- Cover your work surface. There is nothing worse than having to scrape off dried icing from a countertop or the dining room table. Mom used an old white cotton sheet which also doubled as her pastry cloth. We would decorate cookies and then she'd shake the sheet outside when we were done. My method is to use the large roll of polyvinyl food storage film (bought at most warehouse stores like Costco) and place sheets going across the dining room table. This usually requires two people to do. Then when done, just lift up, scrunch up into a ball and throw it away!
- Dry overnight. If the cookies are removed too early and placed in a storage tin (we had an old metal potato chip tin from the 1950s), they will stick together. It is best to let the cookies dry overnight. I know this is not always possible especially if you have pets!
- Bag 'Em! So that cookies don't stick together and decorations don't fall all over the place, I use corsage bags from my local flower mart or bought online. I use the 8" long bags which are about 4" wide - these are perfect for oversized gingerbread cookies. They give your cookies a professional look - I've had people ask where I bought the cookies! Tie with some red ribbon or create small labels with your name and fold the top over and fasten with the label.
- Use Meringue Powder for Royal Icing. I can't stress this enough especially since many people have problems with raw eggs (pregnant women, the elderly, people with immune system issues). I don't take a chance anymore and use Meringue Powder which can be purchased at William Sonoma, Wilton or other online stores.
- Plastic Bags for Piping. Rather than purchase several pastry bags or having to empty and wash the same one constantly, I place the icing in a small bag that can be "zipped" shut like Zip-Loc® brand. I then snip a corner (very small snips and cut more if it isn't large enough) and start piping away!
- Quick Decorating. If I am not having people over to help decorating, I admit doing it the easy way: I will use plain Royal Icing with no coloring, and use zig-zag piping over the cookies. Then toss on some decorations and you are done! I've been know to decorate 60 or more large gingerbread cookies this way in 20 minutes or less. My favorite cookie cutter is a large Christmas tree: the white zig-zagged icing looks like snow. I then place red hots on each branch and green sanding sugar.
Photo: Gingerbread Cookies, by seeingbeauty, Flickr