Thursday, November 5, 2009

Edible Folk Art (or Cookie Decorating 101, Sugar Skulls)

What is better than looking at Folk Art? The answer is Folk Art that you can look at and then eat! Up to this point in my life, I always considered cooking as my artistic expression. Now I have found a way to combine my love of cooking with my love of folk art.

By definition, Folk Art is a result of ordinary people expressing themselves through their creation and construction of utilitarian objects that convey meaning and value to themselves and to others within their culture. A Folk Art object's final form often carries a certain beauty that elevates ordinary objects into the extraordinary.

This year for Halloween, we decided to go as Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls. To complete the look, we decided to make edible sugar skull cookies to pass out to party guests. My artist cowboy is well known for his zany, whimsical visionary art and I'm known for creativity in the kitchen, so this seemed like a perfect match.

I have said this before and will say it again, I am not a baker by choice. I love to cook and create savory dishes and cakes, cookies and desserts have never been my strength. But it's time to push the envelope, think out of the box, get the old KitchenAid mixer off the shelf and just go for it.

I went in search of the perfect cookie recipe and found a beautiful website called, I only hope to be as half as creative as Marian (the Sweetopia blogger). Her blog has great tips, artsy themes and I consider her a true cookie folk artist! So I tip my cookie decorating squeeze bottle to her.

My Go To Every Time Shortbread Recipe (For Decorated Cookies):

6 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
( Optional: For a more Mexican flavor I added in fresh grated orange zest and about 1/2 teaspoon of Chipotle powder )


Cream butter & sugar until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time and continue to beat. Slowly add each extract flavor and cream till blended.
Put dry ingredients through a flour sifter and blend well. Mix dry ingredients with creamed ingredients a little at a time until the dough comes together.

**Culinary Tip** Roll out your sheets of dough between parchment paper and stack in refrigerator on a cookie sheet. This eliminates the step of adding more flour and rolling after chilling. The cookie dough will be ready for the cookie cutters in 1 hour, once chilled in the fridge. This recipe made about 5 rolled sheets (about 50 cookies).

Heat the oven to 350 and allow to heat for one hour before placing the cut cookies in to bake. Bake the cookies on parchment paper till light brown around the edges, about 8 -10 minutes. Cool on racks.

Perfect White Royal Icing:

3/4 cup warm water
5 tbs meringue powder (egg white powder)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 bag (2 lbs.) powdered sugar
1 tsp clear vanilla or almond extract

Hand mix the warm water with the meringue powder till blended and frothy . Add cream of tartar and hand mix another 30 seconds. Pour in all the sugar and mix gently by hand. Using an electric mixer, blend with a paddle attachment on lowest speed for 10 minutes (yes, 10 minutes - the frosting will become silky smooth and shiny).

**Culinary Tip** Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and take out small amounts as you go to blend with your food colorings. In this case for the skull cookies, I used a lot of white icing and made black icing using red, blue and green food coloring. The other color accents (red, yellow, green & blue) on the cookies were very easy to do with culinary decorating pens (purchased in the baking aisle at the local grocery). They are really easy to use, just do not press down too hard or they crack the icing and ruin the tip.


Pick out your base color for your royal icing frosting. Make sure your cookies are completely cool before icing them. Place your base color in a squeeze container with a thin tip ( I buy them at a restaurant supply store). Outline your cookie, the outline will act as a dam. Allow outline to dry. Add a little warm water to your frosting bottle to thin the royal icing. Flood the surface of the cookie and evenly spread within the dam. I use the bottle tip to do the spread the inner icing. Once the cookie has a nice even layer of icing, allow to dry and harden before adding other color.

For the skulls, we took our black icing and made the eye sockets, noses and jaw/teeth outline. Once the black had dried, we then began decorating the skulls with unique patterns, using the culinary pens. The final touch was to outline the entire cookie with black icing for a more dramatic effect. Be creative, do not be afraid to experiment. Just like true Folk Art, there are NO rules!!

**Culinary Tip** Allow to harden overnight before packaging. Have fun, your cookies will be the hit of the party. We may do some turkey ones for Thanksgiving, Krumpus for Christmas etc...


  1. We are going to try these for Thanksgiving..instead of skulls, hand turkeys. Gabi has been askign and asking to make them- so armed with the right and tested recipes- vou enfrentar essa! I too am not a 'precise ' person in the kitchen, so baking is hit or miss. I'll send you pictures.Pensando bem - I may stick a few skulls in, stress diffuser from in-laws : - ) !!

  2. Sandy - thank you so much for the recipes. We used the one for frosting. I have a handheld mixer and was happy with the results. Used paste coloring for different colors ,and squeeze bottles - kids had a blast. It'll be a turkey day tradition in our home! Thank you for the fun and tasty time I had with my kids yesterday!

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