Fall (or I should say autumn, as it sounds more like the Italian word "autunno") is one of my favorite seasons. I love the explosion of warm colors on the tree leaves, especially on those sunny days when the sky is crystal-clear and the air is chilly. I wish I had a front porch that I could decorate with pumpkins, lanterns, and flowers. Since I live in an apartment, and now in a place where it is always summer (I recently moved from Italy to Dubai), I translated this wish into this cookie project, an imaginary autumn porch scene! As in my July tutorial, this project is a decorative set to be shared over coffee or tea with friends. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm thinking hot mulled cider would make it even more autumn-y! ] This set is comprised of seven cookies that can be decorated quite easily in a few steps.
- Cookie dough of your choice, well chilled and rolled relatively thin (3/16 in/1/2 cm)
- Templates (see document, attached below) and medium (1 3/8 in/3 1/2 cm) round cookie cutter for wheels
- Sugar craft knife
- White flooding-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag with PME #3 tip or equivalent opening
- Small amount grey flooding-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag* with PME #2 tip or equivalent opening (*When I have small amounts of icing, I prefer to use parchment pastry cones. Watch Julia M. Usher's video to learn how to make them.)
- Green medium-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag with PME #2 tip or equivalent opening
- Yellow medium-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag with PME #1 tip or equivalent opening
- Three paint brushes: one liner, one very thin ("0" or "00"), and one round
- White gel food coloring
- Yellow and brown gel food colorings extended with vodka
- Small (3/4 in/2 cm) molded fondant leaves (optional; I used a maple leaf mold found here.)
- White medium-thick-consistency royal icing, for "glue"
- Brown and orange medium-consistency royal icing, in pastry bags with PME #3 and #1 tips, respectively, or equivalent openings
- Acetate or parchment paper sheet, and tape
- Scribe tool
- Food marker (optional)
Step 1: Cut, bake, and flood cookies
The seven cookies in this project are hand-cut, except for the two wagon wheels, for which I used a medium (1 3/8 in/3 1/2 cm) round cookie cutter. They include:
- one flower pot with autumn flowers
- one wagon
- one floor or ground piece, to give perspective to the platter and to prop the wheels
- two wheels
- one background, onto which the pumpkins will be mounted
- one "Fall" sign (Autumn was too long. )
a. Print out the templates (in the attachments, below); then cut them out and place them on top of the chilled rolled dough. Again, I rolled relatively thin, to a 3/16-inch (1/2-centimeter) thickness. Cut out the two wheels with the round cookie cutter.
b. Carefully cut around the templates with a sharp sugar craft knife. Remove the excess dough around the cut edges, chilling again if necessary to avoid misshaping the cookies. Remove the cut templates.
c. Bake according to your recipe, and let the cookies cool completely.
d. Using a pastry bag with an opening equivalent to a PME #3 tip, flood all of the cookies, except for the flower pot, with white flooding-consistency royal icing. Let the icing dry at least eight hours, or ideally overnight.
Step 2: Flood and decorate flower pot
a. Using a pastry bag with an opening equivalent to a PME #2 tip, flood the lower part of the flower pot cookie with light grey flooding-consistency royal icing. Let the icing set about 30 minutes, and then flood the upper part (the bush) with green medium-consistency royal icing, again using a bag with an opening equivalent to a #2 tip. I used thicker icing for the bush because I wanted the icing to have some dimension. It's hard to see in the photo, but the icing is slightly puffier in the middle, giving a sense of roundness to the shrub. Let the icing dry about eight hours before proceeding to the next step. (In the meantime, you can move onto Step 3 or 4.)
b. Using yellow medium-consistency royal icing in a pastry bag with an opening equivalent to a PME #1 tip, start piping little dots on top of the green icing to make little flowers. I piped a solitary flower to the left (see image below) to show you the desired shape, which is basically five tiny dots in a circle. I used the same size flowers all over the bush, but you could mix up shapes, sizes, and flower types if you'd like.
c. Start piping flowers from the top, each one very close to the next. As you get closer to the bottom edge of the pot, start spacing the flowers a little further apart to let some green pop out. By spacing the flowers in this way, the bush will have the illusion of being round even though the cookie is flat! Pipe some dots randomly between the flowers to suggest flowers not yet blossomed. Once the petals are dry, pipe a dot in the center of each flower. By allowing some drying time between piping the petals and centers, you reduce the risk of the dots merging into one another and becoming one big blob!
d. Using the liner paint brush and white gel food coloring, paint some details and highlights on the pot so that it resembles tin. I basically painted a series of rough horizontal strokes, followed by some vertical strokes on the right of the pot. (The vertical stripes give the appearance of a reflection off the shiny tin!)
Step 3: Decorate wagon, floor, and wheels
We'll be decorating the wagon to make it look like it was built out of wooden planks. There are many ways to get a wooden plank effect: painting with food coloring, stenciling with royal icing, and stenciling with an airbrush, to name a few. I chose to paint the planks because this method is very quick.
a. Extend some yellow and brown food coloring with vodka or other potable clear alcohol. I put a drop of each food coloring on the rim of a saucer, and then added some drops of vodka on each color. The vodka flowed (see arrows in the picture) into the center of the saucer, bringing with it some of each color. As you can see in the picture, I got a mixture of the two in a little "pond".
b. Using the round brush, randomly paint some horizontal strokes on the wagon cookie with yellow food coloring, without covering the entire white background; then add some horizontal strokes of the darker yellow color (or lighter brown) from the "pond". The lighter paint colors will dry more quickly, as they have less food coloring to vodka. Before painting on your final cookies, I generally recommend practicing on another saucer (or spare cookie) to make sure you have the colors mixed as you want and the best amount of coloring on your paint brush. This way, you'll avoid making big spots like I did in the upper left corner of my cookie, because my paint brush was too wet.
c. Now, using the thin paint brush and the brown coloring, paint thin lines to demarcate planks. I painted three horizontal lines and four vertical lines placed rather randomly.
d. Using the same paint brush and brown coloring, add wood grain details. I painted assorted short and long horizontal lines, some with loops like I was writing a long letter "e". I also lightly outlined some of the darker strokes I painted in point b, above. My method may sound random, but I promise that all of a sudden you will have wood grain! Practice first on the saucer. Paint some dots for the nails at the sides of each vertical line.
e. Now, onto the floor cookie! Continue with the same thin paint brush and brown coloring. Paint two thin brown lines where the wagon wheels will ultimately touch the floor. As I said, this cookie is here just to prop the wheels and to give depth and perspective to the scene, so you can leave it relatively bare. (There's always someone who likes eating a lightly decorated cookie!) Alternatively, you could embellish it by painting leaves in between or around the wheels. Or, if you don't feel comfortable painting freehand, you could glue on some molded fondant leaves using white medium-thick-consistency royal icing. I combined both approaches by painting fondant leaves with the colors used in this project.
f. Now, for the round cookies or wheels, use the round paint brush to paint three intersecting lines with the brown coloring. Imagine that each line is connecting two opposite vertices of a hexagon.
g. Place the brown medium-consistency royal icing in a pastry bag with an opening equivalent to a #3 tip. On each of the two cookies, pipe a dot where the painted lines intersect. Then pipe a circle around each cookie edge for tires.
Step 4: Make royal icing pumpkin transfer
I decided not to pipe the pumpkins directly on the cookie because I wanted them to extend over the edge of the pumpkin background cookie, so that, when the cookies are arranged together, the pumpkins hide the seam between the background and wagon cookies. This way, the wagon and pumpkins look like one big cookie, but have the advantage of being smaller pieces that can be picked up and eaten more easily. That all said, I prepared one big royal icing transfer comprised of four pumpkins.
a. Tape a piece of acetate (or parchment paper) on the pumpkin drawing in the project templates (again, attached below). I prefer acetate to parchment paper, because I feel I have more control when piping on it and also when peeling it off transfers. Plus, I can always check the drying progress by turning it over and looking at the bottoms of the transfers. Drying time on parchment paper is faster though, as it is more permeable than plastic.
b. Using the orange medium-consistency royal icing in a pastry bag with an opening equivalent to a PME #1 tip, start piping every other section of the smaller pumpkins. Flooding non-adjacent sections and allowing drying time in between will keep the sections distinct.
c. Some sections are very thin, so use a scribe tool to work the icing into them and also into tiny corners. As you move onto pumpkins with bigger sections, you may want to use a slightly larger opening in your pastry bag (i.e., equivalent to a #2 tip).
d. Last, pipe the pumpkin stems with the same green royal icing used in Step 2 for the bush. It will take quite a while to complete this big transfer, and for it to dry completely before you can remove it from the acetate (or parchment paper) without breaking. (For more royal icing transfer drying and removal tips, see Steps 5c and 5d in my previous tutorial.) I let my transfer dry overnight. I also tried to make four transfers, one for each of the pumpkins. It took less time for them to dry, but, as it was quite hard to assemble them and cover the seam between the cookies, I ultimately chose to wait for the big transfer to dry!
e. Now, arrange the flower pot, wagon, and background cookies together to help gauge the best position for the transfer. Once you've determined where you want to place the transfer, remove it from the background cookie and pipe some white medium-thick-consistency royal icing onto the cookie for "glue". Be sure not to pipe the icing beyond the bounds of where the transfer will go, as you don't want to see any "glue" peeking out.
f. While the "glue" is still wet, place the transfer on it. If needed, use the scribe tool to push the transfer into the best position and to clean up any excess icing. As I mentioned earlier, the transfer should protrude from the cookie to hide the seam between the background and wagon cookies.
g. Last, pipe some pumpkin vines on the background, using the green royal icing in a bag with an opening equivalent to a #1 tip.
Step 5: Decorate "Fall" sign
I kept this cookie very simple and quick by piping the letters with four royal icing colors left over from previous steps. You can either pipe directly on the cookie or write the letters first with a food marker and then trace over them with the royal icing.
And now that we have decorated all the cookies . . .
Let's assemble them on a tray or dish. Ta-da! They are now ready to be eaten!
As always, I want to leave you with a decorating option. With Halloween and @Bakerloo Station's recent Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #24 (about repurposing cutters) in mind, I kept playing with alternative decorations for my imaginary porch and made a spooky night-version of this cookie platter! (See @Dolce Sentire - Aixa Zunino's past Cookie Connection tutorial for the technique I used to decorate the tombstone.) And just for fun, I made the video below to show the transformation. Be patient and keep watching to see it revealed.
So beware - decorations may not look the same after sunset . . .
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 – one that she continues to develop by actively participating in the challenges hosted by fellow Cookie Connection contributor Bakerloo Station. You can follow Manu on Facebook and Instagram, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.