Friday, July 30, 2010

Christmas in July--How to Decorate with Royal Icing Tutorial

This is an example of Christmas cookies decorated with royal icing.
Photo from HubPages
I would like to thank Michelle from the wonderful (and yummy) blog browneyedbaker for allowing me to post her royal icing tutorial for my Christmas in July event.  I love making decorated sugar cookies during the holidays (and sometimes in July...LOL), but I never seem to achieve that gorgeous look of the cookies in all the holiday magazines.  With this tutorial, all that can change.  Enjoy!

How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

I was always very good at baking snowmen, Christmas trees, angels and the like in December, slapping on some buttercream, a few sprinkles and calling it a day. Not that it isn’t good. It is definitely good. But then royal icing came onto my radar. The possibilities seemed endless – a completely smooth finish to the cookies and intricate designs? Now THAT looked fun! I’m here to guide you on a step-by-step tutorial on how to achieve any design you want on any shape cookie. Ready? Let’s begin!

Step 1: Find a Good Sugar Cookie Recipe

This might seem obvious, but not all sugar cookie recipes stand up well to heavy-duty decorating. If you don’t already have a favorite, let me point you to mine: Dorie Greenspan’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies. They’re incredible.

Step 2: Cool Cookies Completely

Again, maybe elementary, but we’re going step-by-step here. You can’t decorate cookies that have just come out of the oven. Or even cookies that are slightly warm. They need to be completely cool before you can move on to decorating.

Step 3: The Equipment

Now, you don’t necessarily need fancy equipment for decorating with royal icing, but investing in just a few decorating tips and couplers, some disposable pastry bags and squeeze bottles will make your cookie decorating experience exponentially more pleasant. Here is a run-down of what I typically use:

12″ disposable pastry bags. So easy to just throw away when you’re done instead of washing them!

Decorating tips. For outlining the cookie I use a #3 tip and anything from a #1 to #3 for intricate designs on the cookie. It’s not a bad idea to have a few of each number, as I find myself using them a lot.

Couplers. These make it easy to switch the size tip you are using in the same color.

Squeeze Bottles. I use these for flooding my cookies. Since the royal icing is very thin at this point, it’s a much neater alternative to a cut-open pastry bag. Plus you can put the cap on and save any extra icing for next time.

♦ Small bowls or Tupperware (to color your icing)

♦ Toothpicks.

Step 4: Prep, Prep, Prep!

This got me the first time I decorated with royal icing, and is especially important if you are going to be using multiple colors and different tips. I flew by the seat of my pants and ended up making a huge mess, it took twice as long as it should have, and I was trying to fish used tips out of pastry bags to re-use them somewhere else. Your plan of action:

♦ Write down how many different colors you will be using and take out that many pastry bags and couplers and prepare them. Also figure out what size decorating tips you will be using and fit them to the pastry bags.

♦ If you don’t have squeeze bottles for flooding, add additional pastry bags for however many colors you will use for flooding, in additional to the bags of that color you will use for detail work (if any).

♦ Have your icing colors ready and as many small mixing bowls (Tupperware works great for this) as you have colors planned.

Step 5: Make the Royal Icing

The recipe for royal icing is very simple:

4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder
6 tablespoons water

Mix all ingredients on low speed for 7-10 minutes or until the icing loses its shine. Add more water by the teaspoon if it appears too stiff. At this stage you want to be able to pipe it easily:

Step 6: Color the Icing

Divide the icing into your containers based on how much you will need of each one. Proceed to color the icing and then cover each container with a damp paper towel. It is key when working with royal icing not to allow it to dry out.

Step 7: Outline the Cookies

You will want to outline the cookies with whatever color you will be using to fill them in with. Place some of the icing into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a #3 tip and outline the outside of the cookie. I find that keeping the tip about ½-inch above the cookie while moving it allows the icing to lay on the cookie more easily.

You’ll want to make sure that the outline is pretty well set before moving on to flooding the cookies, but I generally find that by the time I am done outlining the first ones are already dry.

Step 8: Flood the Cookies

Take whatever color you are using to fill in the cookies and slowly start adding a few drops of water at a time, until the icing reaches an almost liquid consistency. The test here is to pick some icing up with a spoon and let it drizzle back into the bowl – the drizzle should disappear into the bowl within 10 seconds. Once you have achieved this, you are ready.

Either fill a squeeze bottle with the thinned icing or transfer it to a disposable pastry bag with a ¼-inch hole cut off the end.

Now squeeze in the icing to almost completely fill the inside the cookie.

Then take a toothpick and gently use it to distribute the icing to any empty spots.

Once you are done the cookies need to dry completely before moving on to any intricate piped designs. Some bakers will let them sit overnight but I generally find that a 2-3 hour rest will do the trick.

Now use whatever colors and tips you’d like to achieve the design you want!

If you have any questions, comments (or praise) for Michelle, you can contact her here.

Isn't this the most amazing tutorial?!  Please be sure to visit Michelle's blog, browneyedbaker.  Not only does she have great recipes, but she also has more tutorials and even a baking faq.  Now...let's learn a little bit more about her:

I’m Michelle, the Brown Eyed Baker, and I’m a passionate foodie, baker, writer, and eater. My hope for your visit here is to be enticed by delectable recipes, inspired by delicious photography, and armed with increased food knowledge. I want you to leave with the insatiable urge to run into your kitchen and whip up whatever you have seen here, and the confidence to know that you can do it. Growing up Italian, the kitchen was always the hub of activity – it’s where everyone gathered to talk, eat, and share life while great food was being created.

About the Food

I have no formal culinary training and have never taken a cooking or baking class in my life; everything I’ve learned has been through trial and error, reading and research (and the occasional YouTube video). All of the recipes you find here typically come from one of my cookbooks, food magazines, other food blogs, family recipes, or a combination of any of the above. As the name implies, the vast majority of recipes here on Brown Eyed Baker are of the sweet variety. In addition to all of the desserts and sweet snacks, you will also find a nice selection of appetizers as well as some traditional comfort foods (think macaroni & cheese, roasted potatoes, and beef stew), ethnic specialties (like Sweet & Sour Chicken, Pasta Fagioli, and Enchiladas anyone?), and meals I’ve made that were just too good not to share (like a Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad).  (All recipes mentioned here are available at browneyedbaker)

I'd like to thank Michelle again for allowing me to share her tutorial here today.  Stay tuned because Michelle may be back in the future with a guest post.  Something to look forward to. =O)

Happy Christmas in July

Always in spirit....

Please note:  All photos are from browneyedbaker (and are linked back there) except for the Christmas cookie photo at the top of the post.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me wish I was a baker. I think I'm going to have to give this a try this winter. Thanks to both of you for sharing this.


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