As many of you know, I occasionally post a few random thoughts on Twitter (ahem). And, when I drop in every now and again, I see lots of photos from cookie lovers.
The other day, my friend Jen from My Kitchen Addiction posted pictures of cookies she was in the midst of decorating. ”I cannot pipe even circles. I know this, yet I decide to do 80 small circle cookies in white w/ black outline. Ugh”, she tweeted. I didn’t want to tell Jen that it took me YEARS to master the circle; that it’s probably the most difficult piped outline to do and achieve perfection every, or almost, every time. So, I made up my mind to do a little post and share what I know about piping circles in royal icing.
When I was coming up through the cookie ranks, I worked with a woman who was quite the taskmaster. She was very persnickety about how she liked cookies to look. I had to go through a gauntlet of piping exercises under her tutelage FOR MONTHS before I was allowed to pipe an outline. Praise was not lavished upon my efforts, to say the least. Nothing but perfection was accepted by that cookie monster. And, while some might think this type of teaching method cruel, I am here to tell you, I’m a better cookie decorator for it.
First things first: the royal icing. When I’m piping, I like to make sure the icing is of a consistency that will flow out of my pastry bag easily. I’m piping icing, for crying out loud, not strangling an anaconda. The idea is to gently squeeze the icing out of the bag so that it flows out as a nice string…an unbroken string. Remember, the smaller the hole in the piping tip, the more fluid the icing needs to be. The word stiff is subjective, so in this case, I’d recommend a medium-soft stiff icing. Soft, as in the peak curls almost immediately, and medium, as in the peak curls immediately, but a bit slow. Make sense?
Prepare your bag with a number 2 tip. Fill the bag with the stiff icing. Flatten the bag on a surface and with a straight-edge rubber bowl scraper, smooth all the icing down towards the tip.
Twist the bag tightly shut and hold comfortably in your hand (I’m right handed, as you can tell). This is your squeezing hand. The index finger of your other hand is placed on the decorating tip and guides the icing’s placement.
When piping anything, you need to remember that a piping bag is not a pencil or pen. Dragging the tip along the surface gives you a line like this:
Eeewwww. It’s uneven and flattened. THAT’s not clean or pretty. THE Tough Cookie is fussy* about the cookies being clean and pretty.
See the difference? The second line is even and nicely rounded. THAT’S the way ALL piping should look.
The moment of truth: I’m holding my bag just about perpendicular to the cookie. I’ve started my circle (these are engagement ring cookies) at 12:00 and am working counter clockwise. Basically, what I’m doing in these pictures is gently guiding the icing with very small, gentle touches. I’m not pulling or stretching. Think of how it is to fly a kite: the kite is at the end of a long string and can be manipulated with just the slightest small movement. See how high I’m holding the bag? See the nice string of royal falling gently from the bag?
Now, I’m getting ready to close the circle.
I’m going to start slowing down, easing up on the pressure I’m applying to the bag. I’m slowing up and lowering my bag closer to the cookie’s surface. Now I’m beginning to pull the icing a bit so I can land it successfully without overlapping my beginning point. I feel like I’m landing a plane!
Circle your wagons, circle your squares, just keep on making circles. Eventually, it will go ’round in circles, with very little effort.
*euphemism for tyrannical