It's almost Easter and that means Easter cookies! I thought I'd do a quick tutorial on some very easy carrot bundles. I started out planning to do this a bit differently than they turned out. The tops of carrot stalks are sort of hard to imitate, they're not quite fuzzy but have so many parts to the leaves that you really can't do them individually. I sketched these cookies out planning to use stiff icing to make the tops using squiggly lines, but once I started doing that it really looked awful! So, I grabbed my trusty paint brush and went to work. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's start at the very beginning ( *sing with me!* it's a very good place to start...).

This year I wasn't keen on doing individual carrots, they just didn't excite me but I loved the idea of a bunch of carrots, only problem was that I didn't have a cutter for that. So, after sorting through my boxes I settled on this shooting star, pointed bottom for carrots and the star part for the leaves. 
What you'll need:
1-baked cookies, use the shooting star or whatever else you think might work
2-orange and green 20 second icing (you can use whatever tip you like, I used PME 1.5 tips)
3-paint brush

To start, simply pipe a few carrots onto the bottom part of the cookie with your orange 20 sec icing. Easy-peasy. They don't need to be perfect, have you seen real carrots from the garden? They're all different and potentially funky looking. We grew carrots that looked like toes ones year, they boys LOVED them!
Let those sit for a bit, I can't remember how long I let them dry, long enough to be Capt. Hook and chase my little Peter Pans around the yard for a while. Then go back and add some more carrots to look like they are underneath the first ones. 
Next, grab your green icing and draw some stems coming up from the carrots, make them meet somewhere in the middle of the star part of the cookie. Then draw some lines going out from there to the points.
For the next step you'll need your paintbrush handy. Pipe a green line on either side of your green lines that go towards the points, does that make sense? Then take your dry brush (I used a pretty big one) and pull/brush the icing outward. Again, this does not have to be perfect, you sort of want a highly textured and messy look to it. Do one part at a time, you don't want the icing to dry before you have a chance to brush it.
And with that, you have some super easy, super cute carrot bunches. Pair them with some hungry bunnies and they're perfect for anyone's Easter basket!

(I have to add that I am using these for my submission to Lila Loa's March challenge. To change up my photography on this set I did a little playing around with pre-setting my white balance. I've never done that before, I usually just go with auto and edit on the computer. This time I actually used a white card and set that as the white balance in the camera. I also used the Easter grass instead of a plain, flat background. I'm pretty pleased!)
This week I want to talk about writing on cookies, it can be a little intimidating but with a little patience and practice it produces really nice results. Hopefully, I can give you a few tips and tricks to try. We'll start out with something easy and the move on to something a bit more complicated.

My first tip for writing with royal icing is to make sure you are using thick icing. It needs to be able to almost hold up a spatula if you stick one into it or have a peak that the point sort of curls over when you scoop it up. You do not want your icing spreading out as you are writing (it makes it look messy and the letters will start to ooze together) so it needs to be thick, BUT you don't want it so thick that you can't get it through your small tip. Which brings me to my second tip...what tip to use. Let me just say that I have a lot of Wilton tips, and they are good for a lot of things. But for writing, especially small writing, nothing beats a PME tip. I love my PME 0 tip, it is usually my go-to tip for writing. They are pricey but, in my opinion, worth it (you can find them at Karen's Cookies).

Ok, so you have your icing and a small tip, now you need to practice. Don't try to change how you write, it needs to feel natural or you will never be happy with the results and hate doing it. I'm not saying you should do chicken-scratch writing, try to keep it neat, but let it be in your own hand. Get a piece of wax paper or parchment paper and just practice, writing your name is a good start, you've done it enough to have some confidence :) Try both print and cursive writing, they feel very different when using a piping bag and you'll find you need to adjust your technique.

Unlike outlining, when you are writing, you will want to keep your tip close to the cookie. Some people feel more comfortable 'pushing' the icing and some people prefer 'pulling', either way is just fine. I'm a puller, myself.

A good first cookie project is to make personalized cookies, just writing one name on each cookie will give you a feel for spacing, letter size, etc. When you are doing the same name on the same cookie, have a few extras to practice on before doing the 'real' ones, you'll be amazed at how much it will help you get going.
Once you get some practice and feel confident you can move on to something more complicated. For the Irish blessing on this cookie I started out by typing the blessing in a document editing program with the margins set to the size of the cookie. You can make it so that the text is centered instead of left justified so you can see how you should space it out. Print it out and make sure it will fit on the cookie.
You might be wondering why I jammed a push pin into a perfectly good cookie. Good question! I know other cookiers use push-pins to help them mark out a design, and this is the same concept. The first time I did a quote cookie I pretty much made holes to outline every letter and let that guide me. While effective, it takes forever to poke all those holes!! Now that I have more experience, my preferred method is to mark the top and bottom of the first letter to get my letter height right and to provide me with the correct starting point. I also make a small mark where the last letter should end, just to keep me in line and let me know how much space I have left. 

An important note about using this push-pin method: you should pre-poke your holes in your paper! I did not do that one time and because you have to use some force to get through the paper and icing you might end up pushing too hard and making a crater in your icing!! You can see below how many hole you would have to poke to if you are going to do every you know why I now do only the first and last as guides. Besides that, once you take the paper away and all that is left are a zillion holes and it is an eye-crossing, daunting task to make them into letters.
Again, this is one of those things that you really have to practice. Not only your writing and piping technique but also your icing consistency. I think it is a great still to have in your arsenal and it will improve all of your piping skills. Hope you give it a try, I'd love to see how other people's cookies turn out!
For some reason when I hear the word 'shimmer' I start singing the "Chin Up" song from Charlotte's Web, "Twinkle, sparkle, let a little sunlight in!". With two little kids, it seems like most of my thoughts end up back at random kid's songs. But since I also make cookies, my mind eventually circles back to that...and it makes me smile to make my cookies twinkle and shimmer a little. It's a great way to add some extra visual interest to a cookie platter or to make individual cookies a little more special.

There are a few things you'll need to make your cookies shimmer:
1- a decorated cookie (I use royal icing) that has completely dried, as in overnight.
2- an extract. I like to use orange, or an alcohol like vodka (much cheaper than orange extract). You need to use an alcohol, not water, because it will evaporate quickly and not soak into your cookie.
3- paint brush. Buy a NEW one from the store, not one that you've been using to oil paint! Get a few different sizes as you never know what size area you might be covering.
4- pearl dust (tube shaped container in the below picture). I use the Wilton brand, mostly because I can get it 40% off at Hobby Lobby :) and it comes in a range of colors
5- small vessel in which to mix your paint. The one below used to have Wilton powdered color in it, but it was an awful color so I dumped it out and use it for mixing and storing my shimmer paint (I have a vessel for each different pearl dust color I use). I like that I can seal it up (remember, alcohol evaporates pretty quickly) when I need to stop what I'm doing for a minute. 

From here on out it's really pretty simple, mix your pearl dust with a little bit of extract or vodka to make a 'paint'. You want it thin enough that it is not clumpy but thick enough that it doesn't run all over the place. As is true for a lot of things in cookie decorating, you'll just have to get the feel of it for yourself.

Here you can see some of it that I have mixed up, not sure if this is helpful at all, but you can see that it doesn't clump up but does run down to the bottom of my vessel. If you are adding shimmer to a lot of cookies, you may find that your paint begins to thicken, this is just due to the alcohol evaporating. Just add a few drops of extract/vodka, mix it up and you're good to go again.
You have almost endless options when adding shimmer to your cookies. One options is to paint it over the smaller details like I did with the detail on these Christmas ornaments. This can be a bit time consuming and you will need a very small brush for some of it, but details like this take your cookie from nice to gorgeous!
Or you can paint the entire cookie. For this you will need a larger paint brush to 1-speed up the process and 2-avoid seeing any brush strokes. You can see the difference it makes below where only half the cookie is painted. The yellow color icing is none too exciting itself but adding the pearl dust really dresses it up.

I should add here, for this sort of cookie the icing color you paint over should be similar to the pearl dust color you are planning to use. So, if you are doing silver dust, use a gray-ish icing color, for gold use a yellow-brown color, etc.
So, you can see that just a little bit of shimmer can go a long way in spicing up your cookies. Get to your craft store and grab a few paint brushes, I promise once you try it you'll be looking to add shimmer and sparkle to all of your cookies!