Yes! Success! Wahoooo! I'm so excited! Why? Because I've made a decorating discovery that will change how things get done around here! I did a boogie in my kitchen when this worked. #nolie I should back up a bit and start at the beginning. In order to understand my celebratory mood you need to know that my relationship with royal icing has been a tumultuous affair. I love how consistent my icing recipe is. And I adore how sturdy it dries for travel and/or shipping. But, I've also been known to curse like a sailor when my carefully executed icing techniques turn on me as they dry and I'm left with devastating dimples, cracks or craters! Seriously?! Why?!
I scoured the internet for answers and found a few suggestions: change your royal icing recipe, let your icing rest before piping, use less icing, tap your cookies to pop bubbles or use a smaller nozzle. some shared success stories but I was still getting inconsistent results. Until last week when I realized I'd be traveling for work and still needed to bake and decorate 40 cookies for my Sister-in-law's baby shower on Sunday. Instead of my normal overnight dry time for each layer of icing, I'd need to complete several layers in one day! So I brainstormed ways to speed up my dry times. A fan? Maybe. But it would also blow my disco dust all over the kitchen #prettymess. A dehumidifier? The house is too big, it won't make an impact. A heat lamp? That might work. So, I bought a dual bulb table top food warmer and by the miracle that is amazon prime it arrived on my front porch while I was on a plane to Philadelphia.
Why I love this project
I baked my cookies on Friday night and went to bed nervous. Will it work? Will the warming bulbs dry the icing or keep it warm and soft? I dreamt of icing and woke up early to face my decorating destiny. I put down my flood coat and popped the first tray of cookies under the warmer and turned my back to do another tray. Yeeks I was away too long! The sleeves of my onesies were starting to toast under the heat. So, I moved the lamps up and away from the cookies (on the highest notch) and implemented what I now call my "flash drying" technique. I set a timer for 1 minute at a time and pull the cookies out from under the lamp when the icing has gone from glossy to matte, forming a crust. Once that crust is formed there's no popping, bursting, cracking or cratering. zip. zero. zilch! #boogietime And bonus! the small icing areas like these pilot wings and cloud cheeks didn't pop open either! Little dots and other small areas have traditionally given me tons of guff. Looks like I can put away the patch icing and photoshop clone tool for good. Yay!
I'm super jazzed about flash drying and how it makes my cookies look their best in record time. So, my new mission is life is to get this post to every cookie decorator out there! And figure out how to do a food warmer giveaway so I can share the love!
Tips, Techniques + Takeaways
To reduce overall dry time, pop cookies back under the food warmer after flash drying. Watch closely under good light to avoid toasty spots.
Make fondant stars ahead of time and let dry completely (overnight). Place on wet icing.
Jes Best Royal Icing
Makes enough to decorate 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on size
970 g [2 lb bag] confectioners' sugar, no need to sift
80g [or 8-10 tablespoons] meringue powder (CK or Henry & Henry)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (to keep icing bright white)
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons water
Food coloring (optional)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, meringue powder and cream of tartar on low for just a bit to incorporate evenly.
Slowly add 1/2 cup water while mixing at a low speed. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until sugar is just wet.
Scrape sides of the mixing bowl. Increase speed one notch (#2 on Kitchenaid stand mixer). Mix for five minutes. When finished icing should have a matte (not glossy) finish and hold it's shape on the paddle when pulled up/out of the bowl.
Separate into clean, oil-free containers and tint with gel food coloring.
This recipe yields "stiff" consistency for piping details. Add water as needed to achieve flooding consistency.
Keep covered tightly and store for up to a week in a cool dry place or 10 days in the refrigerator. Mix well when ready to use.
Jes Best Cutout Cookies
Makes 2-3 dozen cutout cookies (depending on size)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 cup sugar
1 large free-range egg
1 large free-range egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla or lemon extract
Sift 3 cups flour, baking powder and salt into a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on high speed until well combined (butter does not need to be fluffy), about 3 minutes.
Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla; beat just to combine. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients. Mix until dough comes together.
Separate dough in half and form two smooth discs for rolling.
Roll each disc to desired thickness (1/8"-1/4") between two pieces of lightly floured parchment paper on a Silpat mat or flexible cutting mat. Continue to flour top of dough so parchment doesn't stick or crease.
Transfer mat and rolled dough to refrigerator to chill for about 2 hours.
When ready to cut shapes, flip chilled dough so floured side is down. This will help cookies "release" easily.
Cut dough to desired shapes and place on baking sheet pans lined with parchment paper.
Re-roll scraps only once to avoid tough cookies. If dough becomes soft and sticky, return to fridge to chill until shapes cut easily. Chill again until ready to bake. Ideally, 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325º
Bake until edges are slightly golden, about 12–16 minutes, depending on size. Rotate sheet pans half way through to avoid dark edges.
Let cookies cool slightly on pans then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Do Ahead: Cookies can be baked (left undecorated) 2 weeks ahead; separate cookies with wax paper, place in air tight containers and freeze.