Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Piping and Icing Decorating Experiment

Todays post isn't really a how-to, as I have very little experience in trying these techniques out before, but more of an experiment.  I did try basic decoration a couple of Christmas's ago and flood icing last year, but after a bit of research and testing, I wanted to experiment with a batch of biscuits I made when the weather forced me to be inside.
It's a long one, so grab a tea or coffee and please share any tips you may have at the end!

Basic Equipment:
Piping Bag and Nozzle:  For an industrial number of cupcakes I had to decorate a few years ago, I bought myself a 'proper' piping bag and a few nozzles, however; you can pick up disposable plastic bags in any supermarket [as well as the reusable] that come with a basic selection of nozzles.  The main shape to have is a small circle writing nozzel that will allow you to create the outlines - large blocks of colour can be added with a spoon, but nozzles with a larger circle will give you more control and speed the process up. 
Royal Icing: You can, of course, decorate with icing sugar, butter cream or any pre-made icing, however; for biscuits that can hold their decoration, be stacked without the design being ruined and for cours to be blended, royal icing is where it's at.  If you want proof of it's durability - ask any gingerbread house builder :)

If you have these, you're good to go, but here are some additons.....

Colouring and Flavouring: To experiment with a range of designs, I also coloured my icing.  This is where the disposable piping bags can be a huge washing and drying saviour - you can load each bag with the different icing colours and then use as and when.  For some of the biscuits, I flavoured the icing as well - nothing to crazy and no combinations of flavours - just lemon for the yellow icing, strawberry for the pink.
Range of Nozzles: For more detailed decoration, you can use all kinds of nozzles with intricate patterns that would otherwise be really difficult to recreate.  A Toothpick can also be really useful for creating small, detailed patterns.
Sprinkles and Sugar Craft: When the icing is around semi-set, you can further decorate and embellish with sugar sprinkles or sugar decorations.
I think that's the basics - have plenty of small bowls for mixing up the icing in - and spoons for transferring and let's get started.  I baked a whole range of plain shortbread biscuits [I'm obsessed] of various sizes and shapes to experiment with, but any basic bisuit or sugar cookies will do. 

I started with outlining.  No matter the design, simple or detailed, the outlines will provide a good structure to work with and prevent any icing from spreading or overspilling if you are using different blocks of colours.  I started simple, with single outlines, creating a little fence inside the edge of a couple of biscuits:
Then, when I felt like I was more in control than the icing, I tried adding more outlines, 
in simple lines, stripes and polka dots:
...and then with a little more detail - writing:

For the decoration, I wanted to try a range of techniques, but started with the simplest: Flood Icing. Once the outline was dry, I mixed a spoonful of icing with pink colouring and strawberry flavouring and added to the centre of the biscuit with a small spoon:
...using the back of the spoon, I spread the icing across the biscuit and pushed right to the edges.  I did this on a small chopping board, so once complete, I could firmly tap this flat on to the table and ensure the icing was evenly distributed.  You do have to work fairly quickly - and areas left will start to dry and form a hard surface that will need to be broken if you have not completely finished.  It's not the end of the world, but can cause clumps in the icing and discolouration:
...leave to once side to dry completely and you have a lovely block of colour.
[match the outline colour to the flood icing colour if you want a more seamless look]

Next, I tried a flood icing technique on a smaller scale with Block Colouring.  Mixing a range of pastel colours, I added small spoonfuls of the icing to outlined blocks:'s a pretty effect, though I think I added a little too much as the lines weren't completely defined.
Next, adding even smaller blocks of colour to a larger, flood icing base:
This is where I had to work quickly and used a toothpick to help me navigate around the 
small circles to make sure I didn't add too much icing or spoil the lines:

My final experiment with colour was to see how easily swirls and finer details could be created 
with a toothpick.  I started by adding two blocks of coloured icing to an outlined biscuit, 
meeting the colours in the middle:
...before the icing had time to dry, I took the end of the tooth pick and from one side, I dragged the line of the icing from the middle across, over in to the line of the opposite side.  Repeating down the centre, this gave a slightly waved effect:

Finally, I tried the last of a flood icing method, this time negotiating the writing outlines.  As the size of this particular biscuit was small, I had to work really quickly - the toothpick also came in handy for pushing the icing between the lines, into the scalloped edge and in the writing details:
.........could do better.........
Best thing is you then have to eat your experiments.
see you next time x

Along the way, here are some tips I picked up to make it all a bit easier:
  • Once you have piping bags loaded with icing, twist the top to secure and then rest them upside down in a glass to stop them from falling over - ensure the top isn't twisted to the top of where the icing sits, so that when it is placed upside down, the icing has some room to spread and wont be forced out of the bag through the nozzle.
  • If you are using many colours and want to change between nozzles, the easiest way for doing this is to have a plain, spare bag used solely for this.  Add each nozzle as you need and then place the colour you want inside the bag and straight into the nozzle.  This should allow you to use the same nozzle but switch between colours, only having to quickly wipe clean the nozzle.
  • Mix one colour at a time.  Icing dries, real quick.  So you're not spending half your time re-mixing colours, make up one colour at a time and set yourself up with a little production line - then, by the time you finish the last biscuit with one colour, the first is completely dry and ready for the next.

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