Time consuming: A little, depends on how many colors you are doing.
Royal icing is the secret to beautiful iced cookies. But anyone can make a royal icing. It's how you manipulate the consistency to get cookies that are true works of art. Or at least has everyone at holiday parties saying, "Hey, who made these really pretty cookies?" My cookies aren't masterpieces, but every year they have gotten better and better. I've finally found the royal icing recipe and technique that I will be sticking with from now until my grave, this is by far the easiest method, although it can be time consuming depending on how many colors you have to mix, how many bags/tips/couplers you have, and how many bottles for flooding you have.
Check out these recipes for cut out cookies as your canvas: you can go with a softer cookie that requires no chill time, or you can try out a more traditional, crisp, cut out cookie. Either way, I completely recommend this royal icing recipe and technique.
The Adventures of Sweet Sugar Belle go into much further detail about all these steps, and I highly recommend hopping over there and checking her out. Also, her cookies are just. so. pretty.
So to get started, here's the royal icing recipe (it was enough to cover two batches of soft sugar cookies):
1 bag (2 pounds) powdered sugar
3/8 cup meringue powder
3/4 cup water
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk to combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Then dump in the water. Mix on low until it looks soupy. Up the speed to medium for a few minutes until it reaches the consistency of pudding. Then crank it to high and mix for several minutes until the icing holds stiff peaks.
|Royal icing on my whisk. It's so stiff it wouldn't move unless I whacked it against the bowl.|
|It looks just like the picture!|
After these cookies were baked, I spent from 5-6 hours start to finish on about 6 dozen or so cookies. I honestly spent a good hour just trying to make my red icing red. I was getting so mad. I used Wilton Food Gel coloring which comes in little pots. It requires you to stick a toothpick in the coloring, swirl in your icing, get a new toothpick, dip in the color, swirl in the icing. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Do this for about an hour with red and you will still have pink. I sat there thinking, Santa can have a pink hat, no one will notice, right? But then it hit me, the icing is so thick and will need to be watered down anyways, so it's not a big deal if I use liquid food coloring. So in goes half a bottle of liquid red. And finally my red icing was red. (and your teeth and tongue will be too when you eat the Santa's!) I left a large chunk of my icing white. And then quickly mixed up a batch of green.
This color chart shows you how to achieve really pretty shades of different colors using the 4 liquid tubes found at any super market. The amounts listed are measured in drops, and they are to be mixed with 1 cup of icing. So adjust accordingly.
|From Anna and Blue Paperie|
|From Anna and Blue Paperie.|
So you've made your royal icing. You've picked your color and mixed it. It's beautiful. But it's still way to thick too do anything with. Now's the time to whip out a spray bottle. Make sure it's clean and chemical free, and fill it with water. Spritz the water a squirt or two (or three or four) at a time to your icing, and mix. Repeat until it has the consistency of toothpaste, it should NOT be able to hold a stiff peak anymore. This is what you need to pipe the edges of your soon-to-be gorgeous cookies.
At this time, I take out what I think I'll need to do the edges of whatever is supposed to be that color. I plop it onto a piece of plastic wrap, fold two opposite corners over to each other, then grab the plastic and twirl it (this technique has been described as what you would do if you were going to pop someone with a towel).
I also like doing this because it makes refilling bags easier and less messy. It also is helpful if you figure out you only have 3 bags left and only 2 tips that you want to use - it makes switching the colors around very easy.
Now that the bag and icing is ready to go, I pipe all the edges. In this case, red. If I run out before I've finished piping, I simply re-do the plastic wrap technique with the toothpaste-like consistency of red. Once everything is piped red, I prepare the icing to a flood consistency to fill in my shapes. Get out that handy dandy spray bottle and spritz and stir until the icing has reached a shower gel like consistency. Pour this into your bottle for flooding (it helps if you started out in a pyrex liquid measuring cup because it has a spout) and you are good to go.
Make sure the piped edging has set at least a little, then just squoosh in a decent amount of flood icing. Use a toothpick to help drag the icing to the edges, then set aside for at least 24 hours so the icing can harden before you do any details.
I like to do small details with the Wilton Food Writer markers. It make getting the details done so easy and then I don't have to tint a million different colors of royal icing.
I saw a cute tutorial on pinterest on how to use a star tip to make a pretty, textured Christmas tree. All you do is make little shells. But I was a little to lazy for that and ended up making squiggles, like this:
Make the tip of the tree face you, then do a line of squiggles with a star tip. Do another line, slightly overlapping with the first. Repeat until the tree is covered. Easy-peasy. These are probably my favorite decorated cookies this year.
I also used upside down hearts to make Santa faces, smaller hearts to make holly leaves, and stars to make Santa hats.
Then of course you have snowmen, snowman faces, snowflakes, and candy canes :)
So here's what I ended up with this year. I messed around with using sanding sugar and royal icing, and for the most part and happy with how it turned out!