Editor’s note: The terrific, intricate needlepoint design on the gingerbread stocking on this page was created by Julia Usher, a cookbook author and founder of the Web site Cookie Connection . The stocking consists of four stacked gingerbread stockings, cut out with a large cookie cutter. A channel is cut in the middle two layers, and that provides a space for inserting the cookie “lollipops” that fill the stocking.
We were so taken with it that we asked her to share tips on ways to achieve it, which you’ll find in the accompanying sidebar. As you can tell, it’s a project for a steady, experienced hand. So we asked Post staff writer Roxanne Roberts to give it a go; after all, she has competed in the annual national gingerbread house competition at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C.
Roberts did a beautiful job. She found the design so challenging that she created two alternates that, while also fantastic, are easier to accomplish: an argyle pattern and a winter snowman scene. Even if you simply flood and fill, the “edible stocking” construction is simple to assemble with royal icing.
Tips from Roberts:
■ It’s important for this design that all of the stocking pieces line up, so I rolled out the dough on Silpat liners (parchment works just fine) on top on the baking sheet. That way, the cutouts don’t have to be removed, which will prevent distortion. Cut the pieces far enough apart to allow them to bake without spreading into each other, then carefully peel away the excess dough, which can be rerolled.
■ The design calls for two hollowed-out cookie layers that will hold lollipops and small bits of candy, but one layer yields a sleeker look. I scored the interior cutout and baked the cookie whole, then retraced the lines and removed the insert piece just after taking the cookies from the oven. To ensure the layers are the same size, I placed the cutter over the cookie and, if necessary, gently pushed the warm cookie sides to line up with the cutter outline.
■ Because you’re going to be using small decorating tips that can clog, sift the confectioners’ sugar for the royal icing; there are always a few tiny, rock-hard pieces that prevent the frosting from flowing evenly. I keep a needle close by while I pipe the icing, just in case. It usually does the trick.
■ Piping straight lines is hard, even for experienced decorators. Practice a few lines on wax paper before you tackle the cookies. I used a zero (0) tip, which leaves a very delicate line, but a No. 1 is easier to find (most craft stores carry them) and will look fine.
■ For the top, heel and toe of the stockings, pipe an outline and then, using slightly thinned icing, flood the areas and let them dry completely, about eight hours or overnight. (I used the same technique for the blue background on the snowman stocking.)
■ For the argyle design shown on Page E1, I scored the top of the baked cookie with a paring knife to mark the design, then piped the lines and pink background colors and let them dry.
■ After the base colors are dry, add details as desired. For the argyle, I piped green lines and immediately sprinkled them with green sanding sugar, which added sparkle and texture. (For sugaring larger areas, such as toes, lightly brush with thinned icing and sprinkle with the sugar.) Let dry for a couple hours.
■Glue stocking pieces together with thick icing and let them dry completely.
And her thoughts on Usher’s needlepoint design:
■ It is a real challenge, but enlarging the design can make it easier. The trick is to pipe the lines as fine and straight as possible. I scored two perpendicular lines on the cookie top to serve as a guide, then piped vertical and horizontal white lines. (Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; it’s just a cookie, and this is supposed to be fun.) After the lines dry, go back and fill in the little squares with colored icing according to the diagram.
■ For the cookie lollipops, cut out two cookies for each pop. Gently push a stick on top of one unbaked piece and bake in place, Decorate the cookie tops, and glue the two halves together.