Sunday, 24 April 2016

Elvis on a Biscuit with Really Edible Really Glittery Glitter!

Full set of Elvis inspired Mother's Day cookies with purple and blue edible glitters, by Honeycat Cookies

 I absolutely love glitter on cookies. When I first started out, disco dust (and glitters like it, such as this) was still being sold as 'edible' and I happily used it (and ate it) in large quantities. Then The Authorities (in the UK) realised that it was, strictly speaking, not an edible product, as it is not digested and has no nutritional value, and therefore couldn't be sold as such. So all the wonderful, glittery products got relisted as 'non-toxic', suitable to be used near food but not in it. Since I'm not about to ask customers to scrape their cookies before eating them, I've pretty much given up on it, except for personal use.

Musical Note cookies made with disco dust, or 'non toxic' glitter. Cookies by Honeycat Cookies, glitter by Rainbow Dust.

Since then, there have been a number of products come onto the market sold as 'edible glitter'. Most of my local supermarkets carry something of the sort - mostly ground rice mixed with lustre dust, like this from Waitrose/Ocado. Sprinkle-able, but definitely not glitter. These musical notes were made a long, long time ago, with the old stuff.

Musical Note cookies made with disco dust, or 'non toxic' glitter. Cookies by Honeycat Cookies, glitter by Rainbow Dust.

But a few months ago I noticed a new Rainbow Dust 'edible glitter' product in Hobbycraft, in a whole range of colours. So I bought the black, purple and pale green to see what they're like. And I was pleasantly surprised!

Rainbow Dust 'Edible Glitter' and 'Non Toxic' glitter side by side for comparison. Photo by Honeycat Cookies.

The purple especially really is glittery! The picture above shows the new edible glitter on the left, compared to the 'non toxic' true glitter on the right. The flakes are larger than the tiny specks of disco dust, so the effect is a little prickly to look at and in texture (but not in the mouth!), but there's a real sparkle. Not all the colours are the same - the black is not quite as glittery, but still perfectly useable, some of the other colours on the shelf look a little too 'dusty' to glitter properly. (By the way, this glitter really is properly purple, it's just really difficult to photograph, and comes out blue!)

Elvis silhouette cookie in glitter on hand drawn musical notation background, by Honeycat Cookies.

It gives me hope for the future - it's got me all shook up! But that's enough conversation for now...

Chalkboard cookies with handpainted Elvis quotations by Honeycat Cookies.

...if you want to see the purple glitter in use on the King, here he comes...

Friday, 4 March 2016

How to Pack Cookies for Shipping

Small plate of stylised cookies, by Honeycat Cookies

It's taken a long time to work out how to pack my cookies so they not only survive in the post, but also create the best impression when they arrive. My first attempts were shoddy - I tried to fit as many unwrapped cookies into round tins as possible; I had to hand cut circles of bubblewrap and greaseproof paper to fit; sometimes I tried to stuff in bunches of cookies tied up in bags. I might as well have just tried chucking them out of the front door. Naturally there were breakages, but surprisingly not so many that people minded too much, and they kept ordering, and so I kept experimenting.

Close up of home made tags and ribbon decorating cookie gift box, by Honeycat Cookies

Eventually I realised I wanted the opening of the box to be part of the pleasure of ordering the cookies. After all, they've taken a leap of faith and confidence in my ability, they don't know what they're going to see, and I'm not happy with anything less than delight! Layers of recycled bits of card and bubblewrap, whilst effective, aren't pretty. So this is what I've been doing for a little while. Gift boxes that are both pretty (and let me play with frills and furbelows and fancy things) and sturdy.

Overhead shot of all equipment needed to box up home made cookies, by Honeycat Cookies


Stiff royal icing 'glue'
Palette knife
Chocolate-box style cushion padding cut to size (I get mine here: click on the product code to see a picture)
Cellophane bags to fit cushion padding
'Pizza' style cardboard box (similar to this)
Tape, ribbon and tags

Applying royal icing glue to the back of a cookie, by Honeycat Cookies

Once I've worked out the arrangement of the cookies on the cushion padding, I attach each one with two or three small dabs of royal icing 'glue'. A small amount will fix them quite firmly so they won't move in transit.

Layers of chocolate box cushion padding arranged with flower cookies, by Honeycat Cookies

They can be gently plucked off without tearing the paper, and just leaving small flat dabs of icing on the base of the cookie.

Back of a cookie removed from cushion padding showing dabs of dry royal icing, by Honeycat Cookies.

I have large cellophane bags that fit over the cushion pads, and I heatseal them in place.

Shot of heatsealer in action sealing up layers of flower cookies, by Honeycat Cookies.

Each layer can lie on top of the next, with a final sheet of bubblewrap over the top prior to closing the box. These two inch deep boxes, with 5 ply cushion padding, and my cookies, will fit three layers comfortably with no movement.

Rather than wrap ribbon around the whole box, so that the customer has to undo it in order to see their cookies (most orders are gifts for people they know, rather than for themselves), I put tape and ribbon over just the lid, so that it's both pretty and accessible.

Partly open gift box showing sealed top layer of decorated cookies on cushion padding, by Honeycat Cookies.

The gift box then goes inside a resealable food bag, so that it's not affected by damp in the Royal Mail warehouses.

Decorated cookie gift box sealed inside resealable plastic bag for protection from damp during shipping, by Honeycat Cookies.

This then sits inside a larger postal box surrounded by packing peanuts.

Completed decorated cookie gift box nestled amongst packing peanuts in open postal box, by Honeycat Cookies.

Royal Mail 'small' parcel boxes will fit two of my gift boxes, making it a lot more affordable than it used to be - which is excellent news as all the couriers whose small print I've looked into don't actually carry 'foodstuffs', and are therefore unlikely to pay out if they were at fault over a damaged parcel.

And finally, here's a bunch of flaars...

Friday, 19 February 2016

Wrapped Parcels: Valentine's Day Cookies for a Man

Wrapped Parcel Valentine's Day cookies for a man with tags mini cookies and royal icing monogram.

Not very long ago, I asked my husband Martin to bring two chocolate biscuits back with him from the kitchen. He brought oranges. Quite apart from being a completely unacceptable substitute, just what on earth was he trying to tell me? I eat too many cookies? I should eat more fruit? He'd eaten the biscuits really quickly in the kitchen so he wouldn't have to share them with me? This was very dangerous territory, so close to Valentine's Day.

In the end, I asked the internet whether he deserved a set of Honeycat Cookies or not. And because I asked it on my Honeycat Cookies page, the overall consensus was that people wanted me to make them cookies (Martin just being the excuse). So here they are, and here's how I went about making them.

Close up of chalkboard effect Valentine's Day heart cookie with marzipan 'label'.

I have a little Pinterest folder full of pretty packaging (do you follow me over there? You should - I collect all sorts of images to inspire me for sets and then post photos of the cookies that resulted into the same folders). I try to make sure that any orders I make that will fit into nice boxes get pretty tags and ribbons, so opening the big messy postal box reveals a perfect little parcel inside.

Full set of Wrapped Parcel Valentine's Day cookies for a man with Honeycat Cookies' tags and ribbon.
I was browsing for new images for this folder whilst pondering what Valentine's Day cookies for a man should look like, and it suddenly occured to me if I can't make pretty cookies, I can at least make prettily wrapped cookies!

I've had an urge to do something like this ever since The Cookie Architect posted her gorgeous little Christmas parcel cookies. I wanted to use kraft brown and music 'paper' and some black, so I could try out a chalkboard effect. And though I mostly wanted these neutral colours, I reckoned the set needed a little 'something' to bring it to life, so I opted for adding hints of turquoise here and there. This set was a case of creating lots of different elements and dipping into them for each cookie.

Marzipan scrolls from silicone mold, painted with edible blue lustre.

I also wanted to make 3D elements, something I don't often get the opportunity to do as I usually have to wrap and post cookies. I used marzipan in some silicon molds, as well as cutting out little buttons and badges. On the whole it worked well, though it was impossible to get the edges perfectly sharp, due to the little almondy bits. It dried nicely and took the blue lustre paint very well indeed.

Marzipan buttons and labels for Valentine's Day cookies, painted with blue lustre.

The musical notation I simply drew by hand with a black edible food pen onto the dried white base, dusted over with pearl dust to soften the effect.

Hand drawn musical notation in food colour on heart shaped cookie for Valentine's Day.

The black flood was piped onto a dried brown base, then I used white food colour (Americolor) straight from the bottle to paint leaves onto the dried black. I was really pleased with how effective and easy this was.

Collage showing white food colour painting on black base chalkboard effect on cookies.

The little spruce branches were piped onto a lightly crushed and lustre dusted surface. I used the flat end of a chop stick to gently crush the just-crusted surface of the royal icing. The dry cookie was then lustre-dusted with Sugarflair 'champagne' dust.

Using stiff brown and stiff green RI with PME no. 1 tips I first piped the stem and tips, before piping the first layer of green needles sticking out irregularly from the stem. On the next pass I piped needles that were more parallel to the stem, crossing the ones below. Another easy, effective technique!

Collage of steps creating royal icing spruce sprig or twig on a cookie.

After that it was a matter of using stiff blue and brown piping with a PME tip no. 1 to pipe layers of string, adding seperate elements, such as the buttons and RI transfer 'M's I'd already piped and let dry, with little bows here and there.

Crushed royal icing effect on mini heart cookies with marzipan raised elements and piped 'string'.

In the end, I think it created a pretty and gently muted set of cookies. Martin has often complained that I won't let him eat special cookies I make for him (I still have the hot air balloon and Hare and Fox cookies in my cupboard) but when I gave him these he promptly decided he couldn't eat them. Which is slightly annoying as I'd like to know how that marzipan turned out...

Full set of wrapped parcel Valentine's Day heart cookies for a man with Honeycat Cookies tags.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Moonface (Experimenting with edible silver and a new video)

I've been fiddling about with edible silver this Christmas. It's bloody tricky stuff! I'm very much an amateur, put off practicing by the price of the silver. But it's so beautiful, it gleams like no lustre dust or paint, and creates a lovely surface to pipe onto.

Whilst I've been keeping it simple for most of my Christmas cookies, with a round moon over which to pipe and paint a leaping hare, for this year's gingerbread collaboration, The Ginger Tree, organised by Beth Bougie of Love Bugs Cakes and Cookies, I got it into my head to gild a moon with raised features. It was awkward. I just made the one, and I filmed it for you. It's heavily edited as there was a lot of fiddling, and patching up required, and ended up looking a little 'cracked', an effect I rather liked, for a four and a half billion year old face.

I picked up a little information along the way, which I shall record here, and might come back to edit if I become at all competent in the future.

Always make sure to buy edible silver leaf. The craft stuff won't necessarily be pure silver, it may be mixed with inedible elements, and it won't have been produced in a food safe environment. Apparently there are 'fakes' on the market - or at least, they're not edible, sold as on a 'base' which might be something like aluminium. Nothing wrong with this unless they're selling it as edible.

The leaf comes loose between fine tissue sheets, usually in a little booklet. In this case, you have to manhandle the leaf out of the booklet and onto the cookie. This is a nightmare. I bought two sheets from Sainsbury's, and the first thing that happened as I was pulling out the booklet from its cardboard wallet, was one of the sheets whizzed out, broke up and fizzled away. This stuff is so thin it's pretty much non existent!

The other way to buy it is on transfer sheets. It's attached to the sheet of tissue somehow, so that you can carry and position it easily, then as the leaf adheres to your sticky surface, the tissue (mostly) lifts away leaving the leaf behind. This is the stuff I've been using.

It'll stick to just about anything, either through static (like to my metal tweezers, my brush, my fingers, the dry biscuit, my desk...) or through a damp sticky surface. I've only tried using it on edible glue, though I imagine just using water to wet the sugar surface would probably work too. For this reason, I found it very difficult to neatly cover just one element on the cookie: it stuck to the cookie surface too, so I gilded the moons and then iced around them once it was dry.

When you first attach it, if the surface is wet enough, it'll slide around and mush up/pull off quite easily. So if you need to patch areas, pop little patches of leaf, but don't try and brush away the edges or work on it too much, or you'll ruin the whole thing. But once it's dried thoroughly, it's a really good strong surface - you can brush it to remove any little floaty bits, and polish it up with a finger or brush. It's lovely to trace an outline onto with a scribe tool. And my, how it gleams!

And most importantly - it doesn't affect the taste or texture of the cookie. It's so fine, that you cannot feel it at all when you bite into the cookie, and there's no flavour. So here's the video - I have to apologise for not showing the formation of the face in icing properly, but my battery ran out!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Venice. (Or Cake Masters Magazine Cookie Award 2015!)

Back in October I had an email right out of the blue, from Cake Masters Magazine, telling me I had been nominated for their 2015 Cookie Award, at their annual Cake Awards and was one of four finalists, the others being Marta Torres of The Cookie Lab, Sandra Velez-Beltran of You Can Call Me Sweetie and Kim Coleman of Sugar Rush Custom Cookies

They wanted me to send in a portfolio of ten pictures of my work, which I'm using to illustrate this post. Because who doesn't love a re-hash?

I was incredibly excited to be selected amongst such amazing cookie artists and equally devastated to learn that even though this amazing event, known unofficially as the Cake Oscars, is held in my home city, I COULDN'T GO! 

Seriously, I couldn't go! 

Just because this year marks the tenth year of my husband and I managing to stick together (because free cookies) and we'd booked a repeat of our honeymoon (henceforth to be known as 'honeymoon') to Venice. 

Beyond squeaking a fair bit about being a finalist, I tried to keep quiet, I really did. I know it's not good form to ask your husband to postpone a (long-planned, expensive, no-cancellation) romantic trip because some people like your cookies. 

But I did. I gave in. I asked if there was any way we could go on our 'honeymoon' a day late. Or even a few hours - shooting up the motorway and rushing through airport security in evening dress. 

Turns out though, that they don't want people from the Midlands going to Venice too often because the next plane wasn't until several days later, effectively halving our 'honeymoon'. Even if we'd been prepared to pay all over again for new flights. 

And apparently, it's not fair to expect your husband to spend the first half of his 'honeymoon' alone in Venice. (I don't know, he had books. And wifi.)

So I went to Venice, and all the cake people, including my personal hero Peggy Porschen (who unwittingly got me into this mess in the first place, by producing such pretty books with cookies in them) went to the glamorous awards ceremony. And while it was all going on, I was eating pasta, drinking prosecco and wandering the streets in Venice.

And it was lovely. I could cry it was so lovely. There was mist, and coffee, and peeling paint and coloured brick, and wine. Exuberant restaurateurs; fabulous, theatrical masks; gold mosaics. Tiny bridges; miniature dogs; little biscuits. Cream horns. (A few of those.) 

There was a wonderful evening spent in the company of Marta, from the Cookie Lab, and her husband, who by sheer coincidence were also in Venice. The four of us spent a wonderful time talking about cookies and drinking prosecco.

There was a text from my mother saying she'd seen a picture of me on Cake Masters' facebook page; cue a lot more squeaking, and struggling with my tiny phone and miniature wifi to discover that Honeycat Cookies had, indeed, won the Cookie Award.

And of course there was Martin. And I wouldn't have given up a minute with him.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

An Autumn Cookiesaw

I can't deny it any longer. Summer's gone, the clocks have turned back so the evenings are dark. It won't be long before the mornings are dark too. Out come the blankets and slippers. I'd start drinking mulled wine, but apparently that's not appropriate for breakfast. Time to hibernate, like this little mouse.

I decided to document the whole process of making this cookiesaw from scratch so this is a picture heavy post, but I hope it shows the process clearly enough.

Naturally enough I started with a sheet of dough, which I cut into a 9" square. This I marked by eye into sixteen wibbly pieces by tracing meandering lines across and down. I only gently scratched the lines, so that I could smooth them over and start again if necessary. Then I cut using a scalpel, carefully seperating the shapes and - most important this! - laid them on the baking sheet in their rows, being very careful not to muddle up the position. To create the frame, I baked long rectangles of random lengths, enough to go all around the edge.

You can see how the small amount of spread these cookies have when baked, really messes up the tight design of the cookiesaw! (Though if you weren't actually creating a single design, I quite like how they've turned out - makes me think I'd like to grout all those gaps with royal icing!). So this is where the hard work starts - I use a microplane for the outer, straight edges, and a 6" long round file to gradually file away bits here and bits there until I get a tight fit. It means going back and forth between cookies, with constant small adjustments. But eventually they start to fit together tightly, as you can see from these process shots.

And now comes the fun part. The whole lot was flooded in plain white icing, very carefully right to the edges, and allowed to dry thoroughly. Now I could start painting the background. This cookiesaw had to have Scottish elements, and I wanted to create a background reminiscent of hills of Scottish heather. (I looked at photos and old paintings to get an idea of the colours and how to blend them). I used a large brush, and built up the colour in layers until it felt right.

To keep colour mixing down, I used only white, black for the blackberries, and orangey-red for the hips. Most of the design was in my head, with one tiny sketch I did just before starting - like many projects, this was one I had mulled over for a while, elements coming together gradually, often as I'm falling asleep. I collect pictures and photographs on Pinterest and the internet - you can see the board I created here.  I'm really not good at documenting my design process!

I wanted grasses, I needed to add a Scottish thistle, and I wanted to include a handpainted version of this little harvest mouse I created for a 'What's New, Honeycat?' Cookie Connection tutorial (I used the same tutorial's technique for the blackberries too). And so I started piping. In the last picture above, I have just started handpainting the mouse. Click on the collages to enlarge if you want to see more detail. I have also uploaded large versions of the individual images to Flickr, here.

After this, I continued handpainting the rest, using a little pearl lustre on the thistle seedheads, and light gold lustre on the grass seads.

The edges I flooded in white, and sprayed very lightly in gold, to form a frame. I then added royal icing embellishments I'd made seperately. The honeybee bodies were piped in white royal icing on cellophane, dried, then painted. Once stuck onto the cookiesaw their legs and wings were piped and then painted, using a little lustre on the wings.

The butterfly's wings were piped, dried and painted seperately. I piped a body directly onto the cookiesaw, stuck the wings in and propped them up until they were dry, adding a little more icing at the base of each wing, out of sight, for strength. (You might just be able to tell that I used a couple of googly royal icing eyes as props!)

So whilst this is a flat piece of work, it ended up with plenty of texture and a few raised elements. Having done a summer cookiesaw (you can see that here), and now an autumn one, I'm now hoping I might find time over the next few months to do a winter one, and if you subscribe, you might just find out...

Edited to add this brief video montage of all the stages...