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So…A project, you say? Imagine my finger tips drumming wildly against each other as I get a mad look in my eye imagining the possibilities!!! That’s not actually how it went down. I will admit, I didn’t start out so excited about this one. It was a Monday night and I was kind of tired. But like most projects, I usually get more excited as I go. Let’s start at the beginning!
A solar system project!
Weston needed a solar system project. Not many specific requirements except the planet’s size had to be accurate in relation to each other, in the correct positions and they had to be labeled. He’s a fourth grader this year. Since Madeline and Maizy have both been through fourth grade, this was our third solar system project. The girls knew pretty much what they wanted to do right away. Madeline made a hat with styrofoam planets hanging off dowel rods and string. Then she wore a yellow t-shirt as if she were the sun. Maizy made a t-shirt with all the planets. They were made of felt, with an asteroid belt made of…kitty litter. EEEEKK!! My girls are creative!
Weston had been talking with me about his project, but for a kid that is mostly into sports, the right idea just hadn’t hit yet. It was due on Wednesday, he had baseball practice on Tuesday so Monday night was it! We had to come up with something! We talked about a necklace of planets. He had already colored a solar system on a hard boiled egg when we decorated eggs for Easter but he decided that wasn’t quite right. Then, he came up with the idea of making planets out of cookies. Boy after my own heart! And, I just happened to have a package of sugar cookie mix!!
I don’t normally use a mix for cookies. If you know me at all, you know I am fairly frugal (AKA cheap) and I think it’s much less expensive to make cookie dough from scratch. Plus, I tend to use food as my love language so I like to make stuff from scratch. Not everything. There’s definitely a time and a place for boxed mixes, for sure! (Like tonight!)
I had bought the mix for sugar cookies thinking I might make some sort of awesomely decorated cookies for Madeline’s Mad Hatter party. Tea cups or clocks or hats….but I ran out of time. The package would work great since we were short on time tonight.
Anyone that has made sugar cookies from scratch knows that usually the dough has to be refrigerated before it can be rolled out. Not so with the package. Awesome time saver! We looked around and found an assortment of circles. I really left him in charge of sizes. I’d like to be able to report that I remember the sizes of the planets but that would be a lie. We looked through my cookie cutters (and was reminded that I really need to clean out the basket they are stored in. What a mess!) and also used cups and lids. Anything that looked about the right size.
I always use parchment paper to roll my dough. This is not a secret and probably not the first time you’ve heard of doing it. But, if you’re like me, you didn’t do this for a long time. Why?!! I don’t know. Laziness? Just didn’t have parchment paper? Stop procrastinating and use it!! It really helps! You just roll the dough right on the parchment, use the cutters, take off the excess and put the paper and dough on a cookie sheet. You don’t have to worry about the dough ripping or smooshing the shapes as you try to transfer it with a spatula. It. Works. So. Well.
As they cooled, we made frosting. I basically use one buttercream recipe. It tastes good and if you are going to do any piping, it holds its shape well. Plus, I have it memorized so it’s fast and easy.
Jill’s Buttercream Recipe
1/2 cup butter- room temperature
1/2 cup solid shortening (Crisco)
1t flavoring (I like vanilla or maple. And, sometimes lemon.)
4 cups of confectioners sugar
1-2 T warm water
Cream butter and shortening until well mixed. Slowly add confectioners sugar, and mix thoroughly. Now it’s time to add flavor. Then, add warm water a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Beat 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
This frosting is super easy to make! If I am going to do a lot of piping, I will use this exact recipe. If I’m just frosting with a knife, I’ll use more butter and less shortening. Butter tastes better than shortening! But, I think the shortening helps the piping and details hold up better.
Many recipes I’ve seen like this use milk instead of water. But, I don’t always want to have to refrigerate what I am frosting. I think water works fine!
Most of the time I make a double recipe. It never hurts to have extra frosting, right?! Sometimes the recipe takes more than you think it will. Or, maybe people walk by and want to have a little taste test. If you do have extra’s, the kids love to frost stuff, especially if the frosting is already colored and in the piping bags! You can also store the extra in the fridge for an I-need-frosting-right-now-
A few weeks ago I was making frosting for something and I was on the phone with Laura. I basically was talking about having certain staples in your pantry. (I actually wrote a blog on a well stocked pantry. Read it here.) In this case I was referring to butter (okay, in your fridge) and confectioners sugar. She seemed to think I was crazy. Me….crazy? I don’t think so. She thought most people didn’t keep this stuff around. So, she put the question out there to Facebook. The best way to unscientifically solve any question in 2017. I’ll give you 3 guesses who ended up being right. Me!! It was me!! Me! Ha!
Okay. Back to the project!!
Let’s color that frosting!!
Weston figured out which colors he needed. I had him make a list. List making! Super important!! Keeps you organized!! I believe it was 10 different colors. So, we divided the frosting up in small bowls to add color. I normally use the color you get at Hobby Lobby made specifically for frosting. It is a gel so it doesn’t thin out the frosting too much. But, this was kind of an impromptu thing, so I had to use some liquid dyes. The kind you use for dying Easter eggs. (Since Easter was just the week before, I considered myself lucky that I had these!) They worked fine. We weren’t too worried about the frosting being perfect.
He started by frosting the cookies with a cake frosting knife. I had to let go of the control a little so he could do it himself. It wasn’t perfectly frosted but I was proud of him! Practice makes perfect! It was a bit of a challenge, too, since some of the planets were very small. Once all the planets had a base coat of frosting he picked out four colors that he wanted to put into piping bags for details. He made Saturn’s rings, a storm on Jupiter and solar flares.
An Awesome Asteroid Belt For a Solar System Cookie Project!
I didn’t have a black platter big enough so I used a white one and covered it with black tissue. If it were up to me, I would’ve done a big, looong piece of cardboard for the cookies to be displayed on (I thought they looked coolest like that) but he nixed that idea. Too much effort getting them into class? Too embarrassing? Was I overdoing it? He thought so. In the end, we went with the platter. He even broke apart an Andes Mint to make an asteroid belt. For some reason, kids are super obsessed with the asteroid belt.