I seem to have somewhat of a biscuit or cookie obsession at the moment. So much so that I feel the need to declare it and then promptly apologise for it. I've always liked the occasional biscuit (and for my lovely American NQN readers, we called cookies biscuits but we call biscuits scones) but lately I've been getting into dangerous territory. A bakers version of glue sniffing perhaps - the utterly addictive world of royal icing. I blame Peggy Porschen, the woman that resurrected the iced cookie. That's not to say I'm any good at decorating iced cookies - far from it in fact, but I do love the whole effect of it.
This obsession has been aided by the 100 piece cookie cutter set I bought a while back. Fishing through it delightedly, I sorted out the ones that I wouldn't use so much (the bike, motorcycle and various other sporting equipment) to the ones I liked which included a gorgeous little perching bird. As is the problem with cutters that have finer details and similar to what I experienced with the reindeer cookies, the bird's legs got cut off either at the point of cutting and lifting or after baking. However, this didn't seem that necessary when I decided how I would style them.
Filling them with royal icing, I initially popped in some silver cachous and then sat back and decided that it just wasn't right. Until I remembered a royal icing feathering technique I had done for some reindeers over Christmas and realised that birds of course were ideal for this feathering effect.
The bird cage was one of those bizarre requests I occasionally ask of my parents. My father is a painter and when I asked him to draw me a black and white bird cage, he didn't bat an eyelid and just wanted to know how large I wanted it. When he gave me the drawing I was so delighted I almost wished that the birds weren't made from a perishable item and I wanted to hang the picture up with the birds and call it art. And when I served these to friends one afternoon I saw them look over the picture, then hesitate and then peer closer and then giggle and take one. Just the reaction I was after!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have a favourite cookie cutter and why?
"Birds Of A Feather" Cookies
An Original Recipe by Not Quite Nigella
85 g/3ozs butter, softened
140g/5ozs white caster superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
180g/6ozs all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Food colouring gels or liquids in various colours
Royal icing mixture (see below)
For Royal Icing
1 egg white (30grams/1 oz)
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
150grams sifted icing sugar
Step 1 - Make cookies. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour and cinnamon. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
Step 2 - Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with the bird shaped cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on parchment paper. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.
Step 3 - Make Royal Icing by beating egg white with lemon juice until foamy on low speed increasing to medium speed. You want two textures for the Royal Icing, a stiff one to pipe the outline and a runnier one to fill in the outline. Add sifted sugar by the spoonful while beating until desired consistency is reached. You want it a little stiff in order to pipe the outline however, if it is too stiff, add a tiny little bit of warm water. Always cover your Royal Icing with cling wrap as it dries out easily.
Step 4 - Spoon some of the royal icing into a piping bag or a strong ziplock bag and pipe a fine outline around the bird cookies. Allow to set a little for 20-30 minutes. Add a little water (not too much and using a small spoon, fill in the edges. Then with a contrasting colour, pipe three or four lines of icing across the still wet icing in the centre. Take a toothpick and drag the lines down to create the feather effect. Place aside to set for several hours (or overnight).