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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tricks of the Trade

I often ask myself "why didn't I think of that?"  Yep, it's the million dollar question, isn't it?  I suspect many of us ask ourselves that question when we stumble across something that makes life easier! This post is eventually about creating pods from tipless bags...but first I have to wax on a bit about the creativity that abides in the cookie decorating world.

Fabulous edible art in the cookier world is being created by creative people every day.  Everyday items are also being repurposed by creative cookiers everywhere!  They see a problem and they propose a solution...and before you know it, someone has created a new way to perform a task, and sometimes it evolves into a product that meets the specific need!  Entrepreneurs abound in the cookie world!  Tooth picks to boo boo sticks to needle tools, using craft tweezers to pick up tiny little sugar beads, using a bead tray to corral our sanding sugar and non pareils and safely return them back to the jar. The group of people we all longed to be with started with Cookie Camp, evolved to  CookieCon, and then someone said "hey, how about a CookieCruise?" Learning via online tutorials from Montreal Confections, Haniela, Sweet Ambs, Julia Usher, and McGooU (and so many more)!  Blogs by the awesome Sweet Sugarbelle, CookieCrazie, Glorious Treats, The Enchanted Oven, and Ali's Sweet Tooth (those were my early ones to follow - I follow a LOT more now). There aren't enough words to describe what Julia Usher's CookieConnection has meant to the cookier world!

More tools - Ikea Bevara clips to hold your bags closed, cookie stencils in glorious multitudes of designs and shapes, magnets to hold your stencils in place and free up your hands, the Stencil Genie to get away from using 8 to 16 little round magnets, embroidery hoop with mesh to hold a home made paper stencil, stencil masks to hold down the round stencils that don't fit in the square Stencil Genie, painting on cookies by creating a palette of dried gel colors in an artist's palette, a box of pressed dusts to use like a paint box, BRP Boxes to showcase our cookies, and a Notta Cookie to practice on...OMG, the list goes on and on and on.  The cookiers who read this will likely be able to identify each and every cookie artist who DID "think of that".  I know I have followed and learned from many of them... maybe all of them.  Amazing people one and all and I didn't even go down the path of specialized cookie cutter creations!  Plaque cutters alone could take an entire blog post.  Remember when we just had a big circle or a big rectangle to use as a plaque?  Airbrushes, the KK, now miniaturized projectors....I have to stop and get on to the point of this particular blog post! (Talk about run on sentences and a gushing style - oh well, that's me)

One of my favorite newish products is a very thin piping bag, commonly called a "tipless bag" because it can be cut with a tiny little hole and used to pipe words, or a larger hole to outline and fill a cookie...all without the mess and fuss of using a coupler and tips if you so desire.  It's an import (the downside) and is therefore, longer in shipping time, but it's cheap and very flexible and it doesn't hurt my hands as much as "regular" disposable piping bags do after hours of piping.  They are branded as Master disposable piping bags.  I know I have heard of others in the U.S. who sell these online, but I have only bought mine on eBay and just use the search term "disposable piping bags" to find them.  Arrival time is anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks - so don't order expecting to receive them day after tomorrow!

I was washing out other brands of disposable piping bags so I didn't have to throw away bags that could really be used more than once.  I was freezing my leftover icing with the coupler still in so as not to waste frosting and bags...lots of hoops being jumped through to stretch my pennies.  I didn't jump on the tipless bag craze at first because I LIKED using tips.  So, when I first tried them, I used the couplers and tips and just enjoyed the softer bags in my hand.

However, I noticed more and more artists in the cookie world were being seen with a tipless bag in their hand in photos and videos. I am now all happy about that after using them regularly since Christmas decorating....still, often with a coupler and tip.  Another craze that's been around a while is the icing "pod".  I am not 100% certain, but I think it was the idea of that crafty Karen of Karen's Cookies - the beloved supply shop with the happy yellow tissue paper wrapping their goods for delivery.  Also, of course, Karen is the  CookieCon maven along with her husband Mike.  I never fell in love with the icing pod because, well, I'm a bit clutzy and I slung an entire pod of icing around my kitchen when I tried to make one and instantly went "oh hell no".  Others reported better luck with the Press 'n' Seal product to reduce the potential for icing slingage (that's a new word)...but, I just wasn't going there again.  I was kind of stuck in my ways and I walked away from the pod.

But wait, there's more!  While discussing an unrelated topic, I was talking about these tipless bags in a Facebook group for Texas Cookiers, when Rosilind, from The Dough Bar Co. piped up (haha, no pun intended) and said she used the tipless bags for pods, sealing the ends with a sealer tool.  Sirens went off in my head ... "say what????"  Well, Rosilind, aren't you the brilliant girl!!!  When I decorated my Valentine cookies, I used tipless bags as icing pods within coupled tipless bags for the entire endeavor.  Holy smokes was that an awesome thing!  I didn't seal them, but I'm going to do so from here on out!  I'm always kind of slow to evolve.  Everyone in my family will tell you I really don't like change. LOL!
Prepare a coupler bag as usual and put to the side.
Have a second tipless bag ready to prepare the pod.

Using even the unsealed pod just made everything so much easier, across the board.  Now I know why the pod people love their pods so much!  Preparation, utilization, clean up, saving icing...all easier with a pod!  I am on that band wagon from here on out!  I was able to rinse out several of the outer bags and reuse them because they only had a bit of icing around the coupler insert, and the ones that did get overly messy, I felt free to toss.  I used a lot of icing this year so I had DREADED cleaning up the mess!  With this trick,, so much easier.  I tossed the leftover flood icing - it had sat too long and separated so not worth saving in my opinion.  The piping icing was still perfect so it was sealed and prepared to be frozen.  I was able to flatten it out for much more effective storage in my small freezer.
I used this ultra thin little rubber bands from the hair department
to wrap around the cut tip
These were actually sealed after use - but they held!  Frozen
pods are put in a gallon freezer bag and lay on the bottom shelf
taking up very little room in the freezer.

After a quick thaw, I squished the icing around to
ensure it didn't need re-mixing.  It was good.
Pushed the icing down into tip of bag, twisted, and the pod was
ready to use again.  Piping did well, flood, not so much..
I find flood needs remixing every time after thawing.
I tend not to save flood icing.
I do mark the icing bag with an F or a P to
indicate thickness (use a Sharpie) so I know
what I have when I pick up a bag.

I made a couple of pods of the same color during the heavy use of pink for Valentine's.  It was so nice to just slip out the used  pod, slide in the replacement and on I went.  It even seemed easier to change tips.  I let the inner bag fall gently back into the outer bag while I changed out, then, tipped it forward again and it was ready to go - no muss no fuss.  In the past, I've refilled bags and everything was crusty at the top and, well, regardless of care taken, crusty bits always seem to fall into the icing and, of course, plug up the tips at the most inopportune moments in piping.  Hugely frustrating.  Pods solved that problem and I knew if I didn't use the extra pod of icing, into the freezer it could go and all happy we would be. (that's the royal we...there is no we in decorating at my house...I'm strictly solo unless I have grandkids visiting)

Life changing, Rosilind...just purely life changing for this hobby cookie artist!  Thanks for sharing your marvelous trick of the trade!  I'm sharing the word!

Making a fresh pod in easy steps!

STEP ONE:  Add icing to the bag you will use as a pod.  I find it easiest to suspend it in a glass with the bag top pulled over the rim.

STEP TWO:  Push out as much air as possible, moving the icing as far into the tip as you can.  There is always a little pocket of air at the tip, but that's okay.

STEP THREE:  I use my FoodSaver and seal for 4 to 5 seconds; 3 seconds wasn't enough, 6 was too many.  Before I tried sealing the pod, I used a Wilton Icing Bag Tie for the inner pod. Sealing is easier and lots more efficient when freezing leftover icing.  Also - no crust!  But, still quite doable if you don't have anything to seal with.  Or, if you just want to use it without couplers - this is where you stop - either sealing or tying the back end.  Sometimes I start with the tipless bag and when I am ready to pipe details that need a coupler and tip - I treat it as a pod at that point.

STEP FOUR:  Drop the pod into the bag prepared with a coupler and pull the uncut pod tip through the coupler.
STEP FIVE:  Using your preferred method for closing the back side of your piping bag (I like the clips), secure your bags together...or if you have used a bag tie on the inside, push it down and clip or band above it.  Holding the bag set with tip end up, cut an opening in your inner bag, slide on a piping tip to your coupler, screw on the outer coupler ring and check your flow to ensure it is coming at the speed you want it to.  If you need to cut a larger hole, lean the bag backwards and cut your hole larger in the inner bag, then reapply tip.

When you are finished, unclip, remove the pod, squeeze out the icing in the tip using two tightly pinched fingers, and close with a little rubber band.  Move on to the freezer as described above...or discard if you don't freeze or save your frosting.

Thanks again Rosilind for such an outstanding idea - I just never would have thought of it!!! (Hey Rosilind, if you do it differently, please leave a comment so we know from the originator that there is a different way to do this. I do moderate so it takes a bit before the comment shows up.)

Thank you readers for hanging with me on this very long post.  I love you guys!!!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


1 comment:

  1. Wow you just taught me some good things about tipless decorating bags!! I will give it a try when I start my Halloween cookies next week.
    Thanks again


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