Thursday, May 31, 2012

Candy Cookies

I have a super fun story to tell you guys. Are you ready? I mean, its a really good one, so don't be pretending to listen while doing the dishes or anything. Because, if you do that, you're going to miss the punchline and then I'll be standing there looking at you and  you won't be laughing and then it will get all silent until you realize I've stopped talking. And everything after that will be just awkward. And...I don't really like awkward.

I made you parade candy cookies last Saturday. And they were real, real cute. And completely festive because I made them with red, white, and blue icing. It was like one of those dream come true afternoons. My husband was working. (That's not the dream come true part.) My oldest child was reading in his bedroom. My nearly 2 year old was sleeping quietly in her room and the baby was making happy sounds from the living room floor. I had somehow created the most perfect shades of navy and red that ever existed. My lines were crisp, and my cookies were soft, chocolatey goodness. I took some pictures for a tutorial and then went to put my memory card in the computer to make sure the lighting wasn't all weird. I had all the time in the world and my just-finished cookies were drying on the kitchen table. It was a fantastic afternoon.

 And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving. And out of the corner of my brain, I realized that it was my nearly 2 year old. She had picked this exact moment in time to become capable of letting herself out of her bedroom. And she had a piping bag in her hand. And she was much closer to my cookies than I was.

Do you ever wish you could think in slow motion sometimes? I mean...there was NO CHANCE I was going to get to her in time. But I shouted a "Stop!" anyway. And it scared her. And in the second that she looked my direction I saw the eagerness on her face. She truly believed with all of her little heart that she was going to be doing me the biggest favor ever. And I would give all the decorated cookies in the world to have not called out and to have watched that little face re-decorate all those cookies in pure happiness. As it was...we just cuddled instead. And ate icing straight from the bag. So, you know, not entirely a waste.

These are not those cookies. These are different cookies. These do not have 2 year-old love inside of them or on top of them. But if you could imagine these in red, white, and blue...then you would be closer to those "afternoon of dreams" cookies. As it is...I did miss one of the photos I needed so you get some pink, red, white and blue swirls in your photo tutorial.

1. You need thick icing to make these. If you pull the spoon straight out of the dish, it should leave a peak that doesn't go away. These are the most perfect reason to try out Karen's "icing bullet" trick. Just be sure to twist the ends of the two "bullets" together before putting them in the bag. Squeeze the icing on a plate or wax paper for a couple of seconds until both colors of icing are coming out of the tip.

2. I find it helpful to do these as a transfer since I am REALLY bad at judging the center of the cookie. But you can do what you want. Holding your tip well above the wax paper/cookie, squeeze the icing so a line drops toward the center of the circle.

3. Lower your icing bag and the icing rope will naturally start curling on itself.

4. Follow that curve at a nice easy pace until your swirl is as big as you would like it to be. Stop squeezing and pull gently at the end to create a tapered edge. If you are doing them as transfers, let them dry for 3-4 hours before removing them from the wax paper. (Since these are made with thicker icing, they dry much quicker than flood icing would.)

Keep out of reach of children.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Let's talk about HUE. --Color Basics


Let's back this whole color train up, shall we?

First, can I just say that I've always wanted to say that? Not the color part, but the "Let's back the train up" part. Also, I would really like to work into conversation the phrase..."all over creation." You know, like..."my kids have their toys scattered all over creation." I heard my grandma say it once. Right before she said something else that was a naughty word. And I've been trying to come up with a valid situation that would necessitate its use.

So far, I've decided it has to be used on an occasion in which I would be slightly raising my voice, but not in anger. Maybe in disbelief or wonderment.

And I have to be talking to someone who is NOT in my family because my family doesn't listen to me anyway and it would be totally wasted on them.

Also, it needs to be followed by another sentence so that it appears seamless. Otherwise whoever I'm talking to will know that I just planted it there for the benefit of finally having said it.

And most importantly-- it must be said in person, not over the phone. It is exhausting trying to keep track of that list while in the midst of very grown up and complicated conversations like when I'm talking about the grabby arm thing that picks up all the recycling on Mondays (at 4pm if you want to join us.)

What? Color? Oh yeah. I think I got just a smidgeon ahead of myself last week. So let's just go back to basics. Way back to kindergarten basics. At least, if you were in some kind of expensive school that experiments with education and lets kids learn about art and music and starting their own businesses in kindergarten, these would be kindergarten basics.

There are three primary colors. If you only had these three colors you could mix (hypothetically) an entire spectrum of colors. For our purposes, the three primary colors are RED, YELLOW, and BLUE.


If we had pure pigment icing colors, then you really could get away with owning 4 bottles of coloring gel. (Red, yellow, blue, and black.) For better or worse though, most food coloring gels are already a mix of these colors. Take that blue for example....when I mixed royal blue with the white icing, it had a greenish tint to it. I actually had to add PURPLE to get more of a true blue. Do you see a pattern? Last week we had icing that was too orange, so we added more blue...which just happened to be opposite orange on the color wheel. Can you guess what is opposite green on the color wheel? Gah. Again with the getting ahead of myself-ness.

Let's build a color wheel already. We start with our three most basic, most primary of all colors -- red, yellow, and blue. And then we throw a dance party with some crazy good food and everyone gets all mixing around and making new friends...

And we get the secondary colors. The secondary colors are purple, orange, and green. They are made by mixing the primary colors. Green comes from blue and yellow...or in other words, it is a mix of the colors on either side of it. Now that you see this most basic of all color wheels...let's talk about how you can use it to neutralize a color. I was about to tell you some crazy ideas about shadows and opposite light and all that stuff...but it gets kind of weird and uses some big words like "theory" and "light spectrum" so I'm just going to tell you this instead --

{READ SLOW}

If you are mixing an icing color and it seems to be too much of one shade, mix in a little of the color on the opposite side of the wheel. So...using the above example...I was trying to make blue and it was turning out to be a little too green. I look at the color wheel and see that red is opposite of green. I need to add red to the blue to counteract the green. If I add too much red though...my color will turn purple. So instead of adding straight red to the blue, I add something that already has red in it, mixed in with blue since I am trying to make blue. I add purple.

This works with every color. You just have to be real, real careful to not add too much of the opposite/contrasting color. It works with royal icing and butter cream (add a tiny amount of purple to get rid of the yellowish tint!) and glaze and ...umm, bread dough. If you wanted to make rainbow colored sandwiches you could do that. I wouldn't be bothered by that at all.

 Answer to the Facebook question.

PS -- Want to try a fun "opposite color" experiment? Stare at something that is really red for as long as you can and then glance on to an empty sheet of white paper. What color do you see?

PPS -- Learning to know if the color is "a little too green" takes some practice, some time, and some experimenting. I'm just going to keep going on and on about it for a while though, and I have some fun "worksheets" and links coming up that should help you practice that skill. Or learn to yodel. One of the two.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Stack o' Books Graduation Cap Cookies

I have spent a ridiculous amount of time today trying to discover the "real" name of the graduation cap. And as it turns out....graduation cap IS the real name! The term "mortarboard"  (the term for which I was searching) is really a slang term. I feel cheated somehow. All that time...wasted. Oh sure, I could convince myself that I was on a quest to better myself, that somehow it was the journey that mattered. I could tell my children that their unanswered pleas for a third snack were all in the name of enlightenment and greater good for the...umm...for the...greater good of goodness. And stuff.

I'd like a refund on my afternoon please.

 

Now that I think about it...I don't really care what it is called. What I want to know is who came up with that design? I mean, it's like someone grabbed a spare piece of cardboard and glued it to a hat that strangely resembles a bowl. And then...because that wasn't weird enough, they also took some odd piece of rope they had lying around and dyed it to match the school colors, frayed up the ends and attached that to the top of the cardboard. If you ask me, it sounds like the mother of some young child was having a rough afternoon and needed something to entertain her children while she did some internet research...wait a minute....

Anyway...these cookies. Books. Graduation hat things. Cookie. Icing. Want to?

1. Cut off the outside edges of the bow.
2. These cookies are easiest with a thicker, 18 count icing. Start with the bottom book. Go ahead and pipe on something that looks suspiciously like a tuning fork. And then do another one a bit above that. Oh, and then, pipe on a cave. Except, it won't be a cave in the end. It just looks like one right now. Let that dry for 30 minutes or one game of Battleship. Whichever comes last.
3. Fill in the missing elongated tuning forks and then pipe a diamond shape around your cave. Battleship rematch. Try to win this time.
4. Add the white paper bits and a piece of rope that is dyed to match the school colors. Let everything percolate over night.

Add your final details. I used icing for the bookmarks, and food color markers for the rest. I know you are bursting with the question -- Can I make these in my daughter's/friend's/nephew's/former paper delivery child's school colors? And the answer would be...NO.

Ha ha ha ha ha. I'm totally kidding. That was the best joke ever. Oh man, I'm still laughing....

Also, the present cutter is like the head cheerleader of cookie cutters for graduation. Or maybe its more like that guy who is actually really cute but totally shy and you're really shy and you've been afraid to talk to him your entire school life but now that you are graduating and you'll never have another chance you finally just talk to him and as it turns out...you kind of both like each other and you never would have known if you hadn't just taken the chance. But now you'll basically live happily ever after instead of living a life of drudgery and sadness. The present cutter is like that. Kind of. Really what I'm saying is that Callye at The Sweet Adventures of SugarBelle used it for a graduation cookie, too. Don't go kissing on her cookies or anything though, because that would be totally weird. More weird than cardboard-bowl-rope hats.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Let's talk about HUE.


Actually, first, let's talk about me again. As previously discussed, I'm not a good Let-It-Goer. Colors are no exception. It was a real, real frustrating thing for me at first. I would have some great color choices in my head... and they would NEVER come out right in icing. Want proof? Check out THESE cookies. Eww. And I've never told anyone this...and its totally embarrassing but...I was so upset about that "perfect" color and my inability to achieve it that I actually put SALT in the icing as well so I wouldn't be tempted to give the cookies to anyone. Clearly...not one of my better decisions in life. Although, my husband never noticed. I'm not sure if that is a reflection on my emotional salt pouring skills or his love for me. Anyway...I've gotten over my color issues and I'm happy to say that my icing has been salt-free for just over a year now.


For a while I mixed and stared and mixed and stared and mixed and over-mixed until I started figuring a few things out. First of all -- over-mixing is bad for the icing. It gets all crumbly when it is dry. Second -- that whole "color wheel thing" actually helps. Kind of like, a lot. Let's take this one step at a time.

For "scientific" purposes*, I started with 1 cup of icing straight out of the mixer. I wanted to achieve a lilac colored option like on the right. I think that deciding which color to use first is actually the hardest choice. Once you have some color, its easier to tell where to go from there. Sometimes I have to start over completely, but usually I can get to the color I want from more than one direction. You would be just fine if you said to go with purple to start with. Personally, saw more pink, so I added some Wilton pink to it. To keep things uniform and re-produceable*,  I used a drop size amount.

And I got this color.  Not surprisingly...it's pink. If you struggle with color I strongly urge you to have a hard copy of your desired color on hand for comparison. I use magazines, toys, knick-knacks, online references...just be aware that if you print something from online, the color is almost never the same hue.

Look at the color you have and the color you want. The color on the left is lighter than I want. I have a choice to add 1) more pink 2) black or 3) brown. More pink will give me a brighter color, but not a darker color. Black might be an option...but since brown has more of an orange base to it, it will keep it in the same color family. I'll go with that and add 1 drop of Americolor chocolate brown.

Did you catch that? So far we have equal amounts of pink and brown in our icing and our icing still looks pink.

Now I have the color on the left. When you look at it next to our ideal color, you can see that it is a little too orange. Or you can see that it needs more blue.  Both are basically the same statement.

Look at the color wheel again. Orange is directly across from blue. If your icing is too orange...it needs more blue. If your icing needs blue, it is because it is too orange. This is the key to success. With a little practice and some reckless experimenting you will soon be able to see what your color is and what your color needs.

And here is where I appear to contradict myself by saying that I actually added 1 drop of Americolor regal purple. Let me explain. We have a pink icing. We want our icing to remain somewhat pink. I know I need more blue, but I also know I want it to stay closer to the red side of the wheel. So I compromise. And we all win.

Let's recap. I had white icing. I wanted lilac. So I added some pink. It wasn't dark enough so I added some brown. That made it dark, but too orange. So I added some purple and got exactly what I wanted and lived happily ever after. 


I'm going to keep talking about color. I like color. It makes SUCH a difference in how you feel about decorating, and how your end product looks. Send me your questions and your special color requests and let's make the world happy and keep our icing salt-free.

PS -- The answer to THE FACEBOOK QUESTION -- I added brown. 

*This statement has nothing to do with science. I just really wanted to sound technical so you would believe me. But now I feel kind of bad about misleading you. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Deployed Soldier Cookies

These are my very favorite kind of cookies to make. They are the very first kind of cookies I ever made. These kind of cookies are the reason that I ever started decorating cookies in the first place. These cookies are for a soldier deployed overseas. Don't get me wrong. I'm not excited that they are deployed...I just like being able to do something for them.

I started making cookies when my husband was deployed. It seemed like I had nothing but time. And a computer. And a library. I learned to do A LOT of cool stuff between the hours of 9pm and 5am. (Obviously...sleeping was not one of the things I learned to do while he was deployed. But don't be like me. Sleep is a good thing. Especially if you are an infant.....Can someone read this post to my child?) I made some real ugly cookies the first time around. And the second time as well. And I made A LOT of them. And I sent them all to my husband. And he shared them. And then he told me that everyone loved them. Secretly I knew they didn't care what the cookies looked like, but I felt like a rock star anyway.


Also while my husband was deployed, I learned --

To play soccer. And I was really good at it because I played with other moms who had been bribed by their friend to play so they didn't really care if they won or not. But I cared. I wanted to win. So I ran really fast. And did all sorts of crazy trick moves that didn't fake anyone out. But they laughed a lot and then I would quick take the ball.

What a sump pump sounds like at 3am when my neighbor left their sprinklers on all night and it flooded my yard. And in case you are wondering -- it sounds like a big scary bad guy hitting all the pipes in your basement with a hammer every 5-7 minutes. And it was hard to tell from the sound itself, but I was also guessing that he had a beard. And that he smelled bad. And probably, he had come from Mississippi or somewhere else far away and was trying to eat the cereal I left in the laundry room. I knew I should have put that away.

Where the best garage sale neighborhood were. I had a map and everything. I printed out a couple copies just so I could spread them out on the table in dim light and then I'd hunch over them and plot my course for the following day while hoping that someone would look in my window and think that I was doing something super secret and really cool.

How to do basically everything around the house -- I fixed plumbing leaks. I planted grass and built a giant flowerbed and hauled buckets and buckets of dirt to fill it up. I stained my fence and painted my walls. And then when my husband came home, he was all "Great! Now what do you need ME for?" Except, he really didn't think it was great. And I told him that he could do all those things for the rest of his life and I would just make some more cookies or something. So that turned out all right.


Do you want to know how I got the Route 66 -ish shape cookie? 

1. I used the fancy square cutter! (...and some end of the line, cracked to bits cookie dough.)
2. After cutting out the fancy square, make two diagonal cuts starting just inside the point and going in.
3. Angle your cutter so you are only cutting with the very top edge and cut the dough from line to line.
4. Done. Lift. Bake. Cool. Decorate. Eat. Enjoy.


PS: The flag isn't backwards. It is designed that way to look like the wind is blowing it because the soldiers are always moving forward. And when soldiers are deployed, they wear this "subdued" version of our red, white and blue flag.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Creative Cookie Contest Winners!!





Okay, I know this is totally annoying, but before I tell you who won the contest I want to first say -- I LOVE YOU ALL!! Thank you SO MUCH for entering and sharing and voting and loving and...stuff. I am completely astounded by the sheer number of entries and the pure talent and creativity involved in each of them. I wish I could give every single one of you a prize. You should all be extremely proud of yourselves for the creativity, the execution, and for flat out finding time to make those cookies!!

I was really, really excited to get the scores from the judges until the very end when I realized it would be final and only ONE of you could win first place. So...moving along to that very interesting piece of information -- I would like to introduce you to the --


GRAND PRIZE, NUMERO UNO, FIRST PLACE WINNING COOKIE  OF DREAMS--

AMY HAYES from SWEET FACE COOKIES!!! Congratulations!!!!

At this point I'd like to be slightly more annoying and just say how much I love my judges. They did not have an easy job. And as more and more incredible entries kept showing up each day...I started getting nervous that they would cancel on me...but they didn't. They stuck with me and accomplished the near-Herculean task of judging your amazing and innovative entries. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Okay, back to announcing things. Let's talk about the 

SECOND PLACE WINNING COOKIE OF DREAMS--

Amy Clough!!! Congratulations!!!

And just to prove that you don't HAVE to be named Amy to win a prize, allow me to introduce you to the winner of the
PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD --

Connie Kim from Sweet Favors!!! Congratulations!!

I will email all 3 of you later today. Probably. If I don't come upon ninjas on my way home from buying bananas. If you don't hear from me within the day, feel free to email ME. And call the authorities.

...And since I just can't let go of the fantasticness that is all of you...I have to share some of my own favorites. 

(What? Can I say that out loud? Promise you won't hate me if I don't share all 240 cookies? Because I would LOVE to share every last design and talk about each and every stinking one of you. Not that you stink. That's cool if you do though. I have a strict non-judging stink policy in here.) 


 Rebecca at DoughMestic HouseWife
I had to look twice before I realized what I was looking at. It is a super adorable penguin made into an interlocking PUZZLE using the present cutter! SUCH a great idea, and really well done!

 Kim M.
I am a creature of habit. I used to decorate cookies with fondant, and I never thought about using royal icing. And now I decorate with royal icing and never think about using fondant even when it would be a trillion times easier to do so. Sanding sugar? Candy pearls? Sprinkles? So many fun options that I never think of. I LOVE that this Koi Pond uses rock candy. So creative! And...I kind of want my own little non-sugar pond now.
 
You guys -- Shelan is only THIRTEEN YEARS OLD! I don't think I even knew what a heart DID when I was that old, much less how to create one in sugar form... and then put it on a blog.

 Sarah E.
Guess what? Shelan wasn't even the youngest entrant in the contest! Meet Sarah. She is ELEVEN YEARS OLD. And she made FOUR different designs! The Converse Shoe was my favorite of her entries. (My husband's favorite was the girl on the swing.)

I saw this cookie on Facebook first. As I was leaving a comment, I realized -- it was for the contest!! I hadn't even realized it was the present cutter shape!
 
This cookie just makes me happy. And I don't even like pigs.  I love the colors and the contrast and how the design fills the entire cookie in a fun barnyard kind of way. And HELLO -- airbrushed mud? Wow.

 Bake Me Happy by JeeNee Zee
I find I am holding my breath every time I look at this cookie. The piping on that basket is basically perfect in every way imaginable.

It's an OVEN that is ON FIRE. Did you catch that? Its funny because its true. 

Josh
I'm still ogling this cookie. Its enormous and bright and incredibly well done. And I love that he used the present cutters as a piece from the whole. I can honestly say, I never saw THIS while staring at that cutter!!

The texture on this cookie is unbelievable. I just want to reach out and touch it. Actually, I just want to eat it. But also touch it while it was traveling towards my mouth. I'm pretty sure it would taste like sweet cotton candy mixed with Orange Julius.
 
I saved this cookie for last because it makes me laugh every single time I look at it. Every. Single. Time. It's a little guy escaping from notebook paper!! Come on, isn't that HILARIOUS? I love it!!

Browse the rest of the entries HERE.

I have loved making so many new friends and discovering how you all see the world (and the same cookie cutter) so differently. I am stunned by the amount of raw talent out there and I cannot wait to see what all of my new (and old) friends come up with next!! Ohh. Now I'm all sad. This contest has been such a big part of my blogging life and now its over. I'm going to go console myself with ice cream and another look at all those wonderful entries. And maybe if I stay up too late I will give them names and start fashioning reality show personalities for them as well. Actually... I think I might have crossed that "staying up too late" line already. I'm just having such a hard time letting go. Promise you'll come visit me still, okay?

Friday, May 11, 2012

the NINE designs


I think that maybe I should be a novel-title-maker-up person. I would be super great at it. Basically, I would get all kinds of rich and famous by thinking up intriguing titles for novels and then selling them to people who want to write a book that other people will buy. My plan is a little rough at this point. Definitely some details that need to be worked out. But that won't stop me from thinking up great titles in the mean time. And then when this goes big and I'm all in demand and everything, I'll have a whole stockpile of intriguing titles to choose from. My first title --

The Remaining Nine

What do you think? It's got potential right? (Tell me you love it.) It could be about these kids that ...or maybe an island where these people...hmmm. Actually, every idea I have is super depressing and kind of dark and that's not really what I'm going for at all. Let's just pretend that this is the title of a super fun book chronicling some hypothetical, but still super fun, cookie decorating contest. And there's a mystery and some guy that rescues a girl and maybe a carnival too. Oooh. And cotton candy. I LOVE cotton candy!

Or...maybe I should just tell you who came up with some of my nine secret designs and then show you the rest of them.

1. Octopus (made by Natalie of Sweet Hobby by Natalie)

2. Television (made by Elizabeth of Arty McGoo fame) To be fair...my version did NOT contain Gumby.

3. Palm Tree (made by Erin of The Cookie Engineer)

They all won a big ol' Hello Kitty cutter and some Korean candy. And I'm not talking about the dried squid on a stick kind of Korean candy. Maybe the rice paste and bean sauce kind though. I make no promises.

Here are the other designs I came up with that didn't make a showing in the contest --

4. Sailboat -- You know, at the time I drew this design, I had some really fantastic reason for that red flag at the top. But by the time I made it....that really great idea had pretty much moved to Canada. And Canada is a LONG way from here. So, it really wasn't coming back.

5. Sign

6. Caterpillar 

7. Lollipop -- I made two of these because my daughter ate the first one. Apparently, it was very delicious.  I went with "better safe than sorry" the second time around.

8. Mushroom

9. Stack of Books



I CANNOT WAIT to announce the rest of the winners on Monday!! I have all the scores from the judges and I just need to double check the numbers... Also,  there is still time to VOTE ON YOUR FAVORITE DESIGN! Voting closes Saturday at midnight. As in -- 1 day, 2 hours, and 8 minutes from now.

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