Ladybugs and Flower Power

Outlining and flooding sugar cookies with royal icing was the task of this week. I am finally finishing my last two weeks of college so have postponed the fondant until I graduate (May 22, wahoo!).

If you want cleanly detailed cookies, royal icing is the best way to go. For those of you who have only had the pleasure of eating royal icing: meringue (i.e. egg whites) is one of the main ingredients. As with any recipe where raw eggs are used, there is always the risk of salmonella so meringue powder is often recommended, particularly if cooking for a large crowd where older adults and children may be present. The down side to meringue powder however is the flavor. There is this rich, sweet taste to royal icing when you use real egg whites and the texture is soft and creamy. Not that meringue powder tastes terrible, but there's no doubting the deliciousness of fresh, from-scratch ingredients.

Speaking of from-scratch ingredients, my garden seedlings are anxious to get into the ground and I am anxious to dig in the dirt. Three more weeks before the soil will be ready for me though so until then, creating a sweet bouquet of flowers must remain strictly kitchen business...

With my college commencement rapidly approaching, the campus has been springing to life as the grounds crew grooms the campus to perfection. There are so many flowers blooming on campus that you don't even have to bend towards a blossom to smell the sweetness, this is definitely my favorite time of the year.

There is a cute little kitchen supply store here in Decorah, Iowa called Ace the Kitchen Place. In fact, it's the only kitchen supply store in little Decorah... and they have one of the best collections of cookie cutters I have ever seen. Just to give you an idea of how extravagant some of the cookie cutters at this place are, I will simply tell you that recently, at a friend's wedding, one of the gifts just so happened to resemble one of her favorite animals... it was a goat cookie cutter!

Not that I'm making any goat cookies here, but I did find a fun design do go with my flowers...

Ladybugs! ...and no, these are NOT those pesky, stinky Asian Lady Beetles, these are Ladybugs... big difference.

So outlining and flooding...
this refers to a process where you start with a stiff royal icing and pipe an outline for each color you are going to use on the cookie. After you have outlined the border for each color on the cookie and there are no holes in the outline, you thin the royal icing and "flood" each compartment with it's respectful color.

I was originally going to make a sunflower but in the end, couldn't bring myself to do it - sunflowers and I have a bad relationship at the moment. You see, a couple months ago I planted some little seedlings that will eventually go into my garden. These seedlings are currently in one of the campus greenhouses. Because these seedlings are not for a research project or anything directly beneficial to the college, I was given permission to use the greenhouse only if I kept my little seedlings on the floor. This was fine with me however little did I know, one of the professors has been performing a research study on sunflowers. It's quite pretty actually, the entire greenhouse is filled with sunflowers and my little seedlings are lying beneath them (and still getting plenty of light). I began to notice little splotches on my seedlings' leaves however - the kind of splotches that typically develop where herbicide or a strong fertilizer is spilled. I can only assume that the sunflowers my poor little seedlings used to be under, were being given some sort of fertilizer treatment and while I do not have any direct evidence of this, I do know that those sunflowers are going to be guilty until proven innocent! (pounding fist on desk)

But enough about my seedlings, I am sure that you will hear more about them soon enough as I expect I will have them in the ground within the next three weeks and will have stories and organic gardening tips for you then.

The lady bugs were rushed so they didn't turn out as nicely as the flowers. See the ladybug's dots? When forming flat dots, you place the black dots on the red icing before it completely sets. It is good to wait about 30-45 seconds between flooding and placing your dots. If you try to put the dots on too soon, the two colors will bleed - you can see this by looking at the ladybug above. The black and red on the left wing bled together while the dots on the right were perfect.

Also, it is important that you don't mix the royal icing too much - there needs to be a happy medium. Not enough mixing and you won''t form the nice stiff peaks necessary for the proper texture and shiny look, but if you mix too much (as I did with the red), you will have a soft, spongy royal icing that appears slightly bubbly (i.e. not smooth and shiny) and never properly sets.

For those of you who have read this far down... the two most important rules when making sugar cookies are that you:
  1. Keep it thick - don't roll the dough too thin, when have you ever eaten a cookie and said, "mmm... I love how skinny and tiny this cookie is"...?
  2. Use real ingredients whenever possible, there is no question that making something from scratch using fresh, unprocessed ingredients is going to taste better.

Lastly, my Royal Icing Recipe uses real egg whites and covers roughly two dozen cookies:

2 egg whites
1 t. vanilla (if you want white icing, either omit the vanilla or use clear white vanilla extract)
4 c. powdered sugar

1.) Beat egg whites and vanilla until foamy.
2.) Add powdered sugar gradually until shiny.
3.) Beat until mixture forms stiff peaks.

Note: A good way to make sure that your peaks are stiff enough is by dipping a spatula into the mixture and pulling it out to form a peak. Then wiggle the bowl slightly - if the tip of the peak falls over, keep beating but if the tip of the peak stays pointing straight up, you're good to go!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can attest that these cookies not only look amazing but are absolutley delicious too!

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