About three years ago, I took several cake decorating classes at a local craft store. While working to improve my skills covering cakes with fondant and molding little characters out of gum paste, I produced cake after cake for birthdays and holiday celebrations (you can check out a few of them here).
During those classes, we also learned how to work with royal icing, which included the skill of flooding cookies with icing. Flooding is a technique used to produce an even layer of icing on top of a sugar cookie. It is a canvas, if you will, for any type of decoration you can dream up. For our last Halloween party, and for several class parties at my boys' school, I have made plain flooded cookies and then provided the kids with piping bags full of different colored icing and fitted with various decorating tips. Every child was excited to produce their own masterpiece. Some were very careful about piping intricate designs while others preferred to top their cookies with jumbled masses of colored icing. Each design seem to fit each child's personality to a tee.
If you are looking for some decorating inspiration, be sure to check out I Am Baker, Brown Eyed Baker, Sweetapolita and Bake at 350.
How to decorate cookies:
Make the cookies:
One of the tricks to beautifully decorated cookies is starting with a good cookie recipe. You want something that tastes good, but want to avoid cookies that puff up, which makes decorating challenging. This sugar cookie from Martha Stewart or this shortbread cookie from Cake Journal are both good options. For a springtime taste, I usually add in a little lemon or orange zest.
How to make royal icing:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 6 tablespoons meringue powder and 2 pounds icing sugar. Mix on low to combine. With the mixer set on medium-low speed, add warm water one tablespoon at a time. You will need 10 to 16 tablespoons, depending on how humid your climate is. Your goal is an icing of medium stiffness. Remember, you can always add more water later if needed. Mix for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the icing loses its sheen.
Royal icing dries out extremely quickly, so it is important to store the icing in a airtight container or cover with a wet towel when not using.
Divide the icing into separate bowls (the number of bowls will depend on the number of colors you will be using.) About ⅓ of the icing will be used for flooding the cookies, so set that aside in a separate bowl.
How to outline cookies:
The easiest way to outline and decorate cookies is with a selection of piping bags, decorating tips and couplers, which can be bought inexpensively at many craft stores, such as Michael's. If you are not planning to decorate often, you can buy a package of the disposable piping bags.
Fill a piping bag, fitted with a coupler and tip (I usually use a #3 tip for this), halfway with some of the icing. Be sure that the color of icing used to outline the cookie is the same as the icing used to flood the cookies later.
Twist the bag so that the icing doesn't squirt out the top end, hold the bag at a 45 degree angle, and pipe the icing around the outside of each cookie. The icing will dry within minutes.
**Note: when you are not using the piping bag, rest the tip in a wet paper towel to avoid the icing drying and clogging the tip.
Flooding the cookies:
To achieve the proper consistency for the flooding icing, stir in water one teaspoon at a time. To test for the proper consistency, drop some of the icing back into the bowl of watered-down icing. The drop should "melt" back into the icing by the count of 10.
This runny icing can be applied from a piping bag, but I find it much easier to do it from a plastic squeeze bottle. When necessary, use a toothpick to push the icing into the corners.
Allow the flooded cookies to dry completely, about 2 to 3 hours.
Coloring and decorating:
To color the icing, use the gel colors available at many craft stores. Use a toothpick to transfer a small portion of the gel color to the icing. Stir thoroughly and add more color until the desired color is reached.
Prepare one piping bag for each color. Each one should be fitted with a coupler so that it is easy to exchange the various tips. My favorite tips for decorating cookies are numbers 1, 2 and 3 (simple lines at different widths) and number 18 (star tip).
Now, get out there, use your imagination and have fun!
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