Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stained Glass Cookie Ornaments

All cookies call out to my inner child, but there's something special, almost magical, about stained glass cookies. I've been fascinated with them ever since I first came across the idea (and hats off to whoever came up with it!) I'd been wanting to try my hand at them for a long time, and what better occasion to do that than Christmas!

If you've never heard of stained glass cookies before, they're just regular cookies with shapes cut out from the center which is then filled in with crushed candy. As the cookie bakes, the candy melts, giving the center a glass-like effect.

You start by getting your dough ready. I used the sugar cookie recipe from Glorious Treats, enhanced with two generous tablespoons of orange zest (those would be the flecks you might spot in the cookies). While the dough is firming up in the fridge, get your candy (or lollies, as they're known in Oz) sorted out. You have to use single-coloured hard boiled sugar candies. Separate them by colour. Next comes the bashing.

Now, the way most sites tell you to do it is to place them in ziplocs, and then bash using a heavy rolling pin or mallet. However, I read a comment on one of the sites, where the candy was too hard and after multiple whacks, the ziploc tore, possibly leaving bits of plastic among the candy pieces. This is what happened with me. So I tossed that batch, and searched for an alternative. Which turned out to be close at hand - my mortar and pestle. This works equally well, and is safer than the ziploc method, especially if the candy isn't easily smashed.

Roll out the dough and cut the main shape. Then using a much smaller cutter, cut out a piece from the center. You can re-use this piece. Transfer the cookie carefully to a parchment-paper lined baking tray, and fill in the center with the smashed candy. This was the only irksome part for me in the whole process, as the candy pieces became quite sticky and spooning them in was a real challenge. This could be because it was quite humid, it might be easier in dry weather.

Anyway, here you have to be careful that no candy flecks fall on the cookie itself, as it will colour the cookie. Of course, if you're going to ice the whole cookie, it doesn't matter, go ahead and be careless! If you're planning to use these cookies as ornaments, use a straw to cut out a hole at the top. Once all your cookies are done, bake them for a shade under the stated time. Take them out as soon as they get the barest hint of brown at the edges.

The candy centers will be bubbly when you take them out, but settle down as they cool. Most places ask you to leave the cookies on the tray for 10 minutes, so that the candy has time to set. Move them too quickly, and cookie & candy will part ways. I left mine on till they were completely cool, before gingerly peeling them away from the paper. To store also, I kept them in parchment-paper lined tins.

My cookies didn't turn out perfectly, clearly glassy. Next time, I'd try bashing the candy (a different brand, definitely!) to smithereens, and then see how they turned out. Anyway, they were still a lot of fun to make. You can leave them as they are, or go nuts decorating them. I used royal icing and left them overnight to dry. Once dry, you can tie a ribbon through the hole at the top, transforming your cookie into a delicious decoration. Now, to eat, or decorate with .... tough choice!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Birthday Baking Part 2: Pooh-kies!

If there is a Tardy Blogger Award, I nominate myself for it! This one has been pending from the past few months. Here we are in December already, so I'm just going to get this done before the Christmassy posts. (New Year's resolution: blog on time!)

When my daughter turned 3 earlier this year, we'd celebrated with a Winnie-the-Pooh themed party. Along with this cake, I'd also baked sugar cookies to include in the kids' goodie bags. Now, I'm still a decorating novice; I'm nowhere as quick as I'd like to be. So given the amount of work I had to do for the party, I wanted a relatively easier way of decorating the cookies while still incorporating the theme.

The solution was simple: royal icing transfers. Royal icing is one of those brilliant things that is easy to make, and that you can create decorations with that will last indefinitely. My royal icing recipe is adapted from Sweetopia, over here. Since this makes quite a bit of icing, I scaled it down considerably so that I don't end up with too much left over. I will put up my version in a separate post (soon!)

So, about the royal icing transfers, or run-outs, as they're also called. You begin with a template of your desired shape, that you trace out quite boldly on a piece of paper. Or, to make things easier, that you print out all over a sheet of paper (so you don't have to keep moving the same piece of paper repeatedly). My template was the shape of Pooh's head.

Properly speaking, you need two consistencies of royal icing: piping icing, to outline the template, and flood icing, to fill it in. I'm lazy, so to spare myself the bother of having different sets of piping bags, I made an in-between consistency that would stay where I piped it, but could also be pushed around smoothly.

You then need to place a sheet of parchment / wax / greaseproof paper over your template. I actually cut out several squares of paper thinking it'd be safer to move each transfer individually without disturbing the others. But you know what, once they're fully dry, they lift right off. So you could just use a single sheet of parchment paper, especially if you've got your template printed out. Once you've secured the template below the parchment paper, go ahead and start piping on the parchment paper using the template as your guide.

I piped the yellow first, let it set a bit before piping the red. Although in hindsight, I think I should've done it the other way; there's less chance of a lighter colour bleeding into a darker one. Either way, once you're done filling in the transfers, it's best to leave them overnight to dry completely. Once they're fully dry, you can add the features. I used a food colour pen, but if you don't have one, you could dilute a bit of black food colour in water or clear vanilla extract and paint the features on using a fine brush.

Once the features are dry, which should be pretty soon, carefully pack the transfers in an airtight container. Royal icing decorations will not spoil, however they are quite fragile. So you can make them well in advance, but always make extras in case some break. I made these ones a couple of weeks ahead.

A few days before the party, I baked the cookies (recipe from Glorious Treats). Then all I had to do was  cover each cookie with green royal icing, and immediately place the transfer on top. As the base icing dries, the transfer adheres to the cookie. Once the cookies were fully dry, I outlined them with yellow royal icing.

One lesson I learned from this project was to ensure that the icing on the transfers was spread thick and even. If you look closely, you can see where it's a bit thinner. These didn't come out perfectly flat, which may be okay if you're going to just serve them at home. But if you're after perfection, or your cookies need to be packaged and transported (which these did), it's well worth the effort to ensure completely flat transfers. Any bits that jut out (like some of Pooh's ears here) are easily breakable when you place them in goodie bags with other stuff.

Luckily, most of my Pooh-kies survived intact. I packed each cookie in a plastic treat bag. I sealed the bags with tags I made out of red cardstock, yellow paper and some stickers. Each child received one cookie along with a couple of other knick-knacks in their goodie bags.