December 24, 2011

Holiday Cookie Decorating (Gingerbread)

This past Sunday was my annual holiday cookie decorating party. This year was number six, and I decided it was high time I get some professional training, so Madison and I headed over to Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen where we took a fabulous class with Gail Dosik from One Tough Cookie. We learned the basics of piping straight lines, corners, and circles. We learned how to decorate by forming a border with a thicker royal icing and then flooding with a thinner icing. Gail also shared some great advice on preparing cookies that I immediately incorporated into my process (see below for photo of rolling out dough between two sheets of parchment paper).

Here is a shot of the cookies I decorated during the class:

In planning for the party, I decided I needed at least five cookies per guest, and I was expecting about twenty-five people, so I figured 150 was a nice round number of cookies to aim for. I prefer to decorate with gingerbread cookies, and I have used the same recipe every year. It isn't a very sweet cookie, which is good since royal icing is basically just sugar. And it has a nice peppery kick. If you prefer a milder gingerbread, you can leave out or cut volume of black pepper. While baking, I started to get nervous there wouldn't be enough, so instead of making three batches of dough I went for five. I have about a batch worth of dough left in the freezer. After baking four of the five, I realized I had better stop. I had hit a grand total of 294 cookies.

Here is the final inventory:
11 Sailboats
15 Mittens
13 Puzzle Pieces
9 Half Moons
18 Chicks
8 Penguins
11 Capitol Buildings
16 Sharks
16 Pigs
15 Elephants
13 Squirrels
15 Houses
18 Stars
10 Massachusetts
13 Goats
14 Birds
9 Dogs
13 Leaves
8 Rabbits
14 Piglets
17 Snowflakes
18 Thought Bubbles

In addition, Madison brought over two plates of traditional sugar cookies: ten christmas trees, 13 stars, and 11 men.

Inspired by the professionals from the class, I decided I would make two separate consistencies of icing. A thicker icing, to be piped into borders. And a thinner icing, to be dyed poured into squeeze bottles, and used for flooding. I had a bit of trouble getting the consistencies right at first, but we were eventually able to get down to it. I made a large batch of white and poured it into the squeeze bottles before adding the dye. It was harder to mix the colors in this way, but I saved the hassle of making many separate batches.

The cookies my friends decorated were incredible. Some were quite abstract. Others literal. Some used the cookie as a palette for a narrative. Others went sculptural. Here some shots of some of the best cookies (at least the ones that weren't eaten before the afternoon was over!).

This year I also brought back the paint brushes, which I hadn't used since year one. They are a fun addition. This year I didn't buy any new sugar sprinkles, because I had so many left over from next year. This may also be the final year for the dragee. Which are very fun to decorate with, but aren't so fun to eat. One note about other decorations: I have a stash of different types of sanding sugars and sprinkles. Most supermarkets will sell a few varieties in the baking aisle. Sur la Table also has a good selection, but if you want to get serious about sprinkles, look for specialty store in your area. In New York City, the New York Cake and Baking Supply on 22nd and 5th is incredible. In Washington, I go either to Fran's Cake and Candy Supply in Fairfax, VA, or the Little Bitts Shoppe in Wheaton, MD.

- Franklin

Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Total Time (not including decorating): 3 hours
Sweetness Factor (not including decorations): 4; Indulgence Factor: 6; Difficulty Factor: 7: Chance I'll Make Them Again: 10.

For the cookies:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon (or more) ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap)

For the royal icing:
1 pound confectioner's sugar (vary depending on desire consistency)
2 tablespoons powdered egg whites (vary depending on desired consistency)
6 tablespoons warm water (vary depending on desired consistency)
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
gel dyes

To prepare the cookies: whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powdered and set aside. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar. Beat for 2-3 minutes. Add all spices. Add the eggs one at a time. Then add the molasses. Mix until combined (if your butter wasn't totally room temperature, the mix may look globby here, if it doesn't come together go ahead and add flour). Gradually add the flour. Mix until combined.

Divide the dough into three. One third at time, put the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll it out to 1/4 inch thick. Stack the parchment flats in the freezer for an hour or so. More is fine too. Even over night.

Preheat the oven to 350. One at a time, take the parchment flats out of the freezer, cut out cookies with your favorite cookie cutter, and set them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (note: if you are making multiple batches, you can reuse both the parchment sheets for freezing, and the ones for lining the cookie sheet, just make sure to remove any crumbs before putting the same parchment sheet back in the over). Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool on tray for a minute or so, then finish cooling on rack. The cookies store very well undecorated for a few days (or more) in an air-tight container.

To prepare the royal icing. Dissolve the powdered egg whites in the water and lemon juice, and with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer combine with the powdered sugar. Beat until well combined. If the mix is too runny, add more sugar. If it is too stiff, add more liquid! Divide into small containers and add dye. If you want really consistent colors, you might want to add dye in a larger mixing bowl before moving to squeeze bottles. If you care less about that, you can add the dye once in the squeeze bottles and stir with a skewer or some such, the colors may end up a little bit marbled.


  1. I am so proud of you, I could weep!!! Beautiful blog, beautiful post!

  2. Those look so yummy...wish I had some with my tea right now!