Sunday, October 30, 2011

What I've Learned About Cookies

Well, since I showed you what I look like pregnant and then posted those cookies a few days ago, we're basically best friends forever now, right? I mean, I can totally stay in my pajamas when you come over at 2 in the afternoon. And we can eat ice cream together for no reason at all. And I can tell you my secrets and you won't hate me or save it up inside until some day when I bug you and then you go and tell everyone, including my mom and that kid I had a crush on in 9th grade. You wouldn't do that to me now, would you? Because for the record, I don't think that kid cares anymore.

Seriously, though there is something I have been trying to decide if I should tell you for kind of a while now. In an effort to "keep it real" (because that is something COOL people do and I desperately want to feel cool one last time before my kids get old enough to tell me that I'm really, really not.) I've decided to tell you.

You may know that I started this blog in January of this year. But here is the lion under the rug-- (elephant in the room? How do you say that?) before that time, I had really only decorated maybe 10 sets of cookies. I never wanted to tell you this because I was afraid as soon as I said it that you would all go searching back through the archives of my cake making days to find those "special" sets of cookies and then stop coming round for visits. And I didn't want you to. I was ashamed of them. I wanted to delete them. And then I realized THOSE COOKIES ARE ME. I made them. They made me the cookie decorator that I am today. Well, probably not today because I have big plans to do nothing at all today. But definitely the cookie decorator that I am going to be tomorrow. And the one I was last Thursday as well. All those awful cookie photos are just chinks on my learning chain. And to save you the effort of searching back through the archives for them...I've decided to post them right here. And hopefully save you some of my own life cookie lessons

ON COLOR --



These are my very first royal icing cookies. Ever. Like, in my whole life. I learned something really important with these cookies. COLOR MATTERS. Don't be afraid to use a little more food coloring to get a shade of icing that is actually appetizing and/or appealing.

At the same time...don't do it one drop at a time. The more you mix your royal icing...the more air gets into it. I mixed and mixed and mixed this brown icing. It was so light and airy. It took a weirdly long time to dry. And after it was dry, if you tried to break the cookie in half, the icing came off all at once and shattered. (Not ideal.)

If you don't like the icing colors before you make your cookies -- you're not going to like the cookies after they are made. I have found that it is best to choose the shades of icing before I ever start mixing them. I use markers  but I know some people use paint samples or wedding planning websites for good color combinations.

Dark colors don't happen right away. They take time. When I make black or brown, I add cocoa powder to the royal icing first. It gives me a tasty base that is darker to begin with. For black, I add the food coloring until it is a dark gray and for brown, I also stop 2 shades lighter than I need. They get much darker over night. When I make a deep red... I start with red food coloring until it turns dark pink and won't go redder. Then I add some brown and a tiny bit of black. And in the morning....I have a beautiful deep, dark crimson red. (Here's a hint though. If you accidentally add too much brown...you can get it more red again by countering it with a bit of Wilton burgundy.) See these cookies? I should have stopped long before I did. They dried SO DARK! And let's not even talk about how NOT smooth they are.

ON ICING --


Okay, actually, maybe we should talk about that. Take the time to get the consistency right before you ever put your icing into a bag or bottle. Its worth it. If the icing is too thick you will have points on your edges and weirdy not smooth icing.

If your icing is too thin, it will run over the edge. And if your cookie is more than one color of icing, it will pull your designs right off the edge. And you will cry. And cookies are not for crying. (For the record, this cookie was made by my son. But I've done plenty like this. I just don't take pictures of them. You know, too much crying and all.)

ON PHOTOS -- 
  
Don't underestimate the beauty of photo editing -- I'm not talking about creating cookies entirely from pixels here. But some days...it rains all day long. For months. And I just can't get the light I want. So I edit.

Some cookies look better than others. Only photograph your favorite cookies. Pick out your very favoritest of all your favorites and put those on top. Hide the ones you don't like so much. I would never take a picture of myself pregnant and without make up and put it on the internet...oh wait, that was a bad analogy. What I'm saying is that people know you are choosing what you present to them. So, make a choice you are happy with.  (I hate that my dots all ran together on the egg cookies. So I hid them.)

There is NOTHING wrong with photographing your cookies on a plate every time. But if you want be different, take different pictures. Take photos of your cookies in the way that is most comfortable for you (like on the plate) and then try arranging them just one other way. You may be surprised at what you find.


IN GENERAL -- 

Don't be afraid to do something TOTALLY different once in a while. Also though...don't be afraid to not post those super weirdy cookies if they turn out to be something that really should never have happened. :)


Make cookies that taste good. Try not to burn them. And if you don't want to eat them, find a different recipe. I actually don't like regular sugar cookies. So I make chocolate ones. And that works for me. And it makes me happy.

Sometimes you hate your cookies. Take pictures anyway. Because sometimes you don't hate those cookies a week later. 

Sometimes though, cookies just don't turn out very well for all your planning and trying and mixing and piping. And you DO still hate them a week later. And you know what? It's just a cookie. 

And THIS my friends, is officially THE LONGEST post in the history of my entire cookie blogging life. I think I'll go have some ice cream now. In my pajamas. And...you may as well know it....there are still some dishes in the sink that need washing. Whew. There. It's all out. No more secrets.

47 comments:

Nisson Family said...

OK, You might think your white and red heart cookie was a mistake but I love that one. Very cool looking. :)

Great post!
Pam
Simply-Pam.blogspot.com

Stephanie said...

This might be my favorite cookie blogger post of all time. Love love love it! Thank you for reminding us that we all have to start somewhere....and not to give up because one day we could be as good as you. THANK YOU!!

Trish - Sweetology101 said...

OMG...you must have had a chat w/ one of my SPLIT baking personalities who has an intense fear of cookie decorating and is also insecure about blogging!!!! This was just want I needed to read. I have to say I so enjoy your posts, your cookies, your blog and well not feeling like a total loser b/c I want to do what you do too...make sense? Have a great Halloween! Now, kick those feet up Mama and eat one of your cookies, that baby inside will LOVE it!

Cupcakes by Dana said...

Bravo!

Sherrene (The Sugar Tree) said...

I love this post! Everything about it rings true. And by the way, I was still in my pajamas a 2 pm today. Seriously.

SweetSugarBelle said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. IT took me a year before it occurred to me to delete the utter and complete UGLINESS from Flickr, LOL! Wisdom, my friend. Heard earned cookie wisdom.

Sue said...

You're a quick learner! Thanks for sharing with us, your blogging buddies! You're awesome! :)

Tiffany said...

Your cookies are amazing! I just stumbled upon you and I am blown away.

Brenda said...

Honesty is what we work so hard to hide and yet is so needed...and yes, it proves you are real--and assures us so are we. Thanks! Glad to know you didn't come out of the womb with a piping bag in hand (Even though your talent and the talents of others like you look like you did) Meanwhile, I keep trying and learning and being inspired by bloggers like you. Oh, I hope you continue to enjoy more PJ days!

amalia said...

Whew! Thanks for this post...makes me feel sooo much better to know that others have some of the same experiences I do....I've wanted to cry over cookies many times...and you are right...they are just cookies:) And those times I've wanted to cry....probably the times I've learned the most!!! Thanks for sharing...and for being "real"! Love your work and your creativity....and reading your blog is always such a treat!!!!

Ansa said...

I guess there is hope for for me yet!!! I aspire to be even half as talented as you! Thanks for sharing!
Ansa

Di (aka Di-licious) said...

I'd be delighted if my first flooded cookies looked even remotely like yours - thanks for sharing your tips and experiences!

Stephanie said...

I love this post, especially after having read the comment you left on my blog about my cookie tips! You were so right, and I'm glad I didn't go back and delete/redo everything. I've been following your blog, since, well, I don't know when, but I had NO idea you started in January! That makes you like, x200384 more impressive :) I wish I had the time to go through all the archives of my favorite bloggers, but I really thought your blog had been around for a lot longer than that, given your amazing cookies and funny writing :)

the plaid cookie said...

This was a well timed post. Thanks for the tips. I need help with the editing of photos. What and how do you do that, because there are days that no matter what I do, the pictures are too dark. Thanks in advance. Sharon

Nettie Moore said...

Your cookies are absolutely gorgeous! I would love to learn how to make them!!

Paula {JustABiteDesserts.com} said...

Love your honesty and humility. Very refreshing and rare. Your work is beautiful and mistakes are never really mistakes if we learn something from them! You do beautiful work and I'm hoping to improve my cookie decorating skills. It takes so much patience! ;)

Skye said...

I loved every word of this post...and I loved seeing every one of your "oops" cookies!

Some of these things...such a good reminder. The overmixing...the over coloring........

How do you edit your photos (what program??) I am the WORST photographer ever....my pics always look like I took them in a crypt.

Love ya!

Susie said...

What a great post. I have made (and some I continue) to make all those mistakes! I hold the record for most FoodGawker rejects...sniff, sniff. And there among all your cookies were OU cookies. You're a Sooner? Really? Boomer!

CookieD-oh said...

Great post! Appreciate the honesty. Gives hope to us mere mortal cookiers :-). Now go have that ice cream!

Melody said...

Thanks so much for sharing this post and your pictures! You inspire me to keep trying! I've only been cookie-ing since April and I tend to get discouraged...you have enoucraged me! Thank-you! :)

Katrina {In Katrina's Kitchen} said...

I love that you posted this! You are still a rock star and you are even more awesome. I love that you said "for the record this is my son's cookie" lol RI still scares the bejeebes out of me. I've only done it 3 times I think? I'm a buttercream girl.

Kara said...

Never knew you just started posting in January! I thought you had been doing this forever! You and your cookies are AMAZING. We all start at the beginning and the more we decorate, the better we become. :) Thanks for such a wonderful post!

Bea @ CancunCOOKIES said...

Thanks for this post! I'm glad to know I'm not the only person in the whole world that cries over an ugly COOKIE...

Jess the Reader said...

Wow, I'm so inspired right now! I am terrible at being patient and learning things - I just want to be able to DO it, right now. It might sound silly, but it's a great reminder to learn that a cookie master I adore (that's you) had to go through a similar process of learning.

Right, I'm going to get my cookie on!

Ann S said...

Love it. Knowing what can go wrong and even more important what it looks like when it does is just as important as what goes right. I had no idea that overmixing the icing was what was making it look pretty, but then be uber brittle and break when someone bit into the cookie. Lesson learned!

Stephane in Alaska said...

(Huh. Look at all those "Stephanies!" Do you think the name has some freakish power to compell people to decorate cookies?!?) You, my dear, are very funny. And instructive. You ought to write books! :)

Carrie said...

Great outtakes and less than a year under your belt with babies and everything...impressive.

Wonderful World of Math said...

You are amazingly talented! I love your blog and seeing all the things you come up with!

Blinks said...

*Slow clap*
Best post on your blog ever ^.^
Cheers!

Kristel said...

I just LOVE your white and red heart cookie.
Could you post a how-to? I suppose it's a wet-on-wet technique?

Malinda said...

Thanks for keeping it real. You were just born with cookie talent. I always enjoy your blog, but today you really cracked me up.

Giselle said...

Love this post....so honest....and I love honesty. For the record, I've been in my pj's all day today. I just didn't feel like getting dressed.

Kelly said...

This was a wonderful post! I'm so glad you decided to share! I am new to cookie decorating, and my friends/family are always so excited by my cookies. But they don't look like yours... yet. the tips were great, and seeing that your cookies once had the issues mine do gives me hope! I am putting this post in my favorites to refer back to!

Jana said...

I REALLY enjoy reading your posts!

Katja R. Sidgman said...

Great post!!!!!

Sil said...

Very very VERY nicely done - brutally honest in all the right ways. :)

Canterbury Cakes said...

Thanks for sharing the benefit of your experience. I recognised at least one of the points already in my very limited experience of decorating cookies (a mere 3-sets). I am so glad to have found your blog!

bakeproject said...

Thank you so much for sharing. You are sooo COOL! And I love your writing too!
I just started my blog and I know nothing about blogging but I like it. And I like cookies too. I m at the begining but the begining is fine, right?

Tara said...

Wow, this is my first time on your blog. I am intensely intimidated by cookie decorating, plus I don't like sugar cookies either (yay, i'm not weird). Thank you for the candor, I know this is an old post, but I had to let you know, you have motivated me to really get on my cookies...right after I finish this birthday cake, and baby shower stuff, and studying, and.. you get it. Thank you, beautiful blog!

Tara said...

P.s. we must be related: not pregnant, but about to make an ice cream milk shake and stare at the dishes while i mix it up.

Seasons said...

Love this post! Love your honesty! I have not been doing decorated cookies for very long (but I have been selling my inedible cookie ornaments with piping), so I feel like a newbie. I am a natural, but learning all the time. Love the idea of not using meringue powder!
I am too impatient to do much with my own blog- but love yours! Thanks!
Nancy

Sonia said...

I juat started decorating cookies and I wish they would look like what you consider your bad decirated cookies. Yours are so good looking. I hope mine get better with practice. Thanks for sharing tips. That realy helos someone like me who has never taken any classes on how to decorate.

LilaLoa said...

We are ALL our own worst critics! I'm sure your cookies are lovely! In case you are interested, I've just posted a quick start for beginning cookie decorators -- http://www.lilaloa.com/2013/11/cookie-decorating-quick-start-for.html

And I PROMISE -- cookie decorating just keeps getting easier!

Aimee Hunter said...

This absolutely made my day! My friend and I just made some of your Spooky Square Halloween cookies and had a blast. Those are such a fun design. Thank you! I too prefer chocolate. Your work is wonderful and thanks for the good read ;)

Cathy Siddons said...

Thanks so much for this post. As a newer cookie maker I look at some of the "works of art" that I see people decorate and get very discouraged. I now can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and with practice I will improve my skills! And if nothing else,I can eat my mistakes!

Catherine Lake said...

THANK YOU!!! As I just returned from Cookie Con with that "my cookies look like a kindergartener's in comparison" feeling, this was a kind reminder. You are wonderful. Also, the color short that you showed us at your workshop. Is there a way I can get that. I totally struggle with color.

Georganne (LilaLoa) said...

Catherine -- You are so sweet! I plan to post the color graph later this week or next.

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