Valentine - Everyday Baking Blog at - 75915

Everyday Baking

Feb. 11, 2009 3:11 pm 
Updated: Feb. 26, 2009 4:13 pm
      I made cookie valentines to send to my nephews across the country. Decorating cookies makes me happy. Yes, it can be an ordeal, and yes, it always takes longer than I plan for, but personalized cookies make such great gifts. And when I'm making them for people I love, I'm able (and willing) to spend much more time on each cookie than I did when I decorated cookies at retail bakeries.

      I like to use three or four different colors of icing. Since I'm going to all the trouble to make cut-out cookies, piping bags, white icing, and colored icing, what's another color or two?

    Here's what I did (warning: it's a multi-day process). I used the recipe for Grandma Minnie's Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies, rolling out the dough fairly thickly—about ¼ inch—because I wanted sturdy cookies that would hold up well during shipping. I made parchment paper cones for decorating them.

      I baked the cookies, cooled them, and iced many of them completely with one color of icing, letting them dry overnight before proceeding. I made a big batch of white icing, just mixing powdered sugar and milk to reach the consistency I was looking for. I'm not sure of the amounts; I just started with most of a 2-pound bag of powdered sugar and probably used about half of it. I portioned the white icing into a couple of bowls and added gel food colorings, which are much better than the drops you'd find at the grocery store. A little goes a very long way. (Gel colors are available at craft stores and specialty kitchen stores.)

      For coating the cookies, I wanted a fluid icing consistency that would cover the cookie, but not be so runny that it pooled off the surface. I tested that by letting the icing drip back into the mixing bowl, forming a ribbon that slowly sank back into the surface. For piping, I wanted a stiffer icing that would keep its shape. I sifted in more confectioner's sugar to the bowls of colored icing to make a thick, paste-like consistency. (Sifting is very important! Little clots of undissolved sugar will clog up your piping bag. Ask me how I know.)
  • There are a couple of different methods that get different results: one is to cover the cookie with icing, let the icing dry, and then pipe on designs or messages. That's what I did for my "Sweetheart" cookies.
  • The other method is to pipe onto the iced cookie while the icing is still wet, so that the icing melds together and creates a flat shiny surface. That's how you make marbled designs, and how I decorated the "Kiss" cookie (my favorite!) and the "Heart" cookie.
      It's definitely worth practicing on parchment before you start messing up your cookies. (And I should tell you that when I first started, my piping looked like I'd used my feet instead of my hands. So keep practicing.) Some people find that script is easier than printing, so see what works for you.

      I slipped the cookies for my nephews into individual cellophane bags, packed them in a box with newspaper, and shipped them off. Stay tuned to find out if they arrive intact!
Filling a piping bag
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Test it: let the icing drip back into the bowl, forming a ribbon that slowly sinks into the surface.
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Spreading icing with an off-set palette knife is one way to cover a cookie.
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"Flooding" a cookie with icing is another method. A rim has been piped around the cookie's border.
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I used a palette knife to spread the thinner icing inside the border.
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Practice piping: use your left hand as the "guiding" hand, while the right holds the piping bag.
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The right hand applies pressure while the left index finger controls the motion.
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Piping a border: think of it like laying down string (fine piping is called "stringwork.")
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Feb. 11, 2009 4:30 pm
Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm a long-lost nephew of yours. SEND COOKIES, please!
Feb. 11, 2009 10:14 pm
I loved reading this and your cookies are beautiful! Thanks for posting!
Feb. 12, 2009 12:18 am
great reading and very nice photos and thanks for the tip of sifting the sugar thats sweet lol
Feb. 12, 2009 11:42 am
You have lovely frostingmenship!
Feb. 12, 2009 11:51 am
This is great reading and informaion. Your pictures will be of help to me and many others. Thanks!!
Feb. 13, 2009 12:27 pm
Yum, if you have time, can you post the icing recipe?
Feb. 13, 2009 1:54 pm
Hey, Niki! Like I said, I don't really measure. I dumped about two cups of powdered sugar into my Kitchenaid bowl and drizzled in a couple of tablespoons of milk. (I don't sift the sugar first, since the mixer slaps it around enough to break up any lumps.) I add enough milk to make it fluid without being runny. Then, I divide it into different bowls and add food coloring. One thing I forgot to mention is to always keep the icing you're not using covered with plastic wrap right on its surface, or else it'll dry out! If I need thicker icing, I sift in more sugar and stir it in by hand, not with the mixer (too much trouble with different colored icings.) The amount of icing you need varies depending on how elaborate you're getting with your decorating, how many colors you want, etc. It's a neutral-flavored icing; sometimes I add a drop of almond extract or lemon extract--something clear, so it won't darken the icing like vanilla extract does. I hope that helps you out!
Feb. 13, 2009 1:57 pm
P.S. The sugar is enough of a preservative that you don't need to worry about the milk--don't refrigerate iced cookies, because the moisture will cause the colors in the frosting to bleed. The icing dries hard and shiny; I actually just ate a cookie this morning (yes, Cookie Jarvis--cookies for breakfast!) and it tasted better than when I first made them.
Feb. 13, 2009 2:45 pm
Why does everyone else make it seem so darn flippin easy!!!
Feb. 13, 2009 3:39 pm
:) Oh,, no, no. It's not easy at all, Trishie! In culinary school, we actually had piping HOMEWORK: we had to show up to class with a plastic wrap-covered cardboard with various borders and messages piped on them. "Congratulations" and "Happy Anniversary" can be very hard to fit on a small cake! I have beautiful penmanship, I'm good with my hands, and I thought I'd be able to breeze through; it was a shock to discover I had ten thumbs. Really, you *do* get better with practice.
Feb. 26, 2009 4:13 pm
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About Me
I am thrilled to be able to combine my love of the written word with my passion for food in my job at I have a background in publishing and in the food service industry, both "front of the house" and back. I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America's Baking & Pastry program and have worked as a baker and pastry cook in Wisconsin, for a season at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and at bakeries in Seattle.
My favorite things to cook
My baking career really began when I was in first grade and my family was living in Germany. Every morning my father and I would walk to the local bakery for bread and an afternoon treat, like Apfelkuchen. I love dark sour breads, baking anything with yeast in it, and anything that requires hours of patient work, like croissant and Danish doughs.
My favorite family cooking traditions
Food we ate while camping. Animal pancakes. My mom's meatloaf. My grandfather's breakfasts.
My cooking triumphs
I think a baker's real triumph is getting to work at 4 am, day in and day out, so that there are beautiful pastries and loaves of bread on display when the bakery opens three hours later. A personal triumph was making my own wedding cake.
My cooking tragedies
Heavens! Too shameful to list: all that wasted dough, those burnt nuts, spilled milk to cry over....
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