Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tutorial: Icing Sugar Cookies

In my previous tutorial post, I showed you how to bake the perfect sugar cookie. Pay attention, grasshopper, because now I'm gonna show you how to ice them! The method I will show you is what is know as the line and flood technique. In a nutshell, you create an outline on the cookie with a rather thick royal icing, allow it to dry, and then "flood" it with a thinner royal icing. The first line creates a dam which prevents the thin icing from rolling off the sides. This is not the only way to ice a sugar cookie, but it is one of the best to obtain that Martha Stewart perfectionist look.

What you'll need:
  • royal icing (recipe to follow at the end!)
  • icing colors
  • spoons and bowls for mixing various colors
  • piping bags
  • #2 or #3 round icing tip
  • tall glass or cup
  • extra powdered sugar, as needed
  • drying racks
  • parchment or wax paper
  • toothpicks
  • a comfy chair (see below)
Before we get started–let's talk about body mechanics for a moment. As my 89 year old grandmother once pointed out to me, you have only one back, so treat it nicely. Make sure you are doing this and any kind of decorating in a comfortable chair with good support. Engage the abs whilst you work and you might just burn off the calories you consume during decorating (quality assurance is important, you know) and you will also prevent straining your back. Get up and stretch every few minutes too. I know it's corny, but please, be nice to your back and it'll be nice to you! Ok, safety hat off, creative hat on!

* * * * * *

1. Prepare your workspace and decide on the design. In this tutorial, I'll be doing the happy little suns and cookie fish from a few weeks back. Once you've decided on design, you'll need to think about colors. A clean workspace is essential: you need to make sure you have room to lay the cookies down once they're decorated and room for you to work in. And clean your hands! You will be touching these cookies quite a bit, so clean hands is an absolute must!

2. Make up your royal icing when you are ready to decorate. Because royal icing dries hard, it is very important to mix it only when you are ready. If you HAVE to premix ahead of time, use saran wrap to create a "skin" on top of it. Just lay it on there right on top of the icing and keep it someplace room temp. DON'T put it in the fridge.

3. Mix the colors you need. You actually need to make up about two batches per color. One batch will be very thick and the other relatively thin. You don't need as much of the thick batches. I have found that the best thing to do is to whip up the thin batch first, then pour a little bit into another bowl and keep adding powdered sugar until get the right consistency. Then, if I need to add another drop of coloring, I can do so. Set the thin aside for now.

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The thin batches before we make them thick! You can use an electric mixer, a whisk, or a spoon to mix.

4. Prep your piping bags and fit them with the round tip, which you will be using for outlining. Place the bag, point down, inside a tall glass or cup and fold the edges of the bag over the lip of the glass. This holds your bag upright and open into which you can now spoon in the thick icing. When the bag is full, fold up the edges of the bag, twist and squeeze!

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The glass helps reduce the amount of mess and makes it easier to get every bit of icing in the bag

5. Take a cookie and lay it in your work area. This is where those little cookies I had you make the last time will come in handy; you can use them to practice on first! Outline the cookie with the thick icing. Set it in your drying area to dry and move onto the next cookie. Do this will all of the cookies. Allow the cookies to dry for at least ten minutes before flooding.

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Outlined vs. non-outlined cookies

6. If you have finished with all of your thick icing, you can mix it back into your thin icing if you want. If it gets too thick, add a little lemon juice. Repeat step four with the thin icing. To save on mess and waste, you can reuse the same bags.

7. Take the first cookie you outlined and use the tip to flood the cookie with the thin icing. Go easy at first until you get the hang of it. Less is more in my experience. You may need to use a toothpick to help you scoot the icing all the way to the edges. Once the outline has been filled in, set the cookie aside to dry. Allow to dry for one hour minimum.

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Using a toothpick to help fill in the space. Note that you can use outlining to create other features on the cookie surface as well; here I used the pink to create the fish stripes, the gill, the eye, and the fins on the fish cookies and the face on the sun cookies.

8. If you have flooded the cookie and want to add lines or polka dots in another color, y all means do so! Just realize that it's still matter and it will be displaced by the introduction of new matter, so if this is your design plan, go for the minimalist approach on the flooding. Again, less is more!

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This cookie didn't have the facial features added to it before I flooded. On this one, I went back and added them before the flooded icing dried.

And there you have it, perfectly iced and decorated cookies. Your friends and family will be wowed by the appearance AND the taste. And speaking of taste, here is my royal icing recipe. What I love about this recipe is that it has a hint of lemony aftertaste that gives an elegant feel to my sugar cookies.

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Royal Icing
3 egg whites
1 TBSP lemon juice
3-4 cups of powdered sugar

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Whip the egg whites and lemon juice together until they start to foam (see above). Add in the PS slowly in increments until you reach the desired consistency. The theory is that the lemon juice kills any bacteria from the eggs (like in lemon icebox pie), but just to be safe, I use the pasteurized egg whites in a carton. You simply follow the chart on the side to measure out 3 egg whites. Easy and good for you...sort of...but, well, whatever. It's NATURAL and preservative free and that makes me a happy mama.

So there you have it, the line and flood technique. I hope it serves you well!

Happy Baking!

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