Hark! The art of Christmas cookie decorating
Snowflakes. Wreaths. Angels. Christmas trees. Bells.
These are the targets of the metal-tipped pastry bags, filled with colorful icing, wielded by the members of the women’s society of St. John Vianney Catholic Parish in Sherman as they gather for two days each December for a marathon cookie-decorating session.
The women are preparing for the church’s annual cookie walk. Although a variety of cookies are sold at the event at $6 per pound, the majority are sugar cookies shaped with cookie cutters.
“We try not to have chocolate chip. You can get them anywhere,” said cookie walk co-chair Cindy Trainor.
Thousands of cut-out cookies are baked at home by church members and delivered to the St. John Vianney activity center a few days before the big sale.
“We go to my house the night before to make the icing,” said Cressie Torgerson, dubbed “The Icing Queen.” Using 20 2-pound bags of powdered sugar, plus butter, shortening, vanilla, corn syrup and food coloring, the group whips up gallons of brightly hued frosting, which is spooned into plastic pastry bags, each fitted with a No. 3, 4 or 5 round metal tip.
In addition to the traditional red, green and white, icing is tinted powder blue, purple, pink, brown, yellow, orange and black.
“The key is to make a soft frosting,” said Torgerson. “One year I put the bags in the refrigerator and no one could use them until they came to room temperature.” Another year, the group purchased icing, but was not happy with the flavor and has used homemade icing ever since.
On decorating days, the activity center is bustling. Volunteer bakers are dropping off boxes of naked cut-out cookies, the main hall is being decorated for the cookie walk and, in the kitchen, 10 women sit at a table piled high with bags of icing, edible glitter, sprinkles, colored sugar and other decors.
Near the table sits a book with pictures of decorated cookies, which the women can use for inspiration, but each artist is free to squiggle, swirl and swoosh in her own style.
“I like snowflakes and angels,” said Torgerson. “Powder blue and white look nice on the snowflakes, topped with a little glitter. On the angels, I cover the wings with white icing squeezed with different pressures.”
Jean Finley was instrumental in starting St. John Vianney’s cookie walk 10 years ago, and she still sits on the Decorating Committee.
“That first year, we got a lot of cookies, but some needed to be touched up a bit. That’s how the decorating started,” said Finley.
She continues to help each year because, “it’s so exciting to be with everybody and see the end results of your efforts.”
This year’s cookie walk on Dec. 12 netted more than $4,000, which will be used for a variety of parish projects. (Next year’s date: Dec. 11.)
“People wait in line to get in because they want the prettiest decorated cookies,” said Trainor. Unsold cookies are donated to nursing homes and bread lines.
“We’re a faith-based community,” said women’s society president and cookie walk co-chair Cathi Inendino. “We’re out to help all others no matter what faith they are.”
That’s one reason she ices cookies each year. Another reason?
“These are a great bunch of women.”
Kathryn Rem can be reached email@example.com.
Decorator Buttercream Frosting
From St. John Vianney Women’s Society
1-pound package powdered sugar (3 3/4 cups)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons water or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavoring)
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Paste food colors, as desired
In a medium bowl, beat together powdered sugar, butter, shortening, water or milk, vanilla or other flavoring and corn syrup using an electric mixer at high speed for 7 to 8 minutes. Tint frosting, as desired. Use to frost and decorate cookies.
Pipe through a large pastry bag fitted with a decorating tip. Or, spread on cookies with a knife and decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar.
Keep frosting covered when not in use. Store in refrigerator.
Makes about 2 cups of frosting.
Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
From Better Homes and Gardens
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl constantly. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill dough in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until easy to handle.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough, half at a time, to 1/4-inch thickness. Using 2 1/2-inch cookie or biscuit cutters, cut into desired shapes. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake in 350-degree oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly brown. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely. Decorate as desired.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Cookie decorating tips
--If icing gets too soft, refrigerate it for 10 minutes.
--Use a toothpick to tamp down little dots of icing.
--Let iced cookies harden for about 10 minutes.
--Some cookies look best with a thin glaze of color over the surface. To make the glaze, add milk to the icing recipe.
--Paint glaze onto the cookie’s surface with a silicone pastry brush.
----From St. John Vianney Women’s Society Decorating Committee