2011 has been an interesting year. Good and challenging, all mixed together.
I started blogging, hanging out more on Twitter, and even finally landed on Facebook. And since doing so, I have met so many wonderful people that are willing to share their gifts and love of baking and decorating, making sugar as tasty and beautiful as possible. I am thankful to be part of such a wonderful community.
I am also ashamed to be so slack on doing my part. So I have vowed to blog (at least) once a week this year. 52 posts. Surely I can do that.
What better way than to start January 1 off with a post! And what better post than to share all the wonderful tips and tricks I’ve learned this year, and to say thank you to those willing to share their secrets and talents. I couldn’t narrow it down to 10, so 14 it is.
DRUM ROLL PLEASE……..
14. I began my decorating ala Wilton at Hobby Lobby. Everything I did was in a Wilton disposable icing bag. Imagine my surprise to see cookie decorators using squeeze bottles. So great for flood icing. These have ended up being my favorites:
The larger 8oz size (I bought many from Karen’s Cookies)
And the smaller 2oz size (not the tips. They are awful):
13. I also learned that you don’t have to use fancy glass Pyrex bowls to mix icing. I use these awesome small plastic bowls from the $1 section at Target. They are flexible, which makes for easy mixing and scraping down the sides. And at $.25 a bowl, you can’t beat the price. They are perfect for dipping cake pops w/chocolate, too. (Thank you, Bakerella, for showing me the light.)
12. Toothpicks. Who would have ever thought they could be such a valuable tool. They are great for popping bubbles, making a smooth horizon icing line, sneaking icing to the edge, moving sprinkles, plugging tips to keep icing from drying out,…the list goes on and on. Couldn’t live without them.
11. Along the same line, I have found great love for my giant safety pin. It is my premium bubble popper. My favorite tool for marbeling. For some things, I love it more than toothpicks. (Yes, it’s true).
10. This year has been eye-opening for me with regards to taste, as well. I’ve experimented with different extracts and gotten some wonderful flavors. (I love lemon & vanilla in my sugar cookies). I’ve also learned about Emulsions. SweetSugarBelle and Bake at 350 were the first I saw talk about them. My favorite is this one:
It has a wonderful nutty flavor. It has no alcohol, is kosher certifited, sugar and gluten free. And it tastes yummy, too! The exchange for extracts the same, but don’t bake out as much, leaving a more robust flavor. TJ Maxx and Ross are great places to find them at cheap prices!
9. For a while, I tried placing all of my sprinkles and candies on my treats by hand. Then one day, I was a few dollars short in an order to get the free shipping (admit it. You know you’ve done it) so I threw in a pair of tweezers that were on special. One of my best purchases. These are the ones I have, and I adore them. They will grab and hold on to the smallest of sprinkle.
8. The heat gun. A relatively new tool that I have learned about. Flour Box Bakery is the one who started the craze. It has taken some experimenting (too much heat will crack outlines, fyi) but I think this is going to be a great long-term tool since I live in such a humid climate. This is the one I have. Bought it at Walmart for $20.
7. I also learned about the wonders of vinegar. Up until last year, I think I had the same bottle in my panty for the past 13 years. Now, I go through gallons. I use it to replace fabric softener. Great for stains and de-stinking the sink. But I also found that it is royal icing’s best friend. Before I make icing, I wipe EVERYTHING that is going to come in contact with my icing down with vinegar. The mixing bowl, beater, bowls, spatulas,…you name it. It has completely removed the issue of any oil/grease getting to my royal icing. Since I’ve started using it, I have had zero issues with my icing. Who knew something that smelled so awful could be so magical.
6. Again, being from the Wilton school of thought, I just assumed you had to use the Wilton gel colors. Then AmeriColor came into my life. Such vibrant colors. Easier to use. No taste. I switched all of my colors, donated my Wilton colors to a local girl scout troop and never looked back. (Sorry, Wilton). AmeriColor gels are your friend.
5. I’ve never been a huge fan of the taste of royal icing. Very sweet with a bitter after taste. Then, thanks to Sweetopia and Bake at 350, I learned that was largely the fault of the meringue powder. Wilton brand is the only kind sold in my small town hobby store, and since that is what they pushed at the Wilton class, that is what I used. But thanks to these wonderful ladies, I learned that Ateco is the way to go. And WHAT A DIFFERENCE it makes in the taste! Yes, I have to buy it online. But it is worth 10-times what I have to pay for it. Thank you, ladies, for showing me the light.
4. Icing tips. I was scared of anything smaller than a 2. I used a 3 whenever possible. Then, I heard someone talk about “PME OO” tips. Double zero?? Are you kidding me? Surely no one is insane enough for that kind of madness. And at $4.50 a pop? My Wilton babies cost $.99. (Ah, to be so naive). So I decided to try one of these magic tips. I bought a 1.5. I filled a bag, squeezed, and….out came smooth, curl-free lines! I was stunned. How could this be? Could the icing tip really make that much of a difference? The answer, simply, is YES! I am slowly working to replace all of my Wilton 1-5 tips (Sorry again, Wilton). The difference in my piping improved instantly simply by switching to these tips. (and they don’t discolor when you accidentally leave them soaking in water overnight because you forgot to clean them before you went to bed. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.) I have since even purchased (and used) a PME O. I haven’t gotten brave enough for the OO. Maybe in 2012.
3. Flood icing. It brought me great stress when I first started decorating cookies. Was it too thin? What is “syrup” or “gel” consistency, anyways? I mean, if my flood icing wasn’t the perfect consistency my cookies were doomed! So, maybe I tend to get a little dramatic, but this is cookies we are talking about. Then I learned 8-10 seconds when you drag a knife through it. Ok, I could do that. But I still had mishaps with my icing running over the edge if I didn’t pipe a line first (which I didn’t always want). Then Callye (once again) showed me the light. 20 second icing. What?? But that breaks all the rules! Could it be true?? Could it be possible? So I tried it. And a miracle happened in my kitchen. With 20-second icing, I had such control over the icing. And it gave such a great “poofy” effect. It was very freeing, and now I almost never go thinner than 20 seconds. (In fact once, I went to 30 second icing! I know, I know.) If you haven’t tried making 20-second icing, do it. Today. You will love it. Or your money back! No, wait.
2. I bake everything out of my home kitchen. And while it’s a decent sized kitchen with pretty good counter space, when I started decorating cookies, that counter space went fast! There were baking sheets and cooling racks everywhere. Then, I read this. (Thank you, Callye @ SweetSugarBelle). I know she was talking about a fan, but when I saw the baking sheet rack in the background, it was a huge light bulb moment for me. They can be a little pricey, but after some research, I found one for a great price, and it has been my best friend ever since. (I love it so much, it has its own post.)
and the #1 tip that I learned this year is…………
A squirt bottle.
Yep, you read that right. A plain, $.99 squirt bottle. But oh, the magic it possesses. (Besides squirting kids and cats). It is the PERFECT tool for thinning royal icing to flood icing. Instead of having to go back and forth to the sink, trying to get the right amount of water to drip out of the facet, now I just stand at my decorating counter and spray the perfect amount of lightly misted wated each and every time. I’ve learned that 12 sprays will give me perfect flood icing every time. Such a time saver, and no more stress about getting too much water and over-thinning my icing. This life-altering tip was learned through Callye @ SweetSugarBelle’s (if you don’t
stalk read her, you need to. She’s a WEALTH of information!) and she learned the trick from Gail of One Tough Cookie. Thank you, Gail & Callye!!!
So there you have it. The new tricks and tools I’ve learned about this year that have changed the way I bake and decorate. If you don’t use some of these, give them a try. And feel free to post any of your on tips. I’m always looking for new ones!
HAPPY NEW YEAR, and may 2012 be an extra sweet one for you and your family!