DENHAM SPRINGS — The season for baking holiday cookies has arrived, and a group of cooks seeking knowledge on how to make attractive creations on the face of their baked goodies went to a logical place to learn those artistic skills, the Arts Council of Livingston Parish’s Gallery.
A dozen women filled the gallery’s main meeting room Nov. 19 to learn about the many things that go into creating attractive, great tasting cookies. Class instructor Shelly Frederick led the class through an hours-long session filled with many tips and suggestions that the cookie decorators had probably never contemplated in their quest for pretty, cheerful, holiday cookies.
Frederick said she has been making and decorating cookies for about 20 years and she is still learning a few new tricks. Frederick is not a full-time baker, but said she does make wedding cakes, other baked goods, and, yes, many, many cookies. While baking remains primarily a hobby, Frederick said she does do special orders for some customers. She said that she once baked and decorated 400 cookies for a customer.
“I just love doing this. I really relish the opportunity to meet people who share my love for creating beautiful baked goods, especially the cookies. I also teach children’s classes, and these are really a lot of fun. The kids enjoy it so much, and they are learning something that they might enjoy for the rest of their lives,” she said about her craft.
Frederick started her class by telling the group that the most difficult part of decorating cookies is mixing the icing. She promised her students that she would share all she knew about this aspect of the process declaring, “I will share everything I know with you ... I’m not one of those cooks who has secrets that they don’t want to share. I will give you recipes for all that we do tonight along with tips I have learned over the years,” she said.
She said icing adds not only beauty but flavor to a cookie. Frederick said icing for cookies differs from cake icing in that the former is more dense while the latter is softer. The icing on cookies has to dry hard so that the cookies can be stacked, she explained. She instructed the group to use flavoring in their icing to add to the cookies’ appeal.
“Here’s a tip about flavoring. Almond adds great flavor to cookies and icing, but don’t use almond extract in your icing. The oil in the extract keeps the icing from drying. Instead, use almond flavoring that is not the extract. You get the same taste but the icing will dry,” she explained. She said that if a spatula has been used to stir almond extract into the cookies dough it must be cleaned very well before being used to mix icing because the oil will still be present on the spatula.
And speaking of drying the icing, Frederick said that if iced cookies are placed in front of a fan, the icing will dry bright and shiny. If allowed to dry without the fan, the icing will end up with a dull finish, she said.
Frederick said that she uses meringue powder to make her icing thicker and more fluffy. She said meringue powder can be purchased at some hobby stores and in the baking aisles of some major grocery stores.
Frederick suggested that plastic squeeze bottles be used for the basic process of icing cookies but that pastry bags can be used for special applications. Frederick, assisted by Mary Felder, a board member for the Arts Council of Livingston Parish and the groups former president, mixed many bottles of icing for the students. The basic icing is powered sugar, water and the meringue powder. Frederick instructed her students to use a stiffer, thicker icing to outline the cookies and then use a thinner icing to do what she called flooding the cookies.
She recommended gel colors be used in the icing and noted, as the mixing was proceeding, that red was a difficult color to create. Other colors are truer to what is expected by the cookie decorator. She said that basic colors can be mixed to achieve special colors. For example, red and blue will make purple. “Just use a standard color wheel to get different colors,” she instructed.
Each student was presented with an aluminum tray containing six cookies: a snow globe, snowman, Christmas tree, snowflake, mitten, Santa Claus and a gingerbread man. Frederick started the class with decorating the snow globe. She showed them her creation, which was a winter scene in miniature done with icing. Her cookie featured a tree standing next to a snowman. Behind them was a blue sky with snow falling. The ground in front of the tree and snowman was snow white. Frederick explained that she piped the green tree onto wax paper using a pattern. When the tree dried, she placed it onto the cookies. She said that this technique can be used to create intricate patterns on cookies.
She said that different sized tips on a pastry bag can be used to make designs of varying complexity.
Frederick also used small candies to add to the cookies’ decorations. Her Christmas tree cookie was covered in a vivid green and decorated with a number of small, colored candies.
In addition to bottles of icing, the students were also given toothpicks, but Frederick cautioned that the toothpicks should not be used to spread the icing, only to make minor adjustments. “Your icing should flow in a beautiful stream out of your bottle. Don’t spare the icing, it will make your cookie that much better,” she said.
After the instructions and many tips, the novice cookie decorators got to work on their cookies. The group shared comments, tips, jokes and quips as they worked on their creations. One of the students, Allison Ott, said she joined the class to learn how to be more creative. “I’m always willing to learn something new. Besides, this is fun. It’s great to be here with a friend and to enjoy sharing stories while learning something new and interesting,’ she said.
Frederick, who has been teaching classes on cookie icing at the Arts Council’s gallery for 10 years, said that for those who missed the class on Nov. 19, more classes will be offered for adults on Dec. 7 and Dec. 10. She was planning for a cooking decorating class for 39 children later in the month and will offer a second children’s class on Dec. 15. “If you are interested in learning what I know about cookie decorating, I’ll be happy to have you in one of my classes,,” she said.