Garden Sweets with Sift Bakeshop
When a trio of floral cookie cutters arrived in our kitchen, we immediately thought of our friends at Sift Bakeshop. They created the cookies above with our cutters and a little inspiration from the spring garden. After snacking on a few sweets-- vanilla bean sugar cookies and dark chocolate shortbread!-- we caught up with Sift's Cara Griffin to learn how to get the look ourselves. Cara shared her favorites from the bakery, along with tips for making these colorful cookies at home.
terrain: Can you share a bit about Sift, and how you got started with baking?
Cara: I’ve been baking since I can remember. My mother made beautiful, home-baked cakes throughout my childhood, and I was lucky enough to learn from her and expand on those lessons as I got older. I started making cakes for friends and family in college, then for coworkers and via referrals once I moved to the East Coast. Eventually, I started using a restaurant kitchen late at night after work, and in 2014 I decided to make the leap and start baking full time. Right now, Sift is in the center of an arts building with other studios occupied by painters, photographers, jewelry makers, a chocolatier, a cheese maker, a coffee roaster, and more artisans. We’re currently appointment-only, but in the next few months we’ll be expanding to a new location with retail hours for the first time!
terrain: What are some of your favorite things to bake for spring?
Cara: My spring favorites are definitely breakfast and brunch items. There are so many spring occasions that call for a wonderful brunch spread with quiche, biscuits, shortcakes, cream puffs, homemade pop tarts, and anything with lemon curd. I could eat it like soup! I really like to make sure Sift has a good seasonal selection using as much local, in-season produce as possible. Spring is the new beginning for us after winter; we’re getting into the lab and coming up with fun treats that highlight what local farms have to offer.
terrain: What types of cookies did you make for us?
Cara: We made two kinds of cookies for the shoot. One variety is our classic vanilla bean sugar cookie, and the other is a dark chocolate shortbread. It's always fun to experiment with different flavorings for the cookie base, but we kept it simple here. I love the contrast of that dark chocolate dough against the color palette of the icing!
terrain: How do you create your beautiful icing colors?
Cara: We chose a more natural color palette to really get the feeling of spring. Nature provides us with such great access to color inspiration, as well as the dyes themselves! Consistency is key for royal icing, so be careful not to add too much liquid. It’s best to buy good quality, powdered dye made from natural plant sources. You can make natural dyes yourself at home, but because the water content of homemade dye can be high, powders are better for icing consistency. To get more muted colors, try adding a bit of black dye to greens, blues and purples, or a bit of dark orange to reds, yellows and oranges. Always add your dye in small amounts to reach your desired shade and remember that red and purple dyes darken as they age, so it's best to make your icing the night before to see what the true color will be on your finished cookie.
terrain: Can you share a few tips on getting this look for bakers at home?
Cara: We used the basic "flooding" technique on all of the cookies. This means that we outlined the design, then filled it in or "flooded" it with icing. Next, use a scribe tool to pop any small air bubbles that surface, and run the scribe through the still-wet icing to even it out before it starts to dry. If you don’t have a scribe tool, you can use a needle or toothpick. To get the effect shown on the pansy cookie, we used a technique called "wet-on-wet." You flood the cookie with a base color, and then add on your second color while it’s still wet. The second color will start to sink and flatten into the base color. While the icing is wet, draw your scribe outward from the center of the secondary color to get the streaking effect. For more depth, wait for the base layers of icing to skin over, then pipe on top with additional designs. They’ll stay raised once dry.
In our baking classes, we always tell students that there’s no right or wrong with sugar. You can always scrape icing off and start again, or let it become something completely different—it will still be beautiful even if your original idea changes! Have fun with it, and remember that something made with good intentions is beautiful.