One thing I will always remember about my kids' first day of school, in their early years and even later on, is the picture I used to take of them in the morning right before they walked out the door and headed to the bus stop on their own. When I look at those pictures, I can still tell what school year they were off to. But as time wears on and my memory fades, I bet I'll be wishing I had prepared a sign for them to hold in the photos - one with the school year clearly displayed!
Admittedly, I could barely get a good shot of my kids in their last years of high school, as they were more often waving at me as they ran for the bus! I really doubt they would have held a sign. But, perhaps in their earlier years, I could have tempted them to sit still for several photos if I had only had the foresight to make a cookie sign!
And, so, for the theme of this tutorial, I have imagined a cookie sign, designed for a kid off to kindergarten, that could be held in a photo and also eaten later at school! Wouldn't it be nice to be carried to school by a hot air balloon in the shape of an apple whose basket is a pencil that seems to hug you?! I thought so! This cookie is hand-cut and quite big (about 17 cm/6 1/2 in tall), because it needs to be seen in a first day of school photo!
- Cookie dough of your choice, well chilled and rolled out thick (1 cm/3/8 in)
- Black food marker
- Hot air balloon template, for hand-cutting cookie (See document attached below.)
- Parchment paper
- Sugar craft knife or little sharp knife
- 1 (15 cm/6 in) lollipop stick and 1 cookie stick (The cookie stick is thicker than the other and also oven-safe. See pictures in the attachments below.)
- Square cookie cutter
- White piping-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag fitted with PME #1 tip or equivalent (used for all outlining, piping "1st Day of", and gluing in Step 5)
- Red, green, white, and yellow flooding-consistency royal icing, all in tip-less pastry bags with openings equivalent to a PME #3 tip
- Small amount of flooding-consistency royal icing (less than a teaspoon) in the following colors: brown (made with leftover red and green royal icing), pink (made with leftover white and red royal icing), and grey (I used little parchment cones with openings equivalent to a PME #2 tip. See Julia M Usher's video to learn how to make them.)
- Scribe tool or toothpick
- Yellow and sky blue gel food colorings extended with vodka
- Paint brush
- Grey piping-consistency royal icing, in pastry bag fitted with PME #1 tip or equivalent (made by adding a drop of black coloring to leftover white icing, and used in Step 6)
Step 1: Roll, cut, and bake cookie; then trace design
a. Because we are going to insert a thick stick into the dough that needs to hold the weight of the cookie, roll the dough thick, about 1 centimeter (or 3/8 inch). Using the black food marker, trace the hot air balloon template on a piece of parchment paper. Cut out the template along the lines, and place it on the well chilled rolled dough.
b. Using a sharp sugar craft knife, carefully cut the dough around the edges of the template. When you have finished hand-cutting the cookie, make sure the dough is still chilled before removing the excess dough. A firm dough will minimize the risk of messing up the cookie shape. If the dough is soft, chill it again before completing this step.
c. Now, to make room for the bigger stick that will end up in the final cookie, insert the thin lollipop stick, about two-thirds of its length, into the bottom of the cut cookie. Don't peel away the parchment paper template yet, and use the side of a square cookie cutter, rather than your hand, to hold the cookie. This way, you will avoid warming up the dough with your hand and misshaping the cookie by pressing your fingers into the dough.
d. Remove the thin lollipop stick, and carefully insert the thicker oven-proof cookie stick.
e. Peel the parchment template away from the cookie, and bake the cookie according to your recipe. As desired, chill the dough again before baking. I often do so to minimize spreading.
f. Once the cookie has baked and cooled completely, the stick will adhere very well to the dough. The only problem I experienced was some butter bleeding into the stick as the cookie cooled down, which discolored the stick slightly, making it look a bit like wood. Maybe it was my dough?! I don't know, as this was my first time baking a cookie on a stick. In retrospect, it might have been better to insert the stick as soon as the cookie came out of the oven and, later, once the cookie had cooled down, glue the stick in place with royal icing. This way, the icing would secure the stick, but there wouldn't be any butter-bleed, and the stick would stay white. Something to test at a later date!
g. Cut the original parchment paper template into separate pieces to isolate the apple and pencil shapes. Place these pieces on the cookie, and using the food marker again, trace the outlines of the apple and pencil on the cookie. Don't worry if your tracings aren't perfect. You just need them as a piping guide, and they will be covered with royal icing anyway.
h. The cookie is ready to be decorated!
Step 2: Decorate "apple" hot air balloon
a. Using a PME #1 tip or equivalent, outline the apple shape with white piping-consistency royal icing; then fill it with red flooding-consistency royal icing.
b. While the red icing is still wet, add a "reflection" by piping white flooding-consistency royal icing in a teardrop shape on top. Let the red icing dry before piping the leaf; otherwise, the two icing colors will merge. Because the apple is relatively large, I allowed about 2 hours of air-drying before moving onto the next step. However, drying time will be a function of ambient conditions; it can also be accelerated by using a food dehydrator or heat fan.
c. Outline and flood the leaf with the same green flooding-consistency royal icing, and let the icing dry. (Since this area is relatively small and I didn't want to see the outline, I opted to outline and flood with icing of the same color and consistency.) For small areas like this one, about 30 minutes of air-drying should be adequate.
d. While the icing is drying, prepare a small amount of brown royal icing (less than a teaspoon) for the stem by mixing the leftover red and green royal icing.
e. Outline and flood the stem with the brown royal icing you just prepared. Again, it's a small area and I didn't want to see the outline, so I used icing of the same consistency for both outlining and flooding.) Also, rather than using a parchment cone with an opening equivalent to a PME #3 tip, as I did with the leaf, I used one with a smaller opening, closer to a PME #2 tip. Let the icing dry.
Step 3: Decorate "pencil" basket
a. Using the white piping-consistency again and the equivalent of a PME #1 tip, outline the left part of the "pencil".
b. Fill two non-adjacent sections of the pencil with yellow flooding-consistency royal icing, using a PME #3 tip (or equivalent), and let those sections dry. Again, about 30 minutes of air-drying should be plenty for these small areas. We'll continue in this fashion, flooding every other section and allowing those sections to dry, in order to add dimension and, more importantly, to keep icing in adjacent sections from merging together.
c. Now, fill the "eraser" section in the middle with pink flooding-consistency royal icing, and the middle pencil section with yellow flooding-consistency royal icing. Let these sections dry.
d. Fill the "metal" section next to the eraser with grey flooding-consistency royal icing. This part is very thin, so you may want to use a scribe tool to work the icing into the tiny corners.
e. Next, outline the right part of the pencil, again with the white piping-consistency royal icing and the equivalent of a PME #1 tip. Also outline the point of the pencil so it overlaps the eraser, as shown below.
f. Fill the pencil point with white flooding-consistency royal icing, and allow that section to dry.
g. Flood the middle section of the right side of the pencil with yellow icing, using the same icing consistency and tip described in Step 3b, above. After this section has dried, flood the last two sections. Again, flooding non-adjacent sections and allowing drying time in between will keep the sections distinct.
Step 4: Pipe and detail background and sky
After the pencil sections piped in Step 3 and the apple section piped in Step 2 have air-dried at least 8 hours, you're ready to move onto this step.
a. Using the white piping-consistency icing and a PME #1 tip (or equivalent), outline the two remaining sides of the cookie; then fill the part between the apple and the pencil with white flooding-consistency royal icing, using the equivalent of a PME #3 tip. Let the icing air-dry at least 8 hours, as it needs to be dry all the way through for the drawing we'll be doing in the next step.
b. Give depth to the "pencil" basket by drawing a back upper edge with a black food marker. Paint the inside (the space between the black line and yellow pencil) with yellow gel food coloring extended with vodka.
c. On the remaining white part, paint some little clouds with sky blue gel food coloring extended with vodka. The clouds should be very delicate, like watercolor, just to add a suggestion of them in the distance.
d. Draw some flocks of birds on the sky with the black food marker.
e. Lastly, using the same black food marker, draw lines separating the pencil sections, pencil "lead" on the point, some vertical lines on the gray section, and, of course, "2017" (the school year) on one of the yellow pencil sections.
Step 5: Pipe letters and make royal icing "K" transfer
a. Grab the white piping-consistency icing again, and place it in a pastry bag fitted with a PME #1 tip (or equivalent). Hold the piping bag like a pen (for more control), and pipe "1st Day of" on the left part of the apple. I chose a simple font style that mimics that on grade-school penmanship paper! You can either pipe directly on the cookie using a photo of the font as a visual guide (as I did) or write the letters first with a food marker and then trace over them with icing. Let the icing dry.
b. Next, we're going to make a royal icing transfer to form the "K" (for kindergarten), meaning we're going to pipe it off the cookie, let it dry, and then attach it to the cookie later. I usually use transfers when I have a very specific shape I want to trace, and am not confident I can perfectly pipe that shape directly on the cookie. Of course, if you feel confident enough to skip the transfer process, go ahead and pipe the "K" right on the apple! If not, then follow along with me in Steps 5b to e.
First, place the "K" template (in the attachments below) under a piece of acetate or parchment paper, and simply outline it by tracing over the edge with the same white piping-consistency icing used in Step 5a.
c. To complete the transfer, fill the "K" with white flooding-consistency icing, and let the icing dry completely - to the point that the acetate or parchment paper is easily removed from it. I piped my transfer on acetate and let it air-dry about 6 to 8 hours. If you get impatient, you can always check its drying progress by turning it over and looking at the underside. (Note: Drying time on parchment paper will always be a little faster, as it is more permeable than plastic.)
d. To avoid breaking the transfer when removing it from the acetate or parchment paper, place it near the edge of your work table, and gently peel away the acetate or parchment paper from underneath. Do not pull on the "K". If the acetate or parchment paper does not easily peel away from the icing, then the icing is not completely dry. Stop, and allow a little more drying time.
e. Glue the "K" on the hot air balloon using the white piping-consistency royal icing. Make sure the letters you just piped in Step 5a are dry; otherwise, you risk smearing them . . . like I did.
Step 6: Add final details before taking off!
Now, we need some gray ropes to connect the basket to the hot air balloon. First, mix the color by tinting some leftover white piping-consistency icing with a touch of black food coloring.
a. For the ropes in the foreground, pipe four gray lines starting at the top of the front side of the pencil basket and finishing on the front of the apple. It's okay if the lines overlap the apple, as shown below; overlapping will create a greater sense of separation between the front and back ropes.
b. For the ropes in the background, pipe three lines starting at the top of the back side of the basket and finishing on the lower edge of the apple.
Our first day of school cookie sign is ready! Ideally, I would have tiny hands holding it to make a good picture for this tutorial. But my kids are now young adults, and I don't yet know any little children in my new neighborhood (I just moved to Dubai), so an apple is going to have to stand in . . . Of course, I'm aware that the apple makes this project look like a price tag on a grocery store-fruit basket rather than a cookie sign, but so be it! [EDITOR'S NOTE: Naw, it just makes it look like a special two-part afternoon snack for the kids - one part apple and one part cookie!]
Then, as always, there are many possibilities for customizing this sign concept for the start of other school years!
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 email@example.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.