12 October 2008

The Evolution of Cookie Design

It all began with my determination to learn how to ice cookies. All I knew was the icing from a tub, or icing from a tube - but those really give off childish results. And I wanted to make something a bit classier! So thus began the quest to learn how to decorate cookies!

Everything pictured below (warning, lots of them!) happened in December 2007. I've posted some of these photos on flickr, and wrote a shorter entry on my (now defunct) vox blog, but I figured they deserved a proper rewrite.

Attempt #1. Confetti Cakes by Elisa Strauss, p.53
I actually tried to make the sugar cookie dough for my first attempt, but it was a complete failure because the recipe was misprinted. The recipe called for 4 cups of flour, which I thought was odd, but I followed it blindly... only to not have a dough at all. I did some googling and the publisher has a note online about it being 2 cups of flour. Relieved that it wasn't me, but frustrated because of wasted time, I decided I wasn't going to attempt to make any more cookies until I got the icing down. However, don't let that misprint make you avoid the book! It is beautiful, especially the stacked cookies, which were extremely influential to me later on.

Attempt #2. Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough
Slice and bake! After attempt number 1, I needed a break from making dough.

All the perfect shapes I cut out in the dough poofed out!

So I retrimmed them after they were baked.
If you decide to do this, do it when it's still warm before the cookie hardens.

And restacked!

All the excess.

First attempt at decoration.

Disadvantage of cutting the dough after it's been baked = ugly edges.
At this point, I'm still learning how to pipe the icing so my lines are pretty uneven and shaky.

Attempt #3. Pecan Shorties/Kroger Sugar Cookies
I then decide that I want to skip the whole baking process and continue my focus on icing, so I bought the cheapest pack of cookies I could find at the grocery store. The cookies themselves tasted nasty, but it's okay, it was all for practice.

Lines are not as shaky, but the fill icing is still too watery.

Fill icing? What am I talking about? In this method of icing cookies, you need only one type of royal icing but in two formats. You need a stiff icing for outling the cookies or piping dots. This icing holds it's shape wherever you put it. You then have that same icing with water added to make it runnier, and this is the fill icing. You use the runny icing to fill in borders you have created with the stiff icing. However, if your fill icing is too stiff, it won't flow, and if it is too watery, the water will evaporate when it is dry and you are left with barely any icing since it was all water to begin with.

And if your borders are not completely sealed, the fill icing will run away!

Attempt #4. Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough
I had another roll in the fridge, so I thought I might as well use it up. This time, I rolled out my dough, then refrigerated it, then cut it out, hoping it might reduce the poof. It didn't. Only later did I realize that no matter what I did, it would always spread because the dough contained baking soda, a leavener that helps the cookie rise. Or, unwanted help in my case.

The theme this time was blue! And squares and flowers.

It's getting there!

Attempt #5. Target Sugar Cookies
Still not confident enough to bake my own cookies, I bought some fresh made cookies from the one and only Target. Plain circles for another intense practice round.

I masterned the icing consistency for the pink! But definitely not the white.

Can you see the difference?
You can't really tell any of this stuff immediately as it looks fine, it's when it dries that you realize what's wrong. The white icing had too much water, so when it dried, all the water left with barely any icing.

I like the direction of this batch!

Still playing.

Here, I am playing with the icing tips - the difference between a fine line and a thicker line.

Part of my inspiration were easter egg decoration!
That explains the pastely colors.

Marbeled cookie
In this cookie, once you fill the cookie with one icing, grab another runny icing and make some stripes. Then use a toothpick and run it the opposite direction to manipulate the direction of your lines.

reject cookie.

Just for kicks, I put them back into the original container!

Attempt #6: Beautiful Cakes & Cookie Craft
For my final attempt, I used two different sugar cookie recipes just to play around with.

Attempt #6a. Beautiful Cakes by Peggy Porschen, p.118
After being kind of discouraged by my previous efforts, I saw this book at Barnes & Noble and was inspired again. Beautiful cookies, cupcakes, mini cakes - tons of inspiration! I loved how in one recipe, she decorated the cupcake holder, not just the cupcake itself. Visually gorgeous.
The cookies were okay, seemed to have little taste. However, they kept their shape beautifully.

Sugar cookie ingredients:
Unsalted Butter - 1.75 sticks
Sugar - 1 cup
Large Egg - 1
All-Purpose Flour - 3 cups
Vanilla Extract - 2 tsp

Attempt #6b. Cookie Craft by Valerie Peterson & Janice Fryer
I also love this book! It is a visual delight to flip through. I first saw it at BookPeople, my favorite bookstore, and bought it a few days later. It is full of ideas to inspire you, and tons of random cookie tips as well. I love how they use simple shapes and simple lines to create really striking designs (that's too many s's right there..) And the illustrations are too cute. It's a great book to get you thinking about the different ways you can decorate a cookie.

Sugar cookie ingredients:
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Unsalted Butter - 2 cups
Sugar - 1 cup
Large Egg - 1
All-purpose flour - 3 cups
Vanilla Extract - 2 tsp

The only difference between this recipe and the one above was the extra 1/4 stick of butter + 1/2 teaspoon of salt... and what a difference! These cookies had a richer and more delicious taste. But to be nit picky, they had more shrinkage than the Beautiful Cakes (#7) recipe. Not enough to make me care though, just something a noticed. But these definitely tasted the best. I', not sure if it was the extra butter or the salt, but the tastebuds definitely knew something was different!

Cooling down.

I "glued" them together using dots of stiff icing.

I really like layering - they are mini cookie cakes now!

Mini stacked cookie cakes

You may not be able to tell, but this one has little hearts swirled in it.

Thin lines = sore hand from pressing on icing bag.

What's so special about royal icing? It's that smooth matte surface that just draws me in!

This color combo just pops, doesn't it?

The simplest design, yet the cutest.

My 4 favorite ones from the top.

I'm really pushing the bow motif, aren't I?

White on white, you can't get more elgent than that!

Conclusion: I accomplished my original goal of learning how to use royal icing! Nothing I ever make comes out great the first time. I'm always refining, practicing, working, thinking about solutions, changing - and by doing that, I learn so much more than if everything had worked perfectly the first time. But i am very very happy with the progress I made with these cookies, even though it was at frustrating at times. The most important thing is to keep on decorating, as the ideas will start forming and you will naturally become better with every attempt. What's funny is how later on these cookies influenced my ceramic work - I really enjoyed taking things from the kitchen and applying it to things in the studio. I made another batch of cookies in May, but I will post those cookies later.


Veggie Wedgie said...

wow, thats A lot of work, well done!!

Ingrid said...

First I loved all the photos. I liked how they showed your progression and I envy you're persistence in practicing until you "got it right"! And guess what, you DID! Those last cookies came out fantastic. How'd they taste? Some cookies look marvelous but then taste yucky.

beebe said...

this is so amazing i cant get over it! the designs are simple but so beautiful due to the combinations of colors/patterns. so cute i am literally saving your pictures and showing my friends.

Leslie said...

I think all of your cookies are stunning! They look professional..you should charge $5 a cookie!

Leslie said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog to wish me a happy 100th post!

My Sweet & Saucy said...

Great job with your cookies! They turned out just lovely!

Julie said...

Those are just beautiful! Perfect for a shower or something special like that. I would never have the patience (or talent) to do that

James said...

Incredible work! I really like the progression ... makes it almost seem possible to accomplish myself.

Sydney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sydney said...

Wow! you really went out and accomplished your goal. They look fantastic and very professional looking now.

Jen said...

Your cookies are awesome! I am totally inspired to try my hand at royal icing now. Thanks for sharing!

joanh said...

wow! it's so cool you can see the progression. i'm too lazy to ice cookies, but it's inspiring to see you do it!