by Christopher Taylor
Give yourself plenty of time for decorating cookies! This is not something that can be done quickly. I find decorating to be extremely relaxing, and meditative. It’s the perfect activity to do while chatting with friends, family, your dog (who WILL be watching you very closely), or alone while listening to Christmas music. You might want to make the cookies (click here if you need a recipe) one day, and then decorate them the next, which makes it easier to fit into a busy schedule.
Stock up on powdered sugar, milk, food coloring, sugar sprinkles, nuts, raisins, dried cherries and cranberries (Trader Joe’s), and chocolate chips. Supermarkets and cooking speciality shops like Sur la Table will have nearly an infinite number of colorful sprinkles and little candies to be creative with. Also get a box of flat toothpicks – a cookie decorator’s paintbrush!
Our family makes 5 different colors of basic icing. Food coloring usually comes in 4 colors per package: Red, Green, Yellow and Blue. We would also leave one bowl of icing without color, white – which is a must for Christmas! You can make more colors if you want, by mixing: red+blue= purple or red+yellow= orange. Nowadays, food coloring also comes in a variety of colors beyond the primary 4. Cooking specialty shops will probably have the most variety.
For each color of basic cookie icing, set out a small bowl and a spoon. In each bowl, put the following:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk (add slowly)
Stir slowly at first, then more vigorously as the icing thickens. Depending on how exactly you measure, you may have to adjust the amount of milk very slightly. Be careful! Stir the icing as you slowly add each teaspoon of milk. If the icing is too runny, it will just run off the cookies. If the icing is too thick, it will be too difficult to apply. Once you have the consistency of icing that you like, add food coloring to desired intensity – then decorate!
A little icing goes a long way. Although the amount of icing made above won’t look like much, you’ll be surprised how many cookies you can decorate with it! You can always double the recipe if you want.
I can tell you right now that you are going to make a mess. That’s half the fun! So prepare your work surface for easy clean-up. We put down a couple layers of newspapers, and over that sheets of parchment or wax paper. Put all the bowls of icing within easy reach, along with your other decorating supplies, and let your creativity run rampant! This icing will harden after a few minutes, so you can cover the cookies without smearing your icing designs.
ZEN COOKIE DECORATING
A final word on Decorating Cookie Philosophy. Have fun! Don’t feel like you must make cookies that are perfectly symmetrical and impossibly intricate. You can buy store cookies, or go to a professional bakery for that! The cookies will taste delicious no matter how you decorate them – so relax and enjoy!
Photos link to the cookie recipes.