Category: royal icing

Perfectly irregular little Christmas trees.

Most people know I’m a New Yorker. I’m a New Yorker through & through- I like my clothes black & my coffee expensive, I walk fast & hate eye contact with anyone unless I know them. What most people don’t know is the history of one of New York’s most beloved traditions: the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

When I was little, my Aunt Winnie bought me a book called the A Perfectly Irregular Christmas Tree. It told the story of a little tree that grew to become the tall, beautifully lit Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, and at the back of the book, it told the story of the origins of the tradition. Ever since then, I’ve been totally in love with the concept. Not that I wasn’t before that… but it wasn’t until that book that I really even thought about it. It was sort of like I just assumed the tree was always there or something. I know, silly, but come on, I was like, what, 7 years old?

..

Basically there’s a very important history behind the origins of that big ol’ tree, and not many people know it.

Although the official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933 (the year the 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened), the unofficial tradition began during the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center, when workers decorated a smaller 20 feet (6.1 m) balsam fir tree with “strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans” on Christmas Eve (December 24, 1931), as recounted by Daniel Okrent in his history of Rockefeller Center.[10] Some accounts have the tree decorated with the tin foil ends of blasting caps. There was no Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 1932.

The decorated Christmas tree remains lit at Rockefeller Center until the week after New Year’s Day, when it is removed and recycled for a variety of uses. In 2007, the tree went “green,” employing LED lights.[11] After being taken down, the tree was used to furnish lumber for Habitat for Humanity house construction.[12]

Anyway, in addition to all that New Yorker-ish stuff about me, I also love to bake, as is evidenced by this blog. And occasionally I get an urge to do so randomly, or I get inspired by something. So it happened one night that I wanted to make some frosted (or iced?) cookies, and I got the idea that they just had to be gingerbread. I had a few recipes already, stashed in cookbooks or ripped from magazines, most of which were supposedly awesome, but I thought I’d check Twitter & see if anyone had any they really liked. Gabrielle from The Punk Housewife responded super quick with a vegan version from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero.

Now, I’m not vegan. I’ve made awesome vegan cupcakes before, and even made a dip entirely with vegan-friendly cheese & other non-dairy products (which I can’t say I’d do again, really). I have no problems with vegans or anything, but I myself can’t do it. I have a hot, dirty love affair with butter & cheese… & I like it. So I don’t usually have things like soy milk on hand, & if I’m going to bake something I’m usually going to go “whole hog” so to speak. However, by sending me that recipe she gave me a sort of kick in the pants to use that recipe as inspiration & then build on it with a few non-vegan tweaks. Sure, I could’ve just made it by substituting the soy milk with regular, but where’s the fun in that?! Basically, it forced my hand to do my own little gingerbread cookie thang. And that’s just what I did. So thank you, Gabrielle! I totally de-veganized that puppy. I made up my own little gingerbread cookie recipe as I went along, and then what did I do with that dough? I cut out little trees, as my homage to the big 74-foot guy in Rockefeller Center who just so happened to be having a little party & “lighting” in his honor last week. Of course mine weren’t lit- but they were all iced up with some royal icing & sprinkles.

Yeah, at this time of year EVERYONE makes cookies, especially gingerbread, & everyone seems to be in on the “fancy royal icing decorating” craze now as well. But I’m not aiming to be like everyone else, so hopefully mine are not only perfectly imperfect (more on that in a bit), but unique.

GINGERBREAD COOKIES CUPCAKE REHAB-STYLE

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses (I personally like Brer Rabbit full flavor, even though that & Grandma’s are now owned by the same company)

Directions:

  1. Unroll a fairly large piece of plastic wrap & sprinkle lightly with flour. Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice & ginger together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Add egg & molasses one at a time to butter/sugar mixture, beating after each until combined.
  4. Add flour mixture gradually, until a sticky dough forms. Form dough into a ball the best you can & place on plastic wrap, rolling it up tightly. Chill for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight (but no longer than that).
  5. Remove dough from fridge & if too firm, let sit for 20-25 minutes before rolling out. The dough will be quite sticky, so have flour on hand. Preheat oven to 350° degrees F, meanwhile roll out onto lightly floured surface to about ¼ – ½” thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes & using a thin spatula, carefully place onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (they will be very soft!!! BE CAREFUL HERE). Re-roll the scraps left over until you haven’t got enough left to use, then just lay the pieces on the sheet (they make for nice nibbles later while you’re decorating your cookies).
  6. Bake for 7-8 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

ROYAL ICING

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons milk or water
  • 4 tablespoons meringue powder

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. If too thick, add more liquid, if too thin, add more sugar. Add food coloring as desired. Ta-da!

There are tons of different recipes for royal icing- some include pasteurized egg whites, some using regular old egg whites, some meringue powder, some just cream of tartar. Any of them work just fine as long as they’re the right consistency for what you’re using it for; i.e. outlines, flooding, etc. This particular recipe can be halved, quartered, doubled, tripled, etc. to suit your needs.

So once these babies are 100% cool, you can decorate them all fancy-like using that royal icing there. I obviously made little trees, so I decorated them like trees (duh). You can make anything from snowflakes to bells to holly to whatever. And then just decorate them using the icing & top it with quins, jimmies, sanding sugar, dragees- anything! The icing part can be a bit tricky if you’re not used to it. I’ve been icing cookies with royal icing since my mom made gingerbread & sugar cookies when I was a kid & let me decorate them. Now, I’m far from an expert on this, my main decorating niche lies within the cupcake sphere, so I’ll leave the explanation of how to decorate/frost cookies like a pro to Marian at Sweetopia who really is the expert. She not only does it way better than I do, but her explanation of how to decorate the cookies is probably way better than I could write. Not that mine came out terrible… I mean they’re cute, fairly neat & most importantly they taste great. So they’re not perfect, they’re ‘perfectly irregular’; like the tree in the book. But thats totally cool with me. I’m not perfect either. What in the world is perfect, exactly?

Well, cookies & tea are pretty damn close.

Amazing. There is nothing, NOTHING like a good cookie. I have to say I really, really loved these. I had like 8 of these the first night, with a cup of Licorice Spice tea. So after that one batch of trees were such a success, the next night I made some little Christmas wreaths. I used green royal icing this time, along with red tie-dyed looking marzipan for the bows, and some round pink sprinkles in different sizes that Lyns sent me back in October. I wasn’t 100% pleased with how these came out though. I think I like the trees better. Oh well. It was a cute concept, poor execution.

It was almost disgusting how good they were. The dough is very soft. VERY. Which admittedly can make it very hard to work with. It will definitely be a tricky dough, but the flavor is so amazing & perfect, and the texture is also so amazing & perfect, it’s well worth it. Just right for a cold December night while looking at how pretty your tree looks under a blanket on the couch. The best chewy gingerbread cookie I’ve had in a while; not hard as a rock & teeth-breaking, not flavorless nor overpowering. They’re just the right amount of soft, sweet & spicy.

But at this time of year, you can’t keep ‘em all to yourself. Or rather you can… at the risk of being compared to Ebenezer Scrooge. I prefer to share the wealth (to an extent). I put them in a little box (originally a cupcake box, I just removed the insert) courtesy of Bake-A-Box that was perfect for showing them off. And how cute is that gingerbread ornament?

As if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been including vintage postcards at the bottom of all my holiday posts. This one is just so pretty I had to share it, plus it’s eerily perfectly appropriate for this post; it’s a big, beautiful tree & the baubles on it look just like the ones on my cookie wreaths.

God Save the Cupcakes!

I know it’s officially “Christmas time” (or at least that’s what the retailers want us to believe), but humor me with this one non-X-mas related post, & then I promise you for the rest of the month it’ll be non-stop holiday hijinks.

Last year, actually almost 2 years ago- early in 2010- my insanely talented friend Chrisie (who you may remember from my giveaway in 2009, when she donated an absolutely gorgeous Cupcake Rehab painting) contacted me with a request. I know Chrisie for a loooong time, well about 10 years. We met at F.I.T. in a Fashion Illustration class (that was so much fun) & I’m pretty sure the universe broke when they put us in a class together. Anyway, she had an idea; she wanted to make an entire series of cupcake paintings, inspired by me and Cupcake Rehab, and the next one she wanted to do was a punk cupcake. Now seriously… if anyone knows me, they know that there is probably no better person to create such a cupcake. Okay, maybe that’s not 100% true, but I’m into punk, and cupcakes, so really I am sort of an authority on a punk cupcake. I used to be a punk cupcake...

Not that you’d really know it anymore- I’ve grown up and mellowed out a lot since my days of spike bracelets & collars, pink hair (my favorite of the “not-normal” colors I’ve ever had), rebellion, anarchy, anti-authority and the ever-chic look of wearing safety pins in my ears. Now I shop at places like Anthropologie & wear ballet flats & J. Crew sweaters (but yes, underneath the sweater is a Clash t-shirt), my significant other is a cop (even if he is in a death metal band, he’s still law enforcement!) & while I do sort of have a ‘faux hawk’, or rather a side cut, I haven’t dyed my hair in months (for the first time in 13 years I see my natural color, & I dislike it just as much as I used to, except now there are strands of gray for me to dislike as well). But I still listen to the music, and believe in the ideology. Bottom line is this: I learned a long time ago it isn’t worth it arguing over what’s really punk and what’s not, or who’s really punk and who’s not, especially when it’s based on outer appearance or clothing. Just like it’s pointless to assume that someone is less “punk” than you because they don’t dye their hair/shave it into mohawk/don’t have fully tattooed biceps/etc. You shouldn’t always judge a book by it’s cover, and knocking others for listening to things besides one genre of music isn’t “punk” either; it’s pretty lame, and you’ll realize it one day. Being an individual means being yourself & NOT wearing a uniform, even if that uniform is neon Liberty spikes, a studded & patched denim jacket & piercings. I do still wear my jacket, though.

“The Jacket”

So anyway, I’m getting way off track here. Let’s just stick with the cupcakes. Chrisie pitched me her concept: a cupcake with a pink mohawk, and I had these liners from Sweet Cuppin Cakes Bakery & Cupcakery Supplies that were black with white polka dots, and I figured they’d be perfect (I also used them on my white chocolate almond cupcakes and others, they’re awesome liners). With those things as my base ideas, I started coming up with stuff immediately. I decided to make a vanilla cake with a dollop of chocolate buttercream frosting dyed black, and then do the hot pink “mohawk” on top of that in royal icing. Then I started thinking about “props”; stuff that would add a bit more to the “punk” theme for her painting. I remembered that I was in possession of an old spike bracelet I used to wear in high school, so I thought I’d put it around the bottom of the cupcake like a spike collar. I also suggested maybe incorporating a sort of Sex Pistols kind of typography and safety pins somewhere. I took the photos on a black background so it’d look a bit more dramatic, and also so it’d be easier for her to paint in whatever background she wanted. She came up with an amazing composition! (I’ll post the recipes I used for the frosting after all the images for anyone who’s interested)

So here’s the big reveal! I have been SO EXCITED to share this with you, for so long now. I’ve been waiting patiently since January of 2010 to post this, that’s a big deal for me! This is coming from someone who can’t keep birthday presents a secret without losing it & can’t stand to wait ’til Christmas to open my own gift. That said, I’m not one to rush an artist into creating a piece of artwork, so I’ve been patient, and it’s been totally worth it. She told me about a month ago it was done & sent me the pictures of the finished product, but I wanted to wait until after Thanksgiving to blog it. Here are two pictures of my cupcakes that helped to inspire her, followed by the amazing painting Chrisie did from using my pictures as reference.

So friggin’ cute with the little mohawks.

And… are you ready? Seriously?

Are you?

Okay, drumroll please. Here’s her painting! Ta-da!

……

How incredibly awesome and beautiful is that!? It’s ridiculous. I know, I cannot even fathom her talent. It’s like a friggin’ photograph. I’m telling you- she’s crazy. Chrisie is so amazingly talented, and she recently opened her own baking business, Eat Cakes. To get on the mailing list, shoot an e-mail to eatcakeorder@gmail.com. To see more of her artwork or commission her to do a painting, visit ccomis.com. There might be more collabo’s between the two of us involving cupcakes & paintings in the future. I’m excited.

So now I’m just waiting for the “punks” to come here & get on me for selling out & making such a cliched “punk cupcake” so I can stick my foot up someones’ ass… okay anyway, here’s the 411 on how to do the frosting, including food coloring & tips. The cupcake is just a plain vanilla cake so that’s easy enough for you to figure out.


“BLACK” CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

Get some:

  • 1 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup dark cocoa or three 1 oz. unsweetened dark chocolate squares, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (approx. 1 lb) sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • 2-3 teaspoons black food coloring (I personally recommend Americolor Super Black for this)

Then do this:

  1. Cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add cocoa and vanilla.
  2. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry.
  3. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add food coloring a little at a time, until desired shade is reached. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
  4. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Re-whip before using. Also, keep in mind the longer the icing sits the darker it will get, so don’t add too much color, it’ll just wreck the consistency of your frosting. Using a large round tip, pipe a circle of frosting on each cake. The using an offset spatula, smooth it down into a flat surface for the ‘mohawk’ to sit on.

ROYAL ICING “MOHAWK”

Ingredients:

  • 2 large egg whites (or substitute powdered egg whites)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon bright pink food coloring (I used Wilton Rose icing color)

Directions:

  1. Combine the egg whites and confectioners’ sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until opaque and shiny, about 5 minutes.
  2. Whisk in the extract, this will thin out the icing. Beat for another couple of minutes until you reach the right spreading consistency for the cupcakes. Then add the food coloring and beat.
  3. Using a large star tip (I used Wilton 1M), after the buttercream frosting on the cupcakes has “set”, pipe three to four “stars” in a row on each cupcake. Ta-da! Mohawk!

So put on some X-Ray Spex or some Sex Pistols, do your best Joe Strummer imitation, brush your bangs into your eyes like Joey Ramone and eat some mohawk cupcakes. Or don’t. I don’t care either way. Oi, oi, oi.