Homemade Peeps: Version 2.0

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To celebrate this beautiful Easter weekend, I attempted to make homemade peeps again. My first attempt was last spring. Visions of beautiful, sparkling marshmallow treats danced in my head. I had seen several versions on Pinterest and I knew it was destined to be a hit. I was so young and naive.  As you can see in the picture below, the magical peeps I had envisioned ended up looking like it belonged perfectly on a Pinterest Fail blog with the caption, “Nailed It.”

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Not only did the marshmallow I piped on parchment paper turn into a pastel and turd-like blob, the said blobs stuck to the parchment paper even after cooling and there was no salvaging this mess. I was a bird with a  broken wing.

When spring rolled around again this year, I came down with peep fever; and I decided it was time to try again. This time I stuck with a homemade marshmallow recipe I had used before. To prevent the little devils from sticking, I lightly sprayed the parchment paper with cooking spray. Though my homemade version featured a very diverse array of imperfect peep shapes and looks (morbidly obese, two-headed, evil eyes), I was much happier with this year’s version.

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I will definitely be making these bad boys again next year, hopefully with my little sous chef by my side.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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Strawberry Delight

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We are slowly getting settled into our new lives in the country. Things I have observed so far: it gets very dark and quiet at night, having family close by is wonderful (especially when you get sick and you have an infant to care for), I no longer have to pick up Athena’s excrement when we take her on walks because the roads are already sprinkled with horse dung, Athena is the happiest she has been ever, and we have wild turkeys in the woods behind us (that I mistook for Athena one Sunday afternoon).

It’s been a little over a week since we moved in and the reality of being back in the area we grew up in is gradually sinking in. Small town living means that I now usually recognize or run into someone I know every time I go out to run errands. It’s definitely a big change from the anonymity I grew accustomed to in Columbus. But it’s a good change. While living in a small town has its drawbacks, it also has its benefits. There are lots of friendly faces and people willing to help each other at a moment’s notice. The sense of community is strong. We are lucky to have some great folks in our lives.

Speaking of wonderful people, we had my in-laws over for dinner last weekend as a way to thank them for all the help they provided us. We made a simple dinner of barbecued chicken, red potatoes, mixed greens, and this dessert. Strawberry delight is my twist on a classic treat in this area, cherry delight. Traditionally made with cherry pie filling and cool whip, I swapped in a homemade fresh strawberry sauce and heavy whipping cream instead. The end result was a really tasty finish to a meal that was very well-received by our company. I am looking forward to many more family dinners in our new home.

Country living is going to suit us well.

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Strawberry Delight

Yield: 12 Servings

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the cream cheese filling:

  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz heavy whipping cream

For the strawberry topping:

  • 3 cups chopped strawberries
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

1. Make the strawberry topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, water, and cornstarch. Set aside. Place the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, gently mashing the berries with a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes to a low boil. Add in the cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil again, and cook for 1 minute longer until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Bake the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the graham crack crumbs, melted butter, salt, and sugar. Gently press the crumb mixture into a 9×13 pan with your fingers until evenly distributed. Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Make the filling: Place the whipping cream in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Place whipped cream in a separate bowl. Add the cream cheese to the now empty bowl of the electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until creamy and smooth. Add in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar until well-incorporated. Gently fold in the whipped cream until smooth (don’t over mix!).

4. Assemble: Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the cooled crust and top with strawberry topping. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. This dessert keeps in the refrigerator for about 2 days.

Source: Adapted from a local cookbook; Strawberry topping adapted from Annie’s Eats 

 

Chocolate Pecan Pie

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I’ve obtained several cookbooks and baking books since I got married 6 and a half years ago. During the days of low carb dieting in my past, I would peruse longingly through the beautiful pictures in the Barefoot Contessa’s cookbook series or Taste of Home magazines. It was cathartic in a strange, carb-obsessed way. However, now the “dark ages” without carbs are only a distant memory (bread is the meaning of life), and my culinary literature collection continues to grow.

I love all the books on my shelves, but there is only one that I have of which I want to make every single recipe. That book? Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Talk about sensory overload. Everything sounds, looks, and reads positively scrumptrulescent. It’s really quite overwhelming. Even better, since owning this precious classic, every recipe of Dorie’s that I have made has become an instant favorite of mine. She really knows her stuff.

The most recent recipe of hers that I have made is her chocolate pecan pie. I happened to have a leftover pie crust in my fridge a few weeks ago and the urge to bake hit me on a Sunday afternoon. This pie popped into my mind as I had been thinking of making it for awhile, and away I went. The end result was a nice spin on what I consider traditional pecan pie. The chocolate and cinnamon are a really delicious addition and this treat would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving menu (well, actually, not great for people with nut allergies so check on that first!).  It would be even better with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Printable Version

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch single pie crust
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) pecan halves or pieces
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips because I didn’t have baking chocolate)

Directions

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a pie plate on a cookie sheet lined with parchment  paper and set aside.

2. Whisk together the corn syrup and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Carefully whisk in the butter, followed by the eggs (one at a time) until well-combined. Next, add in the cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and stir to incorporate. Tap the bowl against the counter to remove air bubbles and then mix in the chocolate and pecans.

3. Carefully roll out the pie crust and gently mold into the pie plate. Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. While the pie is baking for the first 15 minutes, make a foils shield for the crust by cutting out the center of a 12 inch square of aluminum foil (directions here).

4. After the first 15 minutes of baking, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and place the foil shield on top of the pie crust to prevent over-browning. Bake the pie for an additional 2o minutes, or until the pie no longer jiggles when gently tapped. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a baking rack until it reaches room temperature.

SourceBaking: From My Home to Yours by: Dorie Greenspan

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Oh sweet baby Jesus- I do love Septembers. While I enjoy summertime, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with how chaotic it can get. Weddings, traveling, cookouts. It’s all wonderful stuff, but I find I always welcome the return to routine that the ninth month of the year brings. We are home more on the weekends and football Saturdays seem to make time slow down a little bit.

Another good bonus is that I have more time to bake. I made these particular  cupcakes for my friend Jess’s owl-themed baby shower that her husband’s side of the family threw her. I also made pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream, but these were my favorite of the three. The cake has a lighter texture and the addition of real vanilla bean takes the flavor up a notch. The fluffy buttercream frosting is delicious and a perfect pairing with the cake base.  I found the idea for the royal icing owl toppers from the fabulously-creative Bridget at Bake at 350. I am always amazed at the magical nature of royal icing and was very pleased with how these babies turned out. They are a much cheaper option than the cupcake-toppers available online and in craft stores.

I will definitely be saving these recipes for future vanilla baking adventures.

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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Printer-friendly version

Yield: About 2 dozen cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cupcake Directions

1. Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisktogether the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 mins). Add in the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth, then gradually add in the last of the dry ingredients.

5. Once ingredients are well incorporated, mix the batter for 2 minutes longer to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Using a 2 inch ice cream scoop (or large spoon), distribute the batter evenly, filling each well 2/3 full.

6. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack. Decorate with vanilla buttercream icing as desired (recipe below).

Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
  • 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted***
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Frosting Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed for a few minutes with a mixer with the whisk attachment until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer off and gradually add in the powdered sugar (about 1 cup at a time), mixing on low speed after each addition until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 4 tablespoons of cream and beat for 3 minutes. Store in an airtight container or ice cupcakes right away.

Source: Cupcakes- slightly adapted from My Baking Addiction; Frosting- Savory Sweet Life; Owl Royal Icing Cupcake Toppers- Bake at 350

A Gender Reveal Cake

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A little over a month ago, I had the honor of making a gender reveal cake for a lovely fellow physical therapist and her husband. I was so excited. In case you haven’t heard of this type of cake before, the expecting couple has the ultrasound tech write down the gender of baby during the “big” ultrasound. The tech then puts the secret information into an envelope and the couple gives it to a baker, who then either bakes a pink or blue cake and/or fills the cake with pink or blue icing.

The beautiful momma-to-be requested a white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and a coconut garnish. I used my favorite white cake and buttercream recipe to make it all happen. I then tinted the icing that would fill the cake with the top secret dye color, which by the way ended up all over my hands. I had to scrub and scrub to clean everything off- for a few minutes I thought I’d need to wear gloves when I delivered the cake. Crisis averted. Whew!

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It was so much fun doing this type of cake. The anticipation of the couple cutting in and finding out whether they would be having a son or daughter had me on edge.

Oh and by the way…

here’s what I filled the cake with…

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It’s a GIRL! Congratulations you two. She will be one lucky baby.

Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies

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Last Friday night I was procrastinating and not cleaning our house before Robert’s parents arrived, so I decided to make some homemade Easter Peeps from a recipe I found on Pinterest. It was a gloriously fun time. I was singing my own made up songs (“Everybody Chunk Out Tonight,” sung to the tune of “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight,” is my current personal chart topper) and life was grand. Then I became a little impatient. Instead of letting the candy fluff cool, I decided to just keep things moving along and pipe it. It didn’t go well. My visions of beautiful, hand-crafted Peeps turned out looking like neon blobs of dog excrement in reality.

Nailed it. 

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So instead of putting peeps on the blog today, I made carrot cake whoopie pies. Fortunately, these cookies are a delightful spring treat. They’re chocked full of shredded carrots and a great spicy blend of cinnnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Because my Peeps were an utter failure, I am bringing these bad boys home for Easter instead. When one door closes, another opens.

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Happy Easter, everyone!

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Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies

Printable Version

Yield: About 16 cookie sandwiches

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots

For the filling

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Set aside 3 cookie sheets lined with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. Place the butter and sugars in a bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, spices, soda, powder, and salt in a separate medium bowl. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn it back on at low speed and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla. Carefully add the dry ingredients, about 1/2 cup at a time,  and beat just until combined.  Lastly, add in the grated carrots and mix until just mixed.

3. Using a small 1.5 inch cookie scoop to place the batter evenly onto the cookie sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart.  Use your fingers to lightly press down on the dough to ensure a smoother cookie. Bake for about 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies spring back when gently pressed. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to parchment paper to cool completely.

4. To make the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the milk and vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the powdered sugar until the frosting is well mixed.

5. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the flat side of one of the cookies. Place the flat side of another cookie on the icing and store in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer.

Source: Cookies- Tracey’s Culinary Adventures; Filling- Old Thyme Cookbook

Jack’s Funfetti 2nd Birthday Cake

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I can’t believe it’s been 2 years since I got an early morning phone call from my sister telling me her water had broken and she was at the UVA hospital. She was 5 days overdue and we were all anxiously awaiting the baby’s arrival. After I hung up from the call, I was so excited I could barely sleep. It was going to take me 6 hours to get to Virginia and I contemplated just leaving then. Robert eventually convinced me to go back to sleep, but I only lasted until 5am. I made record-breaking time (whoops!) and rolled into Virginia before noon. Little did I know, Selby’s labor would go several more hours. We waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, the physicians made the decision to perform a C-section after Selby had been in labor for 24 hours and developed a low-grade fever. I was lucky enough to get to go into the operating room and see the whole procedure… errr- make that some of the procedure. I stayed behind the curtain after I saw just what was happening to my sister’s lower abdomen. My sister and Kevin designated me to be the one to shout out the gender; and, after a few long minutes, the doctors exclaimed “here’s your baby!” They pulled out little plump ball of pink, we heard loud baby cries, and I peeked around the corner to reveal, “IT’S A BOY!!!” Selby cried. Kevin cried. I cried. It was such an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. What a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day it was.

This past week,  we were so excited that my sister, brother-in-law, and Jack were able to drive up from Virginia and spend a few days with us to celebrate Jack’s 2nd birthday. In honor of this little firecracker turning into a full-blown toddler, I made homemade pizza and a funfetti cake  decorated in Buzz Lightyear colors (one of Jack’s favorites).

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I had an awful time making my normal swiss meringue buttercream frosting the day I was assembling the cake. After a few frustrating hours, I ended up “calling it,” as Kevin so aptly described, and made a regular buttercream that tasted and looked much better . Oh well. When the time came for the birthday boy to blow out his candles, he got a little shy and seemed to be hypnotized by the firery glow. His mom and dad helped him and then he was able to dive right into his cake. The cake was a tasty hit and I sent the leftovers home with the happy family.

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It’s amazing how much love I have for my little 2 year old nephew. I am looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays with my favorite lucky charm.

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Funfetti Cake

Printable version

Yield: Two 9-inch round cakes

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 4 egg whites from large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/3 cup multi-colored sprinkles

For the icing:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.  In a small bowl mix the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk, vanilla and almond extract. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl,  whisk together  the cake flour,  baking powder, and salt. Mix for 30 seconds or until well-combined.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, alternately add in the flour mixture and 3/4 cup of buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides to ensure batter is evenly mixed. Gradually pour in the egg white mixture, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. Mix for one more minute. Gently fold in the multi-colored sprinkles.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back after being gently pressed on.

4. Remove from the oven and place the pans on baking racks to cool for about 10 minutes. Turn the pans over onto the rack. Flip the cake layers over and let them cool completely before icing.

5. Make the icing: in the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about 3 minutes. Carefully mix in the powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add in the extracts and salt, followed by the milk or cream and mix until well-combined. Tint with desired food coloring and decorate away.*

*To decorate with the “cloud” method:

Frost the cake with a thing layer of icing. This is the crumb coat. Put the cake in the fridge and allow to chill for 20-30 minutes until the buttercream has hardened. Meanwhile, place icing in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used a Wilton #12). Pipe large dots in a vertical row.

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Using a small cake spatula, carefully smear the dot to the right. Pipe more dots to overlap the smeared dot and repeat until the cake is covered.

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Source: Cake-  Adapted from The Kitchn; Frosting- Lolly’s Sweet & Savory Treats

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

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My in-laws recently returned from a sunny vacation in Florida and with them, they brought back some delicious strawberries. Fresh berries in Ohio grocery stores are usually pretty tart and tasteless this time of year, and the Florida produce is just another reason to love this buckeye state we call home.

I’ve made this dessert a few times before (this time for dinner at a friends’ house) and it now ranks up towards the top of Robert’s favorites. If you’re looking for a way to jazz it up even more, you can add a drizzle of  hot fudge sauce for all the chocolate lovers in your life; or you can make the tart into tartlettes for individual treats. Any way you decide, you can’t go wrong.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

Printable version

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients:

For the crust

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the filling

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream

Topping

  • 16 ounce container of strawberries, sliced

DIRECTIONS

1. Prepare the crust: Whisk together the egg yolk, cream, and vanilla. Set aside. Place the flour, salt, and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add in the butter cubes and pulse until mixture is crumbly and the size of peas. With the food processor running, slowly add the liquid mixture to the butter/flour mix until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mold into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

2. Place the dough in the tart pan:  Take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Unwrap and place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 13-inch round.  Carefully place the dough into a 9-inch tart pan.  Press the dough to the sides of the tart pan, removing the excess off the top as needed.  Put the tart pan on a large plate and freeze for 30 minutes.

3.  Bake the crust: While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled dough/pan from the freezer and mold tin foil into the shell and over the edge of the tart pan. Place pie weights on top of the foil (I used dry beans). Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time.  Take out of the oven and gently remove the foil and weights.  Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 5-8 minutes longer.  Allow to cool on a baking rack.

4. Make the filling: Place the cream cheese into a bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium high until smooth and no lumps remain. Add in the powdered sugar and mix until well-comibined. Add in the vanilla and cream and mix 30 seconds longer.

5. Assemble the tart: Spoon the cream cheese filling into the cooled tart shell. Spread out evenly. Place strawberries in a circular pattern and serve within 2 hours of preparing for best results.

Source: Slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

Valentine’s Day Sugar Cookies

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I adore Valentine’s Day. The colors, the excessive hearts, the candy. It’s all glorious. But I don’t just view this as a holiday for couples, I see it as a day to celebrate all of the people you love in your life (I know, I know- it sounds sickeningly cloying, but it’s really how I feel). I decided to celebrate by baking these cookies while listening to my eclectic Pandora radio stations. It was a good Saturday, folks.

I first eyed this marbling method with royal icing last year, and I’ve been waiting to try it ever since. I’ve had some practice with decorating sugar cookies (with my favorite sugar cookie and royal icing recipe), but I still have a lot to learn. What I have picked up so far is that it’s most important to plan ahead.  Most sugar cookie doughs require at least some chilling time and the royal icing is stable enough to be made a few days in advance. It’s also helpful to have all of the tools you need ready to go to make the process as efficient as possible.

Here’s what I like to use:

  • Disposable piping bags
  • Round piping tips
  • Good quality food coloring (I use Wilton or Americolor)
  • Plastic squeeze bottles (for flooding icing)
  • Toothpicks
  • Plastic containers with lids (for icing storage)
  • Baking racks

And here is how I decorated the cookies:

1. Outline the cookies

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2. Thin the icing with water and flood

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3. Pipe dots

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4. Drag a toothpick through the dots

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5. Allow cookies to dry completely and enjoy :)

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Source: Decorating method vis Annie’s Eats