Friday, March 22, 2013

Easy Royal Icing Easter Eggs

I had so much fun with the swirled icing effect in my last decorating project, that I decided to try it again for these cuties. Very simple, and I had the best time making them! First of all, you need some royal icing. Traditionally, royal icing is made with raw egg white whipped with icing sugar. But as I've never been comfortable using raw whites, I use either meringue powder or egg white powder instead.

When I first came to Sydney and started searching for meringue powder, I found that Wilton (which is perhaps the most popular brand) was quite expensive here, and also not widely available. A bit of Googling put me onto a local Aussie product called Pavlova Magic, which is about a third of the cost of Wilton's meringue powder and easily available at every supermarket. So that's what I've been using, and the icing turns out quite well.

If you search the Net, there are several different recipes for royal icing, most of which yield huge quantities. I adapted my recipe from this delightful site, and toned it down to produce about one to one and half cups of icing. You can scale this up, as per your requirements.

Royal Icing Recipe

2 tsp meringue powder
3 tbsp water
Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
1 1/2 - 2 cups sifted icing sugar
Few drops clear vanilla extract* (or other flavour of your choice)

Firstly, all your equipment must be scrupulously clean; traces of grease or any other impurity spells doom for this icing.

If using handheld electric beaters, lightly whisk the meringue powder and water together. Then whisk the cream of tartar, if using (this acts as a stabilizer; some folks use it, some don't ... I do, because it's available, but don't worry if you can't get it). Then add the sugar a cup at a time, and the extract.

If using a stand mixer, you can mix everything together straight away. Either way, you need to beat it on low speed till the mixture forms stiff peaks.

This makes your basic icing, which can then be thinned down with more water to different consistencies. To store, transfer icing to an airtight container, preferably a glass one, and keep in the fridge. It will last you a couple of weeks, at least. The sugar and water tend to separate over time, so you'll need to re-whip the icing before using.

* If you want pure white icing, use clear extracts. Regular vanilla extract will still get you white icing, but it'll be an off-white.

To make these Easter eggs, you'll need piping consistency icing (like toothpaste), which is best kept in a piping bag with a small round tip (like Wilton #2), and flood icing (like honey) in plain white, and in the colours of your choice. For the flood icing, I didn't bother with piping bags. I spoon the base icing in, and I keep a bunch of these tiny plastic containers handy for when I need different colours in small quantities (and where details aren't really important). You also need some toothpicks, one per colour, and some extras for swirling, and a damp paper towel to clean them. Lastly, your work surface: you need a template of egg shapes, which you can either draw or print; put the template on a baking tray, place a sheet of parchment paper over the template and you're good to go.

1. Outline the egg with the piping icing. Fill in with the flood icing. Get a blob of coloured icing on the blunt edge of a toothpick and drag across the white icing. Add the colours in any order.

2. Using a separate toothpick, start at the bottom and drag the pointed edge up and around the inside of the egg, ending at the middle. Clean off the tip.

3. You can go from the outside inwards, or start at the middle and work your way outwards, till you've swirled your way through and distorted the original lines.

4. On this egg, I used horizontal lines again, but instead of swirling them up and down, I moved the toothpick sideways for a different effect. Feel free to experiment here.

Once you've made as many eggs as you want, leave them on the parchment paper on the tray to dry out overnight, or at least 8-10 hours. Once they're fully dry, gently peel the paper away from one corner and you'll be able to lift the eggs clean off. You can store these eggs (or any royal icing shape for that matter) in an airtight container pretty much indefinitely. They last for ages and won't spoil.

Use them to add an Easter touch to cakes & cupcakes.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Keep Calm & Carry On Cookies

A few days ago, I gave my driving test. The evening before the test, I was desperately thinking of ways to soothe my jittery nerves when it came to me: Keep Calm & Carry On. I'd been seeing this everywhere of late, online, on t-shirts, on trays & mugs too. I repeated it a few times, and found that it worked: I started feeling calmer. To carry the positivity forward, I began thinking of what I'd bake to celebrate passing the test. After racking my brains, I thought, why don't I just cookie up my new mantra (with the emphasis on 'car', because well, that's how my sense of humour works!)

At that time though, I'd no idea how important this quote would turn out to be. The test was a harrowing experience, more so because it was my second attempt and to top it off, I messed up bigtime straight out of the gate. I think it was just the grace of God and this mantra that helped me hold it together for the rest of the test.

After I got back home (and got over the shock of actually passing!), I threw myself into baking; the other project to follow here shortly. These are regular chocolate sugar cookies, recipe from Glorious Treats. To decorate these, I used royal icing and two methods. I filled the red ones and left them to dry overnight before piping the text and white outline.

For the others, I used a technique that's called 'wet-on-wet' icing, which is as the name suggests: you pipe one colour over the base colour while the latter is still wet so that it blends in with the base instead of being raised above. With wet-on-wet icing, you can do one of my favourite things, which is to swirl the icing around with a toothpick.

1. Outline the cookie as desired (you can leave out the inner lines, if you wish; I was just trying out a different pattern).
2. Fill in one section (or entire cookie), and immediately pipe lines over.
3. Take a clean toothpick and drag it down through the icing from top to bottom.
4. Wipe off any icing on the toothpick and now drag across the icing in the opposite direction.

Keep going this way till you've finished that section (or the entire cookie). Remember to clean the toothpick on a damp paper towel after every swipe.

For a different effect, try piping one circle, or two concentric circles, and then dragging in and out with a toothpick. That's what I did for the flower cookies on this platter.

Even though you have to work quickly here to finish swiping before the icing starts hardening, I still find this a relaxing style of decoration. I'm always awed by how just a few simple strokes with a humble toothpick can create such lovely, swirly magic. Especially after coming through a stressful experience, decorating these cookies was the perfect way to unwind.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Chocolate Flowerpots: Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Grass & Flower Cookie Pops

Sometimes, ideas spark when you get a new toy and want to play with it. In this case, the 'toy' in question was the Wilton tip # 233, which is most commonly used for piping grass (or hair). So when we'd planned to invite a bunch of guests for an informal meal, I thought a platter of flowerpots would be great for dessert.

All the recipes used here for the cupcakes, cookies and frosting are from Glorious Treats. The only major change is that I decided to make mini-cupcakes instead of regulars. Now, I don't remember exactly how many minis this recipe yields as I did snack on a couple as soon as they were ready (who wouldn't!), but it was more than 40.

For the flowers, you could just plop some sugar ones over once you've piped the grass, but I decided to try my hand at cookie pops. Apparently the sticks used for cookie pops are different from those used for cake pops. Since I didn't have any of the former, and also since I had mini cupcakes, I thought using toothpicks would be better. I painted them green with some diluted food colouring (and a paintbrush reserved only for decorating purposes!), and let them dry before using.

When making pops, it's safer if the cookies are a little thicker than usual, so they don't break during the popping process. I used my smallest flower cutter here. Once the shapes are cut, hold the cookie in one hand and with the other insert the toothpick. Think screwdriver here; you need to slowly rotate the toothpick applying gentle pressure till it's in about 1 cm. Check the back of the cookie and gently smooth over any breaks. Also, you must be sure to put the blunt side of the toothpicks into the cookies, to avoid any nasty pokes when biting into them.

Once all the cookie pops are ready, bake as usual depending on the size. I was quite apprehensive about how they would turn out as they seemed very fragile when I'd placed them on the tray, but surprisingly (and happily!) they're quite sturdy when they're baked. I had also made slightly bigger flower cookies (no pops), and leaf cookies just to strew about in the platter.

To decorate, I used royal icing in several colours. Just on a whim though, I decided to try decorating these cookies without any specialist equipment. I used a teaspoon to pour flood consistency icing on the cookies, spreading it out with a toothpick. Let this dry fully for a few hours. Then, for the petals, I blobbed icing with the blunt edge of a toothpick and then pulled it into shape with the sharp end.

I think they turned out alright for the most part, barring a few unsightly blobs here and there. So you definitely need piping bags and a selection of tips for consistent, professional work and to achieve various effects (like the grass and this basketweave). But even if you don't have this equipment for whatever reason, don't let that stop you from decorating sweets. It is still possible to make cuties like these with common kitchen items and imagination!