Easter sugar cookies with royal icing
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With every holiday, I like to have photoshoots that fit in with the theme of the holiday. For this year, I did Easter-themed sugar cookies with royal icing.
Whenever I have free time, I’m always looking at social media sites like Facebook or Instagram for inspiration for a shoot. A little while ago, Holly Fox (@Hol_Fox), an Instagram account that specialized in custom cookies, caught my eye. I have always enjoyed these cookies, so I tried some of the techniques that they use to see how I can improve my craft during this shoot. I started decorating cookies on a large scale when it became a family tradition to decorate Christmas cookies and send them to friends and family, then it became a real tradition when I would make and decorate cookies for photoshoots.
How to use Royal Icing Effectively
During this shoot, I worked on how to control icing- I used different piping bags that were shown on Holly Fox’s Instagram page. I ordered 3 different sizes as I tested how much icing would fit in the bag, and how I would utilize them during the process. In the smaller bags, I would put thicker icing into them, for creating borders on the cookies, and use larger bags for much thinner icing to flood these borders to create seamless decorations. These piping bags had only a knot at the opposite end of the bag, as opposed to tying them with a rubber band or just using a squeeze bottle. I definitely prefer using these piping bags, as I think it allowed be to use the icing much more effectively, but I still prefer to use squeeze bottles when working with kids. The icings can also stay good for 5-6 days in these bags in a cool room. I not only changed how I applied icing, but I changed the royal icing recipes a bit. After being told that the cookies taste a bit bland, I changed the brand of vanilla I used. This brand has a large difference in price, but I think it gives more flavor than the brand I usually use, which is much sweeter, but not as rich as this new brand. I also changed the way I baked the cookies- as I prepared them to be cut, I used a French style rolling pin instead of an adjustable-thickness rolling pin but this didn't turn out too well. The cookies came out burnt on some edges because they weren’t evenly thick, so I’ll be sticking with the adjustable thickness rolling pin.
How to Optimize the Baking Process
Making the cookies is most effective in stages and batches. The process is quite long and can’t be rushed, so I tend to break the process into several days- I make dough on one day, mix the icing, then bake the cookies a couple days later. The cookies can always be frozen in whatever stage and kept fresh, so the process can even be done over the course of a week. This ensures that the process isn’t rushed and the large amounts of cookies are made quite quickly. For storage, I freeze a layer of cookies on a cookie sheet, then stack the cookies with parchment paper to separate them, and wrap them in cellophane to keep them air-tight, and then cooking foil to prevent freezer burn, which allows the cookies to stay good for three to four weeks in the freezer, and will still taste fresh. I find that other than in shoots, cookies serve well in a box as a thank you gift, and I give them to my daughter for dessert or in her school lunchboxes.
Despite being for work, I’ve come to enjoy the process that is cookie making and decorating. Everybody has their activities to de-stress and relax, and mine is decorating cookies. It may seem daunting to have a whole entire tub of cookies to decorate, but I’ve found the fun in it, especially when I get my daughter or son to help for a bit.
How to Get Ready for a ‘Video Recipe’-Style Shoot
Before shooting, I prepare everything from the tools I’ll be using to the outfits I’ll be wearing during the shoot, as I have to photograph every step that I take. To do this effectively, I have to plan every little detail of the shoot before I even get near a camera. I setup my studio the night before a shoot so I’m always ready to hit the ground running when it’s time to shoot. Photographing every step requires planning as to where my cameras will be placed and when to move them, so I always plan before to prevent confusion or wasting time. Pre-planning is always extremely important in my shoots to ensure that I’m working efficiently.
Cookie baking tools
Cookie decorating tools
How to Shoot Video Recipes
When shooting, I use 3 cameras - one for overhead video, one for side video, and one for taking pictures during the process. Using this many cameras may seem like overkill or harder to manage, but it is much more effective in terms of maximizing time to capture the recipe process from multiple angles without going through the process multiple times, and I don’t have to constantly move a camera around to capture what I need it to, as I can keep one camera in a single place for a little while as I proceed through the shoot. When recording the entire process, external monitors help a lot in knowing what I’m capturing when I move my cameras. Longer wires that connect external monitors to my cameras ensure that I have maximum mobility to keep the monitors in the same position while being able to keep the cameras in different positions, and I don’t end up with a mess of wires on the studio floor. I keep the monitors in the same position for the habit of always looking in the same spot to see what I’m shooting.
Shooting and preparing cookies is always a fun time for me, and during this shoot I got the chance to change my techniques and see what works and what doesn’t. Honing my craft in both baking and photography is a long process, but I think I’ve gotten a handle on cookies, especially after the hours of decorating that I’ve done.
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