I was obviously a little obsessed with baskets this spring! Here's take two, a 3-D stenciled version, which is actually a tad easier than take one, the contoured baskets shared earlier this season. Heads-up: Take three, my needlepoint baskets, will be coming in tutorial form soon too!
What you’ll need for one basket:
- Cookie dough of your choice
- 1 (4- to 3 3/4-inch) plain round cookie cutter
- 1 (3 1/2-inch) and 1 (2 1/2-inch) plain round cookie cutters
- 1 (2 3/4-inch or less) fluted round cookie cutter
- Assorted small flower, butterfly, leaf, teardrop, and/or other cookie cutters, no bigger than 2 inches across
- Cookie sheet, lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper
- Large knife
- About 2 cups Royal Icing for topcoating, detailing, and "glue"; quantity will vary with the exact cookie design and colors mixed
- Assorted soft-gel (aka liqua-gel) food coloring
- Parchment paper pastry cones (or substitute disposable plastic piping bags or pastry bags fitted with round tips)
- Stencils of your choice (I used a damask stencil from DesignerStencils.com for the basket faces shown here)
- Small offset spatula
- Turkey lacer or toothpick (to steady the stencil, and for marbling flowers)
- 2 or more thin (about 1/4 x 5 3/4-inch) flat wood coffee stirrers (or substitute lollipop sticks)
- A fondant handle or two (see details in Step 3, below)
- Enough sanding sugar to fill the basket
1 | Bake your basket pieces. Choose your favorite cookie dough; any rolled cookie dough should work nicely as long as it doesn't spread too much. Roll it out to a 3/8- to 1/4-inch thickness. The amount of dough needed for one basket will vary with the size of basket and the number of cookies you intend to put in it. There are no hard and fast rules; just be sure you have a little extra dough on hand to allow for some healthy experimentation!
Each basket will be comprised of a front and back face, cut with a large (4- to 3 3/4-inch) plain round cookie cutter; 2 or 3 "u"-shaped separators, cut with the next largest (3 1/2-inch and 2 1/2 inch) plain round cutters; a base cut with the fluted round cutter; a handle made from air-dried fondant; and whatever assorted cookies you choose to tuck inside. (Check out my typical cookie assortment - plus or minus some small flowers and leaves - below.)
It's best to roll and cut the basket faces and separators directly on the silicone baking mat or parchment paper that you'll use to line the cookie sheet. That way, they won't need to be lifted onto the cookie sheet, which can lead to a misshapen cookie mess!
To cut the faces, cut out two large (4- to 3 3/4-inch) rounds and then lop off the top of each with a large knife in one straight up-and-down motion. I usually lop off about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches as measured from the top edge of the round, depending on the size of the round to start. If needed, mark off the distance with a ruler before you slice.
To cut the separators, first cut large rounds using the 3 1/2-inch cutter; then center the 2 1/2 inch cutter within each dough round and cut another circle inside. Remove the interior circles to leave behind a few cookie rings. Lastly, lop each ring, this time slicing about 1 to 1 1/4 inches off the top.
Cut out the basket base and other filler pieces as you normally would, and bake all cookies according to your recipe's directions. (Note: I used the teardrop cutters to create two bow loops for each basket.) Cool the cookies completely before decorating.
2 | Decorate the basket and filler pieces. Once again, you've got amazing latitude in how you choose to decorate all of these pieces, so get creative!
I first topcoated (outlined and flooded) my basket faces and base in a matching color; then I let that icing fully dry all the way through before stenciling a swirly pattern on top in a contrasting color. You can use stencils designed just for cookies, but when I'm working with non-standard cookie shapes such as the basket faces, I, more often than not, mask off a larger cake stencil to isolate just the portion of the stencil that I want to capture. I use painters' tape for masking because it easily peels off without damaging the stencil, yet the stencil can be rinsed (with the tape still on it) and reused many times before the tape starts peeling off. Not so with Press 'n Seal and other forms of cling wrap!
As with most cookie decorating techniques, stenciling requires icing at just the right consistency. I usually look for the icing to cling to the back of a small offset spatula without falling off with gentle shaking. Place the stencil where you want it on the cookie, making sure that any masking tape is lined up with the icing edge so you don't accidentally spread icing under the stencil and onto areas it's not wanted. I almost always anchor the stencil with a turkey lacer or toothpick to keep the stencil from moving while I spread the icing over the top. Spread the icing only as thick as the thickness of the stencil itself; otherwise you'll get icing peaks when you lift the stencil off the cookie. For more precise icing consistency adjustments and other stenciling technique tips, check out my tutorial, here. As you can see below, I detailed the baskets further with beadwork - I should say lots of beadwork! (For beadwork tips, click here.)
3 | Make the handle(s) and assemble any flowers sticks. These basket pieces will require more drying time than some of the others before they can be picked up and handled. That said, it's best to make them before final basket assembly.
Shape a fondant handle by rolling a small amount of fondant into a thin sheet (I use a hand-cranked pasta machine for this task) and then cutting a thin (about 1/8-inch-wide) strip from that sheet. Bend the strip into an arc (handle shape) on the back side of a lined cookie sheet and allow the handle to air-dry until it is completely set and rigid (i.e., it can be picked up without misshaping).
For a handle as delicate as those shown here, drying time can be a few hours, but I usually allow overnight or accelerate the drying (to about 30 minutes) in my dehydrator set at its lowest temperature (95°F). You may also want to make a few extras for backup. Once fondant dries, it gets extremely brittle and can easily break if you're not used to handling it. Once dry, the handle(s) can be accented with icing beadwork (as shown above) or other details as you like.
To replicate my flower sticks (aka stems), simply attach the backsides of a few flower and leaf cookies to the flat wood coffee stirrers with icing of "glue" consistency. Don't move the sticks until the icing has completely set, which, depending on ambient conditions and the size/weight of the cookies, can be a couple of hours or more. (To be on the safe side, I generally dry overnight.) Note: If you want a basket that views beautifully from both sides, sandwich the flowers around the stirrers, so the "glue" is not visible.
4 | Assemble the baskets most of the way. Once all of the cookie parts have dried, place one basket face decorated side-down on a piece of bubble wrap. (The bubble wrap acts a protective cushion to keep the cookie decorations from getting damaged while you work.)
Glue 2 or 3 "u"-shaped separators on top of one another in the middle of the basket using thick icing, again of "glue" consistency. I usually tint the icing the color of the dough (in this case, brown) so the "glue" is less likely to show.
Glue the remaining face on top of the separators, taking care to line up the bottom edges of the faces; otherwise the basket will have a harder time standing on its own in the next step. Allow the icing "glue" to set until none of the pieces slide, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Turn the basket on end and fix it to the basket base using any leftover icing "glue." Normally, if the face bottoms are neatly lined up, the basket can stand on its own without propping. But if you're worried about it falling over, by all means, prop it! Tall (about 4-inch) containers of sugar beads usually work perfectly for that task. At this point, it's best to let the basket dry a few hours (or overnight) before you start loading it with the other goodies in Step 5.
5 | Put on the finishing touches. We're almost done! (Though this project has a number of steps, one of its nicer attributes is that it can easily be broken up. Feel free to multi-task while waiting for the icing to dry in the different steps!) On that note, you can "glue" the handle into the basket with thick icing, and then again allow some time for the icing to set the handle in place. But, to save time, I prefer to fill the basket with sanding sugar and then carefully plunge the handle into the sugar so it stands straight up.
Stick a couple of mounted flower sticks into the sugar or set whatever other cookies you've prepared on top, and voilà!
P.S. I also glued two teardrop cookies point-to-point to create tiny bows, though this step is completely optional. If you go this route, propping the bow pieces while they dry is a necessity. Small wadded-up pieces of paper towel will easily do that trick. Once the bow has dried in place, carefully slide out the paper towel and glue a sugar bead in the center as the final finishing touch.
If you liked this tutorial, then stay tuned for the needlepoint version, complete with flying butterflies, coming soon!