These days with a baby in the house, my baking time is really limited. I find the best way to be able to quickly make delicious, lovely cookies is to always have a batch of my favourite dark chocolate rolled cookie dough in the freezer so I can take a chunk out and whip something up fast. The fastest method for frosting is to use the same cutter on thin fondant and stick it to the cookies (even if they’re still warm, as long as they’re not hot) with a bit of corn syrup thinned with water. Then you can draw on the fondant with edible ink markers for any needed detail. And if there’s time, thinned royal icing decorations are beautiful and tasty.
I have lots of cookie cutters, and further down this post will highlight some of my recent favourites. But what do you do if you need a shape for which you don’t have a cutter and can’t get one in time, or maybe that cutter doesn’t even exist?
If you just need to do a few, the easiest method is to do a Google image search for the item, find an image that suits you, save it, resize it in your program of choice to suit your needs, and print it out. If you’re just doing one or two, you can cut it out and place the paper right on your dough, then trim around with a knife. If you are doing several or your dough is very greasy, you can faux-laminate the paper first (do this BEFORE cutting the paper) by covering it with clear packing tape. I did this for the Doctor Who sonic screwdriver cookies and the Alien facehugger cookies earlier this year.
The main downsides to cutting around a template are that it is slow, tedious, and leaves a ragged edge on the dough.
So what do you do if you want to make a cookie cutter that you want to be able to keep for future use, but you don’t have access to many workshop tools? If you Google around, you’ll find lots of advice on using disposable foil pans or aluminum cans. Those may work on some dough, but I’m quite certain they won’t work on the stiff chocolate dough I linked above. Thus, when I needed to make some Wonderland themed cookies for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin’s event this fall and didn’t have time to go buy teapot or mushroom-shaped cutters, I found this video and decided to give its methodology a try:
I went onto Lowe’s website and ordered some of their copper-covered tab tape (sometimes called hanger’s tape) and some lead-free, potable-use solder for pickup at the store up the street so I could get it on the way to getting my kid home from school without having to actually search the aisles for anything (this is super-convenient). I already had a plumber’s torch that I use for sugar work.
That evening, I printed off a mushroom shape and a teapot shape, and then used needle-nosed pliers to bend the tab tape to match. Next, I attempted to solder the ends together but usually this requires a highly toxic chemical called “flux” to etch the copper so the solder will stick, and obviously you shouldn’t use that on a cutter that will be touching food. So I was dubious as to whether or not the solder method would work, and indeed I used Many Rude Words as it continually failed to stick. Over the course of half an hour with Many More Rude Words I managed to plug the overlapping holes of the cutters with the solder to form a sort of holding peg, but honestly, it was a right royal pain in the cookie:
That being said, here are some of the mushrooms and teapots I made:
Let me make it clear that although the cutters came out okay, worked well, and are even reversible since they don’t have a crimped safety edge (which also makes them harder on hands), this method isn’t exactly easy. I’d definitely advocate for buying cutters you need in advance when you can, but keeping some tab tape around for sudden cookie emergencies. And if you’re a known baker parent with a kid in school and clubs, you will have a cookie emergency eventually.
I also made some standard rounds to go with the mushrooms and teapots for the Wonderland theme:
On the opposite side of making your own cutter is an all-in-one cutter so easy that you hardly have to think at all to end up with an awesome result. Take this 3D Gingerbread House cutter, for instance. Well, don’t take mine…I have a spatula and a temper, so don’t even try! This wonderful device cuts all of the walls and roof segments for an adorable little cookie house all at once. Again, I used my chocolate dough but rolled it to 1/8 inch instead of the usual 1/4 inch, since the cutter’s instructions called for that thickness in gingerbread. It worked really well and I was able to make a village of them for my older daughter’s school holiday party as well as the baby’s playgroup holiday cookie exchange:
Because these are so small, they’re a cinch to put together with no supports needed. Basic royal icing piped to the joints and all of the pieces pushed gently but firmly together and set to dry. This cutter rocks!
Another favourite cutter set I use frequently is this fall/Halloween set of minis from Wilton. I bought it on post-holiday sale a few years ago mostly because it had a maple leaf in it, and while I rarely have cause to make maple leaf cookies, my inner homesick Canadian can’t help wishing for a reason. Since then, I’ve used this set for multiple Halloween parties over years, especially because it’s so easy to knock out dozens and dozens of little-kid bite-size cookies with quickie fondant coverings:
I’ve only used parts of this Karate Cookie Cutter Set and only once, but given that my older daughter is really into her karate lessons and her dojo is a non-profit run by women specializing in karate and self-defense for girls and women, I anticipate making a lot more karate cookies! These ones were for their fall Kickathon fundraiser, so I just used the two kick styles in the set. A simple royal icing decoration made these a hit of the event.
I have two sizes of music note cutters that I’ve used for cookies and fondant effects for Biscuit Brothers events in the past, and most recently for another Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin event. This time they were in Italian flag colours to go with the Italian theme of that musicale.
Graduated sets of the same shape are really useful. I have Ateco sets of squares, circles, ovals, daisies, and triangles.
A friend was having a birthday and likes purple, penguins, and purple penguins. So I borrowed the methodology from Worth Pinning’s penguin cookies with some minor adjustments (I piped the black directly onto the whites for the eyes, added wings, and used royal for the beaks), using the oval set, and voila:
In fact, I used leftover icing from these and the Halloween cookies above to make extra eyes for future use:
Lastly for now are these lovely Autumn Carpenter snowflake cutters that come with matching texture mats. Again, I got these in an after-holiday sale one year because that’s often the best way to get pricey cutter sets. I wish I had more cause to use the texture mats because they’re lovely, but I often end up just using royal icing and dragees, as I did this year. This year I also added a bit of Disco dust for sparkle, and the combo hid what a terrible job I did with uneven royal application in the first place. Hah, I love cheating strategies in decorating!
I probably have other old photos of cookies that I haven’t gotten around to posting, but that gives you a general idea of cutters I recommend for busy bakers along with some techniques that hopefully help you achieve awesome results with minimal effort.
All evidence consumed, om nom nom.
I think Carolyn Wanke Mangold used aluminum flashing and duct tape to make cutters for minicakes. Would that work for this application? Chris Cantrell
Quite likely, although the aluminum flashing itself can be difficult to shape and cut. It's also more expensive and often pre-bent at an angle or in really wide strips. But if someone had tin snips and a workbench, that should also work. The tab tape was super easy, though.
Speaking of cookies, NEVER use cookie cutters with those fundraising cookie doughs that some schools sell. I don’t know why, but that recipe they use is prone to expand. I had chunky lines instead of candy canes and the world’s fattest snowmen.
Ugh, yes, many doughs are too expandy for cutters. It's one of the reasons I like this chocolate dough so much…they hold their shape well, they taste good, they're a perfect cookie for this sort of thing.