5 steps to perfect royal icing sugar cookies

5 tips for perfect royal icing sugar cookies

I always get suckered into those point-of-purchase-displayed royal icing sugar cookies. You know, the ones at Starbucks, decorated in the theme of the nearest popular holiday? That hard, sugary icing gets me EVERY. TIME.

Upon investigation a few years back, I discovered that recreating these diabetic-coma-inducing treats seemed like way too much work, so I abstained from homemade in favor of the overpriced coffee-shop variety. But after my macaron-baking adventure, I gained some newfound patience in the baking department and decided to give it a whirl. Just like the macarons, royal icing sugar cookies are an art and a science—and almost every recipe out there completely oversimplified things, especially when it came to the decorating. Wing it without the fine-print instructions and you’ve got a surefire Pinterest Fail on your hands.

So before you flit off to AllRecipes.com for the highest-rated generic sugar cookie recipe, keep these tips on hand.

1 ) Use a good sugar cookie recipe. I like this recipe from Sweetopia.

2) Learn how to make cookies that hold their shape. The aforementioned recipe includes instructions on making cookies that hold their shape. Here they are, plus more from Sweetopia:

    • Roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper and then chill in the fridge for an hour. If you’re like me and always look for a shortcut (freezer!!) be careful—there’s a fine line between perfectly chilled and frozen to the point that the dough cracks when you cut it. Cut the chilled dough into shapes immediately and then re-chill the cut cookies for at least 10 minutes. Re-roll the excess dough and repeat.
    • Don’t over-mix the butter and sugar. Over-mixing can cause excess air, which will cause fluffier cookies that spread easier.
    • No baking powder.
    • Use the correct amount of sugar and higher quality or European-style butter. Too much sugar and low-quality butter can both cause spreading because the sugar becomes liquid when it heats up and cheaper butter has higher water content.
    • Use thicker cookie sheets and parchment paper.
    • Thinner cookies spread less (Sweetopia recommends 3/4 to 1 cm-thick cookies)

royal icing easter bunny cookies 9

3) Start with thick icing. Many of the icing recipes I found were too runny for outlining or detail work. My advice is, start with less water and add more as needed. I went with:

4 tablespoons egg white powder

1 lb confectioner’s sugar

1/4 – 1/2  cup water

Mix all ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup water and adding more veeeeerrrry slowly as needed (one tip I saw recommended adding water via spray bottle—genius!). Mix on low in a stand mixer for several minutes. The icing you use for outlining should be about the consistency of toothpaste. Here’s where the next step comes in …

royal icing rainbow

4) When it comes to decorating, plan ahead. Once you’ve got your big batch of royal icing (which should be the proper consistency for outlining at this point) partition it out in bowls. This is where you’ll have to make some decisions and (gasp!) commit to a color scheme. For example, if you’re making Christmas trees, you’ll want a lot of green icing for the tree, a little brown for the trunk and an even smaller amount of a few other colors for the tree decorations. You’ll likely need an outlining icing and a flood icing (the icing that fills the cookie in) for each color, EXCEPT the colors you plan to use only for detailing (the buttons, nose, eyes, etc. on a snowman, for instance). For those detail colors, you’ll only need icing of an outlining consistency.

Here’s where some people make the rookie mistake of dividing the uncolored icing into separate bowls for outlining and flood, diluting the flood icing appropriately and then trying to match the colors to each other after the fact. Nope. Start with one bowl for each color, mix in your food coloring as appropriate (for extra-saturated colors, use powdered dye so as not to dilute the icing too much) and THEN divide it into two bowls and dilute one for flood icing. Add water slowly to one bowl of each color to create the flood icing (which should be about the consistency of hot fudge sauce).

5) Have the proper tools. Don’t panic—there’s no need for expensive baking tools. I use gallon ziplock bags for the icing (although, you can purchase these or these if you want to get fancy.) and toothpicks to spread the flood icing. Put the bags in a cup/glass and pull the bag over the edge of the cup (as if you were lining a trash bin … lovely!), then fill it with the icing and cinch the bag closed with a rubber band. Snip the corner of the bag when you’re ready to begin icing. To decorate your cookies, outline each one with the outlining icing, then fill the cookies in with the flood icing. Use a toothpick to gently push the flood icing around to fill in any holes. I let my outline icing harden before flooding, but it’s become clear to me, thank to this Sweetopia tutorial, that you’ll get a smoother, more seamless result if you flood immediately.

bear hug cookie 2

I made the bear cookies you see above using a bear cookie cutter and then folding the arms around cinnamon-sugar almonds before baking.

Now all I need to do is find a way to use all 101 of the cookie cutters in the massive kit I impulsively bought on Amazon …

Happy icing!

Smuggling pumpkins

roast pumpkin

It’s an impossibly beautiful, crisp and sunny Chicago fall, my uterus is now the size of a pumpkin (how festive!), and the cooking strike in Casa DiCosola continues. Dinners these days consist of cinnamon toast crunch, apples and peanut butter, fun-size snickers, english muffins and string cheese (yes, all in one night; no, not necessarily in that order).

Good thing I have this little fall-themed gem of a post in my back pocket from last year. In a sea of pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads and pumpkin lattes, these pumpkin pork enchiladas are a refreshing change of pace.

pumpkin pork enchiladas 3

Pumpkin pork enchiladas

You’ll need:


One batch of carnitas (recipe here)

4 cups pumpkin

24 small corn tortillas

3-4 cups shredded quesadilla cheese (I like La Chona brand, but anything in similar packaging will be good)

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Seasoned baked pumpkin seeds and queso fresco for garnish (optional)

Enchilada sauce

1/2 cup liquid from carnitas

1 cup pumpkin

1/8 tsp chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare your carnitas and harvest 1/2 cup juice toward the end of cooking. Set aside or refrigerate if you’re preparing in advance.

For the pumpkin filling, you can use the canned stuff or pie pumpkins. I went the difficult route because I’m fancy like that. If you’re inclined to do the same, cut the pumpkin in large chunks, remove the seeds, drizzle with a little butter or olive oil and bake, covered, at 375 degrees for about 45 min, or however long it takes for the pumpkin to be fork tender. After it cools, remove the meat and discard the skin.

how to roast pumpkin

Mash the pumpkin with the spices and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Prepare the enchilada sauce by combining all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor. Set aside.

To assemble your enchiladas, place a dollop of the pumpkin mix in the middle of a corn tortilla and some carnitas on top, and roll up the tortilla. Place each enchilada seam-side down in a casserole dish. Arrange the enchiladas tightly in the pan so they don’t fall apart during baking. Once you’ve filled the pan, drizzle the sauce (and spread with a spatula if necessary) over the enchiladas and sprinkle generously with cheese.

pumpkin carnitas enchiladas

Bake enchiladas at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes—until the cheese is bubbly and golden and the insides of enchiladas are hot.

Garnish with pumpkin seeds and queso fresco.

Greens on greens on greens

green pasta salad

My garden is filling in nicely, and all this green has me inspired. This pasta salad is a little taste of spring—exploding with nutritional superstars. There are enough greens to make it healthy, but enough pasta and cheese to make it a treat.

Dave devoured it, so you can trust that it’s delicious in spite of itself.

Don’t skimp on the lemon—it brings the taste to the next level.

Go green pasta salad

You’ll need:

1 lb pasta

1 cup peas

3 cups baby arugula

12 stalks asparagus

12 large brussels sprouts

4 green onion stalks, chopped

Juice from one whole lemon

A block of pecorino or other hard italian cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

For pea pesto:

1/2 cup peas

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1-2 large cloves garlic

1/2 cup baby arugula


Blend all ingredients for pea pesto until smooth.

Cook pasta to al dente. Strain and then toss with pea pesto (add gradually—you might not need all of it). Set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Chop asparagus and brussels sprouts into small, bite-sized pieces and cook in boiling water until slightly tender. You’ll want to remove the veggies from the heat before they lose their green color (and all their nutrients) so have an ice bath ready. When they begin to get tender, strain the veggies and add them straight to the ice bath.

When the pasta has cooled, add brussels sprouts, asparagus, chopped green onion, peas and arugula. Finish with a generous shaving of cheese, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

green pasta salad

Ravishing radishes


Spring has not quite sprung here in Chicago, and the natives are restless.

We’re all ready for it, and the husband is ready for the plants to go outside. My seedlings—now more like full-fledged plants—are spilling out of their containers, straining toward the windows and begging for fresh air. Despite less-than-balmy temps, I’m willing the warmth to arrive—and maybe some fresh seasonal recipes will help.

I don’t ever cook with them, but these radishes caught my eye last weekend, and just seemed very springy: fresh, dewy, earthy.

I suspected the fatty, creamy richness of avocado might complement the crunchy spice of the radishes, and after paging through my trusty Flavor Bible, I got some affirmation. The resulting recipe would be perfect for a spring picnic, a tea party or an afternoon snack.

radish avocado crostini by Better with Butter


Radish, avocado and herbed goat cheese baguette

(Makes about 2 dozen slices)

You’ll need:

1 french baguette, sliced thin

8-10 radishes

8 oz goat cheese

dill, sea salt and pepper to taste

2-3 avocados, sliced thin

Slice radishes paper thin with a sharp knife or madoline.

Spread a baguette slices with a thin layer of goat cheese.

Layer on sliced avocado and top with a generous amount of sliced radish.

Sprinkle with dried or fresh dill, course sea salt and pepper to taste.

radish avocado crostini by Better with Butter

radish avocado crostini by Better with Butter


Cheeseburger poppers

homemade jalapeno poppers 2

I can’t always come up with witty post titles. Fortunately, this one should catch your attention in spite of itself. You really can’t go wrong when you stuff fresh, fiery jalapeños with ground beef and melty cheese, drench them in beer batter and fry them to golden-brown perfection. The homemade ranch is the icing on the cake.

They’re big and gooey, which makes them a little tricky as a finger food. Still, the most macho men (and hardcore ladies) will take them to the face while hovering over the game-day app table without thinking twice. My advice? Grab a plate, hunker down, and go to town on these babies with a fork and knife.

Cheeseburger jalapeño poppers with homemade ranch

You’ll need:

Two dozen jalapeños

1 lb ground beef

1/2 lb sliced American cheese (from the deli), chopped

4 oz cream cheese, softened

3 tablespoons dried, minced onion

1 tablespoon garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Enough vegetable oil to fill a small stock pot, sauce pan or deep fryer so that the poppers are completely submerged during frying

For beer batter:

1 beer

1 1/2 cup flour

Salt and pepper to taste

For homemade ranch:

1/2 cup mayo

1 cup sour cream

1/2 tablespoon dill

1/2 tablespoon dried, minced onion

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

homemade jalapeno poppers

Cook the ground beef with a little oil or butter in a skillet over medium-heat until cooked through—5 minutes or so—stirring constantly.

Pour off excess fat and add meat to a bowl with cheeses, onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir together until the cheese begins to melt and the ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.

Slice each jalapeño, down the side in a “v” shape, as shown below, and carefully remove the seeds and white veins. If some seeds and veins are left, that’s fine–your poppers will just be a little spicier. Keep the tops with the jalapeños they came from as best as you can so you’ve got a good fit on each popper.

Fill a piping bag (or a plastic bag with a hole snipped on the end) with the popper filling and pipe a bit into each popper. The insides should be full, and the “lids” on the poppers bulging a bit, but not so much that the poppers don’t stay together.

How to make jalapeno poppers

Set filled jalapeños aside and prepare the batter by mixing all batter ingredients.

You can also prepare the ranch sauce at this time—simply mix all ranch ingredients in a bowl and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat. You’ll want to reach and maintain a frying temp between 360 and 375 degrees or so.

When oil is heated to the proper temp, using tongs, dip each jalapeño, one at a time, in the batter; let excess drip off for a second or so and quickly place directly into the oil. Immediately after putting each jalapeño in the batter, agitate with your tongs to make sure the popper doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. You can fry poppers in batches of 2 or 3, for about 3-5 minutes each or until golden brown. If necessary, adjust the burner to maintain your oil temp.

Drain poppers on a paper towel and serve immediately with ranch.

jalapeno poppers recipe 2

Gourmet game day

Super bowl food ideas

The best thing about game-day parties is the excuse to stuff your face and guzzle beer with zero guilt. Don’t show up to your Super Bowl party empty-handed. Seriously, don’t be that guy/gal.

I’ve even taken you half of the way there, with this handy-dandy Super Bowl recipe list:

You can thank me in free game-day betting squares.


Jalapeno popper dip

Greek 7-layer dip

Loaded bake potato dip

Hot spinach dip

White queso dip

Sliders and sammies

Spicy whiskey BBQ sliders

Out-of-this-world veggie burgers

Cheeseburger sliders

Fried pizza sandwiches

Philly cheesesteak with garlic aioli

Crock Pot faves

Slow-cooker carnitas

Crock Pot picante chicken

Crock Pot chicken, rice and green chile casserole

Crock Pot chicken taco chili

Slow cooker buffalo chicken sandwiches

Party staples

Italian deviled eggs

Potato salad

Tomatillo salsa


Bacon mini quiche

Mexican munchies

Chicken tostadas

Double-decker taco cupcakes

Won ton tacos

Mac ‘n’ cheese tacos

Mini fish tacos


Greek pizza

Prosciutto, arugula and parmesan pizza

Red pepper and goat cheese flatbread

Buffalo chicken pizza

BLT pizza


Sweet potato cakes with BBQ brisket

Bacon wrapped potatoes

Potato rings with ranch

Bacon and blue cheese french fries

Mac ‘n’ cheese french fries

Miscellaneous bites

CB&J crostini

Bacon cheddar hush puppies

BBQ chicken cornbread pie

Corn dog tots

Sweet potato chorizo hand tarts


Guava orange margaritas

Bourbon bomber

Dark and stormy

His and her whiskey cocktails

Lights-out punch

Super Bowl sweets

Brown butter and bourbon blondies

Football cookies

Salted caramel cheesecake shooters

Bacon apple pie

Dessert nachos


Acronym awesomeness: the CB&J

fig cheese crostini 2

When it comes to odd flavor combinations, this is nothing short of a revelation. Holding a tray of these out to my fellow party-goers on Christmas Eve, reactions ranged from “what the heck is cashew butter?” to “Blech. Figs. I hate figs.” Others just stared, smiling and nodding unconvincingly as I promised that, as weird as it sounded, these would be the best things to ever cross their taste buds.

I set the tray down next to the usual suspects—Spinach dip, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers—sure these melty beauties would go untouched. Fortunately, I was wrong.

“What are these?”


“Is that BACON I taste??”

(no bacon, just cheese, fig and cashew AWESOMENESS)

“Are they all gone?!?”

(no, we hoarded a stash in the basement by the bar)

I have to admit, I can’t take creative credit for this recipe. The flavor combo is courtesy of Hopleaf in Andersonville.

CB&J crostini

You’ll need:

1 jar cashew butter (I made my own by blending one lb. of salted cashews on high until creamy)

1 jar fig jam or “fig butter” (I got the Trader Joe’s Fig Butter and it was perfect)

8 oz cheese (either raclette, morbier, comte or mild gouda—any other quality swiss-type cheese would probably be good too)

1 sourdough baguette

3-4 tablespoons butter, melted

Slice sourdough baguette into crostini-sized slices. Brush generously with melted butter. Toast under broiler until they begin to turn golden—careful, it only takes a couple minutes. Remove and allow to cool enough to spread ingredients on toasts.

Start with a layer of cashew butter, then fig jam, then a small slice of cheese.

cashew fig crostini

Toast under the broiler again for a few minutes, until cheese is nice and melty.

Serve hot. Next time, try this combo as a grilled cheese as Hopleaf does. Or  on a cracker! Or as a flatbread!! The possibilities are endless.

fig crostini


A bracket I can get behind

When it comes to sweet sixteen brackets, I don’t have the best of luck. For me, March Madness begins with as much naive excitement as the locker room of your favorite Cinderella team … and ends with crushed dreams and a $50 deficit in my bank account. Here’s to hoping that the Solo Foods Sweetest 16 recipe contest—the focus of this post—brings happier results. Fortunately (I think), my fate rests in the hands of you, my FANTASTIC readers …

As one of 16 (duh) bloggers chosen to participate in the contest, I was tasked with creating a dessert with at least one Solo Foods ingredient. Armed with pie fillings galore, I set out in search of glory. Many grueling practice sessions and several recipes later, I had my MVP: Dessert chimichangas, filled with a sweet, flavorful mix of apricot, cinnamon, almond and vanilla; fried to crisp golden perfection; doused in cinnamon sugar; and topped with a healthy dollop of mascarpone whipped cream. She shoots, she SCORES.

C’mon BWB readers—send me home with the championship. Vote for my recipe here (scroll down to vote for me!).

Apricot almond dessert chimichangas with cinnamon mascarpone cream

(6 servings)

You’ll need:


1 can Solo Foods apricot pie filling

6 small (taco-sized) flour tortillas

1/3 cup sliced almonds

 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

 1/8 teaspoon vanilla 

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Canola oil for frying

Cinnamon sugar coating:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Mascarpone cream:

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 cup sugar

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all chimichanga ingredients (minus oil and tortillas). Spoon 2-3 heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto the middle of each tortilla. Fold up tortillas, burrito-style, so the ends of the “burrito” are tucked into the rolled tortilla. Secure each chimi with several toothpicks. Refrigerate for a couple hours–this will help ensure the chimis maintain their form during frying.

Meanwhile, make the mascarpone cream. Whip the whipping cream and sugar in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Beat in marscarpone cream and whip until the mixture is stiff again. Cover and refrigerate.

Mix cinnamon and sugar and set aside. You’ll use this to coat the chimis immediately after frying.

When ready to fry the chimis, heat several inches of oil (enough to cover the chimis completely) in a large pot over medium-high heat to between 360 and 375 degrees. Lower chimis in (two or three at a time) with a slotted spoon (toothpicks still inside) and fry until golden brown (about 3 minutes). Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Carefully remove toothpicks and immediately coat chimis in cinnamon sugar mixture.

Serve immediately with a side of mascarpone cream cheese.

“Stuffing” our faces

As always, Thanksgiving in Tucson was full of friends, family, fun and food comas—lots of them. While I’m the last person to let dietary restrictions rain on my pig-out parade, I felt inclined to make a gluten-free dish for my dear nana (A thinly veiled attempt to become the favorite grandchild? Maybe). The resulting creation was a sweet potato “stuffing” inspired by a work potluck dish a la creative director of the century, David (A thinly veiled attempt at a raise? Maybe.). This stuff is FANTASTIC—even if you aren’t foregoing gluten. While it won’t replace the good-old Pepperidge-Farm-stuffing-in-a-bag variety my family loves so much, it’s definitely a holiday side worth adding to your rotation. Plus, it’s ridiculously healthy—almost too much so for this butter-loving blogger.

Sweet potato “stuffing”

You’ll need:

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced red pepper

1/2 cup diced green pepper

1 tbsp. thyme (fresh is better but dried will do—same goes for all herbs)

1 tsp. sage

1 tsp. rosemary

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 cup crushed pecans, toasted

4 tbsp. butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Toast crushed pecans in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

Cook peppers in skillet with 2 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Add onions and celery and cook until tender. Set aside.

Cook chopped sweet potatoes in the same skillet with remaining butter over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally, but let the sweet potatoes sit long enough to start to develop a little bit of a caramelized, crispy skin. Cook for several minutes until sweet potatoes are tender.

Mix potatoes, vegetables, spices, herbs and pecans together until incorporated and spoon into a casserole dish. Finish off in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.




A haunting in Roscoe Village

I like horror—maybe a little too much, judging by my Netflix queue. Many a night, Dave flings the bedroom door open to find me in the glow of some weird B-grade horror movie.

What can I say, I love things that are a little sick and twisted. Which is why I say, screw the cutesy Halloween decor—give me fake bugs and terrifying zombie props. Scouring Pinterest, I found some equally spooky Halloween bites:

Spider web dip

Refried beans, covered in a layer of guacamole, surrounded by a ring of salsa and shredded cheese, decorated with a “spider web” of sour cream. I put the sour cream in a plastic bag, cut the tip and piped circles onto the guac, then took a toothpick and dragged it from the innermost circle to the outside. Worked like a charm.

Rice Krispies treat vampire skull

Just follow the good-old-fashioned Rice Krispies treat recipe. To form the skull, I scraped the mixture out of the bowl and onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I sprayed a sheet of plastic wrap with a little Pam, placed it over the mound, and started forming the skull with my hands.

My new GIR Spatula arrived just in time (thanks for the preview GIR folks!) to do the heavy lifting. When tasked with testing/reviewing the strength and functionality of a spatula, the ever-challenging Rice Krispies Treat Stir test is about as tough as it gets. The GIR Spatula passed with flying colors.

Anyway, back to the spooky stuff:

Mummified treats: Mummy hand baked brie and mummy cocktail weenies

For the mummy hand, simply cover a wheel of brie with a full sheet of puff pastry or crescent roll dough (I used the pre-made full sheets of crescent roll dough you find in the same area as the pre-made pie crusts). You’ll need another sheet of the dough to cut up in strips and wrap around the wheel to make it look “mummified”. To form the fingers, roll a strip in a sort of spiral around itself. For the longer fingers, you can stretch it out a bit. Push each finger onto the palm part of the hand and blend the dough together. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. Make things really spooky by drizzling “blood” (i.e., fruit jam) on top. Serve with crackers.

For the cocktail weenies. cut thin strips of pie crust dough (again, go with the pre-made stuff if you want to maintain your sanity) and wrap them around the weenies. Cover the top of each weenie with a little pie dough “cap.” Bake at 375 until golden brown.

Maggots ‘n’ cheese (mac ‘n’ cheese in a bread “coffin”)

This was one of my favorites. Cut off the very top of a loaf of bread (we used ciabatta), so it’s still “hinged” onto the bottom portion. Hollow out the bottom half of the bread and fill it with mac ‘n’ cheese (I maintain that Alton Brown’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe is the best ever, but my sister and I usually doctor it up with about double the cheese). Sprinkle the top with more cheese and panko crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until the bread is looking a little toasty and the top layer of the mac ‘n’ cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Top with a little plastic skeleton.

Finally, the least scary, but possibly most addicting of the Halloween foods …

Pumpkin Better Than … Cake

This stuff is like crack, so consider yourself warned. I assume no responsibility if, after eating this, you wake up with a sugar-induced hangover, covered in cool whip and clutching an empty, caramel-streaked baking dish.

Cupcakes made for easier party eating, but I think the cake is the way to go in terms of maximum deliciousness.

Mix all of the above with ridiculously awesome Pinterest-scavenged DIY halloween decorations, fun people in costumes and lots of liquor, and scary things are bound to happen.



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