After many years of working in culinary retail, I observed some trends that I will share so you aren’t caught short this holiday season. Many last minute shopping frustrations involve baking supplies as people prepare to bake batches of holiday cookies and cakes.
The first thing to disappear from retail shelves is usually meringue powder.
Why? Well, cookie bakers know why: royal icing which is generally made with meringue powder, as opposed to beaten egg whites. Kitchenboy advises to buy yours now before it becomes hard to find; this meringue powder shortage usually happens after magazines and newspapers start printing holiday cookie recipes.
Speaking of Royal Icing, there are many recipe sources so simply do a quick internet search and follow the directions.
Royal Icing Tips for cookies:
– The proper consistency will allow you to easily spread it easily over the cookie. If it is too runny, it will spread beyond where you place it. To thicken it up, add more powdered sugar. If too thick, add water. In both cases, add a little at a time, like a tablespoon or so, better to add more as needed than frustrate yourself with too much.
– To keep it from hardening while you prepare the cookies for decorating, cover the icing with plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container.
– If you are going to use pre-made decorations like Dragees or sugar sprinkles, add them before the icing hardens so they will stay in the pattern you have laid out.
– If you will be using additional icing patterns or using food doodlers, let the icing harden first. This gives you a nice canvas from which to work.
– Adding glycerin to the icing will provide a nice sheen on the finished cookies once the royal icing sets.
The next item to disappear from retail shelves are the holiday specific cookie cutters, starting with the gingerbread boy and girl shapes. If you want larger gingerbread cookies I suggest the copper cookie cutters, otherwise use the tin versions.
After gingerbread boy and girl, the other traditional cookie cutter shapes (candy cane, wreath, Christmas tree) will disappear with frustrating speed. The best way to avoid this is to buy a set of various shapes. If you lose one later on, you can always buy an individual replacement. But be advised, the sets will sell out too as bakers get desperate.
If you don’t feel confident making your own icing from scratch, buy bottled icing. Just snip the tip off and follow the directions to get the correct consistency. Use larger bottles instead of piped royal icing and the thinner bottles for detail work. I have decorated using both styles to good success on cookies from holiday’s past.
As for a cookie decorating tool, you can use the traditional piping bag or use one of the new solutions. I recommend the Kuhn Rikon decorating set which uses squeeze bottles to push the icing out through the decorating tip. The reason I like it so much is that young and old can use the little bottles to ice cookies and cupcakes. When you stop squeezing, the icing stops, plus the caps are actual individual couplers, allowing you to change tips easily without emptying the contents. The set’s multiple bottles provide an efficient way to ice cookies and cakes using different colors. The bonus offset spatula gives you a great tool for easy smooth icing distribution.
The bottles clean up easily, though I wouldn’t put them in the dishwasher. Note: the bottles may take some time to dry fully, particularly the accordion shaped ones.