WOOD PLANK COOKIES, LEARNING FROM THE BEST

My cookie-baking adventures go on and on. So many different techniques to try, sometimes I am not sure which one to go for next. But the moment I saw my tent-baking friend Tanya sharing her method to make wood plank cookies, I dropped all other projects that were waiting, and jumped on it, like a Jack Russell on a snake. Or Oscar on an ankle (missed the story? click here). She shared a blog post and three tutorials to come up with a showstopper production, involving a bunny rabbit and gorgeous tulips. I confess that the skill to pipe the rabbit on the cookie is beyond my reach, so I opted to let the bunny go and bring butterflies, made as Royal icing transfers. A lot less stressful. I’m quite pleased with the way they turned out…

CHERRY-ALMOND SUGAR COOKIES
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

1 cup (227g) unsalted butter,cubed, cold
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
zest of half an orange
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups (420g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (60g) cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cherry extract (Olive Nation)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (Olive Nation)

to decorate:
your favorite recipe of Royal Icing (I use Tanya’s)
royal icing transfers (butterflies and flowers)
food-safe pen

Heat the oven to 350 F and line baking sheets with parchment. Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt, and set aside. Mix the sugar with the zest rubbing it well to release the oils. Cream the butter with the flavored sugar, just until smooth and combined.

Mix in the eggs and flavoring extracts until incorporated. Add the flour mixture on low-speed, in three portions. The mixture will seem very dry and sandy at first, but after a couple of minutes the mixer it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough from the bowl, cut in two pieces and wrap one in plastic. Roll the second piece of dough out between 2 sheets of parchment paper, to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut into rounds, press a detail flower using another type of cutter, and freeze for 10 minutes. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie. I like to have a slight golden tone at the edges.

Cool on a rack and decorate as desired. For the bee decoration you’ll need thick consistency Royal icing in cream color for the background, and leaf green for details. A brown food pen with reasonably fine tip, food gel dye in caramel or brown color, vodka, and royal icing transfers of the decorations you feel like adding to the plank.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: To see Tanya’s gorgeous cookies visit her site with a click here. Those who have been following my blog for a while know that I’ve never been into cookie decorating, and Royal icing scared every cell of my body. My approach for a decade had been “thanks, but no thanks.” Being part of the Great American Baking Show forced me to deal with the issue. Although I never got as far as making decorated cookies in the tent, I admit that what I had planned for that particular episode was not that great. Once the show was over, I set as a goal for myself to improve, and ended up following the footsteps of Tanya in her online tutorials. She literally turned me into a cookie addict. Cookie making, that is. So, if you suffer from the same problem I used to, check her blog. Consider also supporting her through Patreon (or offering a subscription to someone you love).

There are several ways to generate a wood appearance on cookies, but I like Tanya’s method because it minimizes the amount of icing you’ll need. She lays a background color with a spatula, gives it a little texture, draws the veins of the wood with a pen and goes over it all with diluted food dye. It is all very carefully detailed in her tutorial, step by step. For my decorations, I made small butterflies with Royal Icing. I drew templates by hand with a very loose butterfly format, and piped white icing. For transfers, you want icing that flows smoothly from the tip of your bag (I use tipless bags for that), or from the icing tip. But, it needs to be thick enough to hold it’s shape. I’d say about 20 seconds is what you want. For the base and the leaves and stems, you’ll need thicker than that. Once the butterflies dried completely (overnight is best), I painted them with luster gold and drew a pattern with a fine tip black food pen.

The daffodils were made according to a tutorial from Haniela which you can find here.

The plank is a very nice background to add to several shapes of cookies, and compatible with many different additions: birds, flowers, animals, butterflies, or even a simple monogram. And the plaque shape is also quite interesting to play with, even if you decide to go with a simple, solid color background.

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FRANKEN BUNNY COOKIE AND HIS EASTER FRIENDS

Do you know what a Franken-cookie is? No, it’s not just for Halloween, although of course you can make some perfectly tailored to that occasion. Franken cookies are made by joining different cutters in unexpected compositions. I share today my first attempt with Easter season in mind. Credit must go for the one and only Marlyn, cookier-extraordinaire from Canada (Montreal Confections). Her work is simply amazing. For a very detailed tutorial to make this little guy, click here. It starts at the 38 min mark. You will need rabbit cookie cutters + carrot shape cutter (mine was the one from this set).

FRANKEN BUNNY HONEY-LEMON COOKIE
(design my Marlyn, cookie recipe from Bewitching Kitchen)

1 cup butter (226g), cut in pieces, cold
200g sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 eggs
1 tsp honey extract (Olive Nation)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
420 g all-purpose flour
60 g cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder and reserve.

Cream sugar, butter and lemon zest in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid for a couple of minutes until the sugar is incorporated well and does not feel gritty. Add the eggs, honey emulsion and vanilla extratc slowly and mix until incorporated, but don’t over-mix.

Add the flour mixture slowly, mixing in low-speed. If needed, add a little more flour, up to 1/4 cup. Once the dough comes together, stop, and form three discs. You should have three discs with about 330g each. Dough can be rolled out immediately or placed in the fridge to roll out later. It also freezes extremely well.

Cut in shapes, freeze the cut-outs for 10 minutes, then bake in a 350F oven for about 13 minutes. Ice and decorate as desired.

For my favorite Royal Icing recipe, visit Tanya’s blog with a click here.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This is my favorite cookie recipe for the time being. It is the same basic “neat edges” recipe I’ve been using for months, but the honey extract from Olive Nation truly takes this to a whole new level. I love it.

To decorate the Franken bunny, you’ll need Royal icing orange and grey in flooding consistency, pink in medium consistency (maybe around 20 -25 seconds if you like to measure it by how many seconds it takes to level off). Green in stiff consistency, as you will pipe the green part of the carrot with a star tip and you want it to hold the shape. Making the eyes as royal icing transfer was a bit tricky, but I managed to get 3 pairs that looked ok. You can always paint them with a food pen to make life easier. The transfer produces a more dramatic, realistic look.

For other fun examples of franken-cookies, take a look here, here, and here.

LITTLE YELLOW CHICK
(design by Marlyn)

For this cookie, Marlyn suggests making all details as Royal Icing transfers, so make sure you plan ahead, as those need to dry overnight. Pipe more than you think you’ll need, because then you can choose the best ones, and also not go into panic mode if they break. You can always simplify and just flood the cookie then paint the details with a food pen.

The wings are made with a petal icing tip, the decoration on top of the head with a small star tip, and the beak and feet with a tipless bag, or if you prefer, a number 1 Wilton tip. Next day, flood the egg-shaped cookie with royal icing, and carefully place the transfers on top. For the eyes I used PEM black pearls, because they never bleed into the surrounding icing.

EGG-SHAPED TRILOGY

All cookies were made from the same recipe, Honey-Lemon Sugar Cookies. The simplest one to decorate is the bi-color chick, although I did use leftover decoration from the previous cookie for the top of the head. That can be omitted.

You will need pink, yellow and white Royal Icing, all in flooding consistency. Flood the pink, forming a random edge slightly above the middle of the cookie. Immediately add small white dots. Let it dry for 15 minutes, flood with yellow. Add the eyes if using black pearls, or allow to fully set before drawing the details with a food safe pen, orange and black.

For these cookies, you will need white Royal icing to flood the surface, and if adding flowers as transfers, place them immediately on top. The upper, central cookie was decorated with simple royal icing using a tipless bag, after the flooding set.

These were a lot of fun to make. I definitely need to improve on the dreadful fine lines, but how can you improve if you don’t try, right? The design is from another great cookier, Haniela, from sunny Spain. Her detailed tutorial for these eggs is found here.

You start with a white-flooded cookie, do a tie-dye decoration with gel dye and vodka, in any shades of colors you like. Let that air-dry for a few minutes, and add the details with black Royal icing using as fine a tip as you are able to. Follow Haniela’s tutorial for the best results. I need more practice.

BLUE MARBLED EASTER EGGS

Another design by Haniela, using Royal icing in three different shades of blue, and then placing sugar daisies on the surface. Her tutorial explains it all very clearly. Once again, keep in mind that the daisies have to dry overnight before using as decoration.

BUNNY RABBIT STICK COOKIES

I could not share a series of Easter cookies without including cookie sticks, as I am quite smitten by this shape. They were inspired by CookieliciousNZ. I flooded them with light yellow Royal Icing allowed that to set, then piped the body of a bunny rabbit on top. Added a few more little details like the grass and tail. The flower cookie was made with Royal icing in detail consistency and a tipless bag.

I hope you liked this small collection of Easter-inspired sugar cookies. I have been practicing making Royal icing flowers, or simpler star-tip buds (like those used in the bunny’s tail). I simply save them in a little plastic box. It’s amazing how they can come in handy to add a little something something to cookies. Because you don’t need that much to make this type of decoration, whenever I have Royal icing leftover, I adjust the consistency to firm, and practice a few flowers. There are plenty of tutorials in youtube to help, Marlyn and Haniela have many available for free. Check their youtube channels here and here.

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COOKIES AND RUBBER STAMPS

I try hard to avoid repeating myself, but sometimes I cannot help it: I am soooo excited about this! Rubber stamping is one cool method to decorate cookies for the artistically-challenged like myself. Truth is, if someone asks me to draw something or else face the guillotine I will simply tell them to make sure it is well-sharpened. Make it quick. Now, rubber stamping? Anyone can do it! All you need is to flood your cookies in any color you like, but I normally go for white. Let it sit overnight. Do not rush. I repeat: do not rush! The surface needs to be fully set and hard so that you can press the stamp on top and make sure the maneuver is not going to hurt the icing. If you go to a store such as Michael’s or Jo-Ann, visit the section on scrapbooking and pick your weapons. Some stamps work better than others, so it is a bit of a trial and error thing. But… so much fun!

For this set, I used a type of stamp that I had never heard of, but apparently is very popular with the crowd that does serious scrapbooking. They are made of plastic and come glued to a type of acetate sheet. You can find them on amazon or etsy, I have not seen them for sale in stores where I live. For the one I used in these cookies, click here. Usually one sheet comes with several different designs. I find it easier to cut the acetate and isolate the image I want to work with. Then, I spread with a brush a small amount of food gel dye on kitchen paper, either black or another dark color like gun metal from Americolor, a bit more subtle. Press the stamp on it, and practice on a sheet of paper to check that the whole extension of the design was properly covered with dye. It does take a bit of playing with it. If you look at the set of four cookies above, you’ll notice that the design transferred better in some than others. If the design does not transfer completely, you can fill the missing lines with a very fine food pen like Tweets Cookie Connection 03. The cookies look nice in black and white, but I also made a couple painted either with luster powder (top left) or food pens (bottom right). Food pen is a lot easier and faster but I think I prefer the subtle look of luster powder.

Regular rubber stamps also work very nicely and tend to have simpler designs that are more user-friendly.

For this design I started with a flooded white icing and painted a background of striped in warm colors, using food gel dye and alcohol, just like described in a recent blog post.

The amount of dye to add to the paper is something you’ll need to adjust as you go. I don’t like the idea of buying a pad as used in scrapbooking because you need a lot of dye to soak it, and I am not sure how well it keeps for future uses, so I believe you waste too much dye.

This is another stamp, also the traditional type, rubber with a wooden base. I colored the icing as before, but using a tie-dye instead of stripes. And in this design I went with colors: leaves painted with a food pen, and the little vase with gold luster powder. After painting, you might have to go back to the outline and touch it up with a fine tip black pen. Make sure the paint is fully dry, which happens quite quickly anyway.

Another way to deal with the stamp is using a food pen with a thicker point (I like this kind), paint the stamp, then quickly press it on the iced cookie. You need to work a bit faster because the amount of dye is going to be less than by soaking the paper, therefore it might dry quickly as you paint the stamp. The advantage of this method is reducing the probability of smearing, and saving quite a bit of dye. Below you see what it looks like.

Very sharp lines, no smearing at all. Again, you can leave it black and white or go wild with the design….

Some drawings like the butterfly are a bit too “busy” and not easy to transfer. I still think they are worth playing with, because the end result is quite striking. You need a very steady hand and be very assertive when laying the stamp on the cookie. Any hesitation and you’ll have a smudged design. If that happens, just eat the evidence when no one is looking.

In the set above, the butterfly was a plastic-acetate stamp, the other two were the traditional rubber kind. The top left, a composite using two very small stamps.

My most recent “experiment” with stamping was with a design that proved a bit tricky. It involved a silhouette type stamp, and it was almost impossible to get it uniform and without blurry edges. This was the best I could do. I think silhouettes might be better left for a projector.

I close this post with something I got in the mail just as I finished writing this article.. Available here.

This is a plastic-acetate stamp sheet. It measures 4 1/2 x 6 in. Each kitten is a little different, so you can either stamp a series together or cut them individually and add to your cookie as a central image, which is what I intend to do. I suspect those images will work very well, as they are overall simple. My last attempt with a complicated image was a beautiful hummingbird (you can see it here), but I could not make it work on the surface of the cookie. Too bad, it is a stunning image. Maybe I’ll conquer it at some point.

I hope you’ll consider rubber stamping as a nice alternative for cookie decorating. It does take some experimenting and playing with it, but the possibilities are endless, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be hooked.

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THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Hard to believe that in almost 12 years of blogging I’ve never made anything that celebrates St Patrick’s Day. But today I am correcting this huge mistake. Gingerbread, sugar cookies and macarons to bring you good luck and hopefully restore my reputation as a food blogger, particularly with the wonderful people from Ireland.

LUCK OF THE IRISH GINGERBREAD COOKIES

to print the recipe, from last year’s post, click here

I received the shamrock cookie cutter as a gift from a dear friend, and designed this set of cookies with her in mind. The jar cookie was inspired by a video tutorial from SweetAmbs that you can find here. I adapted for my skill level, because I still struggle a lot with fine lines. It is absolutely mandatory to include one four-leaf clover to ensure the best of luck.

GOLD BUTTON SUGAR COOKIE

Same cookie recipe, decoration also found in the video link I included above. Really a lot of fun to make it, although you do have to prepare the golden buttons the day before, they need to dry completely before you can paint them and glue to the iced cookie. If you watch Amber’s video you will see that she uses the base of any icing tip to draw circles on parchment paper, then pipe the button shape with white Royal icing, a little border after it has a chance to slightly crust, and that’s about it. Let it dry overnight, paint with gold luster + alcohol. It took me two attempts to get it right, or at least right enough to be able to use in my cookies…

It is a good idea to make more than you think you’ll need. You can always save it for later, these Royal icing decorations last forever and not every single one of them will be nicely round, at least not when I do them.

Moving on, a really easy but quite effective way to decorate a sugar cookie. For this one, I used my recent default recipe that gives super sharp edges and you can find here.

GOLD SHAMROCK SUGAR COOKIES

Really super easy! You start by drawing a shamrock shape in the center of a baked cookie. You can do a round cookie, square, or hexagon, anything will work. Then, paint a nice and bright gold layer right on the cookie’s surface. For this I like to use Egyptian Gold from Oh Sweet Art. It is the most aggressive (but still food-safe) gold paint out there, and in this case you need it to be bright. Then, simply flood with green Royal Icing and you are done.

This simple method has so much potential! You can paint all sorts of basic shapes using different colors, and flood it to suit the occasion.

Another nice way to decorate is using the marbling technique, in which you swirl colors over a reasonably loose powdered sugar icing, and dip the surface of the cookie over it. The method is carefully detailed on my friend Helen’s blog that you can find here.

Finally, I close the post with my beloved macarons. For this recipe, I used a template found over at Pies and Tacos, but used my default recipe for macarons, but dyed green. A little splash with gold luster, and the filling was a Mint Buttercream from my friend Caroline’s recent post.

SHAMROCK MACARONS BUTTERCREAM FILLING
(from Caro’s Easy Online Baking Lessons)

128g butter, melted
3/4 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of salt
187g powdered sugar, sifted
Peppermint Extract (1/8tsp at a time, to taste)

Melt the butter in a small cooking pot on the stove top on medium to high. Turn the heat down to low-medium heat, letting it simmer and remember to stir. The butter will hiss & pop. If browning reduce the heat again. Continue until silent and then strain through a sieve into a mixing bowl. There will be foamy fat residue sticking to the sides of the bowl and in the bottom of the sieve. Add in the salt. The mixture will sizzle again so be careful.

Add in the powdered sugar and mix by hand until all sugar is incorporated and a smooth paste is formed. This will only take a minute, so no need to get the mixer out again. Leave till it cools down. Now add in the peppermint extract. Place in a piping bag, no need for icing tip. Fill the macarons. Leave them in the fridge overnight for best texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

I hope you enjoyed this small collection of goodies, and that we are all moving to better times, as vaccination picks up all over the world. I am ready for some luck coming our way, what about you?

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JOY COOKIE CLUB: WOODLAND CREATURES

This is my second blog post in the Joy Cookie Club series. For the basic recipes, I used either Neat Edges Sugar Cookies or Gingerbread. For Royal Icing, my favorite recipe is Tanya’s. You can it in her blog here. In this post, all cookies celebrate the woodlands and their beautiful creatures, starting with a majestic bird, one of my favorites. We do have families of owls living in the woods around our home, and often one will fly silently, sit on a branch high on a tree and stare at us for a while. It is magical.

OWLS

For this technique, you’ll need three colors of icing, brown, white and orange. Flood with brown, allow it to crust for 30 minutes. Pipe the white and add black pearls to the eyes. Adding them slightly off center is a good idea, it changes a bit the expression, making them look more natural. Let that crust for 10 minutes and add the orange detail. Feathers were painted with a food pen and gold pearl dust one day later, when the icing is fully set.

CARDINALS

Another beautiful creature we have around, particularly nice to see when it is all snowy outside…

For this design, you’ll need red, orange and black royal icing. I followed the steps of Marlyn, from Montreal Confections. She uploaded to her Instagram page a short video, but as is the case for Instagram, it goes pretty fast. I paused the video and took screenshots to help me figure it all out. But the basic steps are shown in the composite picture below.

I consider this a work in progress. The wings should have been piped with a slightly thicker consistency, so that they would puff up nicely. I ended up trying to gild the lily too much to compensate for the flattish look of the wings, and I don’t like the result very much. I will be re-visiting these cookies soon.

DEERS

I used two different cookie cutters for the deers, but with the same basic decoration approach. Some were dark brown, some were made with a lighter body. Piping was all at the same time, wet-on-wet, except for the nose that was added after 10 minutes, so it would get a little lift. After one day drying, a fine food pen joined the party for the eyes and mouth.

It is easier to make the design if you draw with a pen the basic separation of the two colors. Then, slowly pipe them so they join together nicely. It is really a lot easier than it seems, as long as the consistency of the icing is not too loose.

LLAMAS

Two different styles of llamas, with the same cookie cutter. The main difference is that in one case I made the nose after the rest of the body was crusted, so it got that puffy structure. I liked them both, but the first one is obviously easier. The nose, the ears, the details around the saddle and the collar were all added 30 minutes after crusting. The blush on the cheeks is luster powder (Ruby Red from Oh Sweet Art), applied with a very light touch using a soft brush.

Royal icing roses for additional flair on that lady… Her name is Mercedes, by the way.

ELEPHANTS

I debated whether to make a separate Joy Cookie Club post just for elephants because I love them so much, and they go well with many different designs for decoration. But I did not want them to feel neglected, so here they are.

First technique is like a tie-dye. A lot of fun to do, although I messed up on my first attempt (sorry, no pictures!). What you do is gather all the colors you want to use, place them in individual spots, add vodka or everclear to dilute them well. They will form a gunk in the center, just continue swirling with a brush and then remove the gunk, all you need is a very diluted liquid. After that, working quickly, use a brush to add alcohol to the spot you want to color, and immediately touch it with another brush containing the diluted dye. Move it around quickly, do another spot some place else. When you are done with color #1, move to color #2, until you cover the whole surface. Add details with royal icing.

A different cookie cutter, with a modern “feel” is also fun to decorate. Many of these cookies were made the weeks before Valentine’s Day, so I had hearts in my mind…

For this design, the body is flooded, allowed to crust for 30 minutes, then the piped dots are added. Eyes and mouth need to wait 24 hours to be made.

It is also nice to use a marbling technique. Very similar to tie-dye, instead of adding spots of diluted dye, just go with a fine brush and paint lines over the white flooded body. Immediately pass a sponge on the surface, to soften the lines. A make-up small sponge is perfect for that. Once the dye dries, you can add designs on top with royal icing. Later I brushed luster gold, but that is optional.

DINOSAURS

Yes, that is pushing the envelope as far as woodland creatures go. But I find them so adorable and like elephants, you can really go crazy with the colors. Extinct animals cannot get mad at you… Poor things.

Another very easy design. Flood the body, use a second color to add details right away. Add the black pearls for the eyes, and after 24 hours draw the eyes and mouth. DONE.

I hope you liked this small collection of decorated cookies. Stay tuned for the next series, that will focus on a Spring and Easter motif.

May you always be excited by your own individual inspiration and vision.
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FOUR YEARS AGO: Sweet Potato “Hummus”

FIVE YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

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EIGHT YEARS AGO: Red Wine Sourdough Bread with Cranberries

NINE YEARS AGO: Award-Winning Sourdough Baguettes

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ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Penne a la Vechia Bettola

May you always be excited by your own individual inspiration and vision.