A couple of weeks ago I spotted something on Instagram and fell in love with it instantly. It was in the page of one incredibly talented baker, Mary Mansfield, check her work here. I dropped her a message asking some details about her painting technique, and she was adorable, super helpful. So I took a deep breath and tried it myself. Basically you flood the cookies with white Royal icing, let it set for a day, and then use diluted gel dye to paint them. I tried Everclear and I tried water. Everclear has so much alcohol in it that it dries super fast and gives the icing a matte finish. I had trouble controlling the intensity of the color and their mixing, so I ended up switching to water. But you should figure out what works best for you.
This is your white canvas… I went with small cookies, because the smaller they are, the less likely I would mess them up beyond recognition as butterflies. Or so I thought. Once they are flooded and totally dry, you can gather your weapons of choice and start playing. My favorite of all was this blue baby. Reminds me of some that used to be common in Brazil.
You can use sharp strokes with the brush, or add a little water or alcohol to the surface of the icing and then do a kind of watercolor painting touching the dye on that wet spot and moving it around. Things sometimes get a bit out of control. I told Phil that this painting is similar to driving on icy roads: you slide here, you do a save there, you almost crash, but in the end it’s all good. If not happy with the outcome, follow my advice to quickly eat the evidence. As to the body, add it after the paint is dry, using toothpaste consistency royal icing. Let it dry and if desired, paint it.
So here are my 12 little butterflies, in different tones and styles…
THE RED SERIES
In some cases I painted the bodies because they developed craters, a real nightmare that I’m not that good at avoiding. Additionally, when the paint dried on the wings, I went back on some and added a few details with silver or gold luster powder.
THE BLUE SERIES
And the final four, which in fact were the ones I made first, so I was struggling a bit. Particularly with the one of the top left, there were “issues.” I went through a few “Oh, NO, what have I done?”, but decided to keep it. It also developed a huge crater, the poor baby. One abused butterfly.
You might think this is too time-consuming, but in fact the dye dries so fast that you cannot spend too much time fiddling with it. Decide what you want to do, pick a set of two, three colors at most to work on a single cookie, and hope for the best.
Butterflies are one of my favorite subjects to “cookie.” I have a few more examples to share in the near future, using different techniques. So hopefully I’ll see you back here soon!
These are happy, Summer butterflies that are so delightful.
As usual, I have questions 😂.
So the center of the butterfly, the body, how and when did you do that? I don’t see it on your dried cookies with Royal icing?
Awhile back you mentioned another alternative to Royal icing that was not as sweet. Would it work with this technique? I really don’t like super sweet things but so want to make beautiful butterflies.
Oh guess I also need butterfly cookie cutter/s…. What is a baking project without some new equipment, lol! Any fav places for those?
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Hi, Anne… I edited the post, good catch on my complete lack of info about the body of the butterfly. Unfortunately for this technique, you need good old Royal icing because it needs to stand to the painting and the water or alcohol you brush on it. Lately I tried a slightly different recipe for Royal icing and love it – it uses fresh lemon juice. Game changer. You can make half the amount, works great too.
it has a brightness and freshness hard to beat – I don’t use it over chocolate cookies – in these, the sharpness of the cocoa (plus I added some mint) goes ok with the icing.
As to the cutters Ann Clark is always very well made and they are available on amazon. But lately I’ve been searching on etsy, they have more unusual and unique cutters, usually printed on plastic – I don’t mind that, they wash well and never rust.