I have fabulous news! I just found out that my latest book, Simply Sensational Cookies, was
nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals’
Baking Book award. A lot of fine baking books came out this year, so, to
be honest, I was not really expecting this at all. It is both thrilling
Of course, I don’t know what particularly caught the judges’ fancy, but the book does have gorgeous photos and one unique feature is my dye-free cookie decorating. Besides the usual, expected assortment of frostings and toppers, I provided a selection of recipes (even one for colored sprinkles!) for enhancing with naturally colorful botanical ingredients rather than synthetic food dyes. (Several colorful dye-free icings from the book are shown on the daisy and hobby-horse cookies in the pic below right.)
Actually, I’m still preoccupied with cookies and am always on the lookout for ways to take advantage of beautiful natural colors in my pastry decorating! Enticing botanical hues from fruits, vegetables, herbs, and such make it possible, even easy, to skip iffy synthetic food dyes and create naturally beautiful icing shades and looks. (I’m motivated mostly by the fact that my grandkids and I often bake and decorate together, and I like our frostings and garnishes to be additive free!)
Since St. Patrick’s Day is coming and everybody is interested in “wearin’ a bit of the green,” it seems a perfect time to show you what pretty, totally dye-free decorating can be done with Japanese powdered matcha green tea. If you make sure to buy the right product (details below) it will have the wonderful spring green color spotlighted here, plus lend a pleasing subtle tea flavor and furnish beneficial antioxidents and vitamins as well!
Besides appreciating its flavor and health advantages, I love that the pure, botanical color of matcha tea looks so fresh and different from the usual garish green synthetic food dye. It seems like a nice way to signal that I care about my family’s health and diet.
Note that not all powdered matcha teas are equally vibrant and eye-catching. Only the high-quality “ceremonial” or “imperial” grades will deliver the shades shown here. Some inexpensive brands are pale sage or gray green–ideal for decorating sagauro cactus cookies perhaps, but not quite right for St. Paddy’s Day shamrocks!
The tea used here
is the Teavana Imperial Matcha; it’s available on-line for about $20 for a small (1.4 ounce) can and is also stocked in Teavana’s retail shops. I keep it tightly closed and in the refrigerator and expect the tin to serve my decorating needs for a year or two. (If you also use yours in beverages, it won’t last that long!)
Other premium brands that are often recommended for their fine color and pleasant taste, but which I haven’t tried are DoMacha, Pure Matcha, and Stash. Do examine all products closely if possible and read descriptions and reviews carefully before you buy.
To decorate the shamrock cookies here, I made the following frosting in three different shades–a very pale cream-green (yes, it’s so subtle it looks almost white); a yellow-green; and a medium green. The yellowish tint comes from adding thawed orange juice instead of water to that batch of frosting. The orange pigments in the orange juice not only lend a slight yellow tint, but, over the course of an hour or so, the acid in the juice gradually turns the green tea pigments yellowish as well.
As the assortment of finished shamrocks prove, the three colors together can produce very pleasing and varied, yet very doable effects even if you’re not expert at piping. Notice that due a technique called “wet on wet,” all the accenting lines of icing appear to be smoothly imbedded in the surface finish. As soon as a base layer of fairly fluid frosting is spread on a cookie, it is immediately topped with whatever piped accents are desired. These sink and meld attractively into the layer below. If you’re interested in duplicating the rippled effect (called marbling) shown on the middle cookie on the right side of the pic below, a step-by-step pictorial how-to is available here.
A couple of things to remember about this recipe: First, I decided upon a a royal frosting (an icing based on egg whites) because it does a particularly
good job of setting and preserving the fairly fragile color
pigments in green tea. This helps ensure that the colors don’t fade much as the cookies are stored. If you are going to make the cookies ahead, it’s also best to stash them in the freezer; this will ensure that the colors stay bright and don’t blur together.
Second, to avoid any of the food contamination issues associated with eating raw eggs, this recipe relies on commercial meringue powder or egg white powder. (Either will do fine.) Many discount department
stores stock the Wilton brand of meringue powder with cake decorating supplies.
Supermarkets and nutrition stores sometimes carry the Deb El “Just Whites,”
product or another brand of pure dried egg whites in their baking or nutritional foods aisles. To liven the slightly flat taste of dried whites, be sure to add some vanilla or almond extract as called for in the recipe.
Also, this particular royal frosting is easier to make than some traditional versions: In contrast to most recipes, it needs to be beaten only a couple of minutes until well blended and slightly thickened, not until very stiff, dry and fluffy. So, a hand-held mixer is satisfactory for the job.
Finally, note that the recipe makes a relatively small quantity, so you can ready the pale green, yellow-green, and bright green batches without ending up with too much. Used together as shown here the three batches will yield enough icing to decorate about 45 medium-sized
cookies. Of course, the recipe can be doubled or tripled if you wish to prepare only one or two colors instead of all three.
Tip: For the prettiest cookies, choose interesting cutters and try for tidy, cleanly cut shapes. The shamrocks at left were prepared using the method demonstrated in the short how-to video here and called for in a good, all-purpose sugar
cookie dough recipe here.) Basically the technique involves rolling out the dough using baking parchment or waxed paper, which, as the video shows, has a number of definite advantages, including easier dough handling and minimal kitchen mess.
egg white powder, and green tea: for a pale green frosting add 1/2 teaspoon or less of tea powder; for a medium yellow-green frosting add up to 3/4 teaspoon tea powder; and for a bright green frosting add 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of tea powder. Stir until very thoroughly mixed.
For the pale green and bright green batches, add 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup, 1/8 teaspoon extract, and
1 1/2 tablespoons water to each bowl of powdered sugar mixture. Beat each with a mixer on low, then medium speed until well blended. If necessary, gradually beat in more water to yield a fluid, spreadable consistency. Continue beating on medium-high speed until each frosting thickens, lightens in color slightly, and just begins to increase in volume. Place the batches in individual work bowls. Cover immediately to prevent them from drying out during standing.
For the green-yellow batch, add 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup and 1/8 teaspoon extract to the sugar-meringue-tea mixture exactly as for the pale green and green batches. Then add 1 1/2 tablespoons thawed orange juice concentrate (instead of water) to the bowl. Proceed exactly as directed above, except gradually add in more orange juice concentrate to adjust the consistency as needed.
Use the three frostings immediately or refrigerate for later use for up to a week. (Stir well and let come back to room temperature before using.) If decorating with the “wet on wet” piping method, place the icings in piping bags, parchement cones, or baggies, so they will be ready as soon as the desired base layer of icing is spread on a cookie. Immediately add all piping details–which don’t need to be at all perfect to look attractive–and let the cookie stand on a rack set over paper until the frosting is completely dry, at least 3 hours and preferably 6 hours. Store the finished cookies airtight in a cool spot for up to a week; or freeze for up to a month.
Another all-natural cookie decorating technique from Simply Sensational Cookies
that you may like is pictured right and posted here. Or you can check
out the Ultimate Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from the book here or demoed in this quick video here.