Whimsy teams with artistry atop Michelle Bracken’s decorated cutout cookies.
Themed to holidays, these impressive treats have become a kind of edible calendar for patrons at Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin, where Bracken is the longtime executive pastry chef. Valentine’s Day through Christmas, these glamorous goodies represent symbols of the season.
For me, my favorites are her Easter cookies: chicks, bunnies and eggs, even stunning carrots.
A bed of flow icing forms a canvas atop each cookie, the super-smooth surface adorned with colorful details – eyes, ears, flowers, swirls and pinstripes, plus the occasional dusting of sparkly sanding sugar.
Watch the video and pay close attention to the icing’s consistency.
Yield: about 2 cups
4 eggs whites or 4 ounces, see cook’s notes
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Additional powdered sugar and egg whites to adjust consistency
For decorating: dyes, plastic or parchment paper pastry bags and tips, lots of small bowls or containers, sanding sugar
Cook’s notes: If you prefer to use pasteurized egg whites, Bracken suggests using Organic Valley Brand (Whole Foods and Sprouts). If piping polka dots on cookies, do so while flow icing is still wet.
1. Place egg whites, powdered sugar and juice in large bowl of electric stand mixer. Disconnect whisk attachment and use to mix ingredients by hand. When thoroughly combined, place on machine and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down sides and bottom; increase speed to medium-high; beat 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove whisk attachment and lift it up. A trail of 3 to 4 inches of icing should stay in place when you lift the whisk attachment above the bowl. At this firmer consistency, the icing is used to outline the top edge of each cookie (this is a little wall to corral the flow icing). If making bunnies and chicks, for example, put a small amount of white in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip and put another small amount in a bowl and stir in yellow dye (a little dye goes a long way, so just use a smidgen) – stir to combine a place in a second pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip. Thinly outline the cookies; dry. Don’t leave icing uncovered; cover with damp cloth or plastic wrap.
2. Create flow icing. A more liquid consistency is required for the flow icing. In small bowls of royal icing, dyed to desired colors (in this example, one left white, one yellow), add 1 teaspoon of egg white at a time, stirring between additions just enough to combine (don’t overmix), until mixture is a little thicker than thick whipping cream. Place in piping bag(s) fitted with medium-small plain tip (or simply cut off end) and pipe onto cookies starting next to outline, using a tight 1/2-inch long zigzag motion until all of cookie surface is filled inside the outline. Prick any bubbles that appear on the surface with the tip of the pastry bag, using an up and down motion. Or use the tip of a paring knife or a clean finger. Set aside to dry (see cook’s notes). It is best to do up to this point 24 hours in advance to thoroughly dry icing.
3. Place some icing (original, not flow consistency) in several bowls. Dye each a different color, such as black for eyes, green for leaves, orange for beaks and flowers, blue for flowers. If icing needs to be thicker, stir in a little powdered sugar. For flowers use a small fluted tip. When the flow icing is dry, decorate as desired. If you want to add sanding sugar, sprinkle it on when decorated elements are wet and shake off excess. Set aside to thoroughly dry. Cookies can be stored airtight for 3 days.
Source: Michelle Bracken, executive pastry chef, Zov’s Bistro and Bakery, Tustin