The roots of my frustration are inauguration and excess. Today I made my first attempt at royal icing. For the uninitiated, royal icing is the stiff icing used to make super detailed decoration on sugar cookies (think butterfly cookies, hockey jersey cookies, daisy cookies, whatever you like best cookies) and it's made of powdered sugar and egg whites. I bought a bag of powdered sugar and a milk carton of egg whites (I thought that last part was clever). My new gel food colors were at the ready. I glanced at the conversion on the egg white carton, and used the appropriate amount for one bag of powdered sugar.
It was runny.
So I mixed in all the powdered sugar I had. Not enough. Then I popped open a can of gum paste and started adding it to the mixture (it's mostly powdered sugar) and finally made icing that was thick enough. Finally.
My problem? The conversion on the egg white carton was for the amount of white it takes to make up for an entire egg—yolk and all. I only needed the whites, and used twice as much liquid as I should have.
After I hit the right consistency, I used too much food color. Aiming for a soft subtle pink I ended up with a bowl of garish bubblegum. Unable to sacrifice enough white icing to right my wrong, I put the pink horror in a piping bag and made an attempt at red. This time I couldn't add enough. I wanted something rich, something strong. I added a little black. It worked like a dream. The red turned out great, but it doesn't match the pink.
(Throughout this process I made enough steel cut oats for a week's worth of breakfasts and carrot soup and cornbread for dinner. I'm exhausted. I have a table full of cookies and they're going to sit there, bare naked, until tomorrow night.)
To be fair, the cookies are impressive; they came from James Peterson's Baking. They were easy to make, taste fantastic, and have the perfect texture and structural integrity. To add to my cookie joy I learned a little lesson about the relationship between pie dough and butter cookie dough, and then the relationship between butter cookie dough and dough with enough structural integrity to make a cookie that's willing to be rolled, cut, and iced. It's all starting to make sense. Slowly, baking is less magical and more logical.
I also learned how to keep my cut cookies from shape shifting. Instead of rolling the dough directly on the counter, roll it in between two sheets of parchment—or one sheet of parchment and one Silpat—peel off the top layer of parchment, trim up the dough to fit on a sheet pan, and place the dough on the pan. Chill. Cut shapes, peel of the excess dough, and bake (the cut cookies are still on the bottom sheet of parchment that you rolled them on). It works like a dream. Thanks JP.
With any luck tomorrow I'll have the drive and the skill to make the insulting cookies.
* Mark has impressive facility with 3D modeling software, and if I'd giving him a head's up, he could have created a stunning illustration to match my title. Maybe next time.