Saturday, March 12, 2016

Easter Egg Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing & Wilton Stencil Color Mist

Soft sugar cookies decorated with a smooth royal icing are sure to make an impression on your Easter cookie tray and taste good too.

Julian's Easter Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
While these sugar cookies are soft and delicious and can be made year-around, here they are dressed up in their Easter best. If you haven't worked with royal icing previously, know this is very different than working with traditional buttercream frosting. Buttercream, which tastes better, cannot be made into the smooth line-free surface you can get from royal icing. Royal icing is however, more difficult to work with and I have a variety of tips for you in that regard below.

Julian's Stencil Sprayed Easter Sugar Cookies ~ Wilton Color Mist
I'm re-posting the soft sugar cookie recipe separately if you don't have a favorite. I really do suggest these cookies with just sugar sprinkled on top before baking. No frosting necessary. They are sure to be a hit with your family even without the fancy icing. My mother made these for me weekly as a child and they were may favorite. They are also the favorite cookie of my sisters great grandchildren.

Separating the icing and color it.
Keep in mind I am an amateur and there are many cookie artists out there that specialize in decorating cookies in this manner. Check out the websites of Julia Usher and Sweetopia who really are artists in this medium. You really should watch their videos before proceeding, so you have a full understanding of the various techniques and options. The cookies pictured here are from a practice run I made with my sister the end of February. It took us the better part of two days to bake and decorate these three dozen cookies. As always with baking, it's best to practice in advance of making your baked goods for your friends and family. Baking is a science and an art and requires practice to make perfect. Make a small batch even when making them for friends and family and use them as decorations with other cookies on your cookie tray.

Flooding a cookie with a decorative boarder using a bottle.
Now some tips for making these Easter cookies or really any cookie that is going to be fancily decorated with royal icing.
  • Getting the icing consistency just right is key. Learning what is 'just right' takes trial and error. For borders and top icing, a very stiff icing is required. For bottom layer fill (which is called 'flooding the cooking') a softer icing is necessary. If the flood icing is a little too thick and doesn't want to merge into a single seam free layer, shake the cookie gently to force it to combine or using a trussing needle to swirl it together on the cookie. The best tasting and easiest to use royal icing is a meringue powder based formula (below), as opposed to those made with corn syrup. 
  • You can use bottles, plastic bags or parchment cones to disburse the icing onto the cookies. It doesn't really matter. What matters more, is having very small tips. Wilton tips No. 1 and No. 2 will mostly be what you use, and you will need two for each color for the two basic consistencies of icing. I prefer the disposable plastic bags with metal decorating tips, because I am not good at making a parchment cone, which the experts often prefer. Whatever you choose, stand bottles/bags tip down in glasses with a wet paper towel in the bottom to keep the tips from drying out and closing.
  • Add the base layer of icing to each cookie placed on a single paper plate. It's easier to turn and move to other areas for drying this way.
  • Royal icing can spot after drying if it is applied when the environment is too high in moisture or the cookies are not dry enough and moisture is drawn up into the icing. Some cookie artists place freshly iced cookies into food dehumidifiers to solve this problem. If you make them in the winter in the north, this usually isn't a problem. Making them in the summer in the south can be challenging without using the dehumidifier as shown in Julia Usher's videos on YouTube.
  • A cookie with a very flat surface works best for flooding with royal icing. If your cookies are slightly mounded as most sugar cookies are, turn them over and use the flat side. No one will notice. You will note many of the artists use a ginger bread cookie which is very dry and very flat. I'm making cookies for eating, so I used my favorite soft sugar cookie recipe instead.
  • Wilton Cookie Icing is available pre-made in a 10 ounce bottle and can be used. It is actually royal icing. It is of the flood consistency and must be thickened with considerable powdered sugar for boarders and trim. The colors on the bottle fronts are not true. What looked to be a lemon yellow turned out to be almost orange. The pink was very hot pink and the blue very blue. If you are looking for pastel colors these will not work. 
Wilton Cookie Icing - Colors Not What They Seem To Be
  • A boarderless cookie is created by making a boarder dam in flood icing about 1/8 inch back from the edge of the cookie, then immediately flooding the center with the same color. The icings will merge together to give you an boarderless cookie.
  • Errors can be corrected or re-worked in most cases. If you have trouble with the top frosting details and get a line or petal in the wrong place, let it dry slightly and then using a toothpick or trussing needle to lift it off. 
  • Stencils and spray food color can be used over the base layer of royal icing if left to dry for at least 8-10 hours before spraying. We used stencils in various sizes, designs and colors with Wilton Color Mist. Because the spray may seep under the stencil it is very important this be done on a very flat cookie. We used the back sides of the cookies for this technique. Even with several flood colors and polka dots, the stencil technique was the quickest and easiest to apply. Several spray colors can be used on the same cookie.
  • Pre-make or buy flowers, bunnies, carrots and other top decorations. This can be done days in advance and held until you are ready to place them.
  • Start simple, with only 2-3 small cut-out cookies, like flowers that don't require 'scenes' to be added to them. A flower design can be outlined and centered in one color of more stiff frosting and flooded with another color and still look lovely with no further work. Or make petals several colors. 
  • A cut-out within the cut-out can be created using a small cookie cutter. In cookies that rise, as the sugar cookie does, it was necessary for us to take the hot cookie and cut out the shape again to make the edges more clearly defined. We also iced the bottom side of these cookies as it had the best defined cut out shape.
Imperfections are rarely noticed by most.
Royal Icing Recipe

6 ounces (3/4 cup) of warm water
5 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2.25 pounds powdered sugar
Paste food colorings of your choice

Note; if your meringue powder has no vanilla flavor (vanilla powder) in it, add a teaspoon of clear vanilla or almond extract to this recipe.

In mixer bowl, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder. Mix it with a whisk by hand until it is frothy and thickened, approximately 30 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more. Pour in all the icing sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer. Using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed, mix slowly for 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy. It may seem too thick, but test at this consistency for top lines, flours, writing, etc. before thinning further with a little warm water. Separate the flood frosting from the top decorating frosting, and then the flood frosting further.

Cover the bowl with a dampened towel to prevent crusting and drying. Separate and tint with paste food colors of your choice.

Creating a 'boarderless' cookie as noted above.
Instructions for Icing the Cookies
Determine your cookie designs up front. It will be easiest to make only 3-4 designs and to repeat them. You will become more skilled with repetition.

Basic Flood Technique:  All of our cookies and most cookies done in this technique, begin with a base color or colors. To do this, using the flood icing, make a dam around the edge of the cookie and then 'flood' the center. If it fails to merge into a single smooth layer, using a trussing needle of toothpick to stir it together. If using various colors on the base layer, make line dams and fill each section with various colors. If your flood icing is not quite firm enough, flooding may cause the dam edge to break and run down the cookie side. Wipe it with your finger until it stops.

Flooded cookies drying before decorating.
Wet-on-Wet Technique:  For some designs, you have the option of either placing icing on top of the dry base layer, or you can embed the second color on the same layer as the first. This is called the wet-on-wet technique. Take for example, polka-dots. Put down the border dam around the edge of the cookie. Flood the cookie with the same color icing. While the icing is still wet, add polka-dots in a different color using flood consistency icing right on top of the wet base flood layer. The dot will sink into the base flood layer. You can also using trussing needle or toothpick to drag the second color dot into other shapes. We did this, then sprayed a stencil design over top after the base was dry, which worked well.

With a table covered in plastic, food spray is applied to the stencil.
Top Design Technique: A very firm icing made with the above meringue recipe works well for the top design, as it stretches nicely to make thin lines and clear round dots. Using a number 1 or number 2 icing tip if you use a bag or bottle, practice straight lines and dots for the classic decorating technique. Use pre-made flowers and other decorations that you've made or purchased, gluing them in place with the icing. Lift off 'mistakes' after they dry a little using a trussing needle or toothpick and re-do.

A wet-on-wet technique cookie, that has been sprayed through a stencil.
The pink dots are wet-on-wet. The purple design is food spray added to the dry icing.
We will now add a decorative edge.

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