In October, I was invited to demonstrate and give classes at the Melbourne Sewing and Craft Show in a new section called “Icing on the Cake”. Little did I realise how much fun it would be to meet and talk with so many women for whom crafting has been a lifelong hobby, even if their ‘craft’ wasn’t necessarily focused on food. It made me appreciate that even in today’s modern age, it’s still so important to foster a love for creating things with our hands and how transferrable those skills are amongst crafting. I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who worked with pottery about new ways I can mix and roll fondant to create colour effects – something I can’t wait to try. So thank you to everyone who came, watched, came up on stage and said hello! Happy baking and feel free to email me any questions.
Basic Biscuit Dough:
(Makes 24-26 cookies, depending on size)
100g self-raising flour
350g plain flour
125g white sugar
125g salted butter, cold and diced
125g golden syrup
1 large egg
In the bowl of a food processor, blitz flours and sugar until combined. Pulse in the cold, diced butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the golden syrup and egg. Do not over-mix, the dough should be pulsed until it almost comes together. Divide cookie dough into three balls and work lightly with your hands on a floured bench until the dough comes together into a disc. Chill for 20 minutes, wrapped in clingwrap.
Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C fan-forced. Roll out the dough to a 3-5mm thickness, either on a lightly floured bench or between two sheets of baking paper. Cut out shapes using lightly floured cookie cutters and place on a tray lined with baking paper, then chill in the freezer for 5 minutes. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly browned at the edges – remember larger / smaller cookies will cook at different speeds, so try to bake them in similarly-sized batches. Repeat with the remaining dough, and cool the cookies.
NB: you can add dried ground ginger to the dough (2 tbs) for ginger cookies, or a variety of other dried spices. This dough freezes well, and defrost in the fridge to stop the dough sweating. Once defrosted, work the dough with your hands a little until it feels like new again – or fold it through ice-cream in a dessert emergency…
1kg pure icing sugar
2 large egg whites
Small bowls for mixing in colours, piping bags (or ziplock bags), teaspoons, food dyes, toothpicks. Sprinkles, cachous or anything else you wish to decorate with.
A note on icing: The icing for these cookies needs to be two different thicknesses – one for the borders or lines of the cookies, and another for the filling. I like to call these ‘line’ and ‘flooding’ icing, and I begin by making the line icing, as extra water is then added to thin the line icing out to become flooding icing. Judging the right consistency of icing might seem hard, but one or two attempts and you’ll get a great feel for how thick / thin it should be. A great way to judge how your icing will look on the cookie is to hold up some icing on a spoon and let it drip back into the bowl – imagine that is how it will look on a cookie; is it holding shape, or not falling nicely? Adjust the icing with extra icing sugar or water as necessary. Food dyes / gels are concentrated forms of food colouring, and give a wonderfully vibrant result to decorating. They can be bought from gourmet food stores or from the internet, and last a long time. If you can only find food colouring (i.e. in supermarkets), start with a thicker paste because the water content of the food colouring will thin out the icing mixture.
For the “Line” Icing:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the icing sugar and egg whites on low speed. When the mix starts to come together and resembles a rough dough, slowly drizzle in about 50ml of water. Depending on the size of your whites, you may need to add more water – or more icing sugar if you add too much! For the line icing, it should be quite thick and pasty but not firm. It’s always great to do a little trial before you start colouring the icing; I do mine in a small zip-lock back with the corner snipped off, and pipe it onto a trial cookie. Once you’ve judged the icing is OK, divide half of it into little bowls and tint with food dye as desired. Spoon into small piping bags, snip a small hole off the end and decorate the cookies as desired. You can use this line icing for a border that will then be filled with flooding icing, or just to decorate and draw shapes, words or outlines on cookies. If you are piping borders on the cookies, make sure there are no gaps in the outline as your flooding icing will leak out.
The star cookies below show how line icing can be used as a decoration on their own – it’s great to start out with something simple like these and work up to flooding icing.
Now add a little extra water to your remaining icing and mix until it drops softly from a spoon. It’s also great to do a test here – you don’t want the icing to run everywhere over the cookie, rather to spread slowly like lava. Divide into bowls as before and tint with food dye. Using a teaspoon or a small squeezy bottle, drop small amounts of flooding icing on to the cookies. At this point, whilst the icing is still wet, you can use a toothpick to drag new colours through the mixture (like my pink cat) or drop small dots of other flooding icing into yours – make sure it’s the same thickness (not line icing) so it blends well. Using sanitised tweezers, place cachous onto the wet icing if desired, or sprinkles or glitter.
Pre-heat oven to 50C and bake the cookies for 30min to set the icing. If desired, you can then pipe on top of the first layer (like the whiskers on the pink cat, or the chicks below) and build height on the cookies. Re-bake for 30min at 50C if you add extra icing to the cookies.
One of my favourite cookies to make are gingerbread boys and girls, they can be customised for event and season – think little piped candy canes in their hands for christmas time, or all white, beige and cream icing for a wedding or christening.
These are a collection of cookies I made last year for sale at my old market stall in Brisbane, to support the RSPCA. I may not have made a profit from selling them but it was always so much fun to sit down with all my cookie cutters and plan colours and decorating styles.
These cookies keep well for a few weeks in an air-tight container, as long as the icing has been baked on as described above. The full process from making the dough through to decorating does take a few hours, but if you’ve got the time it’s so much fun.
For our cupcake decorating classes, I decided to share my favourite recipe – soft, springy chocolate cupcakes with the naughtiest, best chocolate icing. It’s not as easy to work with for decorating as a a standard buttercream, but it’s the icing I’ll always go back to the bowl for a sneaky spoonful when baking at home. These cupcakes keep well in the fridge for a few days, just make sure they come to room temperature before devouring.
150ml sunflower oil
250g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
300g caster sugar
150ml boiling water
Pre-heat oven to 190C / 170C fan-forced. In the bowl of a mixer, combine sunflower oil, buttermilk, milk, and egg well. Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and cocoa together. Add the dry ingredients and boiling water alternately to the milk mix – it will be quite a wet batter. Spoon into cupcake papers half-full and bake for 18-20 minutes or until risen and springy to the touch. Cool, and decorate with chocolate icing. Makes 20 cupcakes.
Chocolate and Cream Cheese Icing:
100g butter, softened
250g cream cheese, softened
200g 70% dark chocolate, melted
500g icing sugar, plus extra
It’s imperative that the butter and cream cheese be at room temperature for this recipe – if not, beat them together for 8 – 10 minutes or until no lumps remain.
Cream butter and cream cheese in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle until no lumps remain. Slowly drizzle in the cooled, melted chocolate down the side of the bowl with the paddle running – it should turn into a glossy, chocolatey mixture. Add icing sugar in batches, and if the icing becomes too cold and starts to harden, 1 – 2tbs boiling water will rescue it. This makes quite a soft icing, so add extra icing sugar if it looks too soft or you need a stiffer finish. Spread, pipe or spoon onto cupcakes and serve.
For our cupcake classes, we piped this icing with a 5-point star-tip nozzle, a plain piping bag and used a small spatula to apply. We then finished the cupcakes with fondant, either as a complete covering or cut into cute shapes with mini cookie-cutters. I’ve also been known to finish these cupcakes with Malteasers, and when I do I’ll add 100g malt powder to my icing mixture.
And lastly, my standard buttercream recipe, which I used for the cake icing demonstration.
100g unsalted, softened butter
2c icing sugar, sifted
In a mixer with the ballon whisk, whip butter for 3 – 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Slowly add icing sugar on low speed, and then continue to whip until light and fluffy. Add 1 – 2 tbs milk if required; this is something I do by judgement depending on how hot the day is, or what type of butter I’m using. Some butters have a higher water content than others so I find that some days the icing needs a little more milk. To check for correct icing consistency, it should cling to the whisk when lifted out of the bowl and spread nicely with a spatula (for a test).
Variants: try adding the scraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean, zest of 2 lemons or oranges or 50g sifted cocoa powder for a light chocolate finish. I always use the best butter I can find for icing as it’s one of the main ingredients, so it always has to taste amazing!