Time given: 4 hours My time: 3 days
This is it. This one was the big one. I have agonized about this bake for weeks.Weeks!
I made crude sketches
(crude, not rude. I’m not working blue).
It’s been at the back of my mind from the very beginning. But none of it was enough, in the end. If I had been appearing on a show, I would have had to bake and assemble everything from start to finish five or six times before I felt confident in my method and recipes. That’s the only way you could prepare for something like this – doing it.
Anyway, the very first thing I did was pick my theme. I wanted a “camping” theme. In my family, camping is a THING, especially when I was growing up. Everyone has either a motor home or trailer, and we camp on the regular. We belong to an organization of campers. We go to “camp”ventions. I was the state teen QUEEN of the organization.
So it seemed like a good idea (and the right amount of challenging) to make a camper out of cookies. I found an awesome photo on Pinterest where someone had made a teardrop style camper (like one of these)… But I couldn’t find a template. So I started looking into making my own. I even looked into designing a 3 D cookie cutter that might make the job easier! I found a really cool website that will let you “draw” the cookie cutter you want, and it will give you a file compatible with your 3 D printer. This is unbelievably cool, but not quite right for this project. I would have to make my own template by drawing one – a thing I am the least skilled in doing (gulp).
In addition to the camper, I wanted a campfire and some tents, with a tree nearby. I had seen lots of designs for Christmas tree cookies that were two cookies slotted together to make a freestanding tree, so I knew it could be done. But I wanted a summertime tree, and I wanted it to be more dimensional than just the typical 2 D fir-type tree.
Luckily, I found a pattern on one of my favorite craft websites, notmartha.org for a Halloween tree, one that used 4 cookies rather than two. I was able to modify that design into exactly what I want.
Now I just needed to find a recipe that wouldn’t spread while it baked, negating the template I’d worked so hard on. I went with sugar cookie rather than gingerbread, for color, figuring they could be made as sturdily as gingerbread. I found a recipe from Food Network for an Easter bunny house out of sugar cookie.I added 2tsp each of cinnamon and cardamom. Cardamom is my new favorite thing, folks, I’ll be using it a lot.
I also wanted a second recipe, since a few of the bakers on the show had been criticized by the judges for not showing more than one flavor. Something chocolate. I figured I’d make the tree out of it, and it would already be brown!
I’m a problem solver!
I stumbled across this recipe, from Baking A Moment, which is described as a perfect cookie for cutouts. Sold.
I had my templates. I had my recipes. Lets get started, shall we?
I made up the doughs. But both called for 3-24 hours of refrigeration. Come to think of it, most cookie recipes for cutouts call for several hours of chilling before rolling. Huh. I have no idea how they handled that on the show, but I decided to just keep count of the time I had taken making them (1.5 hours) and add it to whatever time I used the next day on baking/decorating/etc.
The next day, pull out my dough and begin to roll it out.
Side note: I am a terrible estimator. Distance, size, weight, height… I can’t tell the difference, at a glance, between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch or even 1 inch. What does a pound look like? I Have no idea. One of the best gifts I have ever recieved was a set of rolling pin guides. They’re like little rubber bands in different thicknesses that go over your rolling pin and keep your dough even. Amazing.
I really wanted to make the top of my little camper in one curved piece. I needed to lay it over something curved while it baked, but I had no idea what. It was actually my husband who had the great idea to make a shape out of some chicken wire I had laying around (I had once had aspirations of planting lettuce which needed protection from bunnies). Genius level idea.
Did you know chicken wire is sharp? And poky? But it worked… sort of.
The dough didn’t hold it’s shape as well as I would have hoped. It sort of… sagged down to the ends. No big, I just trimmed them! Once it had cooled, I used the roof as a cookie cutter and just pressed it down into more dough to make the sides, so they would fit exactly. Worked great!
However, I had now baked most of my pieces, and it was getting late. At this point, hours had gone by. All concept of sticking to a time limit had flown out the window.
I decided to put all the cookies into an airtight container and start again the next day. Except for the top of the camper…which wouldn’t fit into a container. I had no choice but to leave it out, and hope it was dry enough in the house for it to not turn to mush overnight.
No such luck.The minute I tried to pick it up, it fell apart.
Well…I’ll just use this as an opportunity to make another one! I tried making it thinner and hopped it would bake fast enough to not spread. It actually spread more. And it was thin and crispy enough to shatter like a cracker when I picked it up. Dang.
By this time, I was losing patience. I decided to try a third roof – this time, bending the cookie over the form while it was half-baked in an attempt to beat gravity. All that did was leave big cracks across the top.
So finally, I ended up using smaller squares of cookie glued together. Not what I had dreamed, but serviceable! One last problem, though – it turns out I had made my side pieces using the cookie top that had sagged, changing the length of the roof considerably. So, when I made smaller cookies by cutting the original template into pieces, the individual pieces did not add up to the sum of the previous parts. Thinking quickly, I grabbed one of the failures and hacked off a pieces of about the right size.
Now it was time to assemble and decorate… and here, a confession.
I did not make my own royal icing.
I can! I know how! But I had a bag of royal icing mix, and I thought it might be better, since I planned on sharing these cookies with a friend who has egg allergies (Which turned out great! He was able to enjoy them).
I made a few last minute decisions I’m really pleased with. I piped “bark” onto the tree using royal icing flavored with cocoa powder, and I think it looked really cool (and tasted great).
I also ran out and got some cinnamon oil, and flavored the icing on the campfire pieces with that. Fiery! I need to remember that trick.
And, because I was going to have leftover, I iced little sleeping bags into the tents!
There you have it. My showstopper! Not the worst. Certainly not the best (Seriously, watch the show. Some of the things they made were jaw dropping – Louis’ dragon, anyone?). And I would probably be eliminated for using a brought-in ingredient. But everything was well baked!
My final thoughts: This sugar cookie recipe was delicious, but not the best for building. I’d probably want to tinker with it some. But the CHOCOLATE cookie was amazing. It’s not too sweet, so you can load on heaps of icing. I recommend it, and will be using it again.