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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! :D 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.

Cookie Camp!

6 Oct

I’m back from Cookie Camp! I’ve actually been back for a few days, but when a mom goes out of town for five days, it seems like there’s a lot of catch-up, plus I’ve just been trying to get my head back on straight. Sometimes that takes me a while. So anyway, sorry for the delay.

Cookie Camp was great! I met lots of wonderful people– many of whom I knew a little bit before from emailing and blog-stalking, but it was great fun to meet them in person and talk cookies (and other stuff, too).

I told you I would take lots of pictures, and I did take some, but they are TERRIBLE.  So I had to pick out the best of the bad to share with you. I’m so sorry. Someday I’ll learn to be a better photographer.

For our first challenge, we were given 5 cookies– a cupcake, teacup, butterfly, car, and a (somewhat funky) Easter chick. We could decorate them however we wanted. I was blown away by the talent and creativity. I hope you can see enough detail in these pictures.

Here are the teacups:

Crazy, right? I mean, the creativity was astounding. I loved the jellyfish, done by Cancun Cookies (Bea). Can you guess which one is mine?

(butterfly- top right corner)

Here are the cupcakes:

It’s a cupcake, people! We were supposed to vote on our favorite and the winner got a prize. How do you pick just one of these?  Can you guess which one is mine?

Beaver- top right, second row. I started doing the beaver and then glanced over and saw Callye (Sweet Sugarbelle) doing an animal of some sort too. I almost changed what I was doing because I knew she would do it so much better. Hers was the gray cat, and it won. :D I knew it!!

Here are the cars:

You have to remember that we were in the sticks– no cell coverage, no internet– so no referencing any kind of pictures or clipart or anything. Amazing!!   Can you guess which one is mine?

The Cookie Police.  I stared and stared at that cookie, trying to come up with something besides a car, and just couldn’t. And then look what the other ladies came up with!

The funky Easter chick:

There are no words. Seriously, the cuteness!  The flowers in the basket were so pretty, and done by one of my favorite cookie bloggers, Cookie Crazie (Pam). She is the only one that uses glaze for her cookies, and what she does with it is AMAZING. It was fun to watch her work.  Any idea which one is mine?

The elf. Not my favorite work. But the shape fit pretty well! I LOVED what people came up with for these.

And last but not least, the butterfly.

I told you before I went that I was nervous about being around these amazing decorators, and I was serious. Once I got there, I was even more nervous because they are SO talented. I could have sat and watched them decorate for days. Any guesses on which one is mine?

The trees with the bears. Did you know there were bears up there at camp?? We even saw one of them. I guess there’s a daddy bear and a baby bear. We just saw the baby bear and we made a lot of noise so we wouldn’t have a run-in with Daddy.  So they were the inspiration of my poorly executed bears! :D

You know when you see awesome food blogs and you wish that you could taste the beautiful delicacies that they showcase? Well guess what? I got to taste a Glorious Treats cupcake! Glory has been an inspiration to me since I found her blog several months ago. I love her style and her beautiful photography. She made some cupcakes just for me!

Ok, fine. It wasn’t just for me. It was for everybody at camp. But that included me, right? :D The cupcake was just as delicious as I imagined it to be, and now when I read her blog, I will just drool even more. Here she is baking the cupcakes, while chatting with Pam.

Two of my favorite bloggers in one spot. Callye was actually right there, too, but the picture was not flattering and I didn’t want her to kill me, so I cut her out of the shot. You’re just going to have to believe me that she was there. Really! I met her!

It was great to learn from the best. I learned more about how to think outside the box, and I came home re-energized to try new things with cookies. I’m in the middle of a project right now that I’m excited to share with you. It is thinking outside the box and inside the box, all at the same time!

That was cookie camp in a (big, long) nutshell! I’m glad I got to go! I hope you can catch some of the inspiration by looking at all of their cookies.

(P.S. We also did a group project where we decorated a cookie “neighborhood” together. My pictures of those cookies turned out way too bad to share, so I’m going to have to ask permission to use somebody’s pictures. I’ll post or link to another blog soon, because those turned out really cute, too!)

Alphabet Winner, and a few other things

17 Feb

First of all, Cookie Crazie Pam has a blog post all about yours truly this morning.  If you want to learn a little bit more about me, head on over to her wonderful blog. Sometimes it’s fun to get a little more information about the people we “know” on the internet! :D  Thanks so much Pam! You are too kind!

Thanks to everyone for your very kind comments about the alphabet cookies! I’m so glad you liked them!! :)

A few of you asked how long it took me to do them, and if I already had the frosting made up, etc.  Yes, I did have most of the colors already made. I’ve been decorating a lot of cookies lately, so I had tons of frosting colors already made up, plus a fresh batch of Meringue Powder Buttercream waiting for me on the counter.  The only colors I had to make up on the day I was decorating these were the camouflage greens and the two colors of brown for the camo and the leopard print. Everything else was already made, and I had baked the cookies the day before.  I started decorating when the kids walked out the door to school and had about 4 or 5 left to do by the time they got home. That wasn’t solid decorating time– I have a 3-year-old at home, so we had lunch and various needs to take care of during the day, but it took me a good 6 or 7 hours to get these done. If I did the same set again, it wouldn’t take quite as long, because much of the time was spent thinking, designing, and figuring out how to do it!  Thanks again for your comments! They were fun to do!

Ok, the winner of the Alphabet cookie cutter set is Cat. There were a few Cats who entered. This one has the word calico in her email address, and she said:

I have a 2 year old grandson and if I won the cutters, we would learn the alphabet together through cookies!
Cat

Congratulations, Cat! I’ve sent you an email, but if you don’t see it, send me an email at contact at karenscookies dot net.

Thanks to all who entered! I have another giveaway coming right up!  One person said in the comments that her daughter has a bowling tournament coming up… I have just the post for you, Cindie S!

 

Peanut Butter Pops

11 Feb

I’m sure by now everyone has seen Bakerella’s cake pops. If you haven’t, you really must head over there to see her cute stuff. She even made cheesecake pops, which I am totally going to try. But anyway, I was going to make some cake pops as my final Valentine idea post, but my cake pop “dough” totally flopped. Did I add too much frosting? Was my cake too moist to begin with? I have no idea, but it was not working. I was bummed because I think cake pops are super cute. I was just about to bake up another cake and try again when I happened to link over to this post, which is on the Happy When Not Hungry blog, written by Kara, who commented on my Fortune Cookie post, which is how I found it. Are you following me so far?  So her Peanut Butter and Nutella Rice Krispy bites (which sound amazing, by the way) reminded me of my Christmas peanut butter balls recipe, and I got to wondering if they would work on sticks. So I tried it.

And they were good.

It’s funny, I’ve made all kinds of treats for this blog– cupcakes, fortune cookies, decorated cookies, rice krispy treats, etc., and nothing excited my kids like these did. They walked in the door from school yesterday and said “Woa!! COOL! Can we have one? You know– after you take your pictures.”  (They are well-trained)  These are definitely kid-pleasers.

Here’s how you do it:

First the recipe.

2 T. light corn syrup

2 T. butter, melted

3/4 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 cup plus 2 T. smooth peanut butter (I’ve used both Jif and Skippy with good results)

Mix together the corn syrup, melted butter, vanilla and salt in a medium-large bowl.

Add the powdered sugar

and the peanut butter

Stir carefully (so the powdered sugar doesn’t poof all over you). At first it will look like this:

And then it will form a dough, almost like peanut butter cookie dough.

Now you need to roll it into small balls. What I do to get them even is scoop them with my cookie scoop:

And then cut those in half. Kind of weird, but it makes the right size. You really don’t want huge balls of this, or the ratio of peanut butter to chocolate will be off. The smaller ones will be more like Reeses Peanut Butter cups. If you have a smaller cookie scoop than I do, you might be able to just use that.

So after you cut the scoops in half, roll them into balls. and put them in a pan so that you can put them in the freezer.

Freeze them for about 20 minutes. You don’t want them frozen solid, or they’ll crack when you put the stick in, but you want them pretty firm.

While they’re in the freezer, melt some “chocolate”. I put chocolate in quotes because this isn’t real chocolate. You can certainly use real chocolate if you want, but I’m a terrible chocolate temperer (is that a word?) My friend Tara is a real-life chocolatier, and she wouldn’t be caught dead using this stuff. But for me and my kids… yeah, I’m all over it. I actually really love using Merkens wafers. They’re pretty good for fake chocolate, and it’s so easy to work with. So melt some fake chocolate. Valentine colors are fun, so I picked pink to start with.

Dip a lollipop stick in the chocolate just so the bottom 1/4″ or so is covered.

Then take one of your firmed-up peanut butter balls and insert the stick.

And by the way, I used 6″ sticks for these, but 4″ sticks would also work.

Next, dip them into the chocolate. You’ll want to go straight down, and use a spoon to help cover them. If you’re swirling them around too much, they could come loose and fall off the stick.  If you want a really great video on this, check out the Amazon page for Bakerella’s book, and it’s the exact same process. She does a good job showing you how to do it.  I’m sure that video is on her web site somewhere, too, but I couldn’t find it.

You’ll want to lightly tap off the excess.

If you don’t want to put them on sticks, you can also dip the balls by themselves. I like to use two forks and a spoon for dipping. First, I dip the bottom of the ball into the chocolate, then set it on a fork. Then I use the spoon to pour chocolate over it. Then I tap the fork on the edge of the bowl to get rid of the excess. I move it over to a sheet of parchment paper, and use the second fork to push it off the first fork onto the paper. I hope that makes sense, because the only picture of the process I got was this one:

Which pretty much shows you nothing.

While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with assorted decorations. I made a mixture of white, pink, and red non pariels for some:

And of course I had to use the mini hearts because I love them.

They’re super cute without sticks, too.

I loved the crunch that the sprinkles gave them.

Yum!

Ok, that’s it for Valentine’s ideas. From here on out, you’re on your own. :D Have a great weekend and a Happy Valentine’s Day!!

I’ll be back next week with some cookies that I can’t wait to show you!  My kids told me what to make (they even gave me sketches to go by) and I recreated their ideas in cookie form. I’d better finish ‘em up before they get home from school. They’re going to love them, and I hope you do, too!

Fortune Cookies

10 Feb

Ok, remember when I said at the beginning of the week that I was going to post a bunch of simple, easy ideas for Valentine’s day. Wellll…. this sort of does and sort of doesn’t fit into that category.  I guess this is an easy idea for someone who is up for a little bit more of a challenge. (Does that even make sense??) It actually is very easy and very simple, but it takes a little patience to get the hang of it.  The ingredients don’t get any more simple, and I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of you have them in your kitchen right now. So you should try it!

Before you start making your batter, you’re going to need a template. Actually, this isn’t 100% necessary, but it’s very helpful. If you don’t want to take the time to make a template, you can skip this part and just spread your dough out free-form.

To make the template, get a large disposable lid, or other piece of thin plastic. A cool whip, yogurt, margarine or sour cream lid are all good, as long as it’s at LEAST a 4″ diameter, not including the rim.

Find a 3″ circle to trace around.

This is the 3 1/16″ circle from the plastic circle set. It is very well-used and loved, so the measurement has been worn off!

After you trace it, use an x-acto knife to cut out the circle.

Then cut off the rim of the lid so that it lays (lies?) completely flat. You can use scissors or an x-acto knife.

After that you’ll have a nice, reusable template. Wash it to get rid of all pen/pencil marks because those will definitely get on your fortune cookie dough if you don’t. Don’t ask me how I know that.

One more thing you need to do before you make the batter is to write your fortunes and have them ready. Cut strips of paper 1/2″ by 4″ if you want the fortunes to come out the edges of the cookie, or 1/2″ by 3″ if you want them all hidden inside. I did mine 4″, but I think I’d do 3″ next time.

I think this is where you could let your creativity fly. I was not very creative with these. At all. But you could print them on fancy paper, and you could do fortunes that would match the personality of the recipient. I think writing cute things for your kids and slipping them into their lunch for school would be really fun. Be creative.

Oh, and one more thing before you make the batter– Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

The batter is super simple. It takes exactly 1 minute to mix this up. Ok, maybe 2. But it’s fast. This is adapted from a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com. It makes 12 fortune cookies. Here are the ingredients:

1 egg white

1/8 tsp. vanilla

3 T. sugar

1 pinch salt

1/4 cup flour

Put the egg white and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk until it gets foamy. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in the flour until a smooth batter forms. It’s actually kind of a batter/dough hybrid. It is thicker than a batter, but a pretty runny dough.

Sorry I don’t have pictures of the dough-making process. But it really is simple enough that you don’t need pictures, right? :D

About the surface you’ll be baking on– You can bake on a plain (very-well-greased) sheet pan. But it is tons easier and more fool-proof if you bake on either silicone liners or parchment. Even if you use silicone or parchment, you’ll need to grease it or spray it with Pam, so if you’re using a plain cookie sheet, you’re really going to have to grease the heck out of it to get them to not stick. So if you have silicone or parchment, use it! Oh– and if you’re using parchment, you really could just trace some 3″ circles right onto the parchment for your guide instead of making the template.

I used silicone liners for mine, and I’m sorry they look so nasty. I’ve been using these for almost a decade, so even when they’re clean they look kind of gross. Sorry.

Spray silicone or parchment with Pam, or grease the heck out of your pans. Place your template on the pan and put exactly 1 teaspoon of batter in the center.

Use an offset spatula to spread the batter around inside the template.

Go all the way to the edges. If you aren’t using a template, just eye-ball a 3″ circle. The batter will be very thin. You may even be able to see right through it in spots. That’s ok. And, um, sorry about the water spots on my spatula. I have hard water, ok?

Lift off the template, and repeat up to 3 times, for a maximum of 4 cookies per sheet.

Four is really the max that one person can do at a time. You have to work really fast at folding when they come out of the oven, or they’ll get too stiff to fold. If you have helping hands in your kitchen, you might be able to do 6 per sheet. I actually recommend only doing 2 for your first batch and work up to 3 or 4 as you get the hang of it.

Bake them in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes, or until they start to get brown around the edges.

Determining when they are ready is probably the trickiest part of the whole thing. They need to be lightly browned if they’re going to set up nice and crisp, but the browner they get, the faster you have to work with them. The paler ones are easier to fold, but they won’t crisp up as well. So you have to learn in your first couple of batches what the happy medium is.

Ok, so as soon as you pull them out of the oven, start folding. I think it’s easier to just peel them off the pan with my hands, rather than trying to use a spatula. A spatula can tend to mush them up, but if your hands are really heat-sensitive, a spatula might be your only choice. If you do go that route, I would grease it first.  So either peel one off, or use a spatula, and flip it onto a wooden cutting board or counter so that it’s upside-down. Quickly lay one of your fortunes across the center.

Then, fold it in half like a taco.

Next, you’ll take the outside “corners” of your taco and pull them down towards each other.

If they cool too much while you’re working with them and they won’t fold, you can put them back in the oven for 20-30 seconds to heat them back up again.

As soon as you’re done folding one, plop it into a muffin tin. The round muffin cavities will help them keep their shape while they cool.

Aren’t they cute?

You can be done right there. Or… if you’re feeling extra festive and fancy, you can dip them in chocolate and sprinkle them with some Valentine sprinkles.

Place them on wax paper or parchment while the chocolate sets up.

Look how fancy these are! And you can make them as personal as you want, since you’re writing your own fortunes. I think that would be a fun ending to a special Valentine’s dinner.

And did I mention that they taste REALLY good? They are so much tastier than store-bought fortune cookies. Yum!

First Post!

8 Jan

It’s kind of funny starting a blog, knowing that there aren’t any readers yet.  So to whom do I write? (and do I need to use perfect grammar, or not?!)  I guess I write to all of those who will find us along the way. I’m so glad you found us, and I hope that you’ll enjoy reading my posts and be inspired to try some fun new things in the kitchen.

I guess a little “About Me” might be nice. My name is Karen, and my husband Mike and I run a little online cookie supply shop called Karen’s Cookies. I love the art of the decorated cookie, and most of my posts will revolve around that subject.  As much as I adore decorated cookies, I also thoroughly enjoy many other types of baking, so you will see posts on other subjects sprinkled in. I’m sure that drop cookies, pies, pastries, cakes, breads and other goodies will find their way onto the blog occasionally. (Oh, and since I have a store, and because I can, I’m sure that giveaways will abound!)

This is me at the shop. It's probably the last picture you'll ever see of me. Cookies are much more exciting!

I started a blog several years ago when we opened our shop. My pictures were horrible.  Beyond horrible. UG-LY. I would show you one, but they have long been deleted and (hopefully) forgotten. One of my favorite things about blog hopping is the beautiful photography, and my own blog certainly wasn’t delivering.  So I kind of gave up, while still wishing I could create a fun place to share my kitchen adventures. Recently Mike and I got to talking about giving it another try. He taught me what he knows about macro and aperture and shutter speed, and we’ve invested in some decent lights for the kitchen.  So far the results have been fun and exciting! Hopefully I can keep all the camera settings straight and continue to improve my skills with time.

Thanks again for stopping by! Feel free to comment, make suggestions, or just say  hi. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Baking!

Karen

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