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.
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.
(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.
- 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