It’s Sure Dusty Around Here

April 25, 2016

Wow. It’s been nearly two years since I last posted. Now that’s a little embarrassing! I so enjoyed my time of blogging here but these days between Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope and that thing called LIFE I only get over here enough to feel pangs of guilt for dropping the blogging ball but before you take it as a sign that I’m now returning to blogging with this post, let me just go ahead and nip that little notion in the bud. Snip.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve thoroughly loved blogging in the past because I’ve always enjoyed communicating through the written word. There’s something really attractive about having the time to construct my thoughts behind the scene, try them on, move them around, and polish them up before handing them over to you. Except as social media has expanded I’ve found that I’m drawn more and more to connecting with you in ways that feel more back and forth between us that a long blog post with responding comments can offer. Creating videos, chatting together in live Periscopes, and all the back and forth dialogues in comments on Instagram and Facebook, that’s where it’s at for me these days.

So here’s my plan for this space in the future. In the coming weeks I’m going to clean things up and reorganize the existing content so it will be easier to search for information and then as I create new content in the form of YouTube videos, Instagram photos or Facebook posts, I’ll include it here as well so the archive of information can continue to expand in one place and be easier for you to access. I’ll also be sure to announce any of my random little social media giveaways or upcoming charity-focused projects here so you don’t miss any opportunities to get or to give!

Okay, so now that we have a plan, let’s get it done!

20 Plus Prizes for 10,000 ‘Likes’

July 7, 2014

If you’ve bounced over here from Facebook you’ve no doubt arrived to check out the bountiful booty of prizes for the ‘twisted’ giveaway in celebration of reaching 10,000 Facebook “likes” but if you’re here only because you receive my blog posts in email or RSS feed and don’t know anything about Sweet Hope’s 10,000 Favorite Things ‘Twisted’ Giveway, then pop over to Facebook now and read all about it here.  You can only enter the giveaway by reading about it on Facebook and submitting your entry over there in the comment section on my page. Stupid rule perhaps but it’s my game and my rules and I’ll just go ahead and  admit it, the power is exhilarating!

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Once you look through all the prizes you’ll see that there’s a common thread running through them and that thread is C-O-O-K-I-E-S! These are all my favorite tools and toys for decorating cookies and so if you’re just starting out in cookie decorating or have been decorating cookies for years you’re going to love all this stuff as much as I do. And if you aren’t a cookie decorator but love someone who is, then win for them and bask in the glow of their awe and appreciation for years to come!  I could go on and on about why each and every one of these bits and bobs of cookie magic are among my favorite things and in some future posts I’ll be highlighting my love affair with a few of them but for now and without further adieu, here are the prizes!

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A super comfy cookie teeshirt from Shannon at Artfully Designed Creations.

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And another teeshirt equally as comfy from Artfully Designed Creations.

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A beverage tumbler so you can drink and decorate.
Just remember that friends don’t let friend pipe drunk.

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A jumbo bottle of Princess Cake and Cookies Emulsion from LorAnn Oils.

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One of only two items  in the giveaway I’m re-gifting, meaning I bought them for myself and now I’m passing them along. Helvetica remains my favorite font and so while I love these cutters they’re a little too shallow now that I’m rolling my dough 3/8 inch thick. Complete set with b, d, and n, functioning as q, p, and u. Currently available online at Fancy Flours.

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I’m going to spare you my “every cookie decorator, mom, and grandma should own at least a few Ecrandal cookie cutters” speech for now but you can expect one coming in the near future to a blog near you.

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A complete set of 5 ‘Anita’ rectangles from Tracy at Whisked Away Cutters.  I’m so proud of my sweet little adorable blue namesake cutters that I’ll be doing a blog post on them sometime soon too. As soon as I can stop hugging and kissing them.

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Even more Whisked Away Cutters including some of Tracy’s newest and most popular cutters.

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The other re-gifted favorite cookie bling direct from the People’s Republic of China
via my overflowing private stash.

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Gone are the days of icing oozing out of the top of the piping bags with these
Bevara Bag Clips from Ikea.

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Even though I’ve made the switch to tipless bags, the wide mouth bottles from Kuhn Rikon remain among my favorite decorating gadgets.

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You know them and you love them! PME Scriber Needles and Karen’s Boo-Boo Sticks.
No icing bubble can survive against their power!

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My two favorite cookie books of all time filled with SIMPLE and simply adorable ideas for decorating cookies for the beginner to the experienced cookie master.

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You know I love a cookie mold. Or twelve.

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The only thing I love more than Krista’s cute characters is Krista herself.

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Don’t ask me how many stencils I have. Just don’t ask.

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Okay. Let’s just say I’m starting in on my second stencil saver album.

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SweetAmb’s Video Tutorials.
The best ever. It’s like watching cookie magic unfold before your very eyes.

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A Tray Mate isn’t one of the fanciest prizes but it’s a tool I use every time I pull out a jar of sanding sugar, non-pareils or jimmies.

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And for the sanding sugar, non-pareils, and jimmies that get away, it’s Good Grips time!

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I love my Nesco so much I can’t even talk about it without tearing up.

And just in case, I forgot to include a cookie gadget that you desperately want need…

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So there it is! ALL the gifts that will be going to the grand prize winner of
Sweet Hope’s 10,000 Favorite Things ‘Twisted’ Giveway,
so head back over to Sweet Hope Cookies Facebook page to enter now! 

Please note, entries left in the comment section of this blog post will not be counted.

Entries must be made on the Sweet Hope Cookies Facebook page
in the post pinned to the top of the page.

Please read the guidelines and rules to enter!

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Remembering Randy: Giving the Gift of ‘Thank You’

May 1, 2014

A couple weeks ago on the anniversary of Randy’s death from ALS, an incredible group of cookie friends, and I use the word “friends” in the truest sense of the word, did something pretty amazing by surprising shocking stunning me in coming together to honor Randy (and me)  by sharing stories of someone who had inspired them in their lives and encouraging others to do the same. It was among the most compassionate acts of kindness I’ve experienced and to each one of them I will forever be grateful.

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As you can imagine the anniversary of Randy’s death remains a sad day for all of us who knew and loved him. Each year April 19 rolls around I grieve again. On April 19 I remember my brother and who he was, and always will be to me, but most of all I remember his suffering and all he lost from ALS. I remember how that rotten, no good, monster of a disease took one little piece at a time from Randy over the months of his illness. I remember the last day of my brother’s life and how we all moved with him through that long day as it stretched into an even longer night. I remember the last hug, the last ‘I love you,’ and saying goodbye.

But today, May 1, is Randy’s birthday and on this day each year rather than grieving the death of my brother, I choose to remember and celebrate his life! I remember his goodness, his strength, the twinkle in his eyes, and the sound of his laughter. I celebrate that from the very first day I came into this world until the 55th year of my life I had Randy for my brother! How blessed I was. How thankful I am.

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I don’t know about you but I’m all about traditions and Randy’s birthday is no exception. If you haven’t been around here the last two years on May 1 you can read about what happened in 2012 and 2013 in links at the bottom of this post but do that later because right now I want to talk to you about what I’m doing this year and then I’m going to invite you to join me in doing something so incredibly awesome you’re going to knock each other out of the way to be the first to sign on the dotted line. That’s how well I know you.

So here’s what I’m doing today. I’m going to spend the better part of May 1, 2014 decorating these cookies.

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These sky blue cookies with clouds complete with silver lining will be finished up today with hot air balloons, kites, and cluster of balloons before I send them up to Portland for the next meeting of the ALS Support Group. While too many (1 would be too many) of the people Randy loved in the group have died over the past three years, others are still there and living their lives with incredible dignity, fueled with large doses of spunk and sass. And yes, I’m talking about you Nick.

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And you too Brian. You too!

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They grow them handsome and sassy in the Northwest.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing on Randy’s birthday and now this is the part where I invite you to join me in a chance to do something completely and totally off the hook awesome. But before I tell you what the awesomeness is, I want to tell you a little story to put it all in context.

Every time I’d go up to Portland to spend a few days with Randy during the last year or so of his life I’d spend most of the time in the kitchen baking cookies. I know. Shocking. I bet if you’d been given a thousand and one chances you’d never have guessed that one right. Ah well, if I’m nothing else, I’m predictable.

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The cookies I made for Randy were ginormous and they had to be because they were filled with chunks of dark, milk and white chocolate, coconut, toffee bits, walnuts, and any random bits of candy I found hiding out in the kitchen snack drawer. By the time my visit was over the freezer would be stacked with ziploc bags stuffed full of cookies for Randy to munch on until my next visit.

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And he did and sent me the photo to prove it. When I’d return 4 or 5 weeks later, the cookies would be all gone and so I’d tie on my apron and start rummaging through the kitchen snack drawer for ingredients for the next batch. At some point, and I don’t remember exactly when it was, Randy stopped eating the cookies because the progression of the ALS had made the simple act of chewing and swallowing too labor intensive and exhausting (along with the increased risk of choking and aspirating).

But even then, the cookies in the freezer kept disappearing because long after Randy stopped eating cookies he was giving them away left and right to just about any and every one who came by the house. One of the staff from the ALS Association would stop by and as they’d be standing near the front door saying their goodbyes Randy would stop them and calling into the kitchen ask, “Sis, could you put a few cookies in a bag?” When a friend would stop by for a visit, when the speech therapist dropped in, Randy would all but roll them over in his wheelchair to keep them from leaving until they were handed a small bag of cookies.

At first I didn’t get it, why he made such a big deal about handing out cookies to everyone. He was just so insistent about it. “Are you sure you don’t want any? Oh come on. They’re great and we have so many. Wait. Anita will get you a bag.” At the time it seemed almost silly that he was making such a big deal about giving someone a couple cookies but one  day I finally got it. Giving cookies was something Randy could still do for people who were doing things for him. The guy who fixed the elevator, the medical tech who came to repair his wheelchair, the family member who ran a couple errands, the friend who brought a meal or just stopped by to show him some love. Randy could no longer return favor for favor. He knew there a ‘somewhere down the road’ when he’d be able to make things even. He couldn’t run out and buy a small gift or a thank you card. He couldn’t take them out to lunch or coffee. He couldn’t even offer the simple gesture of patting someone on the back for a job well done and appreciated but what he could do was give them a little plastic bag filled with a few frozen chocolate chip cookies.
Today, in celebration of my brother’s birthday I’d like to invite you to join me in participating in a project I’m calling…

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What I’m hoping to do with “Giving the Gift of ‘Thank You'” is to put one dozen ‘thank you’ cookies in the home freezers of all 50 people living with ALS who are currently being served by the Oregon – SW Washington chapter of The ALS Association.  These will be their cookies to give away as a special ‘thank you’ when ever they want and to whom ever they want. The progression of ALS may no longer allow them to go buy a gift or write out a card or pat a back or legibly speak the words but having a few beautifully decorated ‘thank you’ cookies in their freezer means they have the availability to give something special to return a kindness for a kindness. It’s such a simple thing but it’s not a small thing.

To make this happen 50 dozen cookies need to be donated and shipped up to Oregon no later than Thursday, May 29. I’ll provide detailed info including the shipping address to all participants. Upon receiving all the cookies  my sister will spend the weekend combining all the cookies together and then creating 50 cookies boxes filled with colored paper shred, 12 cookies, and tied with a ribbon. A letter will also be included explaining what the cookies are all about along with the names and location of everyone who donated. Over the following two weeks the majority of the boxes will be given out at several of the monthly support group meetings with the remaining boxes being delivered by ALS Association staff during their regular home visits.

In terms of cookie designs since the cookies will be given to every kind of person with every kind of interest there’s no limit to cookie shape or decoration. Flowers, footballs, butterflies, wood grain, chalkboards, bold and bright, soft and pastel, wet on wet, airbrushed, stenciled, painted. It’s up to each cookie decorator to decide. All I ask is that somewhere on every single cookie are written the words “Thank You.”

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If you’d like to be involved by donating one dozen cookies please send an email to anita1956 at mac.com as soon as possible with “Giving The Gift of Thank You” in the subject heading.  In the body of the email I’d ask you provide the following information:

  1. Your name
  2. Your cookie name (on Facebook or elsewhere)
  3. The state in which you live

Once I’ve received everyone’s email I’ll send out the detailed information.

And in advance, from Randy and me . . .

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On May 1, 2012 I concluded a 13 part series on Remembering Randy. Here’s the series in the event you missed it the first time around.  Remembering Randy . . . Day OneDay Two,  Day Three,  Day FourDay FiveDay SixDay Seven,  Day Eight, Day Nine, Day Ten, Day Eleven, Day Twelve, and Day Thirteen.

And last year I invited 64 people to join me in doing one random act of kindness on May 1, 2013 in celebration of what would have been Randy’s 65th birthday but instead this many stepped forward and together did all this while I did this and all together . . . It. Was. Amazing.

 

The Seven Minute Snooze and Another Anniversary

April 19, 2014

When my phone alarm jolted me awake this morning I noticed as I went to hit the snooze button for seven more glorious minutes this calendar alert was waiting for me.

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The same message was waiting for me on my iPad and laptop. I’m not exactly sure why I originally set my calendar to remind me every year since the anniversary of a siblings death isn’t the kind of thing you forget. Forget a brother or sister’s birthday? Please. Why do you think they invented belated birthday cards in the first place? But forget the anniversary of the last moments your sister or brother was moving and breathing in the same world with you? Chances are no, you don’t forget. I haven’t.

On the morning after he died, because I had begged for it as only I can beg, I was given Randy’s red ALS awareness band, the one he was wearing on the wrist of his hand that I was holding when he died. No sooner was his red band given to me than it was on my own wrist and in all the months and years since then it’s only come off twice. Once by order of a surgeon before going into surgery and the other time when it accidentally slipped off my wrist and lay hidden in the dirty clothes hamper until my spouse found it and spared me from another day of crying and grieving over the fear of it being forever lost.

Oh, and I took it off another time to take this photograph. IMG_9421

And this one.

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But aside from a photo op along the way, Randy’s red ALS band has gone
where I’ve gone and never left my wrist.

I was wearing it on the day of Randy’s Memorial Service.

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I’ve worn it when hanging with my homies on the West Coast . .

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or when we met way out East.

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And when Dana and I traveled to Italy for a month, Randy’s red ALS band was on my wrist from Rome…

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. . . to Tuscany . . .

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. . .to the Amalfi Coast. . .

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. . . and all parts in between.

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I worn Randy’s red ALS band at the first Cookie Con.

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And when we picked up our brand new puppy at the airport,
the band on my wrist for the cuddly ride back home.

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 I wouldn’t even think of rolling out Sweet Hope Cookies without the familar flash of red on my wrist.

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I cherish Randy’s red ALS band. I put a lot of meaning and attachment in the smallest of things that belong to someone I love. I have little mementos scattered everywhere through the house, things like the lipstick case my mom always carried in her purse, my dad’s big clunky wristwatch, and a scratched and tarnished silver cup belonging to my grandma engraved with the words “To the World’s Best Cook.”

Last month in the middle of a warm night while throwing the triple stack of blankets off of me, Randy’s red ALS band tore open and fell off my wrist into the bed.

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I knew it would eventually happen though I suppose I had hoped it wouldn’t be so soon. In my secret fantasy life which is hardly secret given that I’m telling you, I imagined wearing it until the day a cure for ALS was revealed and then in a moment of uncontainable exuberant joy I’d tear it off my wrist and holding it to the sky shout , “We did it Randy!” Something very Lifetime Movie of the Week with myself being played by a mid-life Jennifer Lawrence.

In all the days I wore Randy’s red ALS band on my wrist ALS continued to devastate individual lives, their families, their finances, and their homes. Every day more people sat down in a doctor’s office to be told the initial possible diagnosis of ALS had been confirmed.  Every day there were people in our world who took their last step before transitioning permanently into a wheelchair. Every day someone ate their last bite of food before switching over to a feeding tube. Every day someone lost their ability to speak or became so weak they could no longer pick up their young son or daughter. Every day once strong and independent men and women realized they could no longer brush their own teeth without help. Every day I wore Randy’s red ALS band more people died too soon from this awful and cruel disease and all these unimaginable losses of the most ordinary aspects of being alive are only the tip of the ALS iceberg. ALS is a disease of unrelenting loss and sadly that hasn’t changed since the red ALS band was passed from my brother’s wrist to my own.

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While Sweet Hope Cookies continues to be in honor and memory of my brother Randy I no longer include an “R” cookie with every order as I once did because though I started Sweet Hope for my brother, I continue Sweet Hope for those with ALS who are living today and for those who will find themselves or their loved ones living with it tomorrow. When Randy’s ALS band fell off my wrist I immediately slipped on two other ALS bands. One is in remembrance of Patty, my sister’s dearest friend who died from ALS a few months ago. The other is a red ALS awareness band that belonged to no one because it’s a red ALS awareness band that stands for everyone. It’s a band that represents the need to find a cure for ALS and in the meantime to support and care for those living with ALS. I can only believe that that’s what Randy would have wanted, that we would focus our attention on the living and not the dead, even while we remember them.

So today beginning with my seven minute snooze, I remembered my brother and recommitted myself to the living.

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To learn more about ALS and the ALS Association, click here.
To make a donation to The ALS Association via Sweet Hope Cookies, click here.

Sweet Hope’s FrankenFrosting: The Best Cookie Icing Ever!

February 21, 2014

I know I know I know. Get it out of your system. I’ll wait.

The best cookie icing ever?! Really!!!!
How dare you say that!!!
Who do you think you are?!?!
Arrogant and Deluded,  Party of Two, your table is ready.

Feel better? Can I continue?

Before I get to THE BEST COOKIE ICING EVER! let me give you a little of the back story. If you’ve calmed down enough to hear me out, that is.

As you know, assuming that you read all my posts and take notes so as not to forget a single detail of my life, I’ve been a glaze purist since the early beginnings of my cookie life. So what do I like about glaze?

Glaze only requires four ingredients.
Glaze is stable. It never separates as can happen with royal icing.
Glaze can be stored indefinitely in the fridge or freezer.
Glaze has a perfectly sweet flavor that compliments the cookie.
Glaze has a soft bite and a shiny finish.

There are also a couple well-documented challenges with glaze. With the viscosity of thick honey glaze requires multiple layers of wet on dry application to add dimension to areas of a design and while it’s possible to do fine detail and writing with glaze, the strand of icing coming out of the piping tip will always flatten on itself. Try as hard as it might glaze is unable to hold the raised tubular shape of piped royal icing. Here are a couple examples where you can see that while the writing is clean, even using the smallest tip size, the line of icing goes flat and rounds out the lettering. The word “ballerina” is a prime example.

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The other major issue with glaze is the slow drying time, especially when it includes layer on layer for dimension. Typically a glazed cookie requires up to 24 hours to air dry before it can be sealed into a cellophane bag but even then glaze can become slightly damp again once sealed, perhaps from absorbing moisture from the baked cookie, which creates tacky points of contact between the glaze surface and the cellophane bag.

Enough already! Just get to the point! What do you mean you have THE BEST COOKIE ICING EVER?

You’ve always had a hard time living with unresolved tension, haven’t you? Okay then,  I’m going to get to the point and end your suffering.

A couple months ago I had a cookie order that involved a lot of writing and I wanted the writing to be super clean with some height,  the kind of writing I knew I could get with royal icing. Royal icing. I love the puffy dimensions, the super fine detailing, and the quick drying time of royal icing but the hard crunch, the dull finish, and especially the taste have always been major turn-offs for me.

So the brain gears started turning. . .what would happen if I took a big scoop of royal icing and stirred it into a big scoop of glaze?  And so I did because that’s the kind of risk-taker I am. One day I’m combining icings, the next I’m free jumping off tall buildings. And what happened with tossing all caution to the wind is that I ended up with an icing that offered the best of glaze (soft bite, slight shine, and sweet taste) and the best of royal icing (shorter drying time, fine details, and puffy dimension).  And no wonder because it IS glaze and it IS royal icing.

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Another advantage I’ve noticed from adding royal icing into glaze is that the finish is slightly less slick and more rough, a result of less corn syrup I’m guessing, which produces much better results with airbrushing, stenciling, and stamping on the surface of the icing.

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While I can achieve the puffy dimensional look with multiple layers of pure glaze as previously mentioned and no doubt already jotted down in your “Another Brilliant Thing Anita Said” notebook, the amount of dense glaze that ends up layered on the cookie can overwhelm the baked cookie underneath, leaving a bite that’s almost too sweet. If there exists such a thing.

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The one immediately obvious downside to combining royal icing and glaze is that it requires double the time in preparing two separate icings and so that’s why for the past couple weeks I’ve exchanged my apron for a lab coat and locked myself away in my culinary laboratory, only emerging  long enough to consult and compare notes with some of the finest icing researchers to hold a piping bag including the one, the only, you know her and you love her, Jill. After tweaking through a half dozen different “royal glaze” recipes I’ve come up with a number of variations that gave me finished results similar to the original combo version with one single notable exception. When I combine the two separate icings the airy puffiness of the whipped royal icing lightens the dense, compact quality of glaze and I end up with icing in my bowl that looks and behaves like royal icing. It’s fluffy and still able to form loose, soft peaks. However, when I mix all the ingredients together in one bowl, no matter what the order I add them or the quantities of each ingredient, the finished icing looks and behaves like glaze. It’s dense and smooths back into itself. I suppose I could have continued my experiments until I found that one magic recipe and filled up yet another freezer shelf with plastic buckets of icing but instead, I decided to stop the insanity and stay with Anita’s FrankenFrosting, named by everyone’s favorite retro sheek, Arty McGoo.

So if you’re looking for an icing that offers the best of both glaze and royal icing you might want to give FrankenFrosting a try. Here are the recipes that I use for my mad icing science!

Part One: Royal Icing

Ingredients

2 pounds powdered sugar

2 tablespoons meringue powder

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons flavoring (oil-free flavoring or extract)

1 tablespoon glycerin

Directions:

Mix the meringue powder into the powdered sugar until thoroughly incorporated.

At the lowest setting of your mixer and using the blade attachment, add in the water, flavorings, and glycerin. Once the ingredients are full combined, turn the mixer to medium, whipping the icing just until it becomes fluffy and holds a firm peak. 

Move the royal icing into another bowl and then cover the top of the bowl with a slightly damp kitchen towel.

There’s no need to clean the bowl and blade attachment between making the two icings.

Part Two: Sweet Glaze Icing

Ingredients:

2 pounds powdered sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup corn syrup

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

1 teaspoon almond

*1 squeeze of white coloring gel 

Directions:

Add all the ingredients to the bowl in the order listed so that the powdered sugar is on the bottom of the bowl.

Beat at low speed until ingredients are combined and the turn the speed up to medium, beating until the glaze is well blended and smooth like thick honey. (2-3 minutes).

Part Three: Sweet Hope Icing

Ingredients:

1 batch royal icing

1 batch sweet glaze

Directions

Add the royal icing back into the mixing bowl containing the glaze. 

Whip at low speed for 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scrap down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. 

Whip at low speed for another 30-60 seconds or until you can see that the two icings have become one beautiful bowl of thick fluffy magic. 

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The steps that go into making the actual FrankenFrosting are actually so complex and nuanced  that I thought it might be better to show you how to do it rather than tell you. Please don’t start the video until you have notebook and pen in hand.

I know. I put everything you look for in a highly educational and entertaining cookie tutorial. Banjo music, off-center framing, and tediously boring stirring of multiple bowls of icing by icing covered hands. It’s a beautiful thing. Step aside SweetAmbs, there’s a new girl in town!

The point of the video is simply to show you in the most B-rated form of video production a comparison of all the icings side by side. I would recommend Netflix or HuluPlus if you’re looking to be entertained.

Final Frankenfrosting thoughts:

  • I keep my “starter icings” thick and only thin the Frankenfrosting with water after adding coloring gel since different colors require more or less gel.
  • Even though Frankenfrosting has a soft bite because of the glaze, I still go ahead and add glycerin to the royal icing since I want the option of being able to use pure royal icing or pure glaze.
  • Frankenfrosting can be left on the counter in an air-tight container for two-three days or stored in the refrigerator for up to 7-10 days. It can be kept in the freezer indefinitely. When using frozen or refrigerated icing be sure to allow the icing to thaw completely since it needs to reach room temperature to get a true gauge on the icing consistency. Should you notice any separation in the icing just hand stir until the liquid is incorporated back in. 
  • Using the provided measurements you should end up with a very thick fluffy icing which will be about what you want for piping roses, writing, or fine details. Add more water as needed to thin to consistencies for filling and flooding. 
  • I add just a few drops of white coloring gel to my glaze to offset the brown tint from using pure vanilla extract.

BEST COOKIE ICING EVER. . . in my kitchen anyway!