All Hallows' Eve is here! To celebrate I did a little Franken-frosting. I decorated these halloween cookies with a combination of Royal Icing and rolling fondant. Fondant, traditionally used to add a smooth finish to cakes, is a time-saving and creative way to top a cookie. I was able to turn these around in about half the time it takes to do a design in icing alone. Gotta love that! Fondant can fall a little short in the flavor department, but I did some digging and found a brand that tastes amazing: Carma - Massa Ticino Tropic. Tropic has a reputation with professional pastry chefs and I can definitely see why. It's bright white, takes color really well, is easy to work with (roll or mold) and it tastes like food (imagine that). I get mine from L'Epicerie, they're one of only a few suppliers that sell Tropic in smaller quantities. Ideal for hobby bakers like me.
How to stamp cookies with gel food coloring
I've made fondant from scratch, but it's hard to work with (very sticky). Tropic is so user-friendly. I grab a clump of fondant from the bucket (keep it sealed tight so it doesn't dry out), sprinkle some confectioners' sugar on a clean work surface and roll the fondant to the desired thickness (usually about 1/16"). I use a fondant rolling pin by Cake Boss. To color, I just add a dab or two of gel food coloring and knead until blended. Then I cut pieces with the same cutter I used for the cookies, et voila! I place them on parchment and let them "set" overnight. By morning they will have stiffened a bit, just enough so I can work with them without breakage and bendage (is that a word?). I love that about fondant, it stays soft for a long time, whereas royal icing sets up really hard.
I've seen a few stamped cookies out there and was really intrigued by the idea of stamping "graphics" onto a cookie. I'm a designer after-all. But stamping on royal icing is likely to lead to frustration and a bin full of scrap cookies (I'm speaking from experience). Royal icing doesn't absorb food coloring very well after it's dry, and I found the surface to be uneven (always). Fondant acts much more like paper when stamped…smooth and absorbent. Au revoir frustration, hello fun! I like to use clear stamps so I can see exactly where my art is going and I can see how well the food coloring is sticking to the surface. It's a win-win. I pat gel food coloring onto the stamp with a small brush. I find patting it on, instead of brushing/wiping it on, helps distribute the color more evenly. After a few tests, it only takes a few minutes to stamp a dozen cookies. They dry quickly, too. After an hour or so they're ready to be fastened to the cookie with a few dabs of corn syrup and finished with royal icing accents.
I love using this cookie recipe this time of year and the dark cookie was a great base for these designs. For these I skipped the cinnamon and ginger and used a teaspoon of vanilla instead to let the molasses take center stage. The result is a rich, mellow cookie. When paired with the gentle sweetness of the fondant, these cookies make it easy to eat, drink & be scary.
Grandma's Molasses Cutout Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen 2" cookies
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup unflavored shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1 large free-range egg
2/3 cup molasses
Sift dry ingredients and spices into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using the the paddle attachment, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg and molasses. Mix well.
Add half of the dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated on low speed. Repeat with the remaining half. Mix until dough starts to clump. Divide dough and form into 2 equal discs. wrap separately in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. Can be chilled overnight.
If dough has been chilling for more than an hour, let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove the plastic wrap and place dough between two 1/2 sheets of floured parchment paper. Roll out to less than 1/8-inch thick. Chill rolled dough for at least 15 minutes (longer will make cutting and transferring easier).
Preheat oven to 375º.
Cut dough to desired shapes and place on baking sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Re-roll scraps only once to avoid tough cookies. Chill again until ready to bake.
Bake for 5-8 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown (about 6 minutes for convection ovens). Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes in the pan then transfer to wire racks to cool at room temperature.
Source: ©1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book
Don’t forget to lightly flour your parchment paper. This will make transferring the cookies a breeze!
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.