How I Do Everything

You know what I love about America? Public Restrooms. I love that they exist. And that I can find them. And that my children can use them because they aren't just a hole in the tile.

I went to a Michael's craft store last week. We were there so long my daughter had to use the restroom. Twice. I couldn't actually wrap my mind around all the choices in each aisle. It was completely overwhelming. My mind just kept spinning in circles, wanting to go on and look at every single option, but at the same time needing to know more about the multitude of new products I've never even seen or heard about. And since all of my cookie decorating everything is on a slow boat from South Korea, it was so easy to want to buy one of each... of everything in the entire store. Fake flowers? I totally need those. Pre-cut mats for framed prints? I'll take two. Wooden letters in three different styles? One of each. I mean.... what if I get the wrong style or change my mind? I'm not willing to take those kinds of risks.

I kept wandering up and down the same aisles, worried that I might have missed some new treasure of joy. The store employees started getting nervous and kind of stationed themselves so at least one of them could see me at all times. Oh sure, they would like me to think that they were just moving from one endcap display to the next, conveniently at the same time I would move to another aisle I had already walked down 4 times... but I was on to them. The half empty box containing product from three displays down gave them away.

As it turns out though...after all that time, those aisles, the bathroom stops, and my mind glazing over, I walked out with... absolutely nothing. There were too many choices. I couldn't narrow them down. And I couldn't even remember why I walked in there in the first place. I think I heard a collective sigh of relief from all the employees as I walked out. I'll have to choose a different location next time. (But then... what if they have even different choices at the next store?!)

 You know what else is kind of overwhelming unless you break it down? Decorating cookies. I have gotten many emails asking about it all and in January I got a very helpful email suggesting I show you all exactly how it happens at my house. It's taken a while, but here it is... how I do pretty much everything that has to do with cookies.

I finally figured out a storage system that works for me. A giant dresser, and a tiny little plastic set of drawers... on wheels. The plastic bin on top of the drawer has little baskets for icing colors and cutters that I am going to use and a separate one for cutters that need to be put away. I have a drawer for icing bags and tips and another drawer for cookie bags and petal dusts. The bottom drawer has black towels in it.

The dresser holds all of my cookie cutters as wells as the various props I use for my photos. The cutters are in big and giant ziplock bags, organized by random category. I use the top of the dresser for drying RI transfers and sometimes cookies.

I use THIS recipe almost exclusively for cookies. I make a double batch every single time. I use what I need, and then divide the rest into 4-5 balls of dough. I put them in a gallon ziplock bag and freeze them.

When I am ready to make cookies, I take a ball out of the freezer and put it in a bowl while I gather all the cookie cutters, my rolling pin and clear off my counter space. It usually takes about 45 minutes for it to thaw enough to roll out. And with small children at home, I usually don't have a problem finding things to do while I wait for it to thaw.

But if I am in a hurry, I will slice the ball of dough into 1/2 inch slices, spread them out and let it sit for about 10 minutes, and then it's ready to roll out.

Before I ever roll out cookies, I make sketches with the cookie cutters I plan to use. I keep the sketches out while I'm cutting so I can remember if I need to flip the design, or stretch it, or add another piece on. I roll my cookie dough out on a very lightly floured counter space. I use the black spatula to lift the cookies from the counter to the baking tray. You can see that I don't use parchment or silpats. When I'm done cutting out cookies, I use the white bench scraper on the right to scrape all of the excess flour from the counter to the sink. You should own one of those. And use it.

While the cookies are baking, I use a clean towel to wipe my cutters off. I rarely wash them with soap. (Do you suppose this is okay? Will I go to some kind of food health standard purgatory for this?)

After the cookies are baked and cooled, I keep them in a 9X13 plastic container. I have 3 of these and often use all of them. I keep them like this for up to a week without a change in taste or texture.

I generally mix my colors the same day that I decorate the cookies. Mostly because I like to fix consistency at the same time that I mix the colors. I bring my pink box of icing colorings to my counter along with a big batch of thick royal icing. I pull out as many little bowls as colors that I will be mixing. Then it's a simple matter of experimenting. :) If I don't decorate right after mixing colors, I put lids on the bowls and stick them back in the fridge.

When I am reading to decorate, I pull the colored icing out of the fridge and let it stand for at least 30 minutes. I put the tips in my bags and put them inside a small drinking glass. I fold the edges over the top so it will be easy to put the icing inside. I line my colors up in front of the glasses because I try to color-code as much as possible. I use a knife to check icing consistency and to change it. I find that putting water on the blade of the knife and then stirring it into thick icing is the easiest way to make it thinner without accidentally adding too much water.

I don't have a lot of counter space, so I have to streamline my process. I take 2-3 cookies out of the plastic container at a time. I have all my icing lined up at the back of the counter and try to keep them in the same spots so I can remember which bag is which color. I get the black towel damp, but not soaking wet. I use it to wipe off the tips before use or to wipe off my toothpicks. I turn my dehydrator on before starting to decorate. I flood up to three cookies at a time and then put them on the top rack of the dehydrator. I flood three more... put those in the dehydrator. When the top rack is full, I move another rack on top of that and continue until I am done flooding the cookies or the racks are full. If the racks are full, I start taking out the cookies that have been in there for at least 12-15 minutes and put them on a half sheet pan on top of my cookie cutter dresser. When I come back to do the details on the cookies, I will take all the racks out of the dehydrator, empty one of them on to my counter and start filling it back up again with the detailed cookies. I try to work quickly enough that the cookies are only under the dehydrator fan for about 15-20 minutes. When I am done decorating, I turn off my dehydrator and let the cookies finish drying inside. This keeps air off of them while still maintaining some ventilation. It also reduces accidents from other people in my house.

In case you are wondering... this is what my counter looks like when I am done. Some days are definitely worse than others though.

Oh, and one more random thing. I keep my brushes inside a metal pencil case. I got a bottle opener for my luster dusts from Copper Gifts... and it's magnetic! So I just keep it on the top of the pencil case and always have it when I need it.

So there you have it. What did I forget? Do you have any questions? Any suggestions?

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