There are several ways to cover a cookie with decoration. Some like glaze or fondant, but most seem to design in royal icing. It is the medium that I use and with which I am most familiar, so when I started following the work of Kathi Dangler of My Sweet Things, I was intrigued. She makes the most darling cakes with the occasional cookie to match . . . using buttercream! YUM is what I usually think to myself when I see her cookies. Then I think, HOW? How does she get buttercream to work on a cookie?! I was hoping she would let me pepper her with questions, and when I asked, she agreed! So my Cookie Connection friends, I am happy to introduce Kathi Dangler of My Sweet Things and to share with you our conversation about buttercream and cookies!
Melissa Joy: I have been following your work online for quite a while now, Kathi, and I just want to reach through the screen and TASTE your cookies. Not only are they are lovely, but they look so delicious! Do you always work with buttercream on cookies?
Kathi Dangler: I do. It’s all about buttercream for me. I’ve actually never made royal icing!
MJ: Why change when you've got a good thing going, right? When you use buttercream, how in the world do you get the base coat so smooth?! Is there a certain tool or technique to make it so? I am in awe . . . maybe it is just my lack of knowledge about working with it! Unless it’s eating it. I’m good at that part . . .
KD: Getting it smooth takes just a bit of warm water. Of course, it begins with a very smooth buttercream. My key to that is mixing it low and slow for an extra long time. It makes spreading it onto the cookies so much easier. I always use my Ateco 3/4-inch wide spatula. It’s my very favorite. After the base is on, I dip my spatula into the warm water and just smooth it out. Works every time.
MJ: For piping details or making designs, do you use certain pastry tips? Are there specific decorating tips that work better when using buttercream?
KD: I use all of the tips I would use to decorate a cake or cupcakes, just smaller. I use round tips most frequently; they’re the most versatile. But I also use star tips, leaf tips, those slanted ones for ruffles . . . Simple designs work best with buttercream. Everything comes out bigger, so if I keep it simple, I’m sure to get what I want to work.
MJ: Are your design ideas dictated by what the customer wants or are there limits to what can be done with buttercream on cookies?
KD: I have a nice mix of clients who request designs (usually to match the party invitation/theme) and clients who ask for design suggestions (free rein is always wonderful!). Yes, there are definite limits for buttercream designs. Intricate details are not going to happen with my cookies - it’s that "everything comes out bigger" thing. Buttercream is so fluffy that small and delicate are difficult to achieve.
MJ: Are there templates that you use in your decorating?
KD: I’ve never used templates with my designs. I’ve always thought that they would stick and mess up my smooth finish! I never get a hardened finish, so I worry about the smudging. Sometimes I’ll use a mini cookie cutter to make an imprint, but usually I’ll draw onto the cookie with a bamboo skewer.
MJ: The great thing about using royal icing with cookies, in my opinion, is the ability to easily transport or ship cookies iced with it. There must be a difference when using buttercream. Are there any secrets to packaging or delivering your cookies?
KD: Agreed! Shipping would be a NIGHTMARE for me. I don’t do it. I box my cookies in a single layer, never EVER stacked. I am able to package them as favors, but it requires an overnight stay in the refrigerator before they’re slipped into the clear plastic favor bags. This allows the buttercream to crust enough that it won’t smudge onto the plastic. The key is keeping them chilled. I advise clients to stick the favors in the fridge until party time.
MJ: Do you favor decorating cakes or cookies, or is there no difference to you?
KD: That’s a tough one! With cakes, I have a much larger canvas on which to work, but cookies have a special place in my heart. I use my grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe - the recipe she used when she baked with my mother, the recipe my mother used when she baked with me. That’s where I started . . . with cookies. Cookies make me happy. But, don’t they make everyone happy?!
MJ: Well, I think so, but I might be biased. Your sweet cakes rank right up there in the happiness department though! My final question, and one I always ask my interviewees: what is your can’t-live-without baking or decorating tool?
KD: Easy peasy, lemon squeezy . . . my KitchenAid stand mixer. The silver bullet. I’ve been thinking about adding some pink crystals to her sides, you know, to give her a little bling. Every girl needs a little bling.
MJ: My Nana would agree with that . . . everything is better with a bit of sparkle! Thanks so much, Kathi, for all of the insights regarding your techniques. I've loved getting to know your process better and will continue to be one of your biggest fans!
KD: Thank you again. Your interest in my cookies has made me feel so honored. Seriously. I'm the littlest fish in the big cookie pond.
Photos, cookies, and cake credits: Kathi Dangler
Melissa Joy Lacasse has always had a passion for baking just about anything, but something clicked once she received a cookie decorating kit years ago. This pastime that started as holiday cookies for family and friends eventually turned into Melissa Joy Fanciful Cookies, a Facebook page, and most recently, the blog melissajoycookies.com. While Melissa enjoys the creative outlet that cookie decorating brings, she finds that sharing with others, whether via bakery box or virtually, is always the most rewarding part of her cookie journey.
Photo credit: Melissa Lacasse
Note: How DID You Do That? is a regular Cookie Connection blog feature, written by Melissa Lacasse, which reveals through in-depth interviews the inside scoop behind cookiers' unique designs and technique innovations. Its content expresses the views of the author and interviewee, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To catch up on all of Melissa's past posts, click here.