The History of Cookie Decorating

The History of Cookie Decorating

We can thank the Swiss for bringing the cookie decorating tradition to life. Their now famous springerle cookies were the very first decorated cookies. These sweet, but hard, cookies are pressed into molds and pop out featuring the most intricately designed cookies you have ever seen. The first molds were discovered from the 14th century and are now considered national treasures and held in Swiss museums.

The Swiss also used rolling pins cleverly carved with designs to roll out highly ornate cookies. The images on these cookies rival the finest artwork of the master painters and sculptors. Decorators soon realized that they could combine egg yolks and food dyes to paint these cookies. Some even paint the cookies for decoration only with paint. Of course, you can’t eat these beauties, but they will last and last and become a favorite holiday decoration.

The first scenes on cookies were from the Bible. Because people were largely illiterate in ancient times, these cookies served as a way to tell important Bible messages to everyone. Even if you couldn’t read the words, you could look at these beautiful images and understand the concepts they portrayed.

The Germans were next to promote cookie decorating. Back in medieval times, they made gingerbread, called Lebkuchen. The cookies were so revered that a guild of artisans called the Lebkuchen Guild banned together to make a law that only their members could bake gingerbread. The ban was lifted each year for the high holidays of Christmas and Easter. The common people, if they could afford the ingredients, were allowed to make their own gingerbread at these two times of the year.

Gingerbread cookie decorating spread throughout the world and during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I gingerbread cookies adorned with gold were given to court visitors. Master gingerbread decorators started to promote their gorgeous creations as Christmas ornaments.

In 1812, the Grimm Brothers published their now famous story, Hansel and Gretel. This classic tale of two children who encounter a witch who lives in an ornately decorated gingerbread house in the forest inspired a new love of the gingerbread cookie. Soon tinsmiths couldn’t keep up with the demand for cookie cutters and molds designed to help bakers create elaborate gingerbread houses of their own. German cookie cutters are still prized today as among the best made and highly sought after by collectors.

Today cookie bakers can’t imagine the holidays without decorated cookies. The popularity of Royal Icing has made home cookie decorating fun. It’s easy to create interesting and realistic motifs on cookies using Royal Icing. This confectioner sugar-based icing dries rock hard, so once its set, it won’t smear or run. This makes it ideal for decorating cookies that need to last through the season on the tree or that need to travel. You can eat Royal Icing, of course, but most cookies that are heavily decorated in Royal Icing tend to be treasured as ornaments rather than eaten.

If you’re looking into cookie decorating this year for your own holiday celebrations, you have more resources than you could ever imagine at your disposal. Visit a craft store and browse their cookie and cake decorating aisle. You will marvel at the tools and colors available for you to get started with.

Betty Ann Sherman is a mother and a baker of tasty treats. She has a special passion for baking cookies, pies, cakes, and everything wonderful. Check back for updates from Betty on her delicious treat adventures.

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