I’ve had a set of Russian icing tips for years. They were sitting in a drawer, minding their own business, not harming anyone. What possessed me to grab them to decorate some vanilla cupcakes? I have no idea. All I know is that I managed to produce ONE cupcake. Let’s call him Neo. Never again, my friends. Never again. A few more months of my life expectancy are gone.

(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 recipe for yellow cupcakes (for ATK recipe, click here)

1 cup butter, slightly softened (I used Kerrygold)
1 pound icing sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 + 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
purple, yellow, and green food gel dye
Russian piping tip
1M piping tip (optional)

Make the cupcakes according to the directions from America’s Test Kitchen recipe. It is a very simple and straightforward method that works great, I highly recommend it.

Make the buttercream: add the butter to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mix, fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a couple of minutes until the butter is creamy and lighter. Add the salt and vanilla, beat a little more. Turn the mixer off, add the powdered sugar and turn it on the lowest speed.

Once the risk of powdered sugar explosion is over, increase the speed, and beat for a couple of minutes, until very creamy, adding milk just to have the perfect piping consistency.

Separate a small amount (1/4 cup maximum) to dye green to pipe leaves. The rest of the buttercream divide in two, one large portion for purple, one smaller portion for yellow. Fit a large piping bag with the Russian tip of your choice, add the purple icing to the sides of the bag, leaving the center empty. Fill the center with yellow buttercream. Close the bag, pipe small amounts of buttercream on a piece of parchment paper until you are sure the yellow is showing through in the center. Pipe flowers on the surface of the cupcakes.

Add green buttercream to a small piping bag fitted with a leaf tip. Pipe leaves around the flowers.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Don’t you think that icing tip looks like the most innocent gadget in the universe? If you watch youtube videos teaching the secrets of the Russian tips, they make it all seem like the most peaceful walk on the most beautiful tropical beach. They are not telling you the truth. Not the full truth. I advise you to go for a tip that does not need a clear separation between the two colors. I wanted the yellow to be at the center, and the purple around it, and yes, I managed to do that in this single cupcake.

But as you go along, the colors tend to mix, the buttercream also gets a bit less firm, and instead of keeping open like a flower, the outer edge collapses in, and you are left with an “almost flower” next to a blob of undefined shape, next to another blob of even worse shape, and pathetic color. Accordingly, my reaction went from “ooops” to “what the heck is this?” to words unfit to print.

As I mentioned, I could only pull one cupcake decorated with “the Devil’s tip.” I had to scrape all the blobs, mix the icings together, spoon them in another bag fitted with my trustworthy 1M tip, and call it a day. It’s a good thing I don’t drink, because the tequila bottle winked at me. Twice.

As the road to get to the final icing was quite rocky, I was not too fond of the resulting color. If you mix yellow and purple, you’ll see what I mean (don’t do it). So I air-brushed some with a rose gold dye, and painted edges with gold luster. I am happy with the way they turned out, and for that my husband is elated.

Now, if you like to live dangerously and want to try “the Devil’s tips”, I advise you to pick one that you can use either with a single color or that would work well with a marbled design. You can then add two shades of the same color to the bag, so that mixing during piping won’t be a problem. Thinking back, I think it would be possible to add the yellow color to the center enclosed in a second bag, and spoon the purple around it. I might give it a try, but not in the near future. I need to recover from this adventure first… It’s not as if I am a young puppy with plenty of life expectancy to waste.

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Since lockdown, Sugar Cookies became a weekly baking activity. I make a batch of dough, divide it in three portions, cut, bake and decorate one-third of it, save the leftover dough in the freezer to use on the following two weeks. By doing so, I can easily include some in every Friday Common Table spread, concentrating just on how to decorate them (although they are very tasty even plain). In this version, I used a crusting buttercream instead of the usual Royal Icing.

(adapted from many sources)

for the cookies:
360 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice (I used this one, see comment at the end of the post)
100 g granulated sugar
100g brown sugar
226 g butter, cut into chunks
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla paste

for the icing:
60 g butter
60 g vegetable shortening (I used Spectrum)
360 g powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla (clear, if available)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
pinch of salt
gel food color (pink and purple)
gold powder
lemon extract or vodka

Heat oven to 350. Whisk the flour, baking powder and mixed spice, set aside.

Add the butter (cold is fine) to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and cream with both sugars.  Add the egg, vanilla and salt, and mix until everything is incorporated nicely.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Make sure to scrape the bowl, so that no dried bits of flour stay unincorporated. If you want to divide the dough, do it now, freeze amounts for later and work with half or one third of it right away. Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4″ and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets, freeze for 5 to 10 minutes, and bake for about 12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. The edges should start to get golden, but do not allow the full cookie to get too much color.  Transfer to a cooling rack and decorate as you desire, or leave them plain.

Make the frosting. Combine butter and shortening (both at room temperature) in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer using the whisk attachment. When they are well incorporated, add the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, whisking in low speed at first. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk for a couple of minutes. Adjust consistency with heavy cream or more powdered sugar, if needed.

Divide in three portions. Dye one portion pink, one portion purple, and leave the third portion white. Place in piping bags fitted with 1M icing tip. I left the pink as a solid color, and mixed the purple and white together, adding more purple than white to the bag. Pipe rosettes on top of the fully cold cookies, decorate with sprinkles. Once the frosting is solid enough on the surface, decorate the pink rosettes with gold powder mixed with vodka or lemon extract.

Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature for 24 hours before wrapping or placing in a box.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Buttercream icing might seem like a lot of extra work, but I find it more forgiving because it is easier to get the consistency right. Royal Icing requires a lot more precision, and I’ve had situations in which I had to empty the piping bag, adjust the consistency, fill it again… and REPEAT the process… Not fun. The buttercream will start to crust within one hour, and after 2 hours you can paint the edges with gold if you like.  Leave the cookies at room temperature for 24 hours before packing them, so that the frosting is nice and firm. It will be soft as you bite into it.

For the rosettes, I think that mixing white buttercream with the dyed gives a more subtle and elegant effect. I did that for the purple decoration. The pink was piped as a solid color, but then the gold detail did the job of softening the overall look, or at least that’s what I was trying to go for.

Another third of the dough was decorated with Royal Icing the following week. I used the small-batch that I blogged about in the past, you can see it here. Some got a painted icing decoration as described by Helen in this post.

The addition of brown sugar and spices changes quite a bit the flavor of the cookie itself. I liked it so much that it made me think if I could go back in time I would use this recipe instead of the one I had planned to use in a certain tent: a plain sugar cookie perfumed with Fiori di Sicilia and cardamon. But, since I never made it to the cookie episode, going back in time would be a moot point.

About Mixed Spice, here is the composition: ground cinnamon (40%)  + ground coriander (40%), complete the other 20% amount with ground caraway, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves adjusting them to taste

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