I never thought of myself as an artistic baker. My baking experience came from my mother, watching her make Greek pastries my entire life. It took practice to shape the cookies as well as she did and to handle phyllo dough without tearing the paper-thin sheets. But the main objective was to make delicious pastries—ones that people would crave and look forward to. But several years ago when my daughter was student teaching, she wanted to give the children something for Valentine’s Day. I offered to make personalized heart cookies for her to give each child. I’d never done this before, but I wasn’t planning to do anything complicated. I baked and iced large cookies, rimmed them with flowers made of frosting and wrote their names on them. I wrapped each one in clear cellophane and tied them with curly ribbon. And…so it began. A parent contacted me to make cookie favors for her child’s first communion. Nervous about getting paid for something I wasn’t an expert at, I took a cake decorating class and learned some frosting techniques. With time and experience, I created my own style. For a few years I took orders upon request. I never solicited the business; it was always word of mouth. Now I only make the cookies for friends and family. I am not an artist and yet, I managed to make pretty cookies…so can you. If you have the time and the patience, you also can make cookie favors for any occasion. But be warned! These cannot be made in one day—you will have cookies all over your kitchen table for several days.
The obvious—The cookies have to be baked. You can use any recipe you like, but make sure it is a recipe without baking powder or baking soda. The dough needs to retain the shape from the cutter. You don’t want the dough to spread or rise. Below is the recipe I use. They yield around 30 cookies depending on the size of the cutter.
6 ounces cream cheese ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 pound butter, softened 2 cups sugar
5 cups flour 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix flour, salt and cinnamon in a bowl – set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the sugar gradually. On medium speed, beat in eggs and add vanilla. Slowly add the dry mixture until fully blended. Form dough into four balls, wrap in saran wrap and flatten into discs. Refrigerate for one hour. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough to approximately ¼ to 1/3 inch thickness and cut out to desired shape. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Cookies should still be white – just beginning to turn color. The edges should not be brown. Cool on a baking rack.
You will need:
2 – 3 pounds fondant
2 pastry brushes
The icing or fondant. Most bakers pour icing onto the surface of the cookies, let them dry and then decorate them. This is certainly a choice, but I prefer to use fondant. By rolling out fondant and using the cookie cutter, I get a clean, neat edge. Fondant can be purchased in many colors or you can color white fondant using icing color gels. Fondant has a taffy-like consistency. However, if left exposed, it will dry up quickly. I cut a chunk and place the rest in a zip-lock bag. I microwave the fondant for 7 seconds when I am ready to roll it out. By doing this, it softens it up, making it easier to roll it thin. Make sure you sprinkle powdered sugar on the rolling surface and the rolling pin to avoid sticking. Use the cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Place the excess in the zip-lock while you apply the fondant to the cookie. With a pastry brush, apply the piping gel on the top surface of the cookie and place the cutout fondant over it. With the unused pastry brush, remove excess powdered sugar. Line up all the cookies on a work surface lined with either tinfoil or wax paper.
*Hint – This step goes a lot faster if you can get a helper. One person can roll out and cut out the fondant. The other person can apply the piping gel and lay the cut out fondant onto the cookie.
**Save some fondant for decorating. You can roll out dough and use tiny cutters to decorate your cookies. Stars, flowers, leafs, shapes, etc. can be cut out and adhered with royal icing. You can use royal icing and make flowers with various tips, but if you are not talented with a pastry bag the fondant cutouts are a great alternative.
Whether you choose to decorate with royal icing or with fondant cutouts, you will need to make a batch of royal icing. This icing hardens like glue and will hold whatever you use to decorate your cookie. You may want to pipe the border of each cookie using a #1 or #2 tip, or you may use a flower, leaf or star tip. If you are simply using the icing to adhere fondant shapes to the cookie, a #2 or 3 is fine. On the cookies demonstrated here, I used a tool with a tiny ball at the end to indent the middle of the fondant flowers. In the center of each flower you can put a dot of colored royal icing or a 3mm pearl candy, as I did. This is the fun part—where you get to be as creative as you wish. I challenge myself to make each cookie unique. When guests realize they are not all the same, they examine them to see which one they want to bring home.
Royal icing – 1 pound powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons meringue powder, 6 tablespoons warm water. Mix for 8 minutes. Keep in an airtight container when not in use.
When your decorating fun is complete, let the cookies dry for a day. The next day, I like to brush each cookie with an edible pearl glitter. It really looks beautiful, especially on bridal dresses and wedding cakes.
*I used an imprinted mat to get the flowered impressions on the fondant. You roll the fondant out onto the mat before cutting out the desired shape. These mats are available in any cake decorating aisle of your craft store or specialty bake shop.
Take my advice on this one—if you can get someone to help you, do it! This is the most tedious part of the process. But, with a friend and some good conversation, the job is done before you know it! Get some cello bags, the ribbons of your choice and make some occasion tags on your computer.
*Buy the bags and bows on the Internet. I use Nashville wraps. Their prices are most reasonable and they have a huge selection.
**If you need to ship your cookies, as I had to do, I suggest bubble wrapping each one individually to avoid breakage.