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Oct 23, 2014 9:32am

Julia Usher baking in her home kitchen
Blog Recipes and Tips From Julia Usher

Needlepoint Easter Basket Cookies

The delicate needlepoint effect on these baskets is straightforward once you know how, but because the spaces in the grids are so small (approximately 1/16 to 1/8 inch square), you really can’t rush the piping of them. I’ve shortcut the project a bit by using readymade bunnies, roses, and chicks to fill the baskets. But if you’re procrastinating on your spring cleaning or just need some therapeutic cookie decorating time, you can extend the pleasure of this project by piping everything by hand.

What you’ll need for a few baskets:

  • A few (3 3/4- to 4-inch) basket cookies, basket bottoms topcoated with Royal Icing (I got this exact cutter from coppergifts.com)
  • About 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups thick Royal Icing, for the needlepoint grids, beadwork, and leaves (allow at least 1/4 cup per color)
  • Soft-gel (aka liqua-gel) food coloring in spring-y colors
  • Parchment paper pastry cones (or substitute disposable plastic piping bags)
  • Scissors
  • Extra powdered sugar, as needed to thicken icing
  • Assorted small (about 1/2- to 1-inch) readymade royal icing do-dads in the Easter theme (think: bunnies and chicks like these, and roses for additional filler)
  • Pastry bag fitted with a small (#352) leaf tip

To make:

1 | Air-dry the topcoated cookie baskets. After you’ve smoothly topcoated the basket bottoms with Royal Icing in a color of your choice, let them air-dry, uncovered at room temperature, until the icing has dried to the touch. Usually this takes a couple of hours, sometimes longer if it’s particularly humid. Since the piping of the grids in the next step requires just a
delicate touch, you can shortcut the drying time a bit if you’re in a rush.

2 | Pipe the needlepoint grids onto the basket bottoms. Fill a parchment pastry cone (or disposable plastic piping bag) about half to two-thirds full with icing thinned to outlining consistency. (To thin: add about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon water to each cup of thick Royal Icing, or scale proportionally.) Roll down the bag to create a grip on top, and cut a barely perceptible hole in the tip to create a very delicate grid similar to that pictured to the right (second and third photos from top).

Work on one basket at a time. Start by piping an outline around the whole basket bottom, including its foot; then pipe parallel lines (about 1/16 to 1/8 inch apart) across the width of the basket. (Note: Because the icing is relatively thick at outlining consistency, you’ll need to pipe relatively slowly; otherwise, the icing may break mid-line. Generally, the thicker the icing, the slower you must pipe to prevent line breakage. And conversely, the looser, the faster you must pipe to prevent the icing from pooling into big fat blobs - yick!)

Next, pipe a series of lines perpendicular to the first set to complete the grid. I also piped 2 thin lines, parallel to one another, to form the outline of the handle. Repeat this step on any remaining cookies.

3 | Pipe icing dots into the basket grids. Tint about 3 (1/4-cup) portions of icing with pastel colors that contrast the white grids; then thin to the consistency for beadwork. Place each portion in a separate parchment pastry cone, and cut a tiny hole in each tip. Be sure to test the icing flow on your work surface before piping into the grids. If the holes in your cones are too big, or your icing is too loose, the icing can quickly overflow the grid boundaries. The goal is to fill the squares in the grids fully, but just beneath the point of overflow! If your icing is tough to control, thicken it by stirring in sifted powdered sugar, and/or transfer it to another cone and try snipping a smaller hole in the tip.

Proceed to pipe dots of icing into the squares in each grid, filling them to create whatever pattern you’d like. (I usually leave some squares unfilled to reveal the contrasting color underneath, which not only looks good, but also saves on piping time.) Lastly, pipe a series of dots between the lines of the handles to create a textured effect - and borders along the basket edges if you like.

4 | Fill the baskets with leaves and other springtime decorations. Tint the remaining 1/2 cup (or so) of Royal Icing to a moss green color. If you’ve added a lot of food coloring to achieve a deep color, you may need to thicken the icing with additional powdered sugar. (In this step, the icing must remain very thick in order to hold its shape when piped through the pastry bag.) Fit the pastry bag with the #352 leaf tip, and fill the bag with the icing. Hold the tip such that the notch stands perpendicular to the cookie surface and proceed to pipe leaves in and around the top edge of each basket. While the icing is still wet, place readymade bunnies, chicks, flowers, and/or other sugar decorations on top, using the icing to glue them in place. (You can also decorate the basket handles with flowers and leaves, as I have in the second to last photo.)

Note: If you choose to make these decorations rather than buy them, be sure to mix extra icing and to start the figures the day before you plan to decorate the baskets. Pipe the figures onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets and let them dry all the way through, ideally overnight. Once dry, the figures should readily pop off the parchment paper. If they don’t, dry them longer or gently slide a thin-bladed paring knife underneath them to loosen.

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