Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Can I Freeze Royal Icing?


This is a question I get asked quite a bit here on the blog and, much to my embarrassment, it is one that I had no answer for until I tested it myself. 

It's baking season now and many people want to get into the kitchen to ice those marvelous cookies for friends and family.  I'm right there with you. Those of us who ice cookies on a regular basis inevitably end up with leftover royal icing and I'll admit that in the past I used to dump what was left (big guilt trip, believe me!).  Well, I no longer do that because I freeze what I do have left after one of my baking projects.

It's simple, it's easy and it works!

Unless one is icing hundreds of cookies, you may end up with leftover royal icing after making a couple of dozen cookies.  Most royal icing recipes (including my own) make a substantial amount to begin with.  I think it's good to have more icing than is needed, because there are always moments when you want to add a little flourish here or there, and then there are moments when you absolutely do run out of a color and need to make more.

You can see that I truly do love to use a whole range of colors when I decorate these types of cookies.  Having more options makes the job of icing sugar cookies enjoyable and absolutely easier.  Again, unless I have a specific request from someone, I usually mix colors based on what I want to convey.  I almost see it as artwork that allows one to express a certain kind of creativity.  

Keep in mind that I tested freezing royal icing with my recipe and no one else's.  

This is what you do.  Any leftover royal icing should be placed into zip-top freezer bags, giving each color its own bag.  Push the icing to the very bottom of the bag and squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it shut.  You want the royal icing baggies to be well sealed.  Repeat with remaining icing. Place these sealed bags into a larger zip-top freezer bag and seal shut, removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.

Freeze flat on a rimmed baking sheet until you're ready to use the icing.  

You can make your icing a couple of weeks ahead of time and freeze it before your baking project.  With all of the baking I've been doing in the past month, believe me, it has saved a lot of time doing this task early.

Note: royal icing can successfully be frozen for up to one month.

Thawing is the easiest thing of all.  Remove as many icing baggies from the freezer as you will need and let them thaw on the kitchen counter.  As soon as they're malleable, they are ready to be removed from the bags.

Note: colors may separate and the icing may need to be adjusted to have the right consistency for piping and flooding.  I urge you to drop the icing into a bowl to mix thoroughly with a spoon rather than putting it into your piping bag.  Find out if it needs to be thinned out with a bit of water or if it needs anything else for your baking project.  If the colors do seem uneven, use that spoon and bring the color back together.  This is imperative!  

Use as desired by filling your piping bag or squeeze bottle and decorate those cookies.

If you have followed my delicious recipe, there will be no compromise in flavor or texture.



Now you know!  Royal icing can be frozen with great success.

Happy Baking!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Simple Halloween Cookies

Look no further if you want to bake simple cookies for Halloween that will appeal to everyone.  Cookie baking & decorating doesn't get any easier than this.  At the baking demo I had at Williams-Sonoma just a few weeks ago, I decided to try a new approach to my cookie decorating for this spooky holiday.  It didn’t fail to catch the attention of the customers & sales associates that particular day as I was rolling out dough and cutting out cookies in Halloween shapes.  I noticed that many individuals left with the feeling of having learned something new that was easily approachable & doable.


Yes, I still use some royal icing for these rolled out sugar cookies, but I make a minimum of commotion with it in order to spend less time in the kitchen.  The best thing to do is to make a superb sugar cookie dough that is easy to make, handle & bake.  Nothing is more frustrating than cutting out cookies and baking them, only to find out that they’ve lost their shapes.  I’ve been there, done that!  If you follow my recipe the results will absolutely please you. Also, my Perfect Royal Icing will have you licking the spoon when it’s all said and done.  It is indeed tasty.  Don't forget that infinitely edible Sugar and Spice Cookie Recipe that is to die for!

Simple Halloween Cookies
Are you ready for Halloween?  Have you picked out the costumes for the kids, pets & yourself?  If so, take a moment to make these Simple Halloween Cookies because not only are they fun & easy to make, but they're also very toothsome.  

What are we waiting for?  Let’s bake!


I had never tinted my sugar cookie doughs before until I took on this baking project. What I wanted to do with this set of cookies was to use the colored cookies as a canvas for simple designs.  I didn't want to have to flood a ton of cookies, so this was an easy peasy way to get the job done.

With many food colorings on the market, I tested my recipes with Wilton gel pastes and Spectrum gel colors.  They worked marvelously and the colors really kept up during the baking process.  Simply divide a batch or two of sugar cookie dough and tint to your heart's content.  

Hint:  I quartered my recipe and placed each chunk of dough into a mixing bowl for tinting.  With a pair of food-safe latex gloves, I added the food coloring bit by bit and kneaded the colors individually.  If the cookie dough is good, this process will be a cinch to perform.  Luckily, my recipe (link above) is great to work with straight from the stand mixer.


After mixing the colored doughs, I rolled them out between pieces of parchment paper.  These slabs were then chilled for 30 minutes before cutting into fun Halloween shapes.  Leftover pieces of dough were gathered and marbled for an eerie effect.  Just look at that marbled pumpkin!


Oh, before I forget, I had a reader send me a question regarding royal icing and storing it, etc.  Well, I tested and retested a few times and came to the conclusion that you can in fact freeze royal icing!  Upon thawing, the texture & flavor are not affected whatsoever and if it's the right consistency, it will pipe as if you had made it that very day.  Keep in mind that this was tested using my recipe (I use meringue powder versus egg whites) and no one else's.  We'll delve into that in another post.

The point of these cookies was to keep them simple. Therefore, I worked with white & black royal icing.  Nothing else.  I made a stiff consistency and an outlining/flooding consistency for each color (four piping bags total).  

For these pumpkins I piped outlines, gourd sections and Jack-0-lantern faces.  The large bats and itty bitty cat & bat were treated in the same manner.  

These cookies were made using a plain piping tip (#2) and a small open star tip (#13).  The star tip created small stars and textured pumpkin sections with stiff royal icing.  How simple is this?

Using solid green & purple cookie dough, in addition to marbled versions of these colors, a small menagerie of witches, bats, moons, spooky eyes and monsters were given undemanding treatments of royal icing.  Rather than give you specific directions, pipe whatever you please onto each cookie.  It's your art work, so you decide what you want to see on these cookies.  

I love those witches!

Who can resist those cute monster faces?  For the marbled faces, I piped an outline of hair for his block face and then added charming eyes with white & black royal icing.  An off-centered smile and a few scars were the only other accents.  Easy!  What I loved about the witches the most was the tattered up broomcorn.  This was made with the open star tip; simply zig-zag stiff royal icing to create texture.  

Done & Done!

There you have it.  Easy as can be Halloween Cookies that are indeed simple to make.  I'm telling you, beginners can have equal success making cookies that look like they belong in a bake shop.  Go through my recipes where I provided the links and gather your ingredients to make my Simple Halloween Cookies. I guarantee you will have a ghoulishly creative time making Halloween cookies this coming week.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Home in Autumn

It’s that time of year again when the leaves of our trees begin to change color.  No matter how often I see the same trees, along the same driveway near the house, I still manage to gasp when I behold all of the splendor of our deciduous trees at the right moment.  To me it almost seems like magic when we make our way up the curving, sloped driveway onto the road, because it is along this stretch that I first begin to take in what nature does during the Fall.  

With our weather being rather balmy from week to week, peppered with thick clouds and the occasional rainstorm, it’s been difficult to capture good photographs of the property.  Thankfully, I did go out for a walk on a day in which the sun was poking through the clouds.  Although I was under the weather during this excursion, I feel as if it did me a world of good to be out and about.  

I’m not sure if you have particular favorites when it comes to trees, but whether they’re sycamores, walnuts, beeches, maples, dogwoods, lindens, oaks or paulownias (yes, we’re surrounded by all of these), they all have something to contribute to one’s surroundings.  It’s great to be outdoors exploring and observing nature’s magnificent beauty right now.  Take a moment from your busy schedule and go outside.  Stroll through the neighborhood, a city park or a nature trail and find out what changes you catch sight of.  Autumn is a good time to be outdoors!  


You can see that the sky is still overcast, yet it's warm and a bit muggy.  The driveway gets covered on a daily basis with leaves falling off the trees and it's a struggle keeping it tidy and clear.  

As I make my way up the driveway and onto the road, you can see that the trees bordering this property and the one across the street are clearly past the verdant stage.  Crimsons, yellows, browns & chartreuse shades always take my breath away when I'm this far up the driveway.  Every single year, I long for these mornings.  It's something that I never tire of. 

If I turn to my right, the sloping lawn that's dotted with oaks, next to the bank barn, is wondrously carpeted with leaves in various shades of brown.  This area is covered in acorns!  

Along the fencing here by the driveway you can see how thick with trees the landscape is.


Here is another good view of the same area with the barn to one's left.


A leaf-covered driveway, yes, but one that is always a pleasure to walk on or drive up this time of year.  Winter is another story.



The entrance to the field is a nice place to pause and observe.  This is where I take in what's going on all around me and see what has changed.


The meadow is absolutely spectacular right now.


A quick turn to look behind me shows you how the hill simply swallows the stone barn.


It's time to head back to the house and make some tea.  The cats are probably wondering where I am and how long I'll be out.  I'm sure they're anxiously awaiting their afternoon treats. 

My Home in Autumn.


I do hope everyone is having a great autumn wherever you happen to reside. If you're on the east coast and are experiencing nature's beauty right now, then feel privileged that you are where you are.  To my family & many of my friends on the west coast, this little bit of Pennsylvania where I live is for you.  

Cheers & Happy Autumn!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Halloween Cookies

Spooky, scary and hair-raising Halloween Cookies make good treats to hand out at parties this time of year.  With so many great cookie cutters to chose from shaped like tombstones, skulls, scaredy cats, witches, witch's hats, pumpkins, Frankensteins and more, all one needs is a bit of spine-tingling creativity to bewitch guests this Halloween.  Let the partygoers wonder how on earth your ghostly creations came about as they nibble on a plump pumpkin cookie covered in orange & black nonpareils or when they take a bite out of a spider-infested tombstone.  
Make a few of these if your Halloween party is small, but ice dozens of them if your gathering is meant for a crowd.  Nothing could be easier than flooding delicious sugar cookies in your favorite October colors and then embellishing each treat with an array of candies.  Halloween Cookies are meant to be as eye catching as any great costume.  You can get very creative with these.  

After you bake the required number of sugar cookies, tint batches of royal icing in several shades of orange, green, purple and black.  Choose which candies you wish to add to your cookies and get the kids involved.  If you give yourself a bit of time, these can then be packed up into cellophane bags or treat boxes for gift giving.  They can also be stacked or arranged around a haunted gingerbread house or a stack of cake stands for a ghoulish presentation.  It’s entirely up to you!

As you can see, I’ve used some of my favorite copper cookie cutters from the former Martha by Mail catalog to create these ghastly cookies.  Those 'scaredy cats' look like they’ve been spooked by something from another world and the 'batty tombstone' cookies seem as if they’ve been around for centuries.  The warty, spooky and BOO-carved pumpkins are ready to be eaten.

How I Decorate Cookies

This festive bunch is simple to make.  
The Witch’s Hat (top left) is piped & flooded with black royal icing and is left to dry.  Beads of icing are piped as stripes along the top and are then covered with orange & black nonpareils.  A sugar spider is affixed with icing.
The Neon Cat (top right) is iced in vibrant purple.  The tail is then flocked in black sanding sugar.  Once dry, a small dot is added for an eye.
The Spidery Tombstone (bottom left) is flooded in black royal icing.  With purple icing, while the black icing is wet, create a web & drag down the colors with a toothpick for the design.  Let dry.  Pipe a bead of purple royal icing for a border and flock with sanding sugar.  Affix sugar spiders with icing.
The BOO Pumpkin (bottom right) is flooded with bright orange icing.  A green stem is piped and both are left to dry.  Pipe a bead of black royal icing around the pumpkin and then pipe BOO; flock the ‘carved boo’ with nonpareils.  Affix a sugar pumpkin with royal icing.
The Giant Pumpkin (center) was flooded with orange royal icing and was flocked with orange & black nonpareils while wet.  A green stem was piped with icing.

Darker than you think cookies.
Kitty Cat (top left) is flooded with brown royal icing and is given an orange eye; this is left to dry.  A bead of black royal icing is used to trace the outline and is then flocked with nonpareils.
Black Witch’s Hat (top right) is flooded with black royal icing and is left to dry.  A red sash is piped above the brim and is embellished with dots & a sugar pumpkin.  A red ‘Blood Moon’ is piped on the cone of the hat and a bat candy is attached.  Spooky!
Menacing Tombstone (bottom right) is flooded with a chartreuse royal icing and is given dots while the base is wet.  Using a toothpick, draw out ‘legs’ for spiders.  Ghoulish!  Let this dry.  Pipe a bead of black royal icing for a border and then add a plump Black Widow with royal icing.  Attach sprinkles for legs and give the spider two red eyes.  As a final embellishment, pipe any color icing along the base, haphazardly, and flock it with autumn leaf candies.  Attach sugar pumpkins to the wet icing.  This tombstone is gruesome!
Warty Pumpkin (bottom left) is so easy to make.  Flood the pumpkin with orange icing and add a green stem.  Let this dry.  Pipe green dots for ‘warts’ and then flock them with sanding sugar.  
Fuzzy Pumpkin (center) is also easy to create.  Flood the base of the pumpkin with orange icing and immediately flock with orange sanding sugar.  Attach a green stem with icing.

I absolutely love this Menacing Tombstone cookie.  The windswept leaves along the base, with a stack of pumpkins, make this final resting place seem neglected and eerie.  The fact that it’s teeming with spiders adds to the macabre atmosphere.

The Great Pumpkin was iced with the most iconic of designs.  A jagged-tooth Jack-O-Lantern with his adorable face is going to be loved by anyone who is lucky enough to get it.    


Trick or Treat!