Sugar cookie troubles

The past two weeks have been very busy for me. I was on a sugar cookie marathon. As a matter of fact, I’ll be on a sugar cookie marathon for the entire month of August. As of this writing, I have already made decorated 353 sugar cookies (all hand-piped by yours truly in a span of two weeks). I still have 260 more to go before the month ends.

Flamingo themed cookies for Fatima's first birthday. Photo courtesy of Carissa Teves.
Flamingo themed cookies for Fatima’s first birthday. Photo courtesy of Carissa Teves.

cookie souvenirs
Colorful teeth sugar cookies for Dy Dael Dental Clinic’s 4th anniversary
As I’ve discussed in my previous post, the weather plays a really big part in your sugar cookie success. When I started making the first batch of cookies this month (100 pieces) for a wedding last August 8, it was sunny during the first few days of the week, then it started raining sometime in the middle of that week. The outcome was good, because I started drying them out when the sun was still out. That batch didn’t give me a lot of problems.

Now the problem came with the next batch I had to make. It was a mix of designs for little boys. There was no problem in executing the designs since I made them quite often. The problem came with the fact that I couldn’t bake them very early because they were to be shipped to Manila and then brought to London on August 14. They were to be consumed over the course of my client’s stay in the UK. Since the shelf life is 3 weeks including the time I needed to make them, I couldn’t start making them a week before August 10, the day I was scheduled to send them to Manila.

I decided to start baking the cookies on Friday, August 7, so that I could start decorating them on August 8. I was to dry them out for the entire day on August 9, then I would pack them up on the morning of August 10 just before I would ship them. The biggest challenge was it started raining on Friday of that week, and Saturday and Sunday were really wet days that left my kitchen drafty.

decorated sugar cookies
Part of the sugar cookie boys set that was bound for London
Despite the weather, I decided not to use fondant on the cookies because I preferred the taste of royal icing on them. I decided to use really thick royal icing with lesser meringue powder than the usual recipe. I placed my cookies inside my oven and turned the lamp on in order for them to dry faster. I left them inside for the entire day. The royal icing did dry well, but my method presented a problem that I wasn’t able to foresee. My kitchen was drafty, and even if my cookies were inside the oven, the moisture in the air softened them.

That wouldn’t have been much of a problem if I didn’t have to ship the cookies. But I had to pack them up, and they became very fragile. Despite the ridiculous amounts of bubble wrap and plastic wrap that I used to secure them from moving around too much and from bumping each other, some of them got crushed. In fact, it seems as if the bubble wrap did them more harm than good. They were brought to the UK inside boxes without an bubble wrap, and they survived that trip without any more cookies getting crushed.

This batch of cookies provided me with a valuable lesson, which I didn’t learn from the first few cookie shipments that I did in the past. Two Christmases ago I sent a box of 100 cookies to Manila and packed them the same way (but with lesser bubble wrap) I packed my cookies this month. They all arrived intact. I recall that the weather wasn’t as bad then as on the days when I made the most recent batch. Two Valentines days ago, I also sent out cookies in small boxes. I simply stacked them inside the boxes then wrapped the boxes in bubble wrap before placing the boxes inside plastic containers. They were shipped in pouches. Some I sent to customers in Manila and others in Mindanao. I did not receive any reports of my cookies getting damaged.

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valentines sugar cookies
Cookies I shipped to customers from outside of the Negros Oriental two Valentines Days ago. They were simply stacked inside these boxes then the boxes were bubble wrapped and placed inside plastic containers. (Say hi to my dog Charcoal! She loves my sugar cookies!)
So what did I realize from all this?

(1) Do not leave out your cookies for too long in a drafty kitchen. They will soften. Keep them in airtight containers.

(2) There is such a thing as “too much bubble wrap.” My customer for this batch of cookies was my friend’s aunt, and she gave me honest feedback that the bubble and plastic wrap that I used to secure the cookies from too much movement may have actually crushed some of the cookies.

(3) Accept your mistakes, accept feedback, learn from them, and move on. I subtracted the amount of the crushed cookies from the total bill after profusely apologizing to my customer. She was happy with the designs and felt sorry that some of the cookies I worked so hard on were crushed. At least the kids who received them loved them! Now that made me happy. But it would have been better if they got all of those cookies that I made. Another thing that I should have considered was the shape of the cookies that I was making since I was shipping them out. I made dinosaur cookies with really narrow parts, and they were the first ones to break off. Now I know what to do and what not to do the next time I ship out cookies.

customized sugar cookies for boys
The dinosaurs and airplanes were the ones crushed in transit.
If you want to find out how to pack cookies for shipping, check out SweetSugarbelle’s post. I modified her method to suit the Philippine setting. To be honest, Philippine couriers aren’t really as careful as those outside the country. As a matter of fact, while I was sending this batch of cookies, I saw the toddler of one of the employees of the courier service sitting on/bouncing on a box labeled “FRAGILE.” Besides, we all have read of complaints against these couriers not handling their packages well. According to the personnel at the courier service I went to, they have no control over what the airport personnel might do to the packages. So really, we do not know who to blame. The only thing we can do is to be extra cautious.

And because of this, I used excess bubble wrap and plastic wrap to keep the cookies from moving around. I cut strips of cardboard, secured the individual packs of cookies on them with some tape, wrapped them with plastic wrap, then bubble wrap. I did not place them flat on the bottom of the box since those at the bottom would get crushed by the weight of those on top. I placed them sideways. I also did not use smaller boxes to box the cookies in, as suggested by SweetSugarbelle, since this would add to the shipping cost. You know how courier prices could shoot up.

Successfully shipped cookies from two Christmases ago

Recent shipment of cookies with casualties. Fragile cookies (dinosaurs and airplanes) were placed on top in an attempt to prevent them from getting crushed from the weight of other cookies. Cookies with more solid shapes (mostly round cookies) were placed at the bottom of the box.

Poor dinosaur!

Cookies were repacked in these gift boxes and hand carried. They reached London without any more casualties.

I hope you learned something from this experience that I posted, because I sure learned a lot from it!

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