Birds of East Africa Cookies

Watercolor Cookies

The Play
Birds of East Africa

World Premiere
Marion, an accomplished ornithologist, finds herself without a place that feels like home. Not knowing where to land, she arrives on the doorstep of her college friend Stephen and his husband Nick. Three mid-40’s friends discover they are standing at a crossroads, and that what once seemed permanent and secure in their lives is now fragile and vulnerable. In a series of tightly wrought scenes moving back and forth in time, with actor/dancers transforming into the birds so central to Marion’s life, Wendy Dann’s new play explores how we heal, find hope and move on.

Cookies for Opening Night

One of the actresses in the play, Lena Kaminsky got in touch with me early this week to see if I was available to make cookies for opening night for Birds of East Africa. Of course!! I last baked cookies for opening night when Lena was in Swimming in the Shallows, designing some fun themed cookies to work well with the play.

With opening night just 3 days out, we didn’t have time to order cookie cutters and as luck would have it (because who really wants to desire a cookie cutter they can’t have), there weren’t many great bird options out there that fit our goal.

watercolor cookiesI looked at the play bill (the link above with the bird and the title) and an idea popped into my head right away! What if we did a water color type look for the cookies that would complement the art from the show? That would be GREAT! We chose little bird cutters, hearts and a puzzle piece because of the way the bottom of the bird kind of fanned out to look just a bit like puzzle pieces. I also planned to hand cut a few larger horn billed birds to set in the center of the platter for impact. I sent Lena a picture of the cutters against my hand so she could see that the hearts and birds were pretty small!

And the Idea Evolved

No good idea, or piece of writing ends with the first iteration. A bit later in the day, Lena emailed and said she wasn’t so sure about the puzzle piece plan. It just didn’t seem to fit. I had been thinking as well and also thought it was a stretch. The purpose of them was to have some larger cookies – the hearts and birds were truly bite sized! She suggested books or feathers. Aah feathers!! YES I like that idea. We shall go with feathers.

How to Decorate these Birds of East Africa Cookies

illustration-hornbill-vocabulary-part-body-vector-73217115This type of project is where I get to use my background in art! So excited to pull this all together, I found a great clip art image of a bird, enlarged him to 200% of his size and printed him out without his branch. I then used him as a template for the cookies. At this point in the design process, I wasn’t sure what direction I would go in with this bird. Would he be his real colors? Would he match the other watercolor look and feel? I would have to see how it all came together. In the back of my head I thought, “what about doing a watercolor cookie style?” I’d start with a blank white canvas and work from the playbill.

Base Coat your Cookies

We decided on gluten-free for the cookies. I baked a batch of gluten free sugar cookies, and then rolled them out and cut all the shapes. I cut out 5 of the bigger birds. These cookies were large enough that I only wanted them as accents for the few people with courage enough to eat a large cookie at opening night!

After they cooled, I piped a base of royal icing over all the cookies and allowed them to dry. A perfect canvas for the watercolor cookie that would come next.

Watercolor with Thinned Royal Icing!

Now it is time to bring the cookies to LIFE! I mixed up red, purple and yellow and got out brushes for the job. With our family ipad pro next to my work area, I took care to set it never go to sleep so the playbill image would stay up on the screen. Using my eye for color to create something that worked well with the inspiration image was a lot of fun! Some cookies were solid colored, some a mix of two colors, and some were intentionally brush stroked while others were smoother.

Specific Tips and Tricks

  • Thin your icing so that it flows very much like water color paints.
  • Use one brush per color.
  • Overlay the 2nd color immediately if you want some blending, but wait for it to dry slightly if you want the true overlay look.
  • For the feathers, paint a solid color of royal icing on each feather. Allow to dry just slightly (the first feather is ready for step two when the last of its color is done. I did 8-9 of each feather color). Take a toothpick or similar tool and make the center line and then little lines out from each side so that it looks like a feather. I used three different tools so each feather had a different personality.


I wasn’t 100% sure how to bring my little birds to life until they were arranged on the platter. Eyes!! Yes they should have some eyes. I planned on using black eyes made with an edible marker. My husband popped in to see if I had any scraps and I shared my plan. He wrinkled up his nose. “No, I wouldn’t introduce black,” he said. Hmmm … yes let’s use the colors from the palate. I’d use purple, red and I’d introduce brown since it was in the original image. But what about the big birds? Red candies with a white outline. Perfect!!

Want some Cookies?

If you are local to Ithaca or Trumansburg area, buy some tickets and head on over to opening night! They kick off this show on February 3rd with these bird cookies and probably some other things to enjoy!!


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