Beautifully decorated cookies are a high-point of the holiday season for me. This year, I wanted to do a post on tips and strategies for creating gift-worthy sugar cookies at home, and I thought to myself, who better to turn to than the experts at Miette? Lucky for me (and you), Miette holds monthly classes on decorating sugar cookies. In class, you'll learn about necessary equipment, how to make and color royal icing like a pro, how to make parchment icing cones, and techniques for flooding and embellishing cookies. Owner Meg Ray and instructor Jeff Gosche were kind enough to let me sit in on the most recent cookie decorating class, snap some photos, and learn how the Miette elves create their stunning holiday cookies. Today, I'll share those tips with you.
Jeff was our trusty instructor and the man behind the sugar cookie magic at Miette. Jeff doesn't have any formal training or culinary instruction, but he's always been passionate about baking and decorating. He started helping Miette with cookie production solely around the holiday season and then about one year ago, Jeff was asked to stick around more frequently as a regular staple. After spending the afternoon with him, I can see why.
Jeff began class with a discussion on planning out your project and equipment. In terms of planning, it's important to be aware of baking times, cooling times, and setting times for frosting. Jeff recommends taking the entire project into account when thinking about how much time it'll take from Point A to Point B, especially if you'll be gifting or delivering the cookies. The last thing you want to do is rush the process! As far as equipment, a stand mixer, rolling pin, Silpat mat, and cooling racks are important for actually baking the cookies. For decorating, small metal bowls are handy for mixing up numerous different colors of frosting, good quality food coloring, parchment triangles to make your piping cones, and a spoon-spatula to spoon your icing into the bag. If you'd rather not deal with raw egg whites in your royal icing, Jeff recommended meringue powder as an easy and just-as-good substitute.
After we talked equipment, we set about making our own royal icing. Jeff did a demo using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, turning it up to high (an 8 on a Kitchen Aid) and allowing it to mix for 3-4 minutes. The important thing to know here is that the icing should be quite thick--thicker than you think it should be on an actual cookie. You'll spend time later thinning it after you add the color, not now.
After the demo, students all went back to their stations to add the egg whites and powdered sugar together and begin mixing away.
Once everyone had royal icing down, we discussed the art of coloring the icing. Now anyone can throw green food coloring into a bowl of royal icing and call it a day, but it's often very difficult to get more subtle, interesting tones. This is where Jeff's icing tips come in handy:
- To achieve more warmth in any one color (Christmas red, for example), add orange. Orange is a miracle worker.
- When adding color to your icing, you may want to put the drop of color onto your spatula and work it in slowly. That way, if you add a little too much, it's easier to swipe off with a finger rather than having to scoop out color from the icing itself.
- When you're mixing up bowls of different colors of icing, you also want to cover each bowl with a slightly damp dish towel so the icing doesn't dry out.
- Don't thin out the icing until you're completely done with the color.
- To thin, just add a tiny amount (1/2 teaspoon or so) of water at a time. Ultimately, you want the icing to flow right off your spatula back into the bowl but leave a noticeable ribbon inside your bowl. So it shouldn't be liquidy, but it shouldn't be too thick either.
After the icing was made and colored, it was time to get piping! Jeff showed the class how to form parchment piping bags and discussed how nice they are because you can just throw them away. With nicer piping bags, the royal icing can stain and they can be tough to clean.
Parchment cones are tough to describe in print but it turns out Wilton has a handy video so you can learn at home! With piping bags in hand, it was time to decorate the cookies.
Jeff's tips for decorating cookies were relatively straightforward and really involved a little planning and practice. He had templates on hand so students could practice their lines and shapes before really committing to a cookie. The gist of it? Outline the cookie first with the royal icing and then you flood (or fill) the cookie in a back-and-forth motion with the tip of the bag slightly immersed in the icing itself (this helps it flood more evenly).
Then you can add sprinkles, add another color to do some blending, or wait around 15 minutes for the icing to dry so you can layer in another color. It does help to do a little planning and thinking about what you're going for with your design to ensure you have enough of each color and don't sit there stumped (as I did) seeking out inspiration while your icing is slowly drying out.
I can't recommend Miette's classes enough and thank Jeff and Meg for letting me tag along. The classes are sold out through February (so get on the March bandwagon!), but they're thinking about possibly adding additional cookie classes and, of course, there are other classes as well if you're ready to dive right in to the pastry/confection world. Happy baking and royal icing making!