To me, the finely decorated sugar cookie, full of color and detail, is the province of the professional. My own attempts have never quite jelled: The baking was never an issue, but I had neither the knack nor the equipment to create masterpieces from my cut cookies (I lean toward Old West themes). All that precision piping seemed way over my head.
Not so, says Meaghan Mountford, a decorator at Bethesda's Bundles of Cookies whose new book, "Cookie Sensations: Creative Designs for Every Occasion" (Rutledge Hill Press, $19.99), seeks to open the craft to the Everyman. "I wanted to demystify the art," the 34-year-old author says. "I wanted it to be accessible for everybody."
Checking in at 116 pages, the soft-back, full-color tome covers topics from the history of the decorated cookie to recipes and baking tips. But the bulk of the book is about frosting. With equipment lists, icing formulas, color palettes, technique tips and practice exercises, "Cookie Sensations" takes the art of piping brightly colored sugar very seriously.
I whipped up a simple sugar cookie, which was quite good, and a version of royal icing that used meringue powder rather than egg whites. The upside: Using meringue powder meant the icing didn't have to be refrigerated. The downside: The dye I used gave the icing a slightly metallic taste (which Mountford duly notes). Its color was vibrant and the consistency sublime, so no complaints there. And not having to refrigerate it meant it was easily on hand when a party guest noted his cowboy cookie's lack of eyebrows!
Later chapters of "Cookie Sensations" provide decorating templates for different types and themes of cookies, many of which Mountford developed on the job. Bundles of Cookies sees all sorts of requests, she says, including depictions of pets, injuries, UFOs and even cookies decorated to look like slices of pizza.
Mountford says beginner decorators should start with classic shapes, such as flowers or hearts: "Something with one simple outline and one or two colors to fill in." Her favorites? "I like snowflakes because they are pretty and elegant."
Personally, I'm shopping for a good six-shooter shape.
-- Justin Rude