Archive | November, 2011

Basic Shapes Winner– and some questions answered

19 Nov

Thanks to everybody who entered!! Wowee! It was a definite Karen’s Cookie Blog record for the number of entries. We had a large influx of entries from our friends in Spain who were sent by Bea Trigo from El Rincon de Bea, a longtime friend to Karen’s Cookies.  Bienvenidos! Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and kindness. Unfortunately there can only be one winner… this time. I’ll definitely do this same type of giveaway again soon. I didn’t realize what a hit the basic shapes would be! I’ll give more away soon.  But for now…

We have a winner! The winner of the 9 sets of basic shapes cookie cutters is Marilena. She said:

Wowwwwwwwwwwww!!! Fantastic giveaway!!!! Love ALL cutters!!!! Thanks!!! Saludos desde Mallorca, en Españaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!

I’m so glad you’re excited about the cutters, Marilena! Have fun with them! I sent you an email, so watch for that. If you don’t see my email, you can email me at contact at karenscookies dot net with your shipping address. Congratulations!!

Now a couple of questions asked within the comments of my last post:

First, several of you asked if the cookies are weak at the seams when you piece them together. I have found them to be very sturdy using my recipe. In fact, I baked a couple and broke them on purpose. I gently bent them to see where they would break– if they would break along the seams or somewhere else, and neither one broke at the seams. They each broke somewhere else. I haven’t had any break accidentally either. My recipe does spread a little bit, so I think that might help to fuse the pieces together. If your recipe doesn’t spread at all, you might have more trouble, but I’m not sure. You may just have to experiment a little and see what happens.

Another question asked was if you have to do anything to stick the pieces together before baking. You don’t. Sometimes I’ll rub them a little at the seam, just to make sure they are flush and even, but that’s all I do. No need to dampen the seams with water or anything like that. Just place them on your cookie sheet and bake. I do pat them down gently with a spatula right after they come out of the oven to make sure they’re nice and flat.

I hope that answered your questions about piecing together cookies. Please let me know in the comments of this post if you have any other questions about it.

Thanks again to all who entered the giveaway!  I always enjoy reading your comments!

Just a quickie… and a giveaway *GIVEAWAY CLOSED*

16 Nov

I told you I’d show you really quickly how I pieced together my Indians. It’s super easy, and even easier if you have a plain tombstone cookie cutter, which I didn’t have. I need to get one of those…

But since I don’t have one, I used these three sets of cutters:

The rectangle set, oval set, and the medium aspic cutter set. I have recently seen the light about the awesome versatility of the basic cutter shapes. Sometimes there just isn’t the “perfect” cutter shape, and you have to do a little doctoring.

So for for each pair of Indians, I cut one oval, one rectangle, and two teardrops.

Cut the oval and the rectangle in half.

Cut a little bit from the teardrop using the oval cutter.

Then put all your pieces together like a puzzle.

Then bake and decorate. I didn’t do a step-by-step tutorial on the decorating, but it was similar to the pilgrims. I used a 1 1/2″ circle cutter as a template for their heads, then drew on the hair, neck, shoulders and feather. I did the faces just like I did on the pilgrims.

I left the feather off of the girl, so if you have a plain tombstone cutter, she would be easy as can be. You could always add more than one feather too. Be creative. 🙂

I’ve showed you recently the fun things that you can do with plain rectangles and ovals. And I’m working on a top-secret project right now that I’ll post after Christmas that shows even more versatility with one of the basic shapes (can you guess which one?). It’s turning out to be lots of fun! So stay tuned for that…

But in the meantime, you need your own super-duper set of basic shapes. Comment on this post, and one lucky winner (chosen at random) will get the aspic cutters:

and the rectangle cutters:

And the oval cutters:

And the nylon circle cutters:

and the triangle cutters:

And the hexagon cutters:

and the square cutters:

And the blossom cutters:

AND a cool set of heart cutters that I don’t have a picture of because they’re not even in my store yet. But you’ll like them.

That’s a lot of cookie cutters!

Just comment on this post by Friday, November 18 at midnight (wherever you are!), and I’ll choose one winner using to win all 9 sets of cutters. Please enter only once. Good luck!

Pilgrim Tutorial

14 Nov

Thanksgiving is just over a week away, and I have a few more cookies to show you so that you can get decorating! What would Thanksgiving be without Pilgrims and Indians?

I’m going to show you how to do the pilgrims. For a great Indian tutorial, go check out Sugarbelle’s blog today!

It’s hard to find cute people cookie cutters. I wanted to do some pilgrims, but couldn’t find a cutter that would work. I had an idea of how to piece together a pilgrim boy (I’ll show you that in a minute), but I had no idea how to do a pilgrim girl.

So I was baking some cookies for my Leaves and Acorns post, and I used the Wilton Leaves and Acorns cutter set. I was cutting out the cookies, and I got to the largest acorn. I thought, “Who needs an acorn this big?? Acorns are small!” But I baked one anyway because I wanted one of each size. As I was pulling the tray of cookies out of the oven, the large acorn was up-side down, and I had an Oprah “aha” moment. I thought it might just make a cute girl pilgrim.

On one of these, I cut off the “stem” of the acorn, and the other I left it on. You can decide which way you like it best when you’re doing it. Here’s how you make her.

Bake some large acorn cookies. Let ’em cool.

Unless you’re awesome at free-handing circles, find a circle template to trace around. I used the smallest circle from the Nylon Circle set, which happens to be 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Use a boo-boo stick (or some other sharp object) to trace around it on your cookie.

Brush off the crumbs, and you’ll be left with a nice outline to follow.

Trace around the outline with black frosting (I used a 1.5 PME tip)

Next, draw two lines out from your circle towards the outside edges.

Connect the two lines with a swooping arch.

Then finish the hat.

Draw in some hair:

And then draw a collar.

There’s your pilgrim girl outline. Now I’m going to show you how to do the boy, and after that, I’ll show you what to do next.

For the boy, I had a small pilgrim hat cutter that I wanted to use to piece a guy together. So I used that and the second-smallest circle from the nylon circle set (1 7/8″, but a 2″ cutter would do!). Cut one hat, and two circles, and then cut one of the circles in half.

Cut a chunk off one of the circles using the same size cutter you used to cut your circles.

Fit one of the half-circles into the first circle.

Then trim off the top of the circle with the pilgrim hat.

And fit the hat into place.

If you happen to have a large snowman cookie cutter with a top hat, you could chop him in half and it would be the same effect. I just didn’t have one large enough.

Bake him up and let him cool. Use the 1 1/2″ circle template (same one you used on the girl), to mark where is face is.

Outline the hat. It’s super easy to do because you’ll see the lines from where you pieced him together. Go ahead and fill in the hat band while you’re at it.

Then outline the head:

Add some ears:

And some hair. Notice I went outside the lines a little. I wanted his hair to be a little wider than his face. No problem. Nothing a boo boo stick won’t fix.

Scrape out the outlines from inside the hair area. Add a collar.

Now you’re ready to add some color. There is definitely no right or wrong way to fill these sections in. This is just how I did it. First I filled in their faces.

By the way, this is all Meringue Powder Buttercream that has been thinned to the point that it will smooth out at the count of about 8 seconds. Royal Icing would also work. This flesh color was Copper Americolor with the tiniest drop of Warm Brown.

Next, fill in their hair. I did these two different shades of brown, just because I happened to have it, but no need to make two different colors. They’ll look cute all matchy-matchy, too.

Next fill in the girl’s hat, and their collars.

Fill in the guy’s hat with gray (mostly Bright White, with a little drop of Super Black), and the bitty parts of their shirts black.

After it dries for a bit, go back and add some outlining to their hair to give it some texture. I just used the same color, and small tip (#1).

This next step is totally optional. I actually really hated it after I did it, and wished I hadn’t. But then it started to grow on me. So it’s up to you! If desired, add some pleat marks to the girl’s hat. Or not.

  Also add some white buttons to their shirts.  And a yellow buckle to the boy’s hat.

Then the faces. OHHHHH the faces! I really hate doing faces. This is how I did it the first time, and I really, truly hated how they looked. I think maybe it was the nose. I don’t know.  Noses are hard. So before you put a face on your pilgrims, practice a little, and also maybe check out how Sugarbelle does faces, because they’re totally cute.

On the next ones I did, I stole the Sugarbelle nose, and they were much cuter:

The way I make eyelashes is really easy (but I didn’t get a picture). Pipe on some black ovals in pretty thin frosting. Then, working quickly while the frosting is still wet,  use the tip of a sharp boo boo stick to pull the eyelashes outward (sometimes boo boo sticks can get a little dull with use. Keep one sharp for jobs like this).  It might take a few tries, but you’ll get the hang of it.

After you’re done, add a little dot of white frosting to the eye to give it some sparkle. And you’re done!

The girls:

The boys:

And here they are with their Indian friends:

Coming up, I’ll show you how I pieced my Indian together. But don’t forget that Sugarbelle has an Indian tutorial TODAY if you want to get decorating.

Happy week-before-Thanksgiving!

Leaves, Acorns…. And a Squirrel.

10 Nov

Have I mentioned that I love fall? I do.  I love the leaves, the crisp air, apples, pumpkin pie… I think Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday. I love Christmas too, and I can’t wait to start doing some fun Christmas cookies. But I have to tell you, I get a little cranky when I’m in the stores and they’re already playing Christmas music, and have all their Christmas stuff up as if Thanksgiving is already passed and gone. It’s not! It’s still 2 weeks away people!

Thanksgiving gets no respect.

I’m going to give Thanksgiving its due, by golly.

With leaves! And acorns! And a squirrel!

I’m proud of this squirrel. I’ve tried decorating him several times, and never could get him right. The best I could do before this was this guy:

Ha ha! He’s pretty rough!  I wanted something a little more stylized with clean lines. Mike told me I should ignore the tail shape and do my own thing.  That Mike, he’s (almost) always right!

Speaking of that…  I have a new toy.

It’s an airbrush!

This is kind of a funny story. Mike has been telling me for probably 2 years or more that we should get an airbrush and try airbrushing cookies.  I kept saying “I don’t know… not crazy about the idea.” Because when I thought of airbrushing on food, I thought of the kind of cakes that end up on Cake Wrecks.  And I actually hadn’t seen very many cookies done with the airbrush, but the ones I had seen were… um… aesthetically challenged. It was a tough sell for poor Mike.

And then I went to cookie camp! There was a demo there on airbrushing cookies, and I was instantly sold. I came home and said “Hey Mike! We need to get an airbrush!” And he said “yep.”

So I just got it recently, and I’m still not a pro– at all. But it’s fun! I am loving it, and I’m seeing the potential. I started with some fall leaves– because it’s fall, and leaves are pretty forgiving. And they’re colorful.

I made a few, and made them very basic, solid colors.

I used Meringue Powder Buttercream, and let them dry overnight. Notice I left a few of them white, with no outline. I wanted to see what I could do with only airbrush color.

Here’s what they looked like when they were done:

Yes that middle one has a big gouge out of it. I’m such a klutz!! But I had to leave it in the picture, because I wanted all of them in the same spot as they were in the pre-airbrushed picture, so you could see the comparison. So there you have it.

Anyway, I played with all kinds of colors– red, orange, green, yellow, brown. Even the plain white ones got nice and colorful. It actually made them very shiny, too! Which is kind of fun, if you’re looking for shine. And it dries very touch-able. Once the airbrush color dries on there, there is no danger of smudging the color. (Unless you drop something on the cookie. But that’s a whole different situation.)

Here they are all pretty on a plate.

I was going to pipe veins on them, but decided to try airbrushing the veins. It took some getting used to! It’s funny– it’s kind of like an Etch-a-Sketch, where you don’t really know where you’re aiming for a while. I would do the main vein down the center of the leaf, and then want to come back and have a vein coming off of that one, and I had no idea where to aim and how to match it up with the existing line! So you’ll see LOTS of mistakes up there in those cookies. But by the time I was done, I had a pretty good handle on it. Not perfect, but the learning curve isn’t huge.

After I did these, I thought they looked a little bit muddy. I wanted to try doing a batch where I glazed them one solid color, and only used one airbrush color on each. So I did these:

Unfortunately, I forgot to get a picture of them before airbrushing, but it was pretty much the same as the first picture up there– minus the white ones. This  is what they looked like before piping some veins on them.

Here they are finished:

I can’t decide which ones I like better. I like the simplicity of these, but the multi-color ones are growing on me.

Here they are all together.

I like them all together like that.

So what do you think about airbrushing on cookies? Have you done it before? Do you want to see more? I will keep practicing and pass along what I learn. I’m going to be selling the airbrushes in my shop, and as soon as I get them, I’ll do a how-to post and maybe a video, and most likely a giveaway. So stay tuned for that.

In the meantime…. Enjoy the fall!!

Ramblings About Different Icings (and recipes!)

8 Nov

Those of you who have followed my work for a while know that I decorate most of my cookies with what I call Meringue Powder Buttercream.  I occasionally dabble in other mediums, but I always go back to MPB.

It all started about 13 years ago. I was a full-time cake decorator at the time, and frequently visited a message board full of cake decorators (sort of like Cake Central, before there was Cake Central). Although I had done tons of cookies in the past, I wasn’t thinking “cookies” at the time, because I was so eyeball-deep in wedding cakes. There was a trend at the time to put roses and other piped flowers on the sides of cakes, and I had been getting requests for these, but people didn’t want royal icing flowers because they were too crunchy. I went to the cake decorator’s message board to see if there was any way to make buttercream flowers stay on the sides of cakes. A lady sent me a recipe for “Quick Crusting Buttercream”, that she said would work. So I started using it to make roses, pansies, and other flowers.

Here’s a cake from back in the day:

I couldn’t find a photo of one with the flowers on the sides of the cake, but you can picture it, right?

Pretty soon afterward, I got a request for some Christmas cookies (from my mom!). I had used Royal Icing a lot, but didn’t like that it dried chalky and matte. I wondered if this new “Quick-Crusting Buttercream” recipe would dry enough to use on cookies, and be able to bag them, pack them up, and ship them to my mom.  I altered it a little so it wasn’t so stiff, and gave it a whirl. It worked! And I’ve been using it ever since. Here are some cookies done with MPB:

I could post 200 or more pictures here, but you get the idea.

I love how it has a consistent sheen. It works well, comes out of the tips smooth and lovely, and it doesn’t get those pesky craters that come with other icings. But it has a problem. I get a lot of feedback from people who say it never dries enough to stack or bag. I’m pretty sure it must be a climate thing, but I haven’t figured out a fool-proof fix for it.  So I’ve played around with other icings so that I could have something else to recommend when people have trouble with MPB.

Like Corn Syrup Glaze. Cookie Crazie Pam uses it for all of her cookies, and they’re amazing! So I’ve played around with it.

It’s a great icing. I enjoy playing with it. I use it occasionally for different cookie projects. But I still end up going back to MPB. Maybe old habits die hard. Maybe I’m just used to working with it.

I’ve also tried fondant and candy clay.

Wow, those are nice pictures. I can tell Mike took them! 😀 Candy Clay and fondant are also really fun for certain projects. But I STILL always come back to MPB.

The one icing I have  tried not to touch with a 10-foot pole was royal icing. It always dried so ugly for me.  I used it last December for some winter cookies.

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s not just matte. It’s chalky. That is what RI has always been for me, and why I haven’t liked it.

Until now.

I went to Cookie Camp back in September, and the recipe they used there was royal icing. And guess what? It dried shiny! I mean, not super-duper shiny, but shiny enough. Definitely not matte or chalky.

See? There’s definitely a bit of shine on those. They used a version of Antonia74 royal icing. I don’t know the original source of this recipe, but it’s been floating around the web for a long time. Do a quick google search and see how many references come up when you put in Antonia74.  There are all kinds of versions and variations of it.

So anyway, I came home and decided to give Royal Icing another chance. I made these pumpkins with it:

Look! Shiny! In fact, they were so shiny that I actually had kind of a tough time getting a good shot of them. Go figure!

So I don’t know if I’m a complete convert yet. I still love my MPB.  BUT– if you’ve tried the MPB and had trouble with it, give Royal Icing or Corn Syrup Glaze or Candy Clay a shot.  Here are all four recipes for you. Try them all and see what fits with your style.

Royal Icing

(a version of Antonia74’s recipe)

3/4 cup warm water
5 T meringue powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2.25 lbs. powdered icing sugar

Put water, meringue powder, and cream of tartar into a glass or metal mixing bowl. Whisk until foamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and mix with paddle attachment until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in any flavorings you desire. (I use 1 1/2 tsp. clear vanilla, 1/2 tsp. clear butter, and 1/4 tsp. almond emulsion)

Meringue Powder Buttercream
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 to 4 T. meringue powder (more for humid climates)
  • ½ cup Crisco shortening (can cut this down in humid climates)
  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 lb. 3 oz. If you have a scale)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (use clear vanilla if you want a pure white icing)
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
Place half of the powdered sugar and the meringue powder in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together well. Turn on mixer (use whip attachment) and, while motor is running, slowly stream in the water. Mix until everything is incorporated. Turn mixer to high speed and whip until stiff peaks form. Add flavorings and mix well. Change to paddle attachment (for stand mixer) or dough hook (for Bosch). If using a hand mixer, use the same beaters you were using before. Add remaining powdered sugar and shortening and whip for 2-3 minutes more.Note: Don’t skimp on the whipping time after adding the shortening. You really need to whip it well to prevent separation later.

Corn Syrup Glaze Icing
  • 2 lb powdered sugar
  • ½ C plus 2 T milk (10 T)
  • ½ C plus 2 T corn syrup (10 T)
  • 1 T. flavoring, any combination (I like 2 tsp. clear vanilla, ½ tsp. Almond Emulsion, and ½ tsp. clear butter flavoring, but you can get creative and try different things.)
Mix together till smooth. Divide up and color as desired.You can use this icing just the way it is for both outlining and filling in. If you’re looking for more detail, you can thicken up your outline color with a bit more powdered sugar if desired. The formula is not set in stone, feel free to experiment with different ratios of liquid to sugar to get the consistency you like the best.

Candy Clay
  • 10 oz chocolate (white, milk, dark, or colored candy melts)
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup (like Karo, but any brand works)
Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave at 50% power. (If using very high-quality chocolate, microwaving is NOT recommended) Once chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat and quickly stir in corn syrup all at once. Stir briskly until it stiffens up and forms a dough. Pour at once onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and let sit at room temperature overnight before using. If you are in a hurry, you can refrigerate it for a couple of hours).To soften, break off small pieces of dough at a time and knead gently until it forms a soft clay. Knead in drops of food coloring if desired.Because candy clay is made from chocolate, it will soften and melt if overworked. If your clay gets too soft from overhandling, wrap it in plastic and let it sit for an hour and it will stiffen back up.
Roll out candy clay and cut with the same cookie cutters you used to cut your cookies. Place on cookies, and attach with thinned icing or piping gel.
Note: Any grade of chocolate will work, but the higher the grade, the more finicky it can be. The cocoa butter tends to want to separate out of the good stuff. You may want to practice on lower quality chocolate first to get the hang of it and then try it with the best stuff if desired.To see a video on how to make candy clay, click here.