Blog Holiday Stencils

Blog Holiday Stencils

Several weeks back, I showed you some cookies that I stenciled using colored sugar. I spooned the sugar onto the unbaked cookies using a craft-store stencil, and while the cookies baked, the design fused onto the surface. It's a simple technique that produces a colorful, homespun effect.

When you want to do something with stencils that's a little more polished looking, you can stencil designs on baked cookies that have been iced with royal icing and dried thoroughly. The method is a bit more involved and time-consuming than stenciling unbaked cookies, but it's not difficult and the results are something special.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, a craft store (or the crafts section of a department store or dollar store) is a less expensive source of stencils than specialty cookie and cake decorating stores or websites. For the designs pictured here, I picked up some small flexible stencil sheets, which I could position individually on the cookies. You'll notice that none of these stencil designs has a holiday theme, but the simple red, green, and white color scheme gives them an entirely appropriate Christmas feel. The floral designs remind me of an antique holiday quilt.

Aside from the stencils, you'll need some small wooden-handled stenciling sponges (called spouncers) or stenciling brushes, cotton swabs (for areas too small for a brush or sponge), a small palette tray (or small individual cups), pastry bags or parchment paper cones (for the royal icing), food coloring (thick liquid or paste is best), and, if you like, colored sugar and gold or silver dragees to add the final touches.

As for the technique, here's how it's done:

  • Bake your favorite Ann Clark cookie recipe and let the cookies cool completely.
  • Frost the cookies with royal icing. You can color the icing and even frost different parts of the cookie with different colors, but a solid white or pastel is simple and gives you a nice canvas to work on. Reserve a small amount of icing for accent colors (like the ornament tops, bell tops, and borders on these cookies). Cover the reserved icing with a damp paper towel, then plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed. Let the royal icing on the cookies dry for at least 8 hours or overnight—you want a hard surface to stencil on.
  • Squeeze a small amount of food coloring into the cups on your palette tray and, if necessary, thin the coloring with a drop or two of water. The coloring should be the consistency of thin paint, or half-and-half. A little goes a long way and you can always add more coloring, so avoid squeezing too much coloring into your tray at the beginning.
  • Position a stencil on a cookie and hold it down gently with one finger. Dip the stenciling sponge into a color and blot the sponge on a paper towel. This step is important; I learned that it takes a lot less color than one might think to make a successful stencil. Too much color will make for a blurry design (as some of my cookies show). Using an up-and-down or swirling motion, gently sponge the food coloring onto the surface of the cookie. Watch the edges of the stencil carefully so that you don't color "outside the lines."
  • Repeat using other colors until the design is finished, then lift the stencil carefully from the cookie.
  • Rinse and dry the stencil before using it again. Most of the designs on these cookies were done using a single stencil. The upper left and lower right ornaments were stenciled multiple times.
  • Let the stencil design dry thoroughly, then apply any final decorations, such as a royal icing border, dragees, or colored sugar.

Stenciled cookies make unique holiday favors—I hope you try this technique. Feel free to post your pictures; I'd love to see them!