Made by Manu: A Cookie Box for Dad

 

My parents recently moved, and while I was packing some of their boxes, an old Fathers' Day card, made by myself about 40 years ago, popped out from a drawer.  I remember drawing that card at my elementary school like it was yesterday. I also remember having a hard time completing a sentence starting with "Dear Dad" and choosing between pipes and ties (the teacher's suggestions for the subject matter of the card), as neither fit what I had in mind. But I will talk about that story another time . . . The memories of making of that card and the fact that I found it while packing a box (box being the operative word) inspired me to design this project. 

In Italy, Fathers' Day is always celebrated on March 19, which is also St. Joseph's Day. I am glad that Fathers' Day is celebrated in June in the US, so I don't have to wait until next year to share this idea. It's an easy and minimalist cookie box for dad, where the decoration is all about the colored dough and the letters that make up the frankencookied* sides.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: For those not in the know, "frankencookie" is a term coined by someone in the cookie world to describe a new cookie shape created by joining other cookie shapes together and/or by removing parts from the original shape.]

What you'll need for this project:
  • Cookie dough, tinted green (or another color of your choice) and chilled well
  • "D" and "A" letter cutters (about 6 cm or 2 3/8 in tall), or "DAD" word cutter (about 12 cm or 4 3/4 in long) if you don't want to frankencookie
  • Ruler and square-edge triangle
  • Soft paint brush
  • Large square cookie cutter or cutting template (sides about 14 cm or 5 1/2 in long), for base and lid; Note: Ideally, the base and lid should be about 2 cm, or 3/4 in, longer than the box sides comprised of the letters. 
  • Narrow rectangular cookie cutter (about 5 cm or 2 in long), like those used to cut notches for hanging cookies on cups
  • Zester or Microplane tool, for filing edges 
  • Green royal icing, very thick consistency (I will refer to it as "Julia's glue" or "glue"), for assembling box; Hint: Add some yellow to more closely approximate the color of the tinted dough.
  • Scribe tool or toothpick

 Step 1: Color dough, and cut and bake cookies

Color dough:

This was my first attempt at coloring cookie dough. Last year I was really impressed by the technique that @Cookie Celebration LLC used for her Easter cookie set and, one year later, her tutorial came in handy. The only challenge was figuring out when the cookies were ready to come out of the oven, as I couldn't really tell from their color. Then, once they were out, I left them a minute too long on the baking sheet, and the square cookies got brown on their back sides and along the edges, as you may notice in the pictures below. The browning isn't that noticeable in person though. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Nor is it in the pictures! Plus, a little browning, aka caramelization of the sugar in the cookies, always makes them taste better! 

The cookies you'll need to cut:

  • 8 "D"s and 4 "A"s to make the word "DAD" for each of four box sides. After some trial and error, I decided that 12 cm (4 3/4 in) was a good length for the sides. The letters will overlap and get frankencookied to make one single piece for each side. (Or you could just cut 4 "DAD" word cookies in case you have that cutter, listed above.)
  • squares to form the base and the lid. (Again, each should be about 14 x 14 cm or 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.)
  • 8 small rectangles, four for the underside of the lid, and four for the feet of the box. (Again, each should be about 5 cm or 2 in long.)

To ensure that the final box is sufficiently sturdy, roll the dough about 0.5 or 0.6 cm (1/4 in) thick.

In order to avoid misshaping cookies while handling them, be sure the dough is extremely cold before starting to cut out the cookies. After cutting, but before you lift the cutter, run your finger around the outer edge of the cutter to remove any extra dough and to "clean up" the cookie edge; then re-chill the cut cookies. By taking these extra chilling and "cleaning" steps, you are more likely to get cookies with straight, smooth edges, and we need them for our cookie letters. (All of the above: precious tips I got from @Jill FCS, Funky Cookie Studio during her live chat on Cookie Connection.)

Cut letters and frankencookie sides:

  1. Roll out enough dough to encompass all three letters in "DAD", and use your ruler and triangle as guides to mark the bottom and length of the word. Now, position the "D" cutter at the start of the ruler (which will be the start of the word), and cut out the letter "D". If the rolled dough is well chilled, the cutter should lift with the cut dough still in it, allowing the letter to be easily dropped onto another piece of parchment paper that will go directly into the oven. Do not move the remaining dough from which the "D" was cut.
  2. Use the soft bristle-end of a paint brush, instead of your finger, to dislodge the cookie from the cutter. This way, you won't mark the cookie surface or poke a hole through it. (A clever tip that I recently learned on Instagram from fellow cookier @Mrs. Joy.)
  3. Now, you're ready to cut the "A". Position the cutter so that the center of the letter is at the midpoint of the side. (This positioning will result in the "A" not containing any dough on part of its left side, but this is exactly what we want!) Again, use your ruler and triangle as positioning guides. Lift the cutter and remove the letter from it, just as described in Steps a and b. With the help of the paint brush, push the "A" as close to the "D" as possible. The gap to the left of the "A" should nestle snugly up against the curve of the "D", as pictured below.
  4. Cut the last "D" so that the whole word measures 12 cm (4 3/4 in). Again, remove the cookie from the cutter, as described in Steps a and b, and push it close to the other two letters to complete the word "DAD".

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Repeat Steps a to d three more times to make the four sides of the box. Remember to keep the cookie dough well chilled.

Bake the cookies as directed in your recipe, though watch them closely to minimize browning. The letters will fuse together into one word while baking.

Cut base, lid, and small rectangles: 

Again, the length of both the base and the lid should be about 2 cm (3/4 in) longer than the sides in order for the box to look proportionally correct. If you don't have such a big cookie cutter, then hand-cut these two square pieces by using your ruler and triangle for cutting guides, or by using a paper or acetate template. @Julia M. Usher explains the latter very well in her recent video tutorial for her Mother's Day cookie box.

Also cut the small rectangular cookies (all eight of them), and remember to use the paint brush to loosen each from the narrow cookie cutter.

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Bake these pieces as directed in your recipe, again watching closely to avoid browning; then cool completely.

Step 2: File edges of sides

Now, it's time to file both vertical edges of each "DAD" cookie, i.e., to miter the corners. Mitered corners allow the box pieces to fit more closely together and give the box a more finished look.

If your frankencookies are thick, there will be little risk of breakage along the seams between each letter. But, to reduce this risk during filing, it's best to turn over the cookies and lay them face down on a table. Push them very close to the table edge; hold your zester (or Microplane tool) at a 45-degree angle to the tabletop; and file the full length of each cookie edge, as shown in the photo below. 

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To ice or not to ice?

Icing the frankencookied "DAD" pieces will make them sturdier. You just have to decide whether to ice them on the front or the back sides. If you like the bare colored dough, then ice them on their back sides.

If you made "DAD" sides using the word cutter, there's no need to ice the back sides, as, being one-piece cookies, they are quite sturdy. However, you will need to ice them on the front, or just outline the letters; otherwise, it will be difficult to read the word "DAD" on these seamless pieces.

My cookies were quite thick and sturdy, so I decided not to ice them at all, and just handled them with care while building the box.

Step 3: Assemble box

Sides:

  1. Pipe "Julia's glue" along the edges you just filed, and glue the sides, two at a time, so they are perpendicular to one another and stand upright. You will end up with two "L"s. As needed, prop the inside and outside of each "L" with square cookie cutters, molds, or little boxes, so the sides stay in place while you are working on Steps b through d. 
  2. Remove the excess icing along the outside corners of each "L" with a scribe tool or toothpick. 
  3. Reinforce the corners by piping more glue along the inside seam of each "L". Push the icing into the seam with a paint brush, and then let the two "L"s dry a few hours. 
  4. Lastly, glue the two "L"s together to form a frame, and repeat Steps b and c for the newly created seams. Let the frame dry a few hours, again propping as needed. The longer the drying time, the better, as we are going to manipulate the frame in the next step.

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Lid:

  1. Turn one of the two large square cookies upside down. Gently turn the frame upside down and center it on the back side of the square cookie.
  2. Position four of the small rectangles on each side of the box, leaving a little distance between each one and its corresponding side. These pieces will act as "stops" on the underside of the lid to keep it from sliding.
  3. Gently remove the frame from the lid, and glue the little rectangles in place. Let the icing dry.

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Sides on base:

Glue the remaining four rectangles to the underside of the second square, which will be the base of the box. The little rectangles will serve as feet, so it will be easier to lift the box at any time. They are purposely hidden to maintain the box's minimalist look. Let the icing dry, and then we're ready for the final assembly steps:

  1. With the frame still upside down, pipe "Julia's glue" along the bottom of each side.
  2. Now, carefully turn over the frame and center it on the square cookie base. To fix the sides in place, gently apply a little pressure on top of each "D" while simultaneously pressing up on the underside of the base. You can easily slide your fingers under the box because of the feet, though the weird perspective of the picture below makes my hand look way bigger than the box! It's not!
  3. Remove any excess icing from the bottom of the letters with a scribe tool or toothpick.
  4. Pipe more glue along the inside bottom seams, and push it into the seams with a paint brush, just as we did before.

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After letting the box dry, it's ready to receive an element or two of surprise!

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The box could be filled with your dad's favorite chocolates or just with a card, as the box is already edible. Or a message could be hand-painted or piped, or even stenciled, on the underside of the lid. 

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Alternatively, part of the box contents could be arranged on the lid on purpose, as a clue about what's inside. For instance, if your dad is a tennis player, you could fill the box with tennis-themed cookies. I couldn't resist, and I used these chewing gum-tennis balls as handle and feet for the box. 

Variation with Tennis Equipment

Think about your dad's favorite things, and let your creativity guide you. Cookies in the shape of pipes, ties, beer, cigarettes, tools, or favorite team logos are all fair game. Or instead of super-decorated cookies, just fill the box with simple heart-shaped ones in different sizes and colors. At this point, you'll have impressed your dad enough with your cookier-carpenter skills. Plus, simple cookies are less time-consuming, and your dad won't feel guilty eating them because "they look too nice to be eaten!"

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Lastly, don't forget to remind dad: when the cookies in the box are all gone, there is still the box to be eaten!

Love, Manu

 Credits, Recapped!

  • Colored dough: Thanks to Diane Coppola, aka @Cookie Celebration LLC, for sharing her tutorial inspired by @SweetSugarBelle's Facebook page post dated 11/24/2015. 
  • Cookies with straight edges: Thanks to @Jill FCS, Funky Cookie Studio for sharing her secrets during her live chat, and also to her husband Gep, who prepares the "perfect canvas" for her cookie art. Their tips may sound obvious, but they helped me a lot as a newbie, especially when hand-cutting cookie letters. Hint: Participate in the live chats here on Cookie Connection, as they are a great way to learn - or read the past transcripts.
  • Loosening cookies from cutters: Thanks to @Mrs. Joy for a clever tip that may, again, sound obvious, but is truly great.
  • Frankencookie: It's not clear who first came up with this term, but it was the theme of a previous Practice Bakes Perfect challenge, hosted by @RebeccArchitect, before I even knew what a decorated cookie was. Hint: Check out our Cookie Connection challenges; they are a great way to learn new tricks too.
  • "Julia's glue": Last but not least, thanks to @Julia M. Usher. I started decorating cookies after watching her video tutorial about royal icing and its various consistency adjustments. She uses "glue" to refer to the thick royal icing that she uses to build her 3-D projects.

Manuela Pezzopane, affectionately called Manu by her friends and family, is a fan of everything handmade, Manu professes to have tried every possible hobby. However, it wasn’t until the end of 2014, when an American friend invited her to a Christmas cookie exchange, that she first discovered decorated cookies. In 2015, after watching Julia M. Usher's videos and signing up on Cookie Connection, Manu finally attempted her own. Since then, cookie decorating has become Manu’s passion – one that she continues to develop by actively participating in the challenges hosted by fellow Cookie Connection contributor Bakerloo Station. You follow Manu on Facebook and Instagram, or email her at manubiscottidecorati@gmail.com.

Photo and cookie credits: Manuela Pezzopane

Note: Made by Manu is a Cookie Connection blog feature written by Manuela Pezzopane, where each month she shares the method behind a magical cookie of her own making. This article expresses the views of the author, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To read all of Manuela's past Made by Manu tutorials, click here. And to see all of Cookie Connection's tutorials, click here.

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Thanks for this very original tutorial, it proves that less is truly more! I've never worked with colored dough, but you really want to make me try sometime!

And those tennis balls chewing gums are so cute

Laegwen posted:

Thanks for this very original tutorial, it proves that less is truly more! I've never worked with colored dough, but you really want to make me try sometime!

And those tennis balls chewing gums are so cute

Thank you, Leoni. I have never worked with colored dough either, I only made a cookie where I added cocoa to my dough. But I thought that chocolate dough was too dark for the season, while green matched any kind of cookies or chocolate that would have filled the box. And the cookies don't have an aftertaste... though they are weird

Those chewing gums! They got me inspired to make the tennis racket and the tennis court! They were perfect as feet for the box. 

Cookies by joss posted:

I love your mind, Manu! You're so creative, and always come up with a beautiful and fresh idea for us to enjoy! Thank you! We love your tutorials ��

Thank you so much, Joss, for your kind words, they mean a lot to me.

Manu, I have no idea how I missed this fabulous tutorial but it's so awesome!!! Such a creative way to honor and celebrate the people who are closest to you. I love the clear, detailed  instructions you provided to make this project easier to visualize. Otherwise, I  would have had a  hard time knowing where to  start.

The box with a tennis theme is super fun as I  used to be an avid tennis player/competitor during the days when I  was able to  walk. 

Another wonderful tutorial @Manu.  Thank you

Cookies Fantastique by Carol posted:

Manu, I have no idea how I missed this fabulous tutorial but it's so awesome!!! Such a creative way to honor and celebrate the people who are closest to you. I love the clear, detailed  instructions you provided to make this project easier to visualize. Otherwise, I  would have had a  hard time knowing where to  start.

The box with a tennis theme is super fun as I  used to be an avid tennis player/competitor during the days when I  was able to  walk. 

Another wonderful tutorial @Manu.  Thank you

Thank you, Carol! See? I didn't handcut letters this time! The project is easy to realize, and also versatile. Green is a weird color to tint the dough, but it matches well with everything you are going to put in the cookie box. 

The tennis themed box is my favorite as well. I was used to play tennis as well, though not at a high level. I saw that little tennis ball chewing-gums, and the inspiration came.

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