I’m not much of a baker and would certainly never make it to the Great British Bake-Off, but will often optimistically pin some of the ‘oh so simple’ looking baking projects on Pinterest, only to fail miserably in the execution. There are lots of inspiring iced cookies on there, so I thought I would have a go at making some of my own for the boys to decorate. After all, how difficult could it be?? Decorating biscuits is of course a ‘classic’ children’s activity, but this project takes the whole thing a few steps further on, to create a complete gallery of Masterpiece Cookies.
I started off with a basic spiced biscuit recipe from one of my under-used cookery books, though it occurs to me that if you were as challenged in the baking department as I am, then you could cheat by using some packet biscuits if you could find them in the correct shape and size (I couldn’t, but I didn’t look that exhaustively). I also bought myself the following:
- A packet of Royal Icing mix
- Ready to roll yellow icing
- Edible gold glitter
- A packet of small watercolour brushes (I didn’t want to use the ones I normally paint with, and I can always use more paintbrushes!)
- A packet of 5 tubes of writing icing.
- Food colouring (I already had this, though could probably have done with a couple more colours)
I didn’t use any special cutters, and cut everything by hand with a knife. I am sure there must be lots of beautiful specialised cutters you might use, but I don’t have any, and didn’t want to purchase any since I don’t bake all that often!
Having made the biscuits in an assortment of rectangular shapes and sizes, with a few (approximate) ovals for good measure, I then mixed up the royal icing, and applied it to the biscuits before leaving it to dry.
I then rolled out the yellow ‘ready to roll’ icing and cut it into strips with a knife – straight on one side and wavy on the other.
Once the icing was dry, I used honey to stick lengths of the icing ‘frame’ onto the iced biscuits – this helped to disguise the somewhat ‘rustic’ look of my biscuits! It occurs to me that instead of applying the icing this way, you could pipe the icing on, but my piping skills are rudimentary/non-existent so it wasn’t practical for me.
I then brushed the frames with egg white, and painted edible gold glitter onto them with a clean brush.
Once they were all dry, all that was left was the fun bit – decorating them! I set up a palette with a little of each food colour in each well, and had clean brushes, a pot of water and a roll of kitchen paper to hand. I also made sure that the boys rinsed out their brush after each colour, so that the colours remained pure and untainted. In general terms I’m not a big fan of using food colouring as a paint substitute, as in my experience it is a poor replacement for the real thing, but here, as edible paint, it really does come into its own, and after all it’s effectively what it’s designed for.
You can be as creative as you like here. Spattering the paint in the manner of Jackson Pollock, using a runny watercolour technique, or even a post-impressionist ‘pointillist’ style. Sharp detail is difficult to achieve, as the edges do tend to blur a little and soak into the icing (I tried glazing with egg white first, but it didn’t make any difference). Additional details were added at the end using the icing tubes. I got a bit carried away and tried a Monet, a Van Gogh, the Mona Lisa and a Mondrian. The boys did their own thing – with my youngest producing a wonderful interpretation of Renoir’s Les Parapluies, by depicting a lady with an umbrella.
Although a little amateurish in their appearance (I now have a new respect for the people who are able to produce those perfect looking iced biscuits) we were rather pleased with the finished result and they still looked pretty impressive laid out on a plate.
The trickiest part of this activity is the frames, but although these add ‘bling’ to the finished cookie or biscuit, they are not really necessary. You can paint your masterpiece straight onto the iced biscuit instead if you prefer, and I think this is what we will be doing if we repeat the activity, because we had so much fun actually painting (and eating) our masterpieces. We did a few ‘practice pieces’ this way, and I rather liked the simplicity of the ‘unframed’ pictures. All in all I think it was a worthwhile activity, not least for the fun in being able to say that we ate the Mona Lisa!