Chat with Sweetopia!

Hi, Marian! It's an honor to have you here with us today to talk about cookie decorating, sweets blogging, and other things sweet. Thanks for taking time out of your busy weekend to join us.
Hi Julia!
Just one housekeeping note before we start. Everyone, please don't be surprised if your question does not immediately post to the chat. Questions first go into a moderation queue. Depending on the number of advance questions in the queue, your question may sit there for a while (many minutes) before it is posted for Marian to answer. The best thing to do is to sit tight and be patient, as duplicate questions in the queue can get very confusing for your moderator (me) who does not read or type fast! Many thanks. Let's get started with the first question.
It's an honor to be here! Thank you for having me!
How do you prevent craters/air pockets from forming while the royal icing dries?
FROM MARIAN:Hi Gwen! Would you like the long answer or short answer? ;-) The short answer is, that the crater issue doesn't seem to happen when my icing is on the thicker side, when I'm decorating with my dehumidifier on, and when I've made sure my icing has less air in it (More on that in a second). I still don't have an exact answer or scientific explanation as to why it happens, but it seems like if the icing is too runny, it has a weaker surface tension, and craters tend to form. The dehumidifier seems to help the icing dry faster, so craters have less chance to form as well. The other thing I've been playing around with is air in the icing. Sometimes you'll notice an air pocket right after you've flooded your cookie, and those can easily be popped with a toothpick, but craters don't always form where there's an obvious air bubble. They also seem to form in small areas of flooding more, so, what I do when I know I'll be flooding a small area, is to make sure I paddle the icing in a silicon bowl, and put my bowl of finished royal icing on a dental vibrator to vibrate the air out. It sounds so funny, I know! I definitely don't do it for every batch of icing I use! There's quite a bit of explanation to my reasons behind that, so here is the post I wrote on it if you'd like to check it out: http://sweetopia.net/2012/09/h...bles-in-royal-icing/ Hope that helps!
@Kim Ratchford
Tips on starting a blog... First and foremost... love the topic
Hey Marian, Please hold off on answering questions live. We are working through the existing questions in the queue first.
What has been the most successful marketing tool for you? How do you plan out a work week, so you don't overbook?
FROM MARIAN: Hi Valli, I haven't done anything other than share on social media, as I'm not selling my cookies as a business, so I think it depends what the end goal is for you. For an online presence, social media for sure! That's basically what I've used. Because there are so many options out there, and each social media option takes time, I've had to narrow down my choices to a few favorites, which are at the top right of my site. ( http://www.sweetopia.net ) Time wise, I'm still working on balancing out that one! Lol. In terms of making cookies I do have a cookie decorating schedule here; http://sweetopia.net/2011/11/c...ballet-tutu-cookies/ ... and in terms of blogging, I try to post at least 3 to4 times a month (one project per week). If life gets to busy the blog is a bit quieter, and I've had to say no to more projects so that I don't overbook. Let me know if you're wondering more about overbooking in a blogging sense or a cookie making sense, and I can share more detail if you like.
If you see something that inspires you to make a cookie, do you carry around a sketch pad or book of ideas (to capture the thought)? If you do, it must be full. You have so many wonderful ideas.
FROM MARIAN: Thanks Sissygirl! I do collect ideas! I used to write things down in a notebook in my purse, like you said, but now I just take a photo of what I'm inspired by. The other day, I was in a department store, and they had the cutest children's bedding, so I took photos of a few quilts there. Felt kind of funny doing it, but as long as photos are allowed, it's a quick way of capturing the inspiration! I have a sketch book at home but rarely use it, as I prefer just trying the design with icing once I have the colors chosen etc. I'm also not very good at drawing, which is why I rely heavily on the projector for more complicated designs. One drawback of using the phone to capture inspiration, is that I have so many photos collected but I sometimes forget about the ideas because they're stored away and not in plain view, so Pinterest has actually become my absolute favorite place to collect a bunch of cookie ideas. I love being able to bookmark and have them all in one place, and I won't forget about them there, as they're organized and categorized... Now it's just a matter of having enough time to make the cookies!
Hi! My question has to do with outlining. I tried to outline yesterday with a thicker icing and a #1 tip but it hurt my hands to push icing out of bag. My questions are:

1. Is it normal for my hand to hurt?
2. What icing consistency should I use for outlining.....like how many seconds?
3. What number tip should I use? I only have Wilton tips right now.

Thank you!
Leigh
FROM MARIAN: Hi Leigh, Yay for just getting into cookie decorating! Prepare to become cookie obsessed! ;-) I'll try my best to answer your questions: The icing is probably a little thick if your hands hurt when you're squeezing the piping bag. Also, I generally outline with a #2 or higher (The larger the cookie the larger the piping tip I use). You can outline with a #1 tip for sure, but the icing will need to be runnier. I use a 10 second rule, and have a video on how to find that consistency if you like.
I just started decorating and am a person who isn't very "artsy". I had some circle cookies yesterday that I put a base ivory color on with purpose of doing dots on it when base coat dried (like your heart Valentine's dot cookies) but by the time I got done decorating my other cookies I was too tired to do dots and couldn't think of ANYTHING else to do. Will my creativity and ideas pick up with experience? I don't want to have to always look at ppl's work to get ideas. I want to look at a cookie cutter and see all the possibilities or look at an uncommon shape and think of what cutter would make that shape.
FROM MARIAN: For sure, Leigh, my cookies are a lot different now than they were when I first began! Even now though, I have to say, I do have days where new ideas just don't happen, and days where they just do. I'm not sure if it's a measure of how busy I am, (or, really, how relaxed I am), or how inspired I am by the theme. If I'm having one of those days, I stick to the basics and do simple. Know that it does overall get easier to play around with new ideas though! xo
OK, we're onto live questions now. So these may take a little longer for Marian to answer as she's typing live.
What are your must-have tip sizes? Which tips do you recommend for different techniques?
Hi @Desiree, My favorite tips are #1.5 and #2 and I do have a brand preference... PME. I use #1.5 for outlining, lines, brush embroidery etc. #2 I like for larger cookie outlines and flooding, and larger tips like #3 or #4 for flooding larger cookies.
Sounds kind of silly maybe, but a passion for the topic means that you'll always have something to write about. Personally, making sweets, especially decorated cookies, is something I never get tired of, and am always learning about, so haven't run out of things to write about yet. Next, probably invest some time in learning how wordpress (or whichever blog platform you use) and basic html works, and get comfortable with social media. Chose about 2-3 favorite social media spots, as if you're an individual running your blog, it's practically impossible to do all of them on a regular basis. There are some automated systems out there, but I find the personal touch is always best. Also, invest in a good camera so that food photography is easier. One more thing (I probably should do - but haven't yet), is maybe take a writing course... I definitely could improve in that area!
That was one the continuation for @Kim Ratchford
OK, thanks, please wait until I post the question to the chat before you answer. I'll post Kim's question next so that people know what it was!
Do you have any tips on starting a blog?
Here's another question from Kim.
I love watching you decorate your gingerbread houses over and over. Do you have any tips to keep the houses fresh for as long as possible?On the flip side, how do you preserve the houses for a longer period of time - for decoration only?
@Kim Ratchford Hi, thanks! To keep gingerbread houses fresh, once they've dried, wrap them in cellophane and tie with pretty ribbon at the top. Here's an old post with a photo at the bottom showing how I did it: http://sweetopia.net/2009/11/b...-gingerbread-houses/ For decoration only, I simply let them dry out at room temperature. It's important that the room it's drying out in, isn't too humid, so I'll put the dehumidifier on for a few days in that room. Then, when storing in a box, I put dessicant in the box too. Hope that helps!
Hello!. I love your work, everything you do in beautiful. You made hand painted cookies? I saw that on occasion the frame as a picture, how long can last well, without losing the color?
@esther73rg Yes, I like to paint a little on cookies, but don't have a tutorial yet. If the cookies are wrapped in a cellophane bag, if you're giving them as a gift, the color will definitely last for the shelf life of the cookie. Hope that helps!
I am a cake decorator, but am new to the world of cookie decorating. I have the decorating part down; however the actual cookie part has got the best of me. I am on my seventh sugar cookie recipe and I cannot get the texture/taste right. They are either "bread" like or extremely too hard - too hard to bite into. Most of my sugar cookie recipes have the same ingredients. Could it be something I am doing wrong?
She's typing!
Hi @Jillian, It could be the recipe yes, or ratio of ingredients in the recipe you're using. Too hard usually means a larger ratio of flour, or they're baked a little longer. It took me quite a while to find recipes I like, so I understand you're frustration, Jillian!
How far in advance can you bake/decorate cookies you plan to give as a gift? I always like to get a head start.
@Jillian I like to make them no more than two weeks ahead, so that the recipient can have them a little longer before they should eat them.
What are your thoughts on rolled buttercream? I LOVE buttercream icing on cakes/cupcakes but I know having regular buttercream on cookies won't work because it doesn't harden. However, someone recommended rolled buttercream. What is that like? What does it taste like?
@Jillian (sorry I have to get a hang of this!) Here's a post for you on shelf life if you like! http://sweetopia.net/2011/11/c...ballet-tutu-cookies/
You got it!
Marian, Did you see Leigh's question above about rolled buttercream. A couple above.
@Leigh It dries a bit on the outside but stays soft on the inside, and tastes quite good with the cookie. My students made 200 Easter bunny cookies last Easter, with his rolled buttercream, and put them in cellophane bags, and they held up quite nicely. We were careful with them though... and although we did stack them in baskets, if the buttercream is pressed, indents do happen.
There it is @Julia M. Usher Took me a while to type!
I've got a question for you, while we wait for others to chime in: Do you have any advice for bloggers who want to work with brands? How to approach? When to approach in lifecycle of your blog?
Yes, I can share what I've experienced although it's not a rule book or anything! Social media is still fairly new with companies too, so both bloggers and large companies are still feeling it out. Depending on whether they reach out to you, or you reach out to them, my advice is first to only work with brands you truly like as I think the authenticity of your blog/voice is important, and readers are there because they want the real thing (will share this and type more)...
Makes good sense so far . . .
I generally don't work for free anymore, as I think companies may take advantage of that, so you need to decide what your time is worth, but be aware that companies may try to get content for free. The ones I work with value the work and understand that making a blog post takes a good deal of time and effort.
Agree about the not working for free part, unless you think the exposure may be worth it. Next question . . .
Marian do you have a rolled buttercream icing that you can recommend?
If you're not making it yourself (I haven't shared mine yet, as I liked the one we made for the Easter event, but am still perfecting the recipe), I like Ace of Cakes version which is a fondant, in essence, as well. It's sold at Michael's Craft store.
Do you ever make your Royal Icing in advance? If so, approximately how long in advance?  :-)
@Jillian Absolutely! About a day for sure, but if stuff happens and I can't get to the cookies after all, I have used icing up to two weeks old. Here's a post for you about storing royal icing and shelf life if you like as well: http://sweetopia.net/2011/01/h...ong-can-you-keep-it/
What recipe would you recommend for cut out gingerbread cookies that are not to hard/soft with a decent shelf life.  Of course holding shape.  :0) thank you
@Sweet hill cookies I am biased of course, but my favorite cookie recipe is actually my gingerbread cut-out cookie recipe. The shape holds very well, and I love the flavour and texture. If you'd like to take a look at my recipe section for cookies, I don't have a lot of cut out cookie recipes, because it takes me so long to experiment and find a recipe that is perfect for me. So this recipe really is the result of a lot of testing. I hope you like it too! http://sweetopia.net/2010/11/g...bread-cookie-recipe/ Important as well to know, is why cookies spread... Besides chilling the cookies well, taking the baking powder out of a recipe etc., there are other tips to know... This post talks about that if you like. http://sweetopia.net/2011/04/t...kies-from-spreading/ Hope that helps!
Since I'm getting started I have yet to have a "favorite" product brand but almost every seasoned decorator I come across fusses at me that using Wilton meringue powder is bad because it tastes horribly, etc. But it's all I have access too and all I can afford right now. Same with the Wilton tips. Should I try to get a different brand meringue powder. I know about the PME tips but I feel I need to get more eperienced and 100% certain I'm going to stick with this before I invest money in PME tips.
@Leigh So funny you mention that! I've started writing a post on that and have taken the photos already, but I might as well share here... I like and use Wilton meringue powder - in fact it's mostly what I've used the last 4 years. In my experiment I tried Americolor and found the decorating to be the same. I do have to experiment a bit more with intricate piping and the difference between that, but so far, my conclusion is, that Wilton meringue powder works great. (Not sponsored by Wilton in any way btw. ;-) ).
And how do you feel about Wilton vs. PME tips? Any thoughts there?
Thank you so much Marian and Julia, I know what I'll be trying this weekend!!!
@Julia M. Usher Absolutely prefer PME over Wilton tips. 100% love PME.
I have seen a recipe for "meringue powder buttercream"..what is the difference between this and rolled buttercream? What will meringue powder do to it?
I've made my rolled buttercream with corn syrup, icing sugar, butter, and vanilla, and haven't made it with meringue powder, but I'm guessing the meringue powder version would use the same ingredients I just mentioned, plus the meringue powder as a base. Might make the icing a bit fluffier, I'm guessing? Not completely sure on that one.
Do you have any advice on shipping cookies?
I'd have to see the meringue powder buttercream recipe, but I'm wondering if it isn't more like conventional Swiss or Italian buttercream, just substituting meringue powder/water for the raw egg whites in these recipes - to guard against salmonella. Just a guess though. Impossible to say w/o seeing the recipe.
Yes, once they're completely dry, package them in a cookie tin lined with bubble wrap, between (cut) sheets of parchment paper. Make sure that if you gently shake the tin, the cookies don't move around. Once they're packed in the tin, put the tin inside the box you're using to ship, and make sure that bubble wrap or some sort of packing fill is used around the cookie tin, so that it doesn't move around at all.
How do you keep your dough even all over (same sized cookies) when rolling it out? I find some cookies cut from center will be thicker and ones cut from edges of dough will be thinner?
You can use perfection strips, dowels, or even strips of wood. - Put them on either side of your dough, so that when you roll the dough out, the rolling pin doesn't roll further down than the perfection strips etc. That's harder to explain than I thought! Here's the product if you'd like to check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Country-...Strips/dp/B0006B4H5C
Julian, it's Karen's Cookies recipe: 1/3 c water, 3T meringue poweder, 1/2 c shortening, 4 1/2 c powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/4 tsp almond extract.
Jillian that was my next question! I see companies that ship cookie bouquets and I wonder how on earth they do that without the cookies breaking. I have heard some ppl's techniques for shipping cookies but I'm trying to figure out how the cookies arrive in same presentation format that they were advertised in. If it was a bouquet how do they arrive in bouquet format. If it's on a platter how do they arrive on platter. I see ppl wrapping cookie individually in bubble wrap, etc.
@Jillian and @Leigh Yes, I should have mentioned that. Each cookie I send is wrapped in a cellophane bag (tied with a pretty ribbon), and wrapped in small bubble wrap. I have a post on it if you're interested.
Re: Karen's recipe, I imagine it's a spreadable icing (not rolled) given the qty of shorteing and facet that nothing is heated. The meringue powder has a drying effect and help it crust on the surface. Marian, what are your thoughts on that recipe?
Oop - shorteing = shortening and facet=fact, meant "may help" too
@Julia M. Usher It does look like a more traditional or classic buttercream base - and instead of egg whites, it uses meringue powder - like you mentioned, either for safety or ease issues.
I try to send Cookies to Puerto Rico but after using bubble wrap they get there in pieces
Marian, maybe your packaging post would help our @mamacitaPR. Can you link it up here?
@mamacitaPR I think it's important that the cookies not be able to move around inside the box they're in. Some breakage may still happen, but for the most part, if they don't move and are heavily protected, that should help. Here's the post if you like: http://sweetopia.net/2009/12/h...okie-craft-giveaway/
Approximately how thin/thick do you roll your cookies? Right now, I use 4 paint stir sticks (two glued together) for my guides from a blog post I read. I personally think this is too thick...but not sure what is the recommended thickness.
Hey, all who are listening: our chat will end in 8 minutes, so please log any remaining questions now so Marian has time to get to them! We have Debbi's in the queue, up next.
Jillian, my cookie thickness varies - honestly, I don't use the perfection strips anymore, (too lazy too lol), and although they're not all perfect because of that, I generally roll about 3/4 of a cm thick. Sometimes a bit thicker, sometimes a bit thinner. (When I say a bit, maybe a few mm thinner or thicker).
I'm late in joining - but I've tried to scan to catch up... Marian, I love your tutorials.  Your voice is so sweet to listen to.  I'd love to see detailed tutorials for your sweet gingerbread houses.
Could you explain a little how you price your cookies?  I know this is a loaded question lol...but any advice would be greatly appreciated.
We're still going to try to end at 1pm, as I know Marian has a busy weekend. But just added a few minutes to allow us to get in the last few questions. Thanks!
@Debbi Hook Aww, thanks. I will try my best to do videos this Christmas but we're still renovating the kitchen... so, I'm not sure. Right now I'm baking at Mom's house and decorating at the living room table. Guess I could video there anyways, huh! Thanks for watching the videos!
:-)
@Jillian I actually don't sell my cookies - just do tutorials, but things to consider... amount of colors you use, size of cookies, amount of cookies, how many designs per set, how intricate... Gail of OneToughCookie.com has several blog posts on pricing that I recommend checking out!
There is an excellent post about pricing (Part I of II) here on Cookie Connection as well. Working from bottom up, as she describes, is the only way to eliminate the guesswork: http://cookieconnection.juliau....com/blog/from-dough
No worries! I'll try and finish the questions that are there!
Marian..is it possible for you to do a blog where you take basic cutters and show the different shapes they can be used for?
Thanks Julia for that link!
Thanks soo much for the link and both of you for the great chat and valuable tips!
I can try, for sure Leigh. I'm sure there are some amazing examples here on Cookie Connection as well. Do you know of any examples Julia? I often just hand cut shapes to the size I need, but I know that's not time effective for those of you selling cookies. SweetSugarBelle has great ideas on cookie cutter shapes too, if you haven't checked her out!
No tutorials on use of cookie cutters on this site yet, but Sugarbelle is a great reference for that.
One last question for me. I have read several blog posts/tutorials on baking cookies in advance and freezing them. Do you ever do this and do you have a good outcome?
We have time enough to answer Jillian's question and the two left in the queue (from Kelsey and Leigh), but I think that's it.
Thanks for the chat !
Thanks so much for giving up part of your Saturday.  I love these cookie chats!
I do like baking my cookies in advance and freezing them! I have a post on *decorated* cookies being frozen, but not undecorated ones (Here it is if you like; http://sweetopia.net/2011/03/f...g-decorated-cookies/ ). For undecorated ones, I just put them in tupperware containers between sheets of parchment paper.
I'm new to cookie decorating and have so far only really used royal icing recipes, but what other kinds of decorating frosting do you use? Another question--when you say you make your royal icing ahead of time, how do you store it before you use it?
Hi Kelsey,
BTW - I'm just amazed at how many posts you have already written that answer all of these crucial questions. This points to the power of your blogging!
Oops, I use buttercream, and here is a post example if you like http://sweetopia.net/2012/12/c...day-cookie-exchange/ (the buttercream recipe itself is in the recipe section of my blog)... Rolled buttercream (recipe still to come), but mostly I do like royal icing. For storing the icing, here's a post for you; http://sweetopia.net/2011/01/h...ong-can-you-keep-it/ Hope that helps!
Marian..what do you do with ALL those cookies you make!?! Do you need my address so you can get rid of some of them? LOL..;-)
Oh yes! Would love to taste some of Marian's cookies!  ;-)
Thank you so much Marian!!!! I just LOVE your cookies! This made my day!
Thank you! This has been great!
hahaha - I love it, Leigh.. I should! Funny you should ask, I give them away to students as reward for asking questions, give them to my neighbours, to our snow plow guy (live in the country and have a looong driveway).. but I would love to give them to you. Let's trade. ;-)
Thanks so much to everyone who joined! That was fun! Thanks Julia for having me!
Yes, super great, Marian. So many tips and useful links! Thank you for joining us, and my apologies for any confusion with the question flow early on. But we both got the hang of it!
Virtual Cookie Swap!!!  Let's do it!  ;-)
ooh..I would LOVE to trade! I'd love to get your feedback!
Oh, I know, sorry for getting it all kerfuddled. ;-) You have a wonderful site here - now I just need more time to visit here too! Have a great weekend everyone!
P.S. The transcript for this chat will be saved at this same URL FOREVER - or at least as long as this site exists! So you can always come back and peruse Marian's answers and links at your leisure!
Have a great weekend everyone. Chat is concluding now! Thanks for your participation!
This chat has ended.
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