I've had this bell cutter for many years now. And guess what? I've never made a bell cookie with it until this year! But don't let that fool you- it's one of my ABSOULTE FAVORITE CUTTERS. I'm not lying. It's one of those cutters that never finds it's way back into my "Christmas" cutter bin because I always come back to it over and over again. And if I put it in my Christmas bin, I would have to get on a step stool to get it all the time. And that's too much work. And chances are, something would fall on me as I tried to bring down my Christmas bin box. So for safety's sake, I keep it out. Always.
If a cookie cutter could be my best friend, it would look like this:
I find cutters all over the place in store and online, but this treasured bell shape can only be found in ONE location during the Christmas season: DOLLAR TREE. It will come in a bundle like this:
Here are the other cutters in the bundle. The other cutters are nothing to write home about, in my opinion. But that bell! Swoon.
You might be wondering why this shape is my favorite? Let me show you!
Note: For all of these designs, the cookie cutout is left as-is, or I trimmed the small hanger part prior to baking.
This bell is my go-to for heads and faces- especially if the person is wearing a HAT, like these heroes in uniform:
Or maybe some friends at Thanksgiving:
Corn in the summer, or the fall:
Backbones for a chiropractor, or pirates for a swashbuckling party:
A worm on a fishing hook for an angler cookie set.
And, of course, the intended use of the cutter:
Moral of the story?
Look outside the BELL when designing your cookies!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a trained photographer by any stretch of the imagination.
I don't know about aperture and ISO and raw images and such.
I just like to take pretty pictures of my cookies.
I just wanted to share one little trick for anyone else like me.
Decorated cookies can take a LONG time to create. I think that it's really important to have a great photograph that showcases your hard work! Since I also sell my cookies, I want a great picture that will be appealing to my clients.
I always try to photograph in natural light, if possible.
Here's my photographing set-up in my studio. I arrange a small table near the glass storm door, allowing lots of natural light to shine in. I lay my cookies and props on photo backdrops, like ones found at SwankyPrints. It was a little after noon and overcast when I took this pic, thus creating the shadows.
I use a white, foam backboard (think science fair project backboard) when I photograph my cookies. It has seen better days, but it still works!
As I photograph, I place the backboard opposite of the light source. For example, the light was coming in from the right in the picture above. I placed the backboard on the left side of the cookies. The light from the door on the right reflects off of the board and illuminates the left side of the cookie-scape.
I know it's a simple concept, but it makes a big difference!
Let me show you some examples.
1. NO backboard used.
Notice how much shadow there is on the left side of the cookies?
Sometimes, I REALLY like the shadowy effect. It can show off the texture of the cookie.
2. Backboard used to the left of the cookies, at a 90* angle to the table.
There is a lot less shadow here, but the definition in the tail was lost a little to the brightness. The picture is much brighter, overall.
3. Backboard used to the left of the cookies, but angled away.
This resulted in a little bit of shadow, but not too much.
Here's another look at the three pictures, side by side, for easier comparison.
Three more things to note:
1. Follow your photographing heart. Do what you think looks good! Some might think that all three of the pictures above are garbage. I'm okay with that! I like them, and that's what matters to me. Tomato, Tomahto.
2. Still consider using photo editing software. I use the editing features in iPhoto and Picmonkey most often. Some small tweaking with software can make a great photo even better!
3. PLEASE, WATERMARK YOUR PHOTOS. Not only does the photo belong to YOU, but the subject of the photo is YOURS, TOO. I won't get into discussing those individuals that steal photos- boy that burns my biscuits! But when you watermark your beautiful photos, people can find you!! I have been able to reach out to many cookiers to ask about technique, design, or even just to say a kind word, all because the picture was watermarked.
Now get out those cameras and take some great pictures!
Or you can just bake some of these cute bunnies, carrots, and eggs, with the cutters from That's A Nice Cookie Cutter!
If you are new to cookie decorating, you'll need the obvious pieces of equipment: rolling pin, cookie cutters, baking sheets, decorating bags and tips, etc. Sweet Sugarbelle has put together a very thorough list here with all the basics.
However, there are a few pieces of equipment that I HAVE to have in my kitchen. They aren't made by Wilton or some of the other cake/cookie decorating companies. They are everyday items that have made a big impact in what I do! Let me share them with you!
1. Plastic Knives
You know you got 'em- the leftover silverware from the birthday, graduation, and holiday parties from last year. So put them to use!!
Use a plastic knife to scrape out your icing bottles.
Make interesting textures!
Run a plastic knife through a layer of stiff royal icing to create a wood grain texture. Then use the knife's edge to define the edges of the boards. Mix it up by using different plastic knives- the teeth might be different sizes or spaced differently. Check out the pic of the knives above to see this! 'Betcha never noticed that before!
2. Wal-Mart Premium Wrap
If you're not familiar with using plastic wrap to make an icing pod, check it out here at Karen's Cookies. It's a great technique!
I've tried many different brands of plastic wrap, and I like this one the best based on the price and the amount that I use. I make cookies all the time, so I go through a ton of this stuff.
3. Tea Strainer
I hate tea.
Hot tea, iced tea, flavored teas- can't stand any of it. I know it's weird, and people have said, "Well, you've never had MY tea".
Sorry. I'm not gonna like it.
So what do I do with a tea strainer that was from my bridal shower
I put powdered sugar in it and tap it over a bowl of icing that I need to thicken. The strainer breaks up any chunks of sugar and allows good control over how much sugar I add.
1. Paper Plates
Ordinary paper plates. Like the ones that lovingly hold delicious funnel cakes at your local carnival or fair. They are my absolute, must-have, can't-decorate-without-it tool (that's not a traditional baking tool). I even packed a few in my luggage to take with me to CookieCon because I knew I would be decorating there. True story. Let me share their endless versatility!
My everyday cookie decorating surface
If you have seen any of my tutorial pictures, you'll spy the tell-tale paper plate in the background. The plate is a great disposable Lazy Susan, since it spins smoothy on my worktable.
My sanding sugar helper
The slight lip of the plate keeps sanding sugars from running away from me when I sprinkle them on wet icing. Bending the plate into a pour spout makes clean up easy!
Weighing my ingredients
I always weigh my flour and powdered sugar for my recipes. The paper plate makes this task easy! Then I'll bend the plate into a funnel and pour the ingredients right into my sifter.
Cookie Crumb Collector
To make perfectly sharps edges, I use a microplane to gently shave down excess cookie. Use the plate to catch the cookie shavings for easy to clean up! Then make cookie butter with those shavings like Sweet Hope does!
You can also cut a paper plate for a stencil or rest your cookie on it while airbrushing! The possibilities are endless!
I hope that I have inspired you to use some non-traditional tools in your cookie decorating fun!
Sanding Sugars. Those tiny, sweet crystals that can add a little extra sparkle and depth to cookies. Like many other cookiers, I have a slight addiction to sanding sugars and sprinkles. It doesn't take long to amass a generous collection of these miniature gems.
Sanding sugars. Coarse sugars. Sugar pearls. Nonpareils and Sixlets. In every color imaginable. Not to mention metallic dragées and wide array of shaped sprinkles- from hearts to flowers, pigs to leaves. And before you know it, you have enough sugar toppers to sugar-coat every cookie you make for an entire year. And still have some sugar leftover. That can create a bit of a storage issue.
I store my sugars 'n sprinkles upside-down in Rubbermaid totes. It makes it easier to find what I am looking for.
Sometimes, though, I don't use the sugars straight from the bottle. I'll make specialty sanding sugar mixes for specific purposes. Let me show you some of my favorites.
Birthday Candle Mix
A mix of little yellow, orange, red, and clear
Salt 'n Pepper Mix
A mix of black and clear
Ruby Slipper Mix
A mix of clear, red, and silver (silver is the key!)
Beach Sand Mix
A mix of gold, brown (it's the CK brand- it looks like charcoal gray), yellow, and clear
Some sanding sugar tidbits:
* These little cups are great to store your sanding sugar mixes. They're great for salad dressings, and Jello-shots too! I found them at Wal-Mart next to the paper plates and plastic silverware.
* I buy my sugars from a variety of places. Best deals can be found immediately after the holidays when they go on clearance. Also, check local Amish/farmers markets.
* Look for multi-color bottles of sugar pearls and sixlets. Just pick out the colors as you need them.
* Hold a sugar swap! Get together with some other cookie pals and share sugars. Use the little cups to take home your sweet stash. Not only will you save on storage, but you'll save money too!
Hopefully I have inspired you to put some of those sugars to good use!
The bane of existence of cookiers everywhere.
This particular cookie has an excessive amount of those pesky little boogers.
So embarrassing (and irritating :/).
There are tons of reasons WHY you may have bubbles in the first place:
* The royal icing was mixed too long and too fast.
* The royal icing is too thin.
* The thinned royal didn't sit long enough to allow the bubbles to surface before trying to use it.
Now that you have bubbles, you are left to your trusty toothpick, Boo-Boo stick, or turkey lacer to try to pop the bubbles before your icing crusts. Let the stabbing begin! Sometimes those bubbles get trapped under your icing for all eternity, leaving that little shadowy scar on the pristine surface on your cookie. I can feel my heart hurting right now.
But do you know that you probably have ONE OF THE BEST bubble poppers in your kitchen right now? Mine cost $.99, but it's worth a million!
STOP! Don't go away!
I know what you're thinking. This crazy girl is just going to stab those air bubbles just like a toothpick. NOPE.
The trick is to hold the cake tester parallel to the cookie.
Ever so lightly, touch the cake tester to the top of a bubble. Like the tester is giving the icing a little smooch.
Now gently lift the cake tester. By lifting the tool, it breaks the surface tension of the icing and RELEASES THE TRAPPED AIR! The little crater that is left can fill in on its own or you can swirl the icing a little to fill it in.
It works EVERY SINGLE TIME! As with all bubble-popping tricks, timing is key. You have to work ninja-fast. Trying to pop bubbles after your icing has crusted leaves you with a bigger mess. Trust me.
Still not convinced? Check out my not-so-fancy iphone video of the process.
I hope this little trick will help you say Ciao! to those irritating bubbles!
Do you have a cool bubble trick too? Tell me!
Thanksgiving and the weekend that follows are big hunting days where I live. A few extra days off of work and lots of Thanksgiving leftovers makes hunting even more enjoyable. Folks bundle themselves up, head to their favorite stand, and wait for that perfect buck to show up. Kinda like these realistic deer!
I'm Amy. Wife, Mom, former science teacher- and now full time cookie baker on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Pull up a chair and we create! I'll bring the coffee- maybe Mike (The Cookie Widower) will make it for us.