Christmas, Cookies

Mastering The Art of Cookie Decorating… or at least Attempting to!

Christmas tree lights. On.  Fireplace. On.  Christmas music playing softly in the background. Check!  Icing mixed and ready to go? Check…I think.

After a few frustrating starts I finally figured out how to make cookies that do not spread when you bake them.  Okay, confession – I DIDN’T figure it out, I asked an expert!  Thank you Marian Poirier from Sweetopia.  Let me back up a bit.  I have been following Sweetopia for some time, a couple of years anyway.  This past September I attended the Baking & Sweets Show in Toronto for a couple of reasons; 1) Anna Olson, 2) Duff Goldman, 3) DC Cupcake Girls, and 4) Cookies with Sweetopia. Both my sister-in-law Christine and I were both in awe of Marian’s cookies!  Seriously!  Gorgeous!  But, hey, being the naive person I am, I figured ‘how hard can it be?’ HA…. I know… I can hear you laughing!! I really can!  Sheesh… Let me know when you stop, I’m going to refill my coffee…..

Done?  Okay, I’ll carry on….

To say I’m an avid baker would be lying.  I much prefer to cook a meal than to bake! I do enjoy baking, but you get it – I prefer to cook!  Anyway, each post that Marian had I would drool more. She recently had a post with a variety of beautifully decorated Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer cookies.  I KNOW!  Unbelievable!  They were gorgeous.  So gorgeous…and again my naivety  showing through….looked so easy!  I went ahead and ordered a stand mixer cookie cutter from Ecrandal Handmade Copper Cookie Cutters. Oh it was a thing of beauty! Big, shiny, copper-y…  sigh.

I got right at baking cookies.  All gingerbread (my fave!).  To my dismay, the cookies spread in the oven.  But… I did everything Marian said!  At the Baking & Sweets show, I asked!!!  She said: chill the dough (done), roll the dough and re-chill (done), cut the shapes & re-chill (done), bake (done).  I had big blobs of what could be seen as a stand mixer cookie if you were a psychologist reading “cookie blots” instead of ink blots!  I was so disappointed.  But hey, my husband and I had awesome tasting HUGE gingerbread cookies to eat!  Wasn’t a total loss!

Then came Mixed, Again Marian was at that, and so I was determined to have a few minutes with her to really pick her brain on the errors of my way!  So, with a few minutes to sit with her at dinner the first night I asked… boldly.  Why do my cookies suck?  Okay, that’s not really what I said!  What I did ask was why they spread when I did everything right!  She asked about the type of butter I was using – the best, of course.  That’s key – you need to use a good quality butter.  Don’t use no-name stuff – the water content is too high! You need to use a good full-fat butter.  Check. Butter I know.  Butter I do – too well!

Marian's cookie tutorial
Marian’s cookie tutorial

So, I asked one more question – should I be using baking powder in the cookies?  NO!  Ah, well now we’re getting somewhere!  Baking powder works with the flour to make your cookies light and fluffy and yummy to eat. So yes yummy for eating, but it also makes them fluff (and spread) and therefore not great for decorating purposes.  OK!  Now we’re cooking… er, baking!

After a cookie decorating tutorial with Marian and my first (very awful looking) cookies – and much laughing from my friend Lynne, I vowed to myself to go home, bake, and try again.

Pathetic attempt at decorating (at "Mixed")
Pathetic attempt at decorating (at “Mixed”)

Well I baked a double batch of gingerbread cookies – as per ALL instructions for decorating.  Now, of course doing it this way is a bit time-consuming, so if you want to eat cookies right away this isn’t method for you.  I did follow each step – chill dough, roll dough, chill again, cut shapes, chill again, bake.  To my utter delight they turned out PERFECT!  I was so excited!  I just wanted to stare at them, but that would make me seem a bit weird so I pretended they were just as expected and that I wasn’t the least bit surprised!  (But we all know, I was!!)

Next step after letting them completely cool was to make the royal icing.  Again I used the recipe found on and it worked beautifully!  Marian also gives tips on getting the right consistency for piping and decorating – you really need to follow that or it can be disastrous! So, here’s when it went south – yet again!  I mixed up my icing, divided it, made some pretty red and green icing (and kept some white)… and realized I only had ONE #2 icing tip!  That just wouldn’t do!  I tried though!  And failed!  You just can’t outline and flood a cookie, clean the tip and change colours and carry on with the next colour!  The original (white in this case) starts to harden making decorating very difficult!  ARGH!  I was becoming a very frustrated cookie decorating diva!
The icing got packed away in air-tight containers in my fridge (thankfully it keeps well!) and went to bed. Angry.  With myself.  Argh (in true pirate voice!)

Now, you need to know I live in a very small but beautiful little town, Uxbridge, where there is no Michael’s, and for you American’s – no Hobby Lobby either.  Thankfully, we recently got a Bulk Barn {cue excited squeals!} and it has a very good section with baking supplies with cake, cookie, and candy decorating supplies!  And I mean – LOTS of stuff!  I cleaned them out of #2 Wilton tips!  I bought 4.  Apparently that’s the most popular one they sell – who knew?  I have lots of disposable icing bags so now I was all set to get back at it again.

Finally, last night, we finished dinner (a wonderful beef stew seasoned with Herbs de Provence)  and I donned my apron again.  Loaded up the icing bags (not too full) got the cookies ready and started to experiment in hopes that anything I did would look better than the ones I did at the Mixed Conference!  I think they did!

Cookies, the sequel
Cookies, the sequel
ornament cookie
ornament cookie

Please forgive the picture quality, for some reason the flash wouldn’t work! Bah, technology!  The cookies are not perfect by any means, but they are WAY better than the one I did at Mixed.  I’m hooked Marian!  All I can think of now is baking more cookies and trying again.  I’m sure with each go at it my technique will improve.  While I don’t think I’ll ever be as amazing as Marian, and really you need to check her website and look at some of the amazing work she does, I can only hope I can decorate without some of the really nasty errors that I see now that they have dried overnight!  I think I’ve mastered ‘flooding’ now I just need to work on the actual decorating technique to make them more aesthetically pleasing and well, just plain “OH WOW HEATHER YOU ARE INCREDIBLY BRILLIANT” worthy!  Hey, I can dream!!!

Until next time,

Happy noshing!

p.s. I’ll post an update as the cookies (hopefully) improve!