How to Marry a Wedding Planner: Decorating Cookies

Three years ago, my college girlfriends started an annual Christmas tradition: a couples’ gingerbread house decorating contest. Each couple gets a freshly baked gingerbread house and a variety of toppings to work with. This event is kept to a strict time limit, and like any healthy competition, there tends to be some trash-talking amongst rival couples and bribery of the judges… all in good fun of course.

When Steve and I begin strategizing our decorating plan, we tend to a lot grief from our opponents. Things like, “This is not fair at all! This is what you two do for a living!”

Although neither of us had ever decorated a gingerbread house for a client’s wedding before, there is some fact behind those statements. Steve is obviously my not-so-secret weapon at the contest and I’d be lost without his icing skills. At times like these, it pays off to be married to someone who knows how to create beautiful work with a pastry bag.

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When he and I set out to make snowflake cookies, I envisioned myself piping out lovely, tiny intricate details. This daydream came to a halt when Steve told me he spent one entire summer just practicing piping. He’d spend hours upon hours creating designs on parchment paper just to practice his technique. All that practice paid off, and man, he sure makes it look easy!

I started my first few cookies with the intention of delicately icing them around the edges with some dots mixed in. Simple. Let’s just say my cookies ended up fully frosted and covered in sprinkles. It takes a steady and stable hand that I’m not used to. It makes me feel like a kindergartner, awkwardly practicing letters when my hand can’t quite do what my brain is telling it to do. Although after some practice, I have gotten a little better and have some pointers to share for making a successful batch of decorated Christmas cookies.

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1. Make your dough the day before if you can. Both gingerbread and sugar cookie dough should chill for at least 4 hours, but it is best if the dough can rest overnight.

2. If you are making the classic gingerbread dough, purchase 2 bottles of molasses. We didn’t realize we would need this much, and I had to return to the store mid-recipe. Annoying.

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4. Divide your dough into small disks and wrap with plastic wrap. Smaller disks will make rolling out the cookies more manageable.

5. Only remove one cookie dough disk at a time from the fridge so that the rest can stay chilled.

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6.  If you don’t have a granite or marble countertop, try rolling out the cookies on a table covered in a vinyl cloth. My mother-in-law uses this technique and prefers it over a countertop.

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7. Shape your disk into a ball and sprinkle a bit of flour on top before starting to roll out your dough.

8. As you roll, carefully lift your dough and sprinkle flour underneath. You don’t want too much flour because it will make your cookies dry, just enough so it won’t stick to the surface.

9. Roll out your dough so that it’s 1/4 of an inch thick. If the dough is much thicker, the cookies will lose their shape in the oven when they bake.

10. Be aggressive and press very firmly on your cookie cutter so that the entire shape is cut out from the dough.

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11. Small cookies are easy to transfer from the counter to the cookie sheet, but larger ones can be a challenge. Using a large spatula covered in flour is the best technique that we have found. Also, work quickly before your dough warms up. The colder the dough, the easier it is for the cookies to to be transferred to the baking sheet.

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12. Keep an eye on your cookies while they’re baking. The longer they’re in the oven, the firmer and crispier they’ll be. Larger cookies, like our snowflakes, need to be fairly firm or they’ll crack when you try to decorate them.

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13. Let your cookies cool for about 10 minutes before attempting to transfer them from the baking sheet to the wire cooling racks.

14. Let your cookies cool completely before you attempt to decorate them (otherwise it’ll be an oozy mess).

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15. Ok – this is where we might lose some of you. Remember that decorating your cookies should be fun. Also remember that Steve has been using a piping bag since age 12 – he has had a ton of practice! You can use store bought icing or use the recipe we have below. Either way, have fun and experiment with special sugars, silver balls and sprinkles. If you want to try piping, check out this tutorial for a few techniques and tips.

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17. If you don’t like how your cookie is looking (like the majority of mine), this is when I suggest to completely cover your cookie with crystalized sugar. This is as easy as frosting the entire cookie (to cover the mess-ups), and pouring sugar on top. You can’t go wrong with this technique!

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I think Steve and I have possibly started a new Christmas cookie tradition of our own – decorated snowflakes! I’m sure in a few years mine will look like the ones above – ha! What are your annual holiday baking traditions?


Download and print our recipes for Classic GingerBread Cookies and Icing

Photo Credit: Matthew Land Studios

Recipe Layout and Design: Spruce 

Classic Gingerbread Cookies Icing

The Best Peanut Butter Cookies… Ever.

Every month or so, my high school girlfriends get together for a girls’ night. We drink wine and raspberry beer, catch up, tease each other and reminisce about our awesome fashion and stripy highlights we had back in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

The month of October was a fondue party, and I wanted to bring something super yummy for dessert to dip in the chocolate. Everyone likes the dessert fondue the best, anyway. When I was trying to figure out my plan, Steve generously offered to make THE peanut butter cookies for me to take to the party. Of course I took him up on the offer. His stuff always tastes the best.Sinclair & Moore home b2 1 Sinclair & Moore home b2 2 Sinclair & Moore home b2 3Right before I ran out the door, I piled up the freshly baked cookies pretty high and wrapped up the platter in plastic wrap. I figured I was bringing way more than enough, and my secret plan was to munch on all the leftovers on my way home that night.

I walked into the party with the intentions of my friends dipping them into the chocolate fondue pot. But it turned out that the plastic wrap was peeled off right away and almost half of them were devoured during the appetizer cheese fondue course. I even eyed the party host secretly stashing a few cookies away, hiding them in a napkin to share with her husband once we all left her house. It was a sneaky tactic I would totally do, too. No one can resist these things!Sinclair & Moore home b2 4 Sinclair & Moore home b2 5Sinclair & Moore home b2 6 Sinclair & Moore home b2 7The key to them being so good is that whenever Steve plans to bake something, he’ll Google “Best _______________”, then secretly modify the recipe to pretty much become the “Best _______________ Ever.” The time he searched for “best peanut butter cookies” and made his personal improvements, he was truly on to something.

From what I’ve observed, the reason his cookies are so good has something to do with how long he creams the butter with the sugar. It’s also the short amount of time he bakes them in the oven. Steve’s not a fan of crunchy cookies, and would prefer them to be underbaked before he’d ever serve a cookie that’s a little too crispy.Sinclair & Moore home b2 8 Sinclair & Moore home b2 9 Sinclair & Moore home b2 10 Sinclair & Moore home b2 11So much for my secret plan of gobbling up all the extra cookies on my drive home. There wasn’t even a crumb left over after the fondue party. And while I was out for the evening, someone else had a secret plan going on back home. When I tip-toed through our apartment that night, it was super late and Steve was fast asleep. On his bedside table was the evidence. A big empty bowl with a little bit of melted ice cream and peanut butter cookie crumbs sitting at the bottom. I think we both had a perfect night.

So do your husband/boyfriend/mother-in-law/high school friends a favor and go out and buy the ingredients. But when you make these, do not even attempt to taste the dough. Not even a little bit. You won’t end up with any finished cookies if you do that.Sinclair & Moore home b2 13

Photo credit: Matthew Land Studios


The Best Peanut Butter Cookies… Ever:

1 cup + 4 TBS peanut butter

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

2 TBS milk

1 TBS vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 bag of peanut butter chips

3/4 cup sugar (for rolling dough balls, may need more or less)

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the peanut butter and butter. Once combined, beat in both the white and brown sugars and cream for about seven minutes. Beat in the egg, milk, and vanilla.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gently add to the creamed mixture and mix until almost combined. Do not over mix the flour with the creamed mixture or your cookies will end up very dry. Fold in peanut butter chips by hand. Chill dough for at least 15 minutes in the fridge.

Roll small mounds of dough into balls. Gently roll the dough balls in the sugar before placing on the baking sheet. Carefully press each ball with fork tines to create a criss-cross pattern. 
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are slightly browned. The middle of the cookies will appear to be not fully baked – the cookies will continue to bake as they cool on the baking sheet when removed  from the oven. After 5-10 minutes, carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.