By Julia Pantoga, resident domestic goddess
Don’t call the kids in yet. There’s still some set up you’ll want to do before you have young ones underfoot.
The first step to decorating cookies is to make frosting: a lot of it. I make 4 cups of it for 4 dozen cookies,
(which is my yield from the recipe I gave you back in October in Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever – Part 1) Cookie frosting has only two ingredients: confectioner’s sugar and milk. The ratio is 1 ½ teaspoons of milk for every cup of confectioners sugar. Be careful working with the confectioner’s sugar—it can really be a mess. Wear your apron and whenever you pour it from one container to another, try not to spill (good luck with that, I’ve been handling the stuff for decades and I still make a mess with it).
Divide your frosting into several small bowls and color each using the deluxe food coloring that I recommended that you buy in Easiest Holiday Cookies – Part 1. Don’t forget to set at least a cup of your frosting aside to use whenever you need white frosting. You can see from the photo below that I forgot to do that and had to go back later to make more frosting.
Once you have your frosting made and the confectioner’s sugar is put away, call the kids! Remember, the thickest cookies and the ones with the fewest appendages will be the easiest to handle. To the extent that you can control which cookies little ones select to work on, direct them towards the thickest cookies.
Another thing you should have picked up at the decorating store back in October was a small, angled and tapered spatula and paintbrushes for icing your cookies. As you may recall, I’m not crazy about decorating cookies—so instead of painstakingly applying detail to each one, I try to get the entire job done as quickly as possible. Here’s what I do (I’m using my Christmas tree cookies for this example):
1. Pour about one teaspoon of base color frosting to each cookie. You may need to thin the frosting a little bit for this step—use milk, added ¼ teaspoon at a time. For my Christmas tree project, the base color was medium green.
2. Use your spatula to spread the frosting over the entire cookie.
3. While the frosting is still wet, decorate the edges with small candies.
4. Choose a darker color and apply light brush strokes to the top of each cookie. For my Christmas trees, I used dark blue-green.
(You’ll see this whole process again when I post my Valentine’s Day column, except the cookies will be shaped like hearts and the frosting colors will be pink and dark red.)
I decorate all of my cookies either painting solid colors or using this “gesso” painting process. The only other technique I use is to sometimes put a smaller cookie of the same shape on a larger cookie. If you insist on using other decorating materials on your cookies, make sure that everything dries eventually. Gel decorating products are beautiful, but the if the gel doesn’t dry, you end up with ridiculously fragile smeared cookies.
The cookies at the top of this essay were decorated by a professional artist friend of mine and the cookies below were decorated entirely by yours truly.