Have you ever been stuck with something? Being stuck with the dishes after a big family meal. Being stuck with walking the dog when it's pouring rain. Maybe it's a literal stuck, like insisting on grabbing a live cactus at Lowe's even though your parents warned you not to touch it (ahem... youngest Clough child).
One of the worst things is having an idea stuck in your head. And you've planned out how you'll pull off said idea. But you're stuck doing other stuff instead of following through on your idea.
Cue this Cactus Cookie. Picture this: spring 2017, just as the cactus craze was really starting to take off. I pulled out a bunch of cutters, sketched out my "flips" (or ways to repurpose them). I even baked some of them! And then, I got stuck. Stuck doing laundry, stuck doing orders, stuck with the trials and tribulations of life. My sketches and baked cookie ideas got stuck on the shelf. Until now!
I thought this was the perfect tongue-in-cheek design to celebrate Mother's Day or Father's Day (imagine a Dad cactus with a mustache and bowtie!). You know the saying- you can pick your friends, pick your nose, but you can't pick your family?
You're stuck with them.
You recognize the cutter, right? You might have this exact one, or something similar. It's a mitten! Here's a line drawing so you can see where we're going.
Here's what you'll need:
* baked mitten shape cookie
* food-safe marker (optional) to sketch the design on the cookie.
* Royal icing:
-20-second in the pot color of your choice and medium green.
-piping consistency in black, white, and a different shade of green (lighter or darker than the medium green to be used for the cacti lines)
-thick icing in the flower color of your choice.
1. Use the food safe marker to map out the top of the pot, parent and child cactus. Don't go to the edge of the cookie- leave room for the cactus spines. If you're good at eyeballing stuff, skip ahead to step 2.
2. Use the piping consistency green and the pot color to outline the cacti and pot. Let the lines dry. Remember to leave room for the spines around the edge of the cactus.
3. Flood the cacti with the medium green (the 20 second consistency one). Flood the pot. Let these sections dry.
4. Add in the eyes, mouth, cactus lines, and rim of the pot.
5. After the lines are dry, pipe some spines and cactus flowers. Decorate the pot, if you want! If I were making these for Father's Day, I would do a mustache, bowtie, and blue flowers on the parent cacti at this step. You're done!
I hope that you try out these cacti family cuties, to celebrate those loved ones that you're stuck with. Wouldn't they be great for siblings too?
Imagine this: You have an order of 80+ princess carriages. You order the perfect cutter online, only to discover that it's too big when it arrives in your mailbox. There's not enough time to order a new cutter. What do you do?
You might recognize the main body of my princess carriage. It's a particular "mouse" cutter, and LilaLoa turned it into a great princess carriage in this post.
But my cookie carriages needed a finial- that little extra piece at the top for more ornamentation. And I needed 80+ of them that were exactly the same.
It's time to FrankenCookie (aka. piece cookie parts together to make a single cookie). In my case, the "mouse" cutter is the core shape, with the accessory "round" cookie being the finial. By using the small round cookie and cutting the section out of the main carriage, there are more points of contact between the two cookie shapes. This will increase the stability of the cookie joint, and make it less likely to break off.
A parchment paper template will ensure that I piece together the cookies in the exact same spot,
each and every time!
What you'll need:
* parchment paper
* cookie cutters that you plan to piece together
1. Trace the INSIDE of the cutters you're using on parchment paper. You want to trace the inside of the cutters, since that's closer to the cut size of your cookie shape.
2. Cut out your template. Cut away the piece that will be "added on" by the other/ accessory/ smaller cutter. Erase any pencil marks on the parchment paper and be sure to clean the cookie cutters. You don't want to transfer any pencil marks to your cookie dough by accident.
3. Cut your main cookie shape and transfer it to the baking sheet. Place the parchment template over the main cookie shape, and cut out the accessory piece.
4. Cut and fill in the accessory piece. Be sure that the accessory piece is flush with the original cut piece. You might have to flip over the accessory piece to make it fit properly. See this blog post why this happens!
5. Bake the cookies just like always!
Look at the baked, undecorated cookie! They're perfect! The size and placement of the finial is the same for every cookie! Winning!
A comparison of the front versus the back.
Some tips and tricks to piecing cookies together:
You might be thinking, "I'll never piece any cookies together, because that seems like so much work!". Yes, it is time consuming, but it is another tool to add to your cookie arsenal, and it just might help you out of a jam like me! Here are some other pieced ideas!
If you are a cookie decorator, you might have heard of "tipless bags". These bags are different than the "disposable" clear plastic Wilton or other branded decorating bags. FYI- I wash and re-use these disposable times dozens of times before I pitch them. So don't be misled by the word "disposable" in that case.
The tipless bags I'm referring to today are ones that are truly disposable. They are thinner, less expensive, and come in larger quantities. The tip is completely intact, allowing you to cut the end in a variety of ways or diameters for different purposes. You can order them from a bazillion places like Grunderfully Delicious, Bees Baked Art Supplies, and Truly Mad Plastics, and even Ebay. Not only are they great for royal icing on cookies, they're perfect for buttercream too! I even use them to fill my deviled eggs.
Some people use a drinking glass or jar of some sort to fill their decorator bag of choice. I use a pint canning jar, and turn down the open end for easy filling.
There are lots of ways of closing these bags to keep the contents from spilling out the wrong end. Some methods include rubber bands, tying them shut, or even using clips like these from IKEA.
Some of the tipless bag sellers are carrying their own clips- So smart! I got the idea from using the clips from LilaLoa. Because she's brilliant. But what LilaLoa couldn't help me with was ORGANIZATION...
I have a catch-all drawer in my cookie kitchen (some may call it a junk drawer but that would make one think that the items are "junk", which they are most certainly not). My bag clips were just dropped into this drawer once they were washed.
My apologies. I should have warned those Type-A personalities, as they have probably fainted from the mess of this picture. Can you imagine my small bag clips being dropped in here? They quickly fell to the bottom of the drawer, and I had to dig around to find them, usually once the icing bag was filled. But one day, it dawned on me: Store my clips IN my fill jar!
There's still enough room to fill my icing bag ON TOP of the clips! Once the bag is full, I just pull out the bag, twist, clip, and cut the tip to size.
On some occasions, I will actually re-fill these bags. Like if I were using them to flood my cookies. If you're re-filling the bag, the tip has already been cut. So the icing could just flow out through the open cut end. Blah! Use a clip to close the cut end while you re-fill the bag! So easy!
If you haven't tried out tipless bags, I encourage you to do so! They're perfect for those small icing tasks, where you just have a tiny amount of icing to use. They're also great for decorating parties or decorating kits- no expensive icing bags and tips to wash and return! And now you have a handy-dandy idea of where to store those bag clips too!
One of my tricks in creating new, cartoony designs is to exaggerate one or more qualities of the character. Big nose, little eyes, tiny body, big head- all of these characteristics can make your design cute and whimsy. Plus, it takes away some of the pressure to make proportions just right.
You might just recognize the cutter I used to make this little chick! It's the round potted cactus from Sweet Sugarbelle! It makes the perfect fat chick in a little nest. Maybe they live down by the river? Sorry- I saw a Chris Farley clip the other day 😂.
What you'll need:
* Baked cookie shapes
* 20-second icing in yellow and brown, and tiny amounts of black, orange, and accent color of your choice
* Parchment paper
* offset spatula or knife.
Let's start with the nest!
There are lots of ways to make bird nests (like this one from LilaLoa), but I wanted to try something a little different. I love texture contrast between the chick's head and the bumpy nest. My method is definitely a little more fragile, but it's fun to try!
1. Make some icing lines on parchment paper. This is a popular start to make your own sprinkles, as detailed in this blog post from the Bearfoot Baker. BUT, for my nest application, criss-cross some of your lines! Allow them to dry. You could let them dry on their own for a few hours, use a dehydrator, or even a slightly warmed oven. I like to use my fan. If you go the fan route, remember to use magnets to hold down the parchment. It's irritating to have your parchment paper with freshly piped transfers scatter to the wind. Trust me on this one.
2. After the transfers are dry, use a spatula or knife to break your icing lines. They actually look like twigs for a bird's nest! Set these aside for now.
Let's make the chick!
1. Use yellow icing to make the chick's body. Let it crust.
2. Use brown icing to make the nest. Immediately place the icing "twigs" on the wet brown icing. It's ok if some of the twigs break in the process! Also, feel free to let them hang over the edge of the cookie.
3. Time for the next details! Pipe the wings, hair pouf, eyes, and beak. I used white nonpariels for the eye highlights.
4. I decided to add some other accents to make girl and boy chicks. For the girl, I just added some eyelashes, bow, and flower accents. For the boy, I just added a bow. I think I'd do a bowtie next time. And some glasses! So cute!
I hope that you're inspired to add some of these cute chicks
to your spring cookie collections!
First, let me get this clear- I AM NOT ALTERING MY CUTTERS IN THIS POST. NO CUTTERS HAVE BEEN HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THESE COOKIES :)
Of course I've been known to stretch/alter a cutter now and again, but this post takes a different spin on making your cutters work for you. A little back story, if you will...
I like big cookies, and I cannot lie. My preferred size for cookies has definitely increased over the years. Cutters that used to be "just right" back in the day are a little too small for me now. For example, a 3" circle is too small. I now prefer 3.25"-3.5" circles.
*Insert an order for blue ribbon cookies*
I knew I had the perfect blue ribbon cutter, as I had won several of these cutters at past CookieCons for different winning entries (yes, I'm a little proud of that). When I pulled out the cutter, I was dismayed that it was smaller than I had remembered. I began to stretch the metal cutter to increase it's size. Then it dawned on me...
STRETCH THE DOUGH, NOT THE CUTTER.
I realized that I could gently RE-ROLL the cookie shape after I cut it.
The cookie shape will spread and increase its overall size!
**But how to maintain my standard 3/8" cookie thickness?**
I always roll my dough with rolling pin rings. Rolling pin rings are rubber rings of various sizes that slide onto an ordinary rolling pin. They make the dough an even thickness when you roll it out. A Joseph Joseph pin or Dough EZ uses the same concept. If you don't already have some method of regulating your dough thickness, do it NOW. It makes so much difference in your baked cookies! I use the largest rings of my rolling pin ring set, which measure 3/8". Therefore, my un-baked cookies measure 3/8" in thickness.
I needed something thin and flat to line each side of my cookie dough, something that I could easily roll my pin + rings on top of.
After rolling my "thicker" dough sheet, I cut the desired shape. Notice the difference in cookie thickness!
Here's where the magic happens!
GENTLY RE-ROLL the thicker cut shape.
Don't roll in one direction, but in all directions to even out the spread.
Look at the before and after!
Here are some other applications:
I NEVER use this candle cutter because it's too small. I might actually use it now because of this technique! Also, HOW you re-roll can make a difference. Re-rolling a standard heart IN ONE DIRECTION ONLY can turn it into a stretched/primitive heart!
SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
1. If you use a Joseph Joseph pin (or equivalent) and normally roll 1/4", you can skip the cutting boards on the sides of your dough. Roll your dough with the 3/8" ends, cut your cookie shape, then re-roll with the 1/4" ends.
2. Intricate/complicated/very straight-edge cutters may not work well with this technique. You will lose some of the delicate details/sharpness of the original cutter during the re-roll process. This technique is for shapes that are a little more "forgiving".
I am ASTOUNDED at the difference in size of these cookies. And I can't believe that they came from the SAME COOKIE CUTTER!
I cannot wait to take a second look at other cutters that might be a tad too small.
I just might win the size battle after all. #sizematters :)
Frankly, I think the creature we commonly call Frankenstein might just be my favorite Halloween-time character. Maybe it's because I love the pop of green that my soothes my eyes amidst the sea of traditional orange and black Halloween colors. Maybe it's because I like to picture him as a cute cartoony character instead of the monstereous thing that is depicted in the book/movies. In any case, I love making Frank in cookie form!
This year, I got my hands on one of these sets of Halloween cutters, designed by Sweet Sugarbelle.
Do you see a Frankenstein cookie design on the box? Nope! But I let my cutter-flipping brain take over, to repurpose that awesome skull cutter pictured on the upper right of the box cover.
1. Bake the skull shape with your favorite roll-out cookie recipe.
2. Use black and purple icing to make Frank's hair and shirt. Let these sections dry.
3. Use green icing to make Frank's face. Let this section dry really well before adding the details.
4. Use orange, green, black, and grayish icing colors to make the final details. You're done!
You can pair your Frankenstein cookies with some other fun Halloween shapes, like these other cookies make from Sweet Sugarbelle cutters. Aren't they great for a not-so-scary Halloween party?
But I think Frankenstein is still my favorite!
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!
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.