quit to make that happen. And that's how Sweethart Baking Experiment was born.
So here I am, back at the beginning, having a written conversation with my computer and about to hit "POST". My first real blog entry: COMPLETE.
A lot of work goes into each and every sugar cookie that I make! And since I often share the how-to process of each cookie design in my Kookievision series on YouTube, I wanted to give you a good basic rolled sugar cookie and royal icing recipe so that you can follow along!
For the following two recipes, I am giving measurements in both volume and weight measurements. Avid bakers: I encourage you to buy a small digital scale for your kitchen. It's a small investment to make, and it can make a world of a difference in all your recipes!
Helpful Hints: Sugar Cookies
* SALT: I like to use salted butter - I feel like the salt balances out the sweetness very nicely. If you'd like to cut down on salt, use unsalted butter or omit the salt in the recipe, altogether.
* FLAVOURING: My favourite flavouring to use is vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, lemon emulsion, orange emulsion, almond extract, or a combination of a few extracts. Fresh grated orange zest is really nice, too! Experiment with different extracts, emulsions, and other flavouring combinations!
* THICKNESS: Dough rails are very helpful for getting a consistent thickness. I use Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Fast Tracks" dough rails, as all three sizes stacked on top of eachother are just under 1/4" thick. You can also buy rolling pins with thickness ridges built into the sides.
* WORKING THE DOUGH: Do not overwork the dough. Knead the dough until everything is incorporated - that's it. Over-kneading can cause a tough cookie. Dough will definitely be sticky before chilling - it can be chilled over night or frozen if you need it for future use. Just remove from the fridge/freezer and let sit at room temperature until it is easy to roll but still cool to the touch (usually 1-2 hours). Trying to roll warm dough is not fun, trust me. It sticks to your cutters, your work surface, your hands, the rolling pin, etc. If it gets too warm, just re-chill for a little bit. If the dough sticks to your cookie cutter, dip your cookie cutter into a bit of flour - this is especially important for 3D cookie cutters. When rolling out, try to roll into a shape that suits the size of your cookie cutters so that you can get the most shapes cut out in the first roll. The more the dough is rolled out, the tougher your cookie can be after baking. The least you handle the dough, the better.
* KNOWING YOUR OVEN: Most ovens often run hotter or colder than you actually set them to. When I set my oven to 350*F, guess what the temperature really is? About 400*F. And do you know how you figure that out? The hard way - by over baking your cookies. OR you can figure it out the easy way - by purchasing an oven thermometer. Oven thermometers are a very cheap kitchen investment and can be the difference between a decent and fantastic cookie.
Get yourself an oven thermometer, put it into the centre of the oven, turn the temperature up to 350*F, and let it pre-heat. Once it's pre-heated, take note of what your thermometer says. If it says more than 350*F, turn the oven temperature down. If it says less than 350*F, turn the oven temperature up. Give it about five minutes, and re-check. Further re-adjust if needed. Once the thermometer reads 350*F, then take note of what temperature your oven is set to. You can write it down somewhere, or you can do what I did - draw a little notch on the dial with a Sharpie to show you where 350*F really is. It sounds super trivial, but it's a huge deal.
* BAKING: I like to bake my cookies the day before I decorate them - this cuts down on problems like "butter bleed" which is when the butter can leach into the royal icing and creates unsightly stains when dry.
* SOFT COOKIES: Sugar cookies can go from a delightfully pleasant soft and moist state to a dry and hard unpleasant state just within a matter of minutes in your oven. Pay attention to your baking time and check on your cookies, and turn the trays half way through the cooking time if needed for even baking. Once the tops look set and no longer shiny, they're done! When cool, take note of the colour on the bottom of the cookie - it should barely be golden brown at all.
Helpful Hints: Royal Icing & Decorating
* FLAVOURING: My favourite flavouring to use is vanilla extract, lemon emulsion, orange emulsion, or orange blossom water. Experiment with different extracts, emulsions, and other flavouring combinations - just make sure that the flavourings you use are water or alcohol based and avoid anything oil based.
* EXTRA ZIP: Try using fresh sieved (to get rid of seeds and pulp) lemon juice in place of some of half or all the water in the recipe - it adds a nice tangy zip!
* MIXING: Do not over-mix your royal icing - it only needs a few minutes to mix on low speed until it is white and glossy. If you mix it too long, the royal icing will become more fluffy and full of air bubbles.
* CONSISTENCY: To get the consistency of icing that you need, add more water for a thinner icing, and add more icing sugar for a thicker icing. As a general rule of thumb, my flooding icing is usually the consistency of school glue, and my piping/outling icing is usually the consistency of toothpaste.
* DECORATIONS: For decorations that need to hold their shape well, such as flowers, ruffles, etc. you'll need a very stiff consistency icing. I'm talkin' drywall compound thickness, here. Super thick!
* STORING: Royal icing starts to dry very quickly. When mixing up your colours, always keep a piece of cling wrap tightly over the top of the bowl or store in an air tight container.
* LEFTOVERS: Have leftovers? I like to scoop my royal icing onto pieces of cling wrap, wrap them up tightly, and freeze them in a freezer bag or air tight container for future use.
* DRYING: Depending on your location, heat and humidity play a big part in drying time. I often dry my cookie icing for atleast 24-36 hours before packaging them.
* SHINE: A fan blowing directly at your cookies on low-medium speed will give your icing a nice subtle sheen. An air purifier is even better, as it filters out any dust in the air that can possibly get onto your cookies.
* COLOURING YOUR ICING: The best way to colour your icing, hands down, is gel dye. Popular brands include Wilton, Pro Gel (by Rainbow Dust), Chef Master, and AmeriColor - my personal favourite is Chef Master and AmeriColor - their gel colours are very concentrated and a little goes a long way.
* SPRINKLES AND DECORATIONS: Always look for keywords on your sprinkles and other decorations - quite often they will say things like "edible" or "non-toxic" which are important, but there are times where decorations and sprinkles are just for looks - it'll often say this on the container. Either don't add these to your cookies for decoration, or make sure that people know that they are for show only. When in doubt, don't add them to your cookie at all, and always make sure to read labels.
Decorating Materials: The Basics
PIPING BAGS: I like to use disposable piping bags for my icing because you can see through them and it's a lot less to wash. And if you happen to use your piping bags for other things like buttercream, you won't run into any issues with greasy piping bags, which can be a problem for royal icing.
COUPLERS: I have a lot of couplers. These are used in your piping bags to attach your icing tip. I prefer the Ateco brand.
PIPING TIPS: Number 2 tips are the most used tips in cookie decorating, but it's also useful to have a few smaller tips (1, 00, 000, etc) and a few bigger ones (3, 4, etc.). Some other useful tips are petal tips for making flowers and ruffles, as well as a V shaped leaf tip for making leafs, petals, etc.
PIPING BAG CLOSURES: They make special bands for closing your piping bags, keeping the icing inside from getting crusty, but my personal favourite piping closures are good old binder clips from the office supply store. Cheap, too!
PIPING BAG STORAGE: When not in use, it's good to keep the tips of your piping bags moist to keep them from getting crusty. All I do is take a piece of damp paper towel and line the bottom of a Pyrex measuring cup and then store my piping bags, tips down, into it. Easy!
SQUEEZE BOTTLES: These come in a variety of sizes, so pick the size that best suits the amount of cookies that you are decorating. 8oz is a good place to start. Sometimes, squeeze bottles come with built in couplers and piping tips - these are great for precision flooding, like polkadots, eyes, and all sorts of wet-on-wet techniques. If flooding with a coupler attachment, I often use a number 4 tip. If you're not a fan of squeeze bottles for your flooding consistency icing, a lot of other cookiers use piping bags. It's all personal preference.
SCRIBE TOOL: Often just a plastic handle with a needle on the end, this is one of your most useful tools. It's used for spreading icing, getting rid of gaps in your icing, scraping off and removing mistakes, and popping air bubbles. You can also use a sewing needle or a trussing needle.
CLEAN CLOTH: Always keep a CLEAN wet cloth on hand for wiping off your icing tips and scribe tool.
FOOD DYE: Liquid food dye is awful - get the gel dye stuff! You'll use a lot less of it at a time to get the colour you want and you'll get some amazing hues.
WATER & ICING SUGAR: Keep water in a glass with a measuring spoon handy to thin your royal icing to the desired consistency. Too thin? Add icing sugar a little at a time to get the thickness you need.
BOWLS, SPOONS, CONTAINERS, SPATULA, etc: A container for storing your royal icing is important so that it doesn't go crusty on you. You can put your royal icing in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid or just put some cling wrap over the mixing bowl. Keep a few sizes of bowls on hand, as well as some spoons for mixing your icing with colours. Always use grease-free tools - any residual grease in your royal icing can cause it not to set/dry correctly, so always wash your tools very well! If you're using a lot of sprinkles or decorations, a muffin tin works great for keeping them separate, too!
FAN: If you want your royal icing to dry with a nice sheen to it, you'll need a fan pointing at your cookies as they dry. Low to medium speed is fine - you don't want to blow the cookies away, just give them a mild breeze. To keep the dust off your cookies, I like to use an air purifier instead of a fan - it'll blow air at your cookies, but it filters out the dust from the air beforehand so that it doesn't blow it into your wet icing.
PACKAGING: I like to individually store my cookies in polypropylene bags and seal them with a heat sealer. You could store them in a container with a tight fitting lid, or you can package them in plastic bags and tie the tops with ribbon or by using bakers twine or twist ties. It's up to you!
Some more helpful links:
To Chill or Not To Chill: That is the question.
Flat Sugar Cookies: Tips & Tricks
How To Make A Cookie Kit
HAVE ANOTHER QUESTION?
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