The other day I was procrastinating by looking through food-related websites. Before long I found myself looking at Christmas cookie recipes and repeatedly landing on pictures of beautifully decorated sugar cookies (this picture is a good example from the FoodNetwork website).
I’ve often admired beautifully decorated cookies. It seems like I see them frequently, more so than I remember from the past, and for all occasions. They’re often in unusual pastel colors, light blue snowflakes, perfectly light yellow on pink Easter eggs. Have you noticed them too? I don’t know, maybe perfect little cupcakes have replaced them now (but as it is, I’m not a fan of cupcakes). Anyway, I’ve admired the intricately decorated, beautifully designed cookies for a long time, and this year I decided it was time to learn how to do it myself.
So I navigated back to the Food Network site where they have a nifty instructional slide show on decorating cookies, complete with a sugar cookie recipe from Paula Dean (which contains two sticks of butter, of course) and royal icing recipe from someone else. How pleased I was to learn I already had all the necessary tools: the offset spatula, the pastry bag with multiple tips, the special little squeeze bottle.
I went about making the dough one evening after dinner and tucked it away in the fridge. The next night I rolled out the dough, cut out the shapes, and baked a couple dozen snowmen and stars. And the third night I made the royal icing – some white, some the pastel blue – which didn’t seem quite as beautiful as in the website pictures. I should have known to stop right there. But no, I filled the pastry bag and followed the FN directions, outlining the perimeter of the cookie with piping and adding water to the blue icing so it would be easier to spread.
Before the piping was halfway around the snowman’s belly it was clear to me that these cookies would not look like the pictures. My piping lines were wobbly. I couldn’t fill in the space adequately and the icing seemed like maybe it was too runny. And I couldn’t seem to make just a dot of icing without dribbling a whole streak across my snowman’s face. The poor guy’s eyes looked more like daggers than the cute little button eyes of a proper snowman.
I soldiered on hoping I would catch on with the next cookie. Or maybe the one after that. I think I got through four snowmen and two stars before I decided to just smear some blue or white frosting on the damn things and toss on some sprinkles to make them festive. I won’t bother you, or embarrass myself further, with a picture of the results. Not beautiful.
The flavor, however, is fantastic. Yum. So they’re hidden away in the Chrismas cookie tin, only to come out for family and friends who know us well enough not to care about what the cookies look like and not to judge me for being a decorating failure.
The next morning it dawned on me that it’s nice to accept one’s own limits. Even though I love to bake, and even though I admire and am truly amazed by beautifully decorated cookies, I did not enjoy my decorating experiment. In this case I realized, my pleasure comes from appreciating the beauty, not from trying to do it myself. I am better off admiring someone else’s talents and giving my own energy to endeavors I enjoy. Next year, I’ll stick to my usual stock of Christmas cookies- not the decorated kind- and buy a plateful of beautifully decorated cookies from my favorite bakery.