Category Archives: Uncategorized

Decorative Turkeys for Thanksgiving

turkey 003

I saw these little guys in a video that Giada de Laurentis posted to the Food Network site; I haven’t been able to find it a second time. In it, she gave credit for them to a young boy in a hospital she was visiting; I believe his name was Kaden.

Anyway, I thought they were very cute, and decided to post them to my web site.

The hardest part of all this was finding the candy corn; one grocery manager said they only had it available at Halloween. I went to 4 stores before I found it.

turkey 010

Start with a Double Stuffed Oreo, and stick the candy corn in as the tail feathers. Once you have the tail feathers in, you will start needing your glue; I melted 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave which is more than enough for a couple dozen turkeys. Just remember, melt the chocolate slowly so you don’t burn it; not more than 20 seconds at a time with stirring in between.

Use a small Peanut Butter cup as the body; dip the top in your “glue” and place it toward the bottom of the tail Oreo. The head is glued on next; it is a Chocolate Malt Ball. The beak is the tip of a candy corn broken off; again, glue it onto the Malt Ball.

At this point, I let the turkey rest for a couple minutes to let the “glue” dry; it seemed fairly solid in the laid down position. Once it seems stable, the bottom/feet of the turkey are dipped in the glue and then pressed into the open Oreo. Giada used some of the double stuffed Oreos as the base, making the turkey stand in snow. I decided to get the mint Oreos so my turkeys are standing in grass.

The one step further that Giada took and I have omitted is that she made some red frosting and piped a wattle on the turkey; I felt that wasn’t necessary, and wasn’t quite in keeping in the assembly of the turkeys where the only help needed from an adult is in melting the chocolate “glue” and keeping it warm. I had to reheat my glue between finishing 13 turkeys, and then mounting them on the grass.

Reducing Cookie Spread

The holidays are approaching, and more than one person has run into the problem that their drop cookies have spread from 2 inches in diameter to more than 3 inches in diameter, making the final cookie thin and crisp rather than fat and chewy.

Two years ago when I first started making cookies, I was occasionally disappointed in the final shape the cookie took after baking. I had some drop cookies that just plain got flat, and of course, they get crisper (crustier?) when they are thin like that. And I tried to make cut-out cookies, and the shapes would contort something awful during the baking process. I had to learn the causes of cookie spread so I could eliminate it. I will discuss several general areas that you need to investigate, but I don’t think you need to take all the possible steps in trying to reduce the spread; at one point, I found that the cookie spread was zero and the cookie looked just exactly like I had dropped it onto the cooking sheets.

Reduce the moisture in the dough.

One of the major contributing factors to cookie spread is moisture in the dough. That moisture might show itself as water, but it can also be hidden where you do not expect it. Butter has water in it; the amount can be as much as 20%, so that 8 ounces of butter could contain over an ounce of water. You may want to switch out the butter for shortening to help reduce the cookie spread.

And if your recipe is using oil instead of a solid fat, you may need to reduce the amount of oil and replace it with solid fat.

The same goes for liquid sweeteners; many of the vegan recipes use liquid sweeteners instead of sugar. Even crystalline sugar acts as a moisture, so you need to use as large a sugar crystal as possible- not powdered sugar but granulated sugar. You might need to reduce the brown sugar and replace some of it with granulated sugar.

Reduce the cooking pan action.

The cooking pan can act either to help spread, or reduce spread. If you are lubricating the cooking pan, don’t! You are making them slick and the cookie dough can slide more easily resulting in cookie spread. Instead, bake the cookies on silicon pads, or even parchment paper on the cookie sheet.

Thicker cookie sheets help reduce the spread of the cookie dough. Several years ago, a cookie sheet was introduced that had a double bottom- something called Air-Bake. This increases the time it takes for the bottom of the cookie to get hot and the ingredients to melt so that they can spread. This means the cookie sides will have a chance to crust before the dough melts and spreads. Before I had Air-Bake sheets, I had cookie pans that would nest, and used two pans nested to make the bottoms more insulated and slow down the heat onto the bottom of the cookie.

Reduce the time in which the cookie can spread.

Perhaps one of the best methods for reducing cookie spread is by reducing the amount of time the dough can spread. To do this, we want to put a crust on the edge of the cookie as quickly as possible after it goes into the oven so that the inner dough of the cookie can’t escape. There are a couple things that will help establish that crust quickly.

Raising the temperature of the oven (and shortening the total cook time) I often use an oven temperature that is 25 degrees different than what the recipe says, and in turn, I usually expect the cook time to be 5 minutes different. For some cooking, I decrease the temperature 5 degrees and cook 5 minutes longer; this is often cakes where I want the edges just inside the cake pan to cook slower so that the rise of the center dome is less pronounced. But with cookie spread, the direction is the opposite; I want the temperature hotter by 5 degrees and the cooking time less by about 5 minutes.

The second method for reducing the time the cookie can spread is to make certain the dropped cookie dough is cold in the center; this means that the edges will warm first, and crust, before the center of the cookie gets hot. So, after you have dropped your cookies onto the cooking sheets, put the cooking sheets in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes, and maybe up to an hour. This was the trick that I learned with cut-out cookies that kept them from morphing into unidentifiable shapes.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of other ideas that float around that have to do with making the dough; most chefs feel we amateurs use to the mixer too long. You can see that on cake mix boxes where the directions say to mix the batter for just 2 minutes. I have also read that we over-do the mixing when we cream the butter and sugar, and that makes for some cookie spread. However, I think you will solve your cookie spread mostly with just a couple of the ideas I have given you.
I would start by refrigerating my dropped cookies before putting them in the oven; I think this will do the majority of your job. If you still need some help, I would take one idea from each section above, like changing out the butter for shortening (they do have butter flavored shortening now), and using parchment paper on the cookie sheet instead of a lubricant.

My Seattle Trip

As usual, I went to Seattle to help daughter Mindy celebrate her birthday. This year was a little different; Mindy told me NOT to make a cake for her, and since I would not be transporting a cake, we decided that I should take the train past Seattle to Edmonds instead of driving. It was a test to see if she could find the Edmonds depot, and how I felt about riding the train. In the past, we used the train quite often going into King Street Station, but since Mindy has moved up to Shoreline, it is a goodly distance back down into Seattle to that depot.

When I arrived, Mindy had finished cooking a couple types of pan cookies that she had wanted to try- Slutty Brownies and Smores. I will be working on those recipes in the future after I finish getting caught up on all the blogs I have stacked up on my table right now. When Mindy and I get together we like to explore restaurants and food. Often, like this time, we went back to some of the places we had liked before.

We have a couple breakfast places we enjoy and to which we go back- Fat Hen, and Serious Pie. Actually, our Serious Pie is a building on Westlake that contains, in the morning Serious Biscuit. Don’t confuse it with the Serious Pie on Virginia in Belltown. Anyway, these two restaurants and Starbucks get most of our breakfast trade to date. We might try a new place Mindy has found the next time I go.

For supper, we mostly explore new places; the exceptions to that this time was a repeat of La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard, and Purple. We had been to Purple several years ago, but not recently. We were trying to avoid going into Seattle because Bumpershoot was on and that attracts over 100,000 people. So we went out to the Woodenville Purple.

While in the Woodenville area, we stopped by Molbak which is a large garden and home center; we have bought plants there in the past. This time we just looked around. Later we stopped at Swanson’s Nursery in Ballard; I really liked its selection of plants and next spring I will probably drive up to see Mindy just so I have the car in which to shop at Swanson’s and bring stuff home.

Mindy found a new restauranteer in Seattle- Ethan Stowell. We tried two of his restaurants- Red Cow in the Madrona neighborhood, and the Ballard Pizza Company. He must have more than a dozen restaurants. Red Cow is a steak house.

No food pictures this time. I hope if you are going to Seattle, these short blogs on where Mindy and I have eaten can help you find interesting places for your own meals.


Cake Decorating Level 1

Recently, I took the Level 1 Cake Decorating class at the Decorette Shop. I thought it would be interesting to talk about what I learned. The idea of the class was to prepare us to make nice cakes for any occasion. The class was 7 weeks long, meeting for 3 hours one day each week. I know that you can buy a cake mix and frosting at the grocery store, and produce a nice enough cake for a celebration. What I didn’t know was that you can put more into the production and have a better cake.

The photos in this article are pictures of what I produced. I discovered that I an a good engineer in that I can copy what is shown me, but I am not an artist like some of my classmates. They seemed to have a better picture of how colors went together.

The first meeting of the class was to provide a list of material that we would need for the class; such things as piping bags and tips, wet cloths, aprons, and gel paste colors were among the many items on the list. We also got to work with Royal Icing to do color flow like I had done in the Cookie Decorating class. And, we were introduced to Molding Sugar and how to make and use it.

Our assignment for the second week was to bake and bring a 9 x 13 cake; it was recommended that we use a box and a half of whatever cake mix we chose.

In class the second week, we learned how to split the cake evenly and put a layer of filling in the split. Then we cut the cake up to form an old-fashion baby buggy. Finally, we learned how to pipe frosting in several ways to finish the cake; we used star-fill, basket weave, zig zag, and shells.

wk2 001

In class the third week, we learned how to pipe many different flowers as decorations on our cakes.

PicMonkey Collage

For week 4, we needed to bring a dome-shape cake to class; the idea was to make a doll cake. However, anyone that didn’t want to buy the special cake pan could create a dome in other ways. And anyone that didn’t want to buy the doll could do whatever they wanted with the dome cake. I went ahead and bought the pan and made a true doll cake.

wk4 doll 002

In class the fifth week we worked on piping figurines.

PicMonkey CollageX
Xwk5 char 011
Xwk5 char 013

In the sixth week, we made our third cake and took it to class. This class taught us more border design piping on the cakes. It also refreshed some of the ideas from our first two cakes, such as filling, and crumb coating. We also learned more about frosting a cake; up to now the cakes were not frosted, but covered with piped patterns. This week, we frosted the cake and put the patterns on the frosted cake. The two patterns we tried were Cornelli lace, and lattice. The edges were then piped with one of the patterns we had learned earlier- shells and zig zag.

wk6 cake 001

And finally in week seven we learned how to stack cakes. In this week we baked, and processed two cakes to the smooth frosting stage. In class we learned how to stack the smaller cake on the larger cake. And then we were free to decorate the cakes in any way we wanted. I chose to repeat the border designs from week 6 on my larger cake, and nearly ran out of time. A 10 inch cake is a long way around.

wk7 005

I think it is important to recognize that we all like to bake cakes for different occasions, but we generally do not worry about crumb coating, about smooth frosting, or doing major decorations on the cake. We probably never consider stacking cakes. This level 1 Cake Decorating class teaches the student some of these techniques and develops a confidence in the student for moving ahead with making nice looking cakes.

Murphy was with me every step!

The requirement for week 7 of the level 1 Cake Decorating class was to bring two frosted cakes to class; one was to be a 10 inch two layer (tier) cake and the other was to be a 6 inch two tier cake. At home, we were to bake the cakes, level them, fill them, crumb coat them, and ice them smooth. We could split and fill the layers if we wanted, and I generally want to do that so there is less dry cake.

My plan was to make the 10 inch cake with yellow cake mix; I figured that I needed 1 ½ boxes, and I had the ½ box left over from week 2. I wanted to use fillings that reflect the filling and toppings that are on the napoleons I make, so I would split the layers and use dark chocolate ganache between the halves of one layer and apricot glaze between the halves of the second layer. Then between the layers I would use pastry cream. I would ice the yellow cake with purple butter cream, and take yellow buttercream for decorating the cake at class.

For the 6 inch cake, I wanted to experiment with German’s chocolate, so the cake would be a German Chocolate mix. I would use a ganache made from German’s chocolate between the split layers, and I would use a white Whip Kreme Buttercream frosting with coconut and chopped pecans mixed in as the filling between tiers. I would ice the chocolate cake with gold buttercream, and take dark brown buttercream for decorating the cake at class.

The first day went all right; I was able to make both flavors of ganache, and the apricot glaze. I already had colored buttercream for purple and gold, but needed to add about a cup to each so I would have enough. I also had the Whip Kreme Buttercream frosting and only needed to add some chopped pecans and coconut to it. And I made new batches of buttercream and colored them the yellow and dark brown colors that I wanted. Perhaps the only trouble that first day was all the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder that went flying around. I had to give the counters and floor a good scrubbing when I finished.

Day two was baking the cakes, and Murphy was sitting right on my shoulder. I got too much in a hurry and thought I was being efficient. I took the supplies for both cakes out and had them on the counter. So first I was going to make the 10 inch cakes. Into the mixer bowl, I placed 1 ½ times the amount of water, oil and eggs that the recipe on the box said because I was going to add the ½ package of leftover cake mix. I tore open the box and the plastic bag and dumped it into the mixer bowl, and it was brown, not yellow! I had picked up the wrong box! Luckily, I had not put the ½ package in so I suddenly changed my plans; the 10 inch cake would be the German’s chocolate and the 6 inch cake would be the yellow cake. I put the ½ package of yellow cake mix bake into the pantry; I wouldn’t be using it. And I got out a second box of the German chocolate cake mix since I was certain that the 10 inch cakes would need more than a single box of cake mix. (Did I remember to add more water, oil and egg when I changed from adding just ½ a box to a full box? I don’t recall).

I was glad to see that my effort to cook the cake slow and somewhat protected around the sides did keep the layers quite level. They were not has high as I had hoped, so perhaps I forgot to increase the water, oil and egg amounts. But the results were very usable.

Now I started on the yellow 6 inch cake. Everything was going according to plan and the toothpick was coming out nice and clean. The cakes were almost 2 inches above the edge of the pans, so I would have nice level layers. When I turned them out of the pans, they didn’t want to come out. That was bad news. I finally felt them come loose and drop out of the pans, but the bottom inch didn’t come out; it was stuck in the pan because it was not cooked! My toothpick was three inches long- probably only going in about 2 ¾ inches since I had to hold onto part of it. And that length did not get down to the bottom inch of the cakes which was not finished baking!

There was only one answer; I had to go to the store and get another box of cake mix. I grabbed a box of white cake mix and rushed home. In some ways, that choice saved me from another error. I am starting over at the mixer and reading the directions and it says 3 egg whites and I hadn’t even thought about needing more eggs. I only had two eggs in the refrigerator. But meringue powder is basically egg white, so I quickly decided to add some meringue powder for the third egg. I probably added 2 tablespoons of meringue powder. (Luckily I have plenty of meringue powder around- the recipes for Buttercream and Royal Icing all use it).

So, with the cake mixed, I put them in the oven to bake. But I forgot to turn the oven down 25 degrees to slow the cooking down, so the cakes came out with quite large domes. But I did use a longer tester that went all the way to the bottom of the pan to test that the cakes were done. I let all the cakes cool overnight and thought about what had to happen on day three.

Day three was when I needed to level the cakes, split them and fill the split, fill between the layers, and crumb coat the stacked layers. The excitement this day had mostly to do with handling the cakes. I made a big mistake in leveling the cake by trying to save an extra 1/8 of an inch in height of each layer. The low spot on the 10 inch layer was about 1 inch, and my choices on the cake leveler knife were 7/8 or 1 1/8 inches. I chose the latter and left a slight hump in the center of each layer. Then I split the layer at 5/8 inches and as I was moving the top of the split, it broke. I filled the split and rearranged the pieces of the top onto the bottom as best as I could.

Leveling the 6 inch cake was the same issue with choosing the point to make the cut; again I chose to go up the 1/8 inch from where I should have- it is probably an amateurish thing to keep as much cake as you can rather than going down to where the layer will really be level. With the smaller size layers, I had no trouble with the cake splitting of the 6 inch cakes and got them filled and stacked.

Because I had left the 1/8 inch at the edge of each layer of the cakes, I had to use a lot of Buttercream to fill that gap. And then I was ready to crumb coat the cakes. I think this part went fairly well, and I was happy that the crumb coat would be able to dry overnight.

Day four is to put the smooth icing on the cakes. I started with the 10 inch cake and the gold buttercream. As I tried to put the icing on the top of the cake in gobs, it was pulling the crumb coating off! Either I hadn’t had the buttercream out of the refrigerator long enough, or it was too thick. So I worked the frosting and added a bit of water to get it to the consistency I needed. After getting the icing fairly smooth, I was planning to use the parchment paper technique for the final smoothing. This would be my first attempt at using that method, and I couldn’t seem to get it to work. So I ended up using the hot knife method. Looking at the cake now, it has problems; it is not really flat on top but instead has a slight dome so I probably didn’t take enough frosting off the center of the top. And one edge of the cake is really bad; it looks like the side frosting slipped and pulled the top edge down with it. The 6 inch cake is somewhat better. Again, it is not as smooth as I would like but the top is flatter.

wk7 003

Twenty-four hours later, I am looking at the cakes and as you can see, they are not very professional. They don’t really look very good. The supposedly smooth icing is not, and the supposedly nice flat top and straight sides are not. It is obvious that I should be making a lot of cakes to practice the techniques and get better at making a “smooth iced” cake. I hope the decorations to be added in class will hide a lot of the issues I have with these cakes.

So day five is off to class to learn how to put these two cakes together.

Holidays in Seattle

I spent the week of Christmas in Seattle with daughter Mindy. We had two focuses for my time there; as always, being foodies and trying a few new restaurants, and then Mindy wanted to learn what I had learned about decorating cut-out cookies.

Mindy decor 002

To prepare for the decorating activities, I took everything we would possibly need. I took a card table so that we could set up a work area and didn’t have a conflict with the dining table. I took a premixed pot of white Royal Icing, and all the gel paste colors I had. I took the stencils, the piping bags, and the piping tips. Everything including about 3 dozen cutout cookies for her to decorate. I even took a crate with the stand mixer, and all the stuff to make more Royal Icing, or even to make more cutout cookies. I was prepared for any eventuality.

Mindy wanted to decorate snowflake cookies in white and blue. And after doing the 8 snowflake cutouts I had brought, she was satisfied. I admit that she is the artist between us. She sees the possibilities for something that is less mechanical than I see.

Along with all the resources for decorating cookies, I also took her third of the holiday baking of cookies and candies that I had done. The other two thirds were distributed to daughter Jenn and extended family daughter Kris. I had 13 different recipes I had made and each of the thirds contained at least a dozen pieces of each recipe. Some recipes made more that 3 dozen pieces and so there was quite a bit of rich holiday cookies and candies in the box. I need to add all those recipes to the blog, and that will happen over the next few weeks.

We had started our foodie eating out plans before I left for Seattle. Mindy wanted a good hamburger and french fries, and a good steak. I wanted to go to another Tom Douglas restaurant. Mindy wanted to drive up north, close to Bellingham to see an area that she had not seen before. And, we wanted to revisit some of the restaurants that we had discovered in August when I was last there.

While Mindy and I are Foodies, and love to test new restaurants, the foodie in us really is a family thing. Jenn is probably a better foodie than either Mindy or I. Mindy and I want good food of a type with which we are already acquainted. Jenn wants to explore and find new foods. She was the one who took us to the different Middle Eastern restaurants, and introduced us to the food of India. This all started when the girls were young; each girl got to pick the restaurant they wanted us to go to for their birthday.

So this vacation, we revisited Portage Bay, Serious Biscuit and Fat Hen for breakfast. We also decided to get a dozen Top Pot doughnuts for Christmas morning. We were already discovering that many of the places were closed by Christmas Eve and were changing our plans on the fly. We actually went to Portage Bay twice; our first choice for Christmas Eve breakfast was closed and we went down the road to Portage Bay. Now here is what we learned: if you want an Egg Benedict dish, go to Fat Hen! Portage Bay is a good breakfast, but Fat Hen has much better with the Eggs Benedict. And of course, Serious Biscuit is an entirely different type of breakfast. Serious Biscuit shares space with Serious Pie at the Westlake location (cross street Harrison); they are open for breakfast, and Serious Pie takes over for later in the day. This has confused several people with whom I have talked because Serious Pie is also a small shop down on Virginia between 3rd and 4th. The Serious Biscuit shop is in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

For suppers, we were trying all new places; we also brought in Chinese for Christmas day. Christmas Eve was a pub visit to get the hamburger and fries; we went to Elliot Bay Brewing Company in the Lake City area. We then wandered downtown looking at the Christmas decorations and ended up at Molly Moon in the Queen Anne area- our original spot.

In August, we had tried to go to a Mexican Food place in Ballard with the name La Carta De Oaxaca, but it had been closed for the Labor Day weekend. It was open the day after Christmas and we went there. It opens at 5 PM, and we got there at about 5 minutes before 5 and there was a line waiting to get in. A good sign. And we can understand why. Its food is excellent and I can highly recommend it although it certainly got crowded fast when we were there. So either get there at opening time, or plan to wait a little for a table.

After supper, we walked a little to settle our food, but then had dessert just two doors down from the restaurant at a shop called Hot Cakes. They make those little cakes with the hot chocolate insides– we use to call them Lava Cakes. Very good, and a wonderful end to a perfect meal.

For Friday supper, I had chosen to go to Tom Douglas’s Lola restaurant. This restaurant has a Grecian theme to the menu. We started with kebabs as an appetizer; then for our main course we had the northwest seafood extravaganza and the spanakopita. We were full, and decided to skip dessert.

On Saturday, we took the trip north to see an area just south of Bellingham. There are a couple small communities named Bow and Edison. The post office seems to be Bow, so all the addresses are there, but Edison is interesting in its own right. It is the gateway to Samish Island, which seems more like a peninsula than an island. It is a getaway area with lots of access to the ocean. After driving around Samish Island we went back to Edison and ate at the Old Edison Inn; it was an excellent meal, and the Inn reminded us of years ago when we would visit the Flying Wing ranch in Willamina and on Saturday go into town and how Herb and Jay knew everyone and everyone stopped to say hello. The Inn seemed like the town meeting place.

Finally, on Sunday evening we got Mindy’s good steak- actually excellent steak. The University district mall has been expanding, and there is a place called Joey’s Kitchen to which we went. Since the Seahawks were playing, there were a lot of football fans watching the game on TV at the restaurant. After we ate, we walked around the mall for a few minutes, and then stopped at the newest of the Molly Moon parlors. This one measures up to the one in the Queen Anne district except that it is more crowded; the mall makes it easier for people to just stop by.

So that was my Seattle vacation; we found several new places to eat, and I think all of them are worth visiting again. I hope if you are going to be in the Seattle area, you will think about these restaurants as some of the possibilities about where to eat. And let me know if I have rated them too high in your opinion.


More Pull-Apart Cakes

For our Thanksgiving meal, I was to make a couple pies and a side casserole. What I did there will have to wait for another article. In this article, I want to show a couple pull-apart cakes I also took to Thanksgiving.

As I was doing the pies, it dawned on me that the young children really like cupcakes. They can hold them in their hands and when decorated, they are fun. So I started planning to do a pull-apart set of cupcakes with an overall frosting. I remembered how the young ones almost fought over who got the eyeballs from the turtle I had made with the birthday cake.

turkey 002

I decided I wanted to do a “crazy looking” turkey as the overall design. The other day I saw a yard in the neighborhood that was decorated with large balloon turkeys and that became my starting point. But try as a would, it took 13 cupcakes; I would need to make two batches! and then I would have 11 left over!

So while I was planning the turkey, I decided I could make the little one-eyed green guy from Monsters, Inc. And that is what I planned.

pullApart 001

This big monster only took 7 cupcakes, and so I decided to transform the last four cupcakes into individual green guys.

individual 002

I ran into a couple problems that I need to mention. First, while at birthday time I used a half recipe of Kentucky Chocolate cake to make 12 cupcakes, this time I made a full recipe expecting to get all 24 cupcakes from it; it didn’t happen. For some reason- I filled them too full?- I got only about 12 from a recipe, and I had to make a second recipe to get my needed 24 cupcakes. Second, I tried to glaze the first batch of cupcakes just as the recipe says. What a mess, because there are no sides of the pan to hold the glaze on! And then, the glaze gets in the way. I was not able to push the cupcakes together close enough, and there were big gaps at spots. Finally, since we are frosting the cupcakes, the glaze gets in the way of the frosting. I noticed as the people were eating the cupcakes from the big monster, the frosting was staying as a tent and the cupcakes they were taking were sliding out from under the frosting. So, don’t glaze the cupcakes if you are going to frost them!

The frosting on the turkey is all the Basic Cream Cheese Frosting which I found spreads so nicely. I did cheat on the band of the hat; I had blue Royal Icing that I decided to use rather than creating another color of the frosting. For the monsters, I used both frosting and icing. The arms and ears are icing and the face, eyes and mouth are all Basic Frosting thinned down enough to pipe.

Oh yes, and I noticed at our Thanksgiving meal that the women were eating cupcakes instead of the pies. I am certainly glad I decided to make the pull-aparts.

Decorating Cookies Class

Recently, I took a Cookie Decorating Class at the Decorette Shop. I thought it would be interesting to talk about what I learned. The idea of the class was to prepare us to decorate Holiday Season cutout cookies. The Shop provided everything.

deskset 002

On the table when we sat down were several piping bags with different color Royal Icing in them. And with each color, there was a squeeze-bottle of the same color Royal Icing. Notice the twist-em on the piping bag; a neat trick to keep the content from coming back up to the top and out onto your hand.

I asked about the formula for Royal Icing; it was listed on a paper each student received. Since I learned to ice cookies using a mixture of powder sugar and water, I was curious as to why people add egg white or meringue powder. The recipe also had some cream of tartar listed. The answer I got didn’t satisfy me- I was told the meringue or egg white was necessary for drying. I knew that couldn’t be completely correct since the icing I have used dried. I wondered if it defined the amount of time it took for the icing to dry. Later, at home, I decided I had to experiment. (Searching the internet, I found at least one other cookie decorator that used just moist powder sugar as the icing, but almost everyone uses meringue powder).

test recipe 002

My experiment was to use three recipes for the icing; the Royal Icing recipe I received in the class using meringue powder, the same recipe but substituting egg white for the meringue powder, and then my old recipe of just powder sugar and water. They all dried, and the time it took seemed to be as much a function of the depth of the icing on the cookie as anything else.

On another trip to the Decorette Shop, I was able to talk about Royal Icing with another customer who seemed quite knowledgeable. I had come to believe that the meringue powder was used to give body to the icing, and that was confirmed. In addition, the lady volunteered that the cream of tartar does help the drying and makes the dry icing stronger.

When I mentioned to daughter Mindy that I was looking to suggest that you could avoid buying meringue powder and just use egg white which you probably already have, she got upset and said that there are too many problems with raw egg, and at least she would go out of her way to find meringue powder rather than take any chance on using egg white. There is another problem in substituting egg white for the meringue powder; the egg white is moisture, and so the recipe is wrong for trying to do a straight substitution of a couple egg whites for 4-5 Tablespoons of meringue powder. You end up needing to increase the amount of powder sugar. To keep things simple, I will always use the recipe with meringue powder.

The recipe makes the Royal Icing stiff enough to be piped; the squeeze bottles have the same color thinned to the point that it just flows. We were told that you add water a little at a time until when you drop a spoonful into the dish, it settles and self-levels in about 5 seconds.

Decorating cookies starts with making the cookies. We were also given the recipe for Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. This was interesting since the cookies that were passed out to us for practice were well shaped. I had trouble using Sugar Cookies as the basis for cutouts, and finally went to a Shortbread cookie since it spread less while cooking. So again, when I went home, I started an experiment. With Ethel’s recipe, I found 3 more Sugar Cookie recipes in Marlys’s Recipe Book and two Shortbread Cookie recipes for a total of 6 recipes that I wanted to try and compare. I convinced myself that a crisp Sugar Cookie, when cooked right, is the best cutout cookie.

So what is the cooking trick. First, the dough has to be refrigerated and cooled completely through before rolling it out and die-cutting it. This works best if you divide the dough into two packets so that you are only working with half at a time, and the other half is cooling. It can take up to 45 minutes to cool, and it is best if the packet is wrapped as a thin disk so as much surface area receives the cooling as possible. Second, after rolling out the dough (to 1/4 inch thick) and die-cutting the shapes, the shapes need to be frozen for 10 minutes before being cooked. Place the pan right in the freezer for 10 minutes. (I had trouble with this- my air-bake pans are 15 inches wide and my freezer is 12 inches wide. I was lucky that I use silicon mats on the air-bake pans so I was able to slide the whole mat into the freezer for the 10 minutes. Finally, the temperature of the oven needs to be higher than for normal baking, and the time reduce so the cookies don’t burn. I found the temperature needed to be at least 400 degrees and the cooking time was less than 10 minutes- more like 8 minutes for some recipes.

The final comparison came down to two recipes to be considered; Ethel’s and one of Marlys’s that was labelled Crisp Sugar Cookies and talks about cutouts. Marlys’s recipe tasted sweeter, but was also more complex than Ethel’s; but since we are talking about coating the cookie with sugar, the sweet taste doesn’t seem important, and so I will stick with Ethel’s Sugar Cookie recipe for my cutouts.

class 001

The first thing we learned about decorating was to flood a color. To do this, you pipe a dam around the area to be flooded, then you squeeze out icing into the area. The icing self-levels and you have nice looking color on the cookie. Now we started using some of the other items on the tray on our table. First, we had the circular cookie to be transformed into a snow globe. Here, as soon as we had finished the white flooding, we sprinkled it with very small non-pariels to give it texture. (Almost all the decorating is a combination of color and texture.) The blue was added later after the white had dried for several minutes and we had worked on several other cookies. And even later, we added the snowman and trees; these are bought as pre-made figures.

class 010

For the mitten, after doing the white flooding, we textured the white with a product known as “sanding sugar”. It, like the non-pariels, comes in a multitude of colors.

class 002

Other items on our trays include products known as disco dust and luster dust. We had a stencil that we used on the ornament cookie, and painted through the stencil with a dry water-color brush and the disco dust. The luster dust I used on the snowflake.

class 003

The snowflake shows piping on top of the flooded color. And in the center of the snowflake is a small snowflake that we die-cut from rolled fondant. Then I sprinkled it all with luster dust.

We also used different tips on the piping bags to get other effects. For example, the top of the acorn was given texture using a “leaf”tip on the piping bag.

class 004

We used the “star” tip both to give raised points like on the snowman hat, and to give flowing ridges like on the mustache.

class 007

The green leaf on the hat is another piece of die-cut rolled fondant.

class 011

While there were several other techniques and product about which we learned. I think they will need to wait for another day. Most importantly, from the class, I took away that decorating is using a few techniques with products that combine to develop color and texture. An artist (I’m not) can have real fun starting from these few basics.

Icings, Glazes and Frostings

When I was making the birthday cakes, I was also experimenting with various recipes for icings and frosting. So I thought I should bring all that experimentation together into a single article.
I honestly don’t know how to differentiate the three coatings. The definitions and uses seem to not do that job, so I will try to explain the differences somewhat with examples.


One definition of icings is “a mixture made from very fine light sugar and liquid, used to cover cakes”. But that could also be a frosting, and indeed, many articles use the term “icing frosting”. I have played with only one icing recipe- I was told it was Royal Icing. I used it to put design on cutout cookies. This is the version I learned from Marlys and Penny DeLancey one evening when we were decorating cutout cookies.

Royal Icing:

• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 1 Tablespoon water
Play with the ratio a little to keep the consistency correct for spreading, but not too wet. If it is too stiff, add more water but not more than a teaspoon at a time. If it is too wet, add more sugar a spoonful at a time. Remember that adding food coloring also adds some moisture so be ready to add more sugar as you are tinting the icing.

I have seen recipes that use milk, orange juice and even rum as the moisture, but remember that the moisture might add color to the resulting icing. Milk and water are best for getting a nice white icing.

I found that the colors of this icing seem to fade and bleed after a couple weeks, so it is not a long term solution.

Since initially publishing this set of recipes, I attended the Decorette Shop’s Cookie Decorating class and learned to use their Royal Icing. I mention the class in a separate article and discuss the use of both the meringue powder and cream of tartar there.

Decorette Shop Royal Icing

  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 5 1/2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar

Place in grease-free bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.


A glaze in cooking is a coating of a glossy, often sweet, sometimes savory, substance applied to food. It is a liquid which is put onto food to give it an attractive shiny surface. Glazes are created to make food items more aesthetically pleasing such as adding an egg wash to some baked goods to produce a shiny, golden brown glaze.

I have already published several glaze recipes as part of other recipes. There is a Chocolate Glaze recipe with the Kentucky Chocolate Cake recipe, and there is a Strawberry Glaze recipe with the Strawberry Devonshire Tart recipe.

Here is an Apricot Glaze and a Chocolate Glaze recipe that I use when I make Napoleans.

Apricot Glaze

The straining of the jam takes some effort, so the glaze can be made ahead of time, and then reheated for use.

• 1 bottle Smucker’s Apricot Jam/Preserves (~15 oz.)
• 2 Tablespoons sugar
Force the Jam through a sieve into a sauce pan. Bring the strained jam and the sugar to the boil, for several minutes until last drops of jam to fall from spoon are sticky. Reheat to liquefy again before using.

Chocolate Glaze

The amounts in this recipe are just about right for a small cake – 6.5 x 9 inches or about 60 square inches. It can easily be doubled for a 9 x 13 cake. I have also substituted heavy cream for the ½ & ½ at times when I have used this glaze.

Below, the directions say to microwave until the mixture just begins to steam; this is very important. Otherwise the mixture will burn; 20 seconds can make the difference. So keep checking the plastic wrap; as soon as it shows any moisture and isn’t perfectly clear- stop! You have heated it enough.

• 3 Tablespoons 1/2 & 1/2
• 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (this can be chocolate chips)
• 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

To make the glaze, place the 1/2 & 1/2 and semi-sweet chocolate in a medium, microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 20 seconds at a time, until the mixture just begins to steam. Whisk together thoroughly and add the sugar and whisk until completely smooth.


Generally, frosting is a sweet substance put on cakes and made from powdery sugar and butter. I was going to challenge the idea that it had to have powdered sugar and butter, but then I couldn’t find the exception I needed. So I will let the definition stand.

Marlys had three recipes that had the word “frosting” in their title, and that is what I am giving you here.

Basic Frosting

• 1 lb. powdered sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ½ cup butter, very soft
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine all ingredients and beat 1 minute with electric mixer. Makes enough for an 8 inch layer cake.

This is the recipe I first used; it would be classified as a butter cream frosting. It was so stiff I immediately added 1 Tablespoon milk to get it to come together. It was still very stiff at that point; so stiff I could mold it, and roll it out and die-cut it into shapes. And that is too stiff to pipe. So I added more milk until I got a consistency that I could pipe. Again, there is a balance between the liquid and the powder sugar that you can play with by adding milk or more sugar.

Butter Cream Frosting

(no cooking)

• 6 Tablespoons butter, softened
• 2 2/3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/3 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter in small mixer bowl. Add sugar alternately with milk. Beat to spreading consistency – adding additional milk if needed. Blend in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups frosting.

As it says, this is another Butter Cream frosting recipe, and probably is a better starting point than the Basic Frosting recipe if you need a spreadable frosting. It won’t be as stiff as the first recipe, and so you will not be able to mold or roll it out.

Basic Cream Cheese Frosting

• 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
• 8 oz. butter, room temperature
• 1 lb. powdered sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla
• Milk as needed

I went to this frosting for the turtle cake I made for the birthday. I thought the cream cheese would give the frosting more body that a butter cream frosting, and would help bridge the spaces between cupcakes. It worked as I needed it to work, but I do not think it was stiffer than a butter cream frosting. In fact, I was delighted at how nicely it spread and could be smoothed.

I used Hershey’s cocoa to get the brown color. I used about half the recipe colored brown, and that was about ½ cup of the cocoa powder. Adding the cocoa powder, because it is dry, stiffened the frosting and I had to add milk in order to pipe it. Likewise the half of the recipe I colored green with food coloring got too soft from the moisture in the food coloring by the time I got the deep green I wanted, and I had to add more powder sugar for consistency.

If you need a perfect white frosting, then you might want to buy some “clear vanilla extract”; it is made specifically for the purpose of getting the slight brown of regular vanilla out of the frosting. To eliminate the yellow of the butter, you can use white shortening with two Tablespoons of water.

More recently, I wanted a frosting that would crust, had chocolate in it, and was basically light in color, like white. I found this recipe:

Crusting White Chocolate Buttercream


  • 1 1/4 cup Hi Ratio Shortening
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. white baking chocolate (not chips)
  • 3 1/2 cups (1 lb.) powder sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract


  • Cream the shortening, cream cheese and butter in the mixer
  • In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate and set aside to cool
  • With the mixer on low, slowly pour the white chocolate into the creamed mixture
  • add the vanilla
  • Incorporate the powdered sugar and meringue powder to form a smooth buttercream


When I started working on the birthday cakes, I knew fondant as something that would fall into one of the above categories – either an icing or a glaze. I used it as an icing on napoleons when I make them. But what I make is Sugar Fondant. It is fun to make, and easy to use. It does not do a good job in decorations as I learned. For that, there is something called Rolled Fondant; I bought it at the Decorette Shop in a 2 pound container. I do not know how to make it from scratch.

The fondant requires kneading and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen. I put mine in 3 separate containers of about 1 cup each and then freeze it; when I need some, I can defrost in the refrigerator for a day a single cup at a time.

Sugar Fondant

• A marble surface, jellyroll pan or cookie sheet
• A heavy bottomed 2 quart sauce pan
• A cover for the pan
• 3 Tablespoons white corn syrup
• 1 cup water
• 3 cups pure cane sugar
• A candy thermometer (238 degrees) or quart of cold water and metal spoon
• Painter’s spatula, pastry scraper, or stout, short metal pancake turner
The syrup is to be poured onto the marble/pan/cookie sheet which should be ready before you begin. Dissolve the corn syrup in a small amount of water in the sauce pan; pour in the rest of the water and the sugar. Set over moderately high heat. Swirl the pan slowly by its handle, but DO NOT stir sugar with a spoon while liquid is coming to the boil. Continue swirling for a moment when liquid boils and changes from cloudy to perfectly clear. Cover pan, raise heat to high, and boil for several minutes until bubbles have thickened slightly. Uncover, insert candy thermometer if you have one, and continue boiling for a few minutes to the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees: drops of syrup hold their shape softly when formed into a ball in cold water. (Note: if you do not boil to the soft-ball stage, the fondant will be too soft; if you boil to the hard-ball stage, it will be hard to knead and difficult to melt when you want to use it).

Immediately pour the syrup onto the marble or pan or sheet. Let cool about 10 minutes, until barely tepid but not quite cold to the touch; when you press it lightly, you can see the surface wrinkle.

As soon as fondant is ready, start kneading it vigorously with the scraper, spatula, or turner: push it up into a mass, spread it out again, and repeat the movement for 5 minutes or more. After several minutes of kneading, the syrup will begin to whiten; as you continue to knead, it will gradually turn into a crumbly snow-white mass, and finally stiffen so that you can no longer knead it. It is now officially and actually, fondant. Do not be discouraged, however, it it takes longer than 5 to 8 minutes or even 10 minutes to turn to fondant; go off and leave it for 5 minutes; come back and knead it again- eventually it will turn. (you might have started to knead it before it was quite ready for you).

Although you can use the fondant immediately, it will have a better texture and sheen if you let it rest at least 12 hours. Pack it into an air-tight container, topped with a dampened cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate. As long as the top is damp, fondant will keep for months and months.

When you are ready to use your fondant, you will want to combine it with a flavoring. Flavoring may be 1 or 2 Tablespoons of kirsch, rum, orange liqueur or strong coffee, or just a teaspoon of vanilla with a tablespoon of water. There is enough liquid in the liqueurs and coffee that more water isn’t needed; only with the lesser amount of vanilla is extra water needed.

Combine the fondant with your flavoring in a bowl that is in a pan of simmering water. Stir thoroughly, reaching all over the bowl as the fondant slowly softens and turns into a perfectly smooth, glossy cream that coats the spoon fairly heavily. Use immediately.

Because the sugar fondant keeps so well in the freezer, it really is a good icing for use on harder surfaced items like the napoleons (pate a choux) and cookies. For softer items like cakes, and you need a fondant, you should probably learn to use a Rolled Fondant.

Rolled Fondant

As I mentioned, I bought some rolled fondant at the Decorette shop and used it to form some decorations. I did not try to roll it out and cover a cake. They did tell me, though, that when you use it to cover a cake, you first frost the cake with a butter cream frosting under the fondant. I also know that the fondant dries very hard; Jenn and James said that their wedding cake had a smooth fondant covering and after the first day, the covering was so hard they could barely get through it.

Gum Paste

The final category I want to mention is Gum Paste. This is a product that is used to make decorations; the very realistic flowers that you find on cakes are probably gum paste. It is very moldable, and dries very hard; it will keep for years. So I find it non-eatable, and would not use it for decorations on a cake that will be shared with young children. They like to eat the decorations. But if you find the need for extremely realistic decorations, you might want to consider gum paste. You can buy many decorations already made at places like the Decorette Shop; because they do not go bad, the shop can afford to have them available for purchase.

Most ganaches are a combination of chocolate and heavy cream in equal parts. Sometimes you need to change the ratio, or add additional fat in order to get the ganache to set- be less liquidy. If you run into trouble because the ganache won’t set up, you can always reheat it and then add more chocolate pieces.


White Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 oz. white chocolate
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp chocolate extract.

My Pudding Pail

A while ago, I published a recipe for Steamed Bread Pudding. We made it in a metal can and if the can didn’t have a tight fitting lid, we tie a couple layers of foil on the top to seal the can. The other day, my sister Ann sent me a genuine pudding pail! It is metal with a tight fitting lid; the lid has hold-downs welded onto the sides of the pail. The pail also has a tube up the center so the pudding can get heat in its center as it cooks.
pudding pail 002

I thought that I was visiting a time of the past with the idea of Steamed Bread Pudding. I have an old Good Housekeeping Cook Book that was Marlys’s Mother’s, and has a copyright date of 1944. In it, I found several recipes for Steamed Puddings. (None for our Bread Pudding). So, I wondered if there was a recipe for Steamed Figgy Pudding for the holidays, and indeed, the Internet came up with several, and with pudding pails! You can buy new pudding pails and make these old recipes! (Look for “pudding mold”).

Today, I made a recipe of Steamed Bread Pudding. The pail is rated as 5 cup, but I measured it and it was a good 2 quart so I figure that the rating is such as to allow the pudding’s expansion. And, if this works, I am going to be looking at some of the other pudding recipes in the cook book- there is one for “Steamed Chocolate Pudding” that especially interests me.

I guess the past is never completely past; the internet is alive with recipes that I thought were passe after the late 1940s. And you can even buy the special hardware that was used back then if you don’t want to use a substitute such as a tin can. But then again, big tin cans are becoming hard to find.