With some practice, I’ve come to love working with royal icing on cookies. There’s something so nice about even a plain iced cookie, with a smooth, even surface. There’s also something great about the satisfaction of having completed a complicated pattern, with multiple icing colours, or stencling, or brush embroidery. I find decorating cookies is almost meditative, and hours can pass without me even noticing.
With Valentine’s day approaching, I wanted to try some red, pink, and white cookies and try out a few different patterns. I am planning on freezing this particular set of cookies for a highland dance competition that is coming up in February, so it is a great way to help fill up the concessions stand (our dance school is on kitchen duty so we have lots of foods to contribute!) and it’s a great way to practice some fun Valentine’s day patterns before Valentine’s day creeps up on me.
I only made three plain flooded cookies, one in each colour, because I got a little too excited about my more complicated patterns. I am seeing improvement even in my flooding skills, now that I am getting better at outlining right up against the edge of the cookie and now that I’ve found an icing consistency that works well for topcoating. I am often working with less than a cup of icing, and I find the amounts given can sometimes vary for me slightly depending on the exact amount of icing I am using (as compared to the 1 cup measure used in most guides for icing consistency), and how much food colouring has been added to the icing. I really like this look, with the icing covering the full cookie right to the edges (though it does make it harder to move the cookies as they are drying! Nowhere to easily put your fingers without touching the icing), and it saves me from having to eyeball an even border around the cookie as I am flooding; it’s much simpler to just outline right up against the edge of the cookie before filling.
Mastering brush embroidery has been a bit of a process, and I still have a lot of room to improve. In the past, I’ve tried out my brush embroidery at the end of a cookie decorating session, just for fun, but this means that I never have the right consistency of icing. Brush embroidery usually calls for a stiff consistency icing, i.e. taken right out of the bowl without adding extra water. This time, I planned for brush embroidery, so I prepared these piping bags first, and set a little white and a little soft pink aside before I prepared my flooding consistency icing for these cookies. I decided to do a brush embroidery border on some heart cookies, and I think they turned out super cute:
I also have a scalloped heart cookie cutter, which works perfectly for this style of brush embroidery. I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use my scalloped heart cutter before this, but it provides a great guide for the lines of brush embroidery. For fun, I added some plaid to the hearts on these cookies, since they are a little smaller and a little less exciting on their own.
The above plain flooded cookies and flooded brush embroidery cookies were made on chocolate sugar cookies, but I also decided to use a regular sugar cookie dough for the plaid brush embroidery. The chocolate sugar cookies are intensely chocolate and amazing, but they are a little less sweet. This balances the royal icing nicely, but it definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For the sugar cookies, I tried a new recipe. I haven’t been super pleased with my usual sugar cookie recipe lately, as the tops haven’t stayed flat during baking, some bubbles form in the cookies, and in general they aren’t great to flood. The new recipe came out perfectly flat for every cookie, and it also doesn’t require refrigeration of the sugar cookie dough, which saves me an extra hour. When decorating with royal icing, every minute counts – a full batch of cookies can take a long time to decorate, so I’m happy to save time where I can. I recently bought some orange oil, so in place of vanilla I flavoured these cookies with orange oil, cloves, and a little bit of ground ginger (if I’d thought of it, cardamom would also have been a nice addition). The smell of that orange oil every time I opened the oven door was absolute heaven.
With the brush embroidery hearts under my belt, I thought it would be fun to try to some brush embroidery flowers. This is something I’ve struggled with in the past. I recently saw a video where someone piped small dots instead of lines for their brush embroidery. When they dragged a paint brush through each dot, it gave a scalloped edge to the petals. This worked out quite well for me, once I figured out how to space the dots (you can see that the flower in the bottom right hand corner is a little less nice than the others, because I spaced the dots out too far from each other on the red cookie to start).
I think the next step in brush embroidery is figuring out how to properly space the petals to make these look a little nicer (I can’t decide if I like the petals that are set inside of each other, as they are in the red cookie, or offset from each other as they are in the three other cookies). I’ve also seen brush embroidery with longer strokes, so the embroidery colour covers more of the cookie inside the flower, and I’d like to be able to achieve that look. But overall I would call this a huge improvement over my last set of brush embroidery cookies.
With my remaining square-shaped chocolate cookies, I sectioned off the squares into four and filled each quadrant, alternating white with red and pink. This in itself takes up a little time, because I had to wait for each quadrant to dry before filling the one next to it. Using contrasting colours, I wrote the letters “LOVE” in each square. For some added style, I replaced the O with a loose heart shape. I’m only half satisfied with these cookies, because the letter shapes could use a little work (I like the ‘V’ in the bottom left cookie, and the ‘E’ in the middle cookie, but I’m not pleased with any of the ‘L’ shapes). I tried to do these without using anything as a reference, but next time I think I will use a letter stencil, or I will find a good image of the letters to work from as a guide. On the bright side, these still turned out pretty cute, and I love the little hearts. I definitely want to keep working on cookies like these to finesse my letter drawing skills.
I’ve also made some elephant cookies before, and these are some of my favourites. Even the cookie cutter itself is super cute. I like to keep it simple with these, just a contrasting polka dot pattern and ear on each elephant. I made 6 of these, so I was able to make every colour pairing of pink, red and white for these elephants.
With my batch of regular sugar cookies, I tried to do something a little different with every cookie. Not only will this make each person feel like they are getting a unique product when they are sold at the dance competition, but it also gave me the opportunity to try out a few different styles. The rose one was definitely the trickiest of these patterns. Essentially this cookie starts out as a regular polka dotted cookie, but then I used my scribe tool to swirl in some of the white icing. These really only make rough rose shapes; the cookie doesn’t fully come together until you add the leaves. At this point I realized I’d neglected to make green icing, so I dabbed on a little green food colouring to each rose using the edge of a small paintbrush. I also completed some marbling, which I’ve done before, some hearts (which show up a little less well in the pictures below because the red food colouring bled into the surrounding cookie), and a plaid cookie.
I think the large plaid cookie is my favourite out of my whole batch of plain sugar cookies. Unlike the brush embroidery cookies, I put these stripes on when the icing was still wet, so I got a much nicer, flat look to the cookie.
I’ll end with one shot of the rest of the batch – I made a few extra cookies, including some black dogs (with bow ties!) that want to show off. As you can see, I really tried to make these cookies each unique in some way (though I’ll admit I ran out of ideas with the dogs, so hearts or bow ties it is). It’s always more fun to get a little more choice with your cookie selection, and to have a cookie that’s different from everyone else’s.