A cookie-decorating party is a great way to bring family and friends together for some creative and delicious fun.
Cindy Mushet, author of "Baking Kids Love" and the award-winning "The Art and Soul of Baking" with Sur La Table, has developed a plan over the years to help it all run smoothly. Here are some tips to make the party easy to plan.
Up to 1 Month in Advance
Make the cookie dough. Yes, you can make the dough in advance and still have fresh cookies! You're going to freeze the rolled-out dough, then cut it and bake it a day or two before the party.
Plan for plenty of cookies. I usually double or triple my favorite sugar cookie recipe so I have plenty of cookies on hand, but even a double batch will yield enough for a small party. Keep in mind that everyone will probably want to decorate several cookies.
Roll out the dough as soon as you make it. This is when the dough is supple and easy to roll. If you find the dough is super sticky and difficult, your butter is too warm -- simply chill the dough for 20 minutes or so before rolling. Roll out portions of the dough (about the size of a large grapefruit) between two sheets of parchment paper, following the directions in the recipe. The dough should be about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the rolled-out dough (still between parchment) onto a baking sheet. Continue with the other portions, stacking them on the sheet. Wrap the baking sheet in plastic wrap several times and stash in the freezer until baking day.
Buy the bling. Look for colored sprinkles and sanding sugars, silver dragees, colored candies -- whatever strikes your fancy.
A Day or Two in Advance
Bake the cookies. Remove the dough from the freezer and let it defrost on the counter for 5 to 10 minutes, until still cold but not frozen hard. Cut out the shapes you want, placing the cookie cutters as close together as possible, then carefully transfer the shapes to parchment-lined baking sheets and bake until light golden brown. Remember to bake similarly sized cookies on the same pan.
Once the cookies have cooled, stack them up according to shapes in zip-top bags to keep the cookies airtight and fresh.
The Day Before
Make the frosting. I like to use meringue powder for the icing and whip up great mounds of it. Then I separate it into bowls and add food coloring. Make more of the most popular colors of the season, and smaller portions of accent colors. You'll want several piping bags of the most popular colors.
Divide the frosting among disposable piping bags and refrigerate overnight. The disposable bags make for easy cleanup when the party is over. Spoon the frosting into the bags until each one is 2/3 full, then twist the top and secure with a twist tie.
The Day of the Party
Prepare in advance for cleanup. Use party-themed plastic tablecloths and make cleanup a breeze. Paper towels and baby wipes make it easy for guests to clean up any sticky hands, spills and messy piping bags.
Put frosting-filled pastry bags in a couple of large bowls and set them out at several points around the table. Cut the tips off the bags only when you?re ready to start piping, and cover their ends with a damp kitchen towel so the icing doesn't dry out and harden.
Set out the bling. Small bowls, cupcake liners and paper cups work well for holding decorations. If you like, put out a selection of other decorating tools, such as toothpicks, new paint brushes (kid-size), and plastic knives so those who want to spread things around can do so easily.
Provide paper plates for guests to take their masterpieces home. Guests can decorate their cookies right on the plates and write their names on the rim. The plates slip easily into gallon-sized zip-top bags, keeping the car trip home neat and clean.
Serve something besides sugar. Have something simple to eat so everyone doesn't fill up on cookies. I usually make a hearty soup or stew and serve it with some good bread. Hot chocolate and warm apple cider are great beverages for the party (and perhaps a little mulled wine for the adults). For dessert -- cookies, of course!