Made by Manu: Walking Toward Spring

 

When I first started decorating cookies two years ago, one of the difficulties I encountered was putting together a satisfying set of cookies with the harmony of shapes and colors that I admired in the sets of veteran cookiers. It was hard to mix icing colors and to find the right color combinations, and the cutters available to me didn’t work well together. The latter obstacle is probably why I started adding handcut cookies to my sets, and why they are now such an integral part of my style.

In this tutorial, I wrap up my seasonal series of cookie platters, featuring handcut cookies and designed for cookie-newbies! This project is again very simple, as there are only a couple of techniques on top of handcutting and basic outlining and flooding. Plus, only a few colors are needed, and most of the cookies are minis, because it's easier to flood little surfaces!

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The main lesson shared in this post, and in my previous seasonal projects, is how to give interest and dimension to a cookie set by arranging the cookies in layers. Here, I created depth by positioning the larger cookies (big flowers and duck) in the foreground corners and by overlapping elements (like the bench seat in front of the tree trunk, and, in turn, the ducklings in front of the bench). I also played with perspective in the way I cut and painted the bench seat, and suggested movement with the arrangement of the walking ducks and by painting an arrow on the sign. Lastly, I put everything on a plate that has lines converging at its center, which adds to the illusion of depth. By using such tricks, it is possible to cookie-fy almost every scene around us. And the final result won't look like a beginner project despite its reliance on basic techniques.

What you’ll need for this project:
  • Cookie dough of your choice
  • Assorted templates, for cutting custom shapes (See the attachment, with measurements, at the end of this post.)
  • 4 flower cutters ranging from 3 cm/1 1/4 in to 5 cm/2 in (I used this four-piece PME set.)
  • Small (13 mm/1/2 in) flower plunger cutter (I used the large one in this set.)
  • Narrow (0.8 cm/1/3 in wide x 5 cm/2 in long) rectangular cookie cutter, to cut parts of bench (I used this sign post cutter.)
  • Mini (2.5 cm/1 in tall) duckling cookie cutter (I used a cutter from this mini set.)
  • Sugar craft knife or equivalent
  • White piping-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag fitted with PME #1 tip or equivalent, for all outlines
  • Brown and white flooding-consistency royal icing, in tip-less pastry bags with openings equivalent to PME #2 tip
  • Yellow, brown, green, and pink gel food colorings, extended with vodka
  • Very thin paint brush, such as a 3/0 liner brush
  • Yellow (or pale color) food marker, to write letters
  • Orange medium-consistency royal icing, in tip-less pastry bag with opening equivalent to PME #2 tip
  • Yellow and pink thick flooding-consistency royal icing, in tip-less pastry bags with openings equivalent to PME #2 tip
  • Scribe tool (or equivalent)
  • Black food marker, to draw eyes

Step 1: Design scene and cut templates

Let’s start by sketching the project. It's best to sketch on a piece of paper that approximates the size and shape of the plate on which the cookies will be served, which, in this case, is a 25-centimeter (10-inch) square (a). After drawing the larger or uniquely shaped elements (like the tree, bench, and sign), I arranged some flower and duckling cookie cutters on top to help me visualize the rest of the design (b). Once the design is visualized to your satisfaction, trace the desired shapes onto parchment paper; then cut out the shapes to use as templates for handcutting the dough in Step 2 (c). I cut out a few more flower and duckling templates than needed for dough cutting, just to see how many cookies I would need to cut later and, again, to help with visualizing the final layout on the plate (d).

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With hope that the design will work well once it's transformed into cookies, let’s move to the next step!

Step 2: Roll, cut, and bake cookies

After rolling out the dough (the thickness here is not crucial) and refrigerating it, cut the cookies. Here’s a summary of the shapes you'll need:
  • Cookies using cookie cutters: 12 flowers (7 small, 2 medium, 1 large, and 2 extra large, using the four cutters in the PME cutter set), 10 mini flowers using a flower plunger cutter, 4 rectangular parts for the bench (2 legs and 2 backrest supports), and 6 mini ducklings.
  • Handcut cookies: 1 sign, 1 duck, 2 planks for the bench, 1 tree (which will be cut in 7 pieces: 1 trunk and 6 branches). Again, you’ll find a file with the templates and their measurements in the attachments.

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a. Place the cut templates on top of the rolled, chilled dough. As you can see in the photo below, I cut the branches off the original tree template, because, if I had baked the tree in one piece, the smaller branches would have overbaked by the time the trunk was done. Leaving them separate also provides more flexibility when arranging the finished pieces. Moreover, if left attached to the trunk, the branches would very likely break once the tree was put on my uneven plate!

b. Now, carefully cut around the edges of the templates with a sharp sugar craft knife (or equivalent). When you have finished cutting the cookies, make sure the dough is still cold before removing the excess dough. A firm dough will reduce the risk of misshaping the cookies. If the dough is soft, refrigerate it again before completing this step.

c. Use the rectangular cookie cutter to cut the 2 bench legs and 2 backrest supports. If needed, use a soft paint brush to loosen the dough from the narrow cookie cutter, and to avoid denting or misshaping it.

d. Cut out the remaining flowers and mini ducklings. The smallest flowers made with the flower plunger cutter will have tiny holes in their centers from the plunger, but no worries! They will be filled with royal icing later.

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Place like-size cookies on the same baking sheet (to ensure even baking), and bake according to your recipe's directions. Let the cookies cool completely before decorating.

Step 3: Outline and flood tree, bench, and sign; then add details

a. Using white piping-consistency royal icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent), outline the trunk and all 6 branches. Now, using brown flooding-consistency royal icing and a PME #2 tip (or equivalent), flood the insides of the tree pieces. Let the icing dry about 8 hours or overnight, and then set these cookies aside for the final assembly. (They are done!)

b. Using white piping-consistency royal icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent), outline all of the bench parts and the sign. Flood the interiors with white flooding-consistency royal icing, using a PME #2 tip (or equivalent). Let the icing dry about 8 hours before decorating these cookies further in the following steps.

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c. On a saucer or in a paint palette, mix together one drop each of yellow and brown gel food coloring, and extend the coloring (i.e., turn it into edible paint) with some vodka. (I prefer to use vodka rather than water, because it evaporates more quickly and is less likely to dissolve the icing.) With a thin paint brush, paint a line in the middle of the bench backrest to demarcate planks. Paint another line on the seat, so that the plank in the back looks about half as wide as the one in the front. Uneven spacing of these lines will create the illusion of depth on the seat.

d. Continue to randomly paint lines of various lengths on the planks. Add little loops to some of the lines to simulate wood grain details.

e. At each end of the backrest, paint a pair of dots, one dot above the other, for nails, as shown below. Paint another two pairs of dots on the seat, but place the dots on the back plank closer to the center of the seat (again, to give a sense of depth).

f. Use the same paint brush and some green gel food coloring extended with vodka to paint blades of grass on the bench legs.

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Now for the sign.

g. Using a yellow (or pale) food marker, draw the word "Spring" on the sign, as well as an arrow. I wrote the word on parchment paper first, as a rehearsal, to have a visual guide when writing on the cookie and to help center the lettering. 

h. Using orange medium-consistency royal icing and a PME #2 tip (or equivalent), trace over the letters you drew in the previous step. (Rehearse first on the letters drawn on parchment paper, if you'd like.)

i. Use the extended green gel coloring mixed in Step 3f (for the grass) and the same paint brush to paint over the arrow.

j. Last, outline the top of the sign, using white piping-consistency royal icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent).

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Step 4: Decorate duck and ducklings

a. Using white piping-consistency royal icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent), outline the body of the duck. Also outline the bodies of the ducklings, and then pipe small circles for their heads.

b. Fill the interior of the duck with white flooding-consistency royal icing, using a PME #2 tip (or equivalent). Flood the bodies (but not the heads) of the ducklings with yellow thick-consistency royal icing, again using a PME#2 tip. I kept the yellow icing on the thicker side to avoid "cratering" on these small surfaces. ("Cratering" is a term coined by cookiers that refers to icing sinking back into itself as it dries, resulting in the formation of a hole in the center of the icing. Cratering is more likely to occur on small angular cookie pieces.) Let the icing crust.

c. Now, flood the duckling heads with the same yellow icing used in Step 4b. Waiting for the bodies to crust before piping the heads keeps these two areas distinct and well defined. If I had instead piped the heads right after the bodies, the icing in these two areas would have merged together, resulting in flatter ducklings without cute chubby bodies

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d. With the same yellow royal icing and a PME#2 (or equivalent), pipe a wing in the shape of a teardrop on the body of each duckling.

e. Using white piping-consistency royal icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent), outline a wing on the body of the white duck. It is important to outline the wing in this case, as an icing "dam" is needed to contain the runnier white flooding-consistency icing that will go inside.

f. Flood the wing interior with white flooding-consistency royal icing, using a PME #2 (or equivalent).

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g. Again using orange medium-consistency royal icing and a PME #2 tip (or equivalent), pipe two legs on the duck.

h. Then pipe two triangles for the feet.

i. Flood the insides of the triangles with the same orange icing, and use a scribe tool (or equivalent) to work the icing into the tight corners.

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j. Use the same orange icing to pipe the lower part of the bill on the duck; then repeat on each duckling. I turned the duck/ducklings upside down to pipe, as I am right-handed and it is easier for me to pipe from left to right. Otherwise, my hand gets in my line of sight. Let the icing crust while proceeding to the next step.

k. With the same orange icing, pipe two teardrops (for feet) at the bottom of each duckling. Place one teardrop closer to the chest and the other closer to mid-body, so the ducklings look like they are walking.

l. Now, pipe the upper part of the bill on the duck, and then on each duckling. Let the icing dry completely.

m. Once the icing is hard all the way through, use a black food marker to draw the eyes on the duck and ducklings. It is very important to be sure the icing has dried completely; otherwise you risk breaking it with the tip of the marker.

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Step 5: Outline, flood, and detail flowers

a. Again using white piping-consistency royal icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent), outline all 12 flowers cut with the PME cutter set.

b. Now, using pink thick flooding-consistency royal icing and a PME #2 tip (or equivalent), flood the flowers outlined in Step 5a. Let the icing dry.

c. Put a drop of pink gel coloring food on a saucer and extend it with some vodka. Using a fine paint brush, paint 6 or 7 thin lines of pink coloring radiating out from the center of each flower, and stopping near the base of each petal. Let the food coloring dry.

d. After a few minutes, pipe a yellow bead at the end of each line you painted in Step 5c, and randomly along the lines toward the center of each flower. Use the yellow thick flooding-consistency royal icing and a PME #2 tip (or equivalent).

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e. Now, onto the mini flowers cut with the plunger cutter. Using the pink thick flooding-consistency royal icing and a PME #2 tip (or equivalent), pipe teardrops, one by one, that start at the outer edge of each petal and terminate in a point at the hole in the middle of the flower. Ice all 10 mini cookies in this fashion.

f. Once the icing is dry, paint thin pink lines on each flower and then randomly pipe 3 or 4 yellow beads on top, much as you did in Steps 5c and 5d for the big flowers, above.

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Step 6: Assemble cookie platter

And now that all of the cookies are decorated . . .

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Let’s assemble the platter, and get ready for sharing these springtime cookies with special friends over tea or coffee!

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And to close this long post, I would like to leave you with this video showing the cookie platter assembly process . . . enjoy!


Ciao,
Manu 🌸

Manuela Pezzopane, affectionately called Manu by her friends and family, is a fan of everything handmade, and 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. You can 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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Lovely as always. I always find difficult to avoid the cratering in the small areas of cookies. How do you avoid it. Can you explain ir more. Please it would be very helpful. Thanks a lot in advance. Lovely tutorial.

Roberto Correa posted:

Lovely as always. I always find difficult to avoid the cratering in the small areas of cookies. How do you avoid it. Can you explain ir more. Please it would be very helpful. Thanks a lot in advance. Lovely tutorial.

Hi @Roberto Correa, thank you. The best solution is to use a fan or a dehydrator as it will help to avoid the craters. The quicker the surface dries, the less likely it is to crater.

That said, I didn’t use a fan or a dehydrator here. I tried to write a tutorial thinking of when I started to decorate my first cookies, and the challenges I faced (at that time I didn’t have a dehydrator yet nor I used a fan) and tried to recreate the same conditions (with the limit of the room conditions in which ones lives which I can’t control, and that also affects cratering).

For the ducklings I just kept the (yellow) icing of a “thick” flooding consistency to avoid cratering. I pipe outlined their bodies and their heads because I like to see the outline, but the yellow icing was thick enough that it didn’t need a dam (and in fact I didn’t need the dam for the duckling’s wing.) As you can see in the pic below luckily I didn’t have craters. The icing was thick enough to support the weight of the crusted surface and I had no sinking or holes. Who knows? Probably the thick icing combined with the outlining played a role in avoiding cratering? Surely also the wet/dry condition of the environment where I work at the moment played a role.

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But for the bench I used white flooding-consistency royal icing which was thinner than the yellow and it has sank a little bit in the center of the small flooded areas (the legs of the bench), as you can notice in the picture. No holes occured probably because of the rectangular shape of the cookies, but (for experience) I am sure I would have had holes if I used this same runny consistency to flood the chicks. 

I hope I helped you with my (long) answer 😊😊😊

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Teri Pringle Wood posted:

Fantastic, I really appreciate all that went into making this and love those baby ducklings.. Outstanding. Thank you 

Thank you Teri @Teri Pringle Wood 🌸

The duckling/chick cutter belongs to this set of minies, which I think it was meant to cut mainly fondant. But the cutter has a dept of 1,5 cm/5/8 in, and it is suitable to cut cookie dough as well and the outcome is cute🐤.

GinkgoWerkstatt posted:

Love the blossoms and the little ducklings! ♥

Thank you, Anne @GinkgoWerkstatt, the blossoms are another inspiration (like the Water lilies) from my trip to Vietnam. They were ready for the new (lunar) year’s celebrations and there were lot of blossom: pink in the North and yellow in the South. The latter are called “hoa mai”... I asked the guide as I was inspired to make the yellow blossoms. I knew there would have been many pink blossom cookies in this period, but then the idea of the ducklings came to my mind and I needed to go for the pink. I’ll save the idea for next year!😊

Heather Bruce Sosa posted:

Oh Manu, this is so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing not only your finished creation but the whole process too. How generous of you! 💕

Thank you @Heather Bruce Sosa, so glad you like it!. I love this hobby and I am blessed to have the opportunity to share my projects in this site, where I have learned so much from fellow cookiers. 

Aproned Artist posted:

So cute! I really love the idea of the seasonal sets. They all feel cohesive as a foursome, but still very different.

Thank you Samantha @Aproned Artist 🌸. They cover the last 9 months (incredible!) and in each one of them there are lots of memories. Now it is time to think to something else😊

Bellissimo @Manu!!! What a wonderful tutorial and all of the elements came together seamlessly with such careful planning . That's the key, isn't it?! Thinking ahead about the entire project enables you to visualize each step in the process. Wonderful explanation and pictures, as always!! Hard to believe you've only been decorating cookies for 2 years my dear Manu!! Your skills are evident no matter how "simple" the design may appear to be.

Love every aspect of your work and clear direction. I wouldn't have considered cutting the tree up into as many pieces as you did but it really works well the way you did it!! I'll definitely keep that in mind for future projects .

It's clear that you've put a lot of hard work and time into creating this project and the tutorial for making it. Dear @Manu, you add SO much to the cookie community and CC in particular. Thank you ❤️❤️❤️.

Cookies Fantastique by Carol posted:

Bellissimo @Manu!!! What a wonderful tutorial and all of the elements came together seamlessly with such careful planning . That's the key, isn't it?! Thinking ahead about the entire project enables you to visualize each step in the process. Wonderful explanation and pictures, as always!! Hard to believe you've only been decorating cookies for 2 years my dear Manu!! Your skills are evident no matter how "simple" the design may appear to be.

Love every aspect of your work and clear direction. I wouldn't have considered cutting the tree up into as many pieces as you did but it really works well the way you did it!! I'll definitely keep that in mind for future projects .

It's clear that you've put a lot of hard work and time into creating this project and the tutorial for making it. Dear @Manu, you add SO much to the cookie community and CC in particular. Thank you ❤️❤️❤️.

Grazie Carol, @Cookies Fantastique by Carol, you made my day! The “hard” part is to find an idea. Sketching helps me to see if the idea could work. I usually dig in my memories and experiences. The tree and the blossom are a fresh memory from my recent trip to Vietnam. I met mother duck and ducklings in front of my house in a early Spring day of 15 years ago. They were heading to the park nerby. My little (at the time) kids and I followed them for a while. We just watched the video last month...

The design is simple, but the final outcome won’t look as a beginner project.

Yes, I preferred to separate branches and trunk as the (cookie) trunk was too big. In last year project I baked the tree in one piece though (yes, again tree and bench (but 3D) and some more memories)!!!!

Thank you for your feedback!💕🌸

Sweet Prodigy posted:

Wonderful tutorial Manu. This is a wonderful platter set. I like that there are so many small pieces as it encourages nibbling. 😉

Thank you, Christine @Sweet Prodigy💕 That “plate” is special, isn’t it? (Wink, wink!). It is perfect for any cookie style! 😊😊😊

carouselselsel posted:

It's such a lovely set Manu and another of your great tutos. It's great that you have completed the 4 seasons. And those little duckies are a hit! Love to see your perfectly cut cookies.

Thank you, Zara, @carouselselsel💕! When I made the first one last Summer, I didn’t have in mind to make a series! I am glad to have closed the circle!

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