Even the Kennedy Center loves Meghan’s intricate treats, featured in the March edition.
Welcome back to The Sunday Roast! I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and hopefully not too bored while working from home.
I decided to focus this month’s newsletter on a fairly easy crowd-pleaser that you can make while self-quarantined to make the time pass. Baking is one of my favorite ways to relax and relieve stress, so try your hand at doodling on some cookies to switch it up. It’s super easy to order the ingredients needed for decorating online, as this month’s subject does, so no need to risk heading to your local store. Ideally, you’ll already have the staples for baking in: sugar, powdered sugar, butter, flour, eggs and vanilla. If not, please heed experts’ warnings, like in this lovely Atlanic piece, and go to the store at off-peak hours if possible. Practice social distancing, and decorate cookies to your heart’s desire for hours on end!
This month: My ongoing goal, still, is to diversify my subjects to make sure I’m talking to all the different people that live in this beautiful city/area. I am still very open to any suggestions people have, including who or what you’d like to see featured in future newsletters. Just fill out my suggestion form! My subscriber count has now gone up to 77 and I hope to keep growing that with a new goal in mind.
Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local’s story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.
A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
A data scientist by day and a cookie baker at … almost all other hours. Meghan has been baking dozens of cookies since she was a little girl helping her mother decorate batches for the holidays. Her mom would shape and bake the cookies, and Meghan would decorate.
As she grew older, Meghan kept evolving her decorating skills when she would bake for friends and family for fun or a special occasion. She would regularly feature her creations on her personal social media, so naturally, after glimpsing her beautiful baked goods, Meghan’s friends encouraged her to showcase her work on a separate account for all to see. She would update the account occasionally, but because she was a full-time high school math teacher, who also was an adjunct at Georgetown, she tended to leave the account untouched.
Then, in November 2018, her all-boys high school was abuzz from the scandals surrounding the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Meghan was overwhelmed and fired up, so she baked, of course. She felt she was missing a creative outlet because she taught math, so she challenged herself to decorate and post one Christmas cookie design per day for 30 days in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The orders started pouring in halfway through the challenge. Shop Made in DC, which features many products from local makers, asked Meghan to participate in a pop-up for Valentine’s Day. As a native of the area — specifically Silver Spring — she was thrilled to take the opportunity, and ever since, her cookie decorating career has soared.
Meghan now teaches classes regularly at different maker spaces, such as Shop Made in DC, Milk Bar in Logan Circle, Steadfast Supply in Navy Yard and Olive & Loom in Rockville. Meghan says her true passion lies in teaching, so the opportunity to teach the tips and tricks of royal icing was exciting. She’s part of a supportive and collaborative DC maker community and has had many high profile customers for her cookie orders, ranging from personalized cookies for her friend’s wedding to rainbow-themed treats for the annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. Her hobby has slightly turned into a side hustle, though she knows how to set limits so she doesn’t take too many orders, and she’s not ready yet to turn it into a full-time business. Cookies, for Meghan, are still a treat she loves to make for others to give them something pretty and make them smile.
The story behind her recipes.
Pictured above are my attempts at decorating sugar cookies in a similar manner to the way Meghan artfully decorates her’s. I wouldn’t say mine are in the same league as Meghan’s cookies; however, she did say it takes years of practice to get them looking perfect. Since she’s been decorating since she was 5 years old, I think I did pretty damn good for my first time decorating something other than piping icing on a cupcake or slapping buttons on a gingerbread man. I was unable to find a shamrock cookie cutter under the circumstances (i.e. Giant did not have them and Walmart and Target would only deliver in about 5 days), so I managed to cut out a stencil in wax paper, then use a paring knife to cut out the shape in the rolled out dough. While the green is about as vibrant as a McDonald’s shamrock shake, I still think they look festive enough considering no events on the holiday will happen in nearly any city!
Regardless of my attempts, Meghan was kind enough to gift me examples of her own and they were not only beautiful (before I broke them to bits), but they were the perfect mix of sickly sweet icing with a chewy sugar cookie that had a dash of salt. These puppies are delicious, and the dough is quite easy to make. The icing can be more tricky, as Meghan warns, mostly because the consistency needs to be spot on, but otherwise, these two recipes are the ideal crowd-pleaser.
The sugar cookie recipe is modeled after Meghan’s mom’s recipe that she utilized for many Christmases. Meghan says this recipe is almost identical, but she did play with the quantities a bit so they’d be easy to memorize — one stick of butter, two cups of flour, etc. She can easily double the recipe without looking it up, and the dough comes out as soft and buttery as ever. This recipe, while it can stand on its own, is ideal for decorating because the rolled out dough does not rise when baking so there’s always a flat surface for the icing to set on. The cookies end up tough on the edges but chewy in the middle — the perfect sugar cookie if you ask me.
Now for the tricky royal icing. Meghan says her recipe is similar to many found online, though some people add corn syrup to make the icing finish shinier. Her’s is only three ingredients, so it seems very easy, but getting the consistency just right is key, which can be hard for a first-timer. If your icing is too thick or too runny, don’t risk plowing through, Meghan says. Either add a bit more water or sugar, or dump the batch and make a new one. It’s always easier to add more water to lighten up the icing than it is to thicken it with sugar, so be cautious with the water, she warns.
The purple icing I made ended up being a bit too runny, so I added more sugar and used it very sparingly since I did not have enough powdered sugar to make a new batch. Meghan says you must have patience with yourself, however, because even she still gets the consistency wrong sometimes. Once, she made a large batch before a class but the icing split, so her husband went and bought the supplies for her to make a whole new batch just before the class. Meghan encourages new bakers to get creative with your decorating with food coloring, piping bags, toothpicks to create designs, edible metallics and all the sprinkles you can get your hands on.
I settled on edible metallic spray, edible pens, food coloring, toothpicks and piping bags to make my designs, and I bought most of these plus meringue powder for pickup at a Walmart, all linked, so feel free to do the same! I already had cute cookie cutters gifted to me by my mom, but several sites have a lovely selection of cookie cutters available for delivery.