Monday, 3 April 2017

{RECIPE} Iced Easter Eggs + Bunny Bone Dog Treats

Although I make a lot (a lot!) of treats, iced doggy treats are a special rarity around here. I prefer to bake and freeze treats for readily available variety and keep things pocket portable.  Sometime though, you just need to have a little fun! Special occasions are a perfect opportunity. Sugar-based human royal icing is not suitable for dogs and since hard-set dog treat icing is something many folks are keen to master, I thought I would share one of my icing experiments and a few tips here on the blog.

I've not yet tried any of the pre-fab dog treat icing mixes (not commonly available in our part of the world), but if you have, I'd love to hear about it. Melt-and-set toppings like yogurt or carob not withstanding, the easiest homemade hard-set dog treat icing I've used to date is a simple combination of arrowroot flour and water (check out our naturally hot pink glazed dog treats for an example). You can combine water/flour into whatever consistency you'd like to work with, but the less water you use the better it sets without cracking/crazing - not surprising given its just starch and water, but not ideal for use beyond basic decorating. It's sugar free, but arrowroot flour is high GI, so this sort of icing is still best reserved for extra special treats.

Cracking isn't much fun after all that work to make and decorate a special treat, and plain starch and water is very prone to cracking as there is nothing to bind with flexibility, unlike our sugary human royal icings (sugars are also included in many commercial dog icing products).

To create a stable biscuit base for hard icing, the drier the treat the better.  I find that icing works best when treats are fully baked and then dried further (e.g. leave them in the oven after baking or pop them in a dehydrator). Removing moisture creates a lovely crunchy treat, but also helps avoid issues with cracking and crazing that might otherwise occur as the treat continues to dry-out underneath the hardset icing. As the treat dries, the surface shifts and contracts, which pulls on the hardened icing above it, creating cracks. Make sure that your treats are fully cooled and at room temperature before icing, as temperature shifts while the icing is setting can also cause movement and introduce cracking.

To add flexibility, enhance shine, and/or allow a more fluid mix, I find that adding something like a little bit of melted peanut butter, blackstrap molasses, or similar to the mix very helpful. These are add-ins that don't fully evaporate out of the arrowroot and water mixture, leaving some flex in the icing to reduce cracking. They also enhance smell/taste of what is otherwise a very bland just-for-looks topping.  They are also pantry-safe ingredients for room temperature so are my favourite options, but they do have natural colour, which is a negative if you want to create white or pure/bright tinted tints. The pictured Easter treats use low-fat spreadable cream cheese instead with great results.

To support a stable cure and hardening of your icing, start with room temperature treats in stable working conditions, as temperature changes while the icing is setting can cause shifting and cracking. The iced treats will need to be allowed to air dry (preferable undisturbed) until the icing has fully set, and dried. Note: If your treats are very dense (as gluten free treats often are) and/or thick, air may only get to the outside surfaces of your icing during drying, which can also cause cracking as the inner layer continues to dry out slowly beneath the hardened surface. Keeping the icing layer thin and/our sparingly applying thick icing details (air contact on the top and sides), can help, as can having a flexible add-in as noted above.

Here's the scoop on how the Iced Easter Eggs and Bunny Bones pictured in this post were made, with tips and references back to the notes above on working with hard-set dog icing:

Make and bake your treats according to your chosen recipe. For Easter eggs and bunny bones, you'll need an egg shaped cookie cutter and a bone shaped cookie cutter. Since these are Easter treats, I made a carob dough for the demo, but any roll-and-cut treat that your dog enjoys will do. Ensure your treats are fully cooled and at room temperature before applying your icing.  Tip: As noted above, I find that icing works best when treats are fully baked and then dried further (e.g. leave them in the oven after baking or pop them in a dehydrator).  This creates a lovely crunchy treat, but also helps avoid issues with the icing crazing that might otherwise occur as the treat continued to dry-out underneath the set icing. 

Prepare your icing by mixing a small amount of your optional add-in(s) such as peanut butter, molasses, or spreadable cream cheese (used here) with arrowroot flour (alternatively, you can use tapioca flour, cornstarch, or similar). Tip: As noted above, using add-ins can help to add flexibility to your mixture and reduce the risk of cracking.  They also add scent and flavour to what would otherwise be bland prettiness for us crazy humans - yum is all the dogs care about, not looks!  Volumes are easily adjusted for small batches or large.  Ratios depend on your personal preferences, but keep it heavy on the flour it ensure that you don't add too much softness to the final mix.  Incrementally add water to the mixture until it reaches the desired consistency for icing your treats. You can adjust with additional arrowroot flour and/or water if as may be needed. Tip: Colour (artificial or natural) can be added before or after, depending on your preference and type of colouring used.  As the mixture will start to dry quickly, it's helpful work in small volumes and/or keep any unused portions covered during work.

Apply your icing using the same edge and flood technique as your would if using royal icing on a human cookie. It can be a little harder to work with than real royal icing, so simple tips or a squeeze bottle are might be preferable, and start simple with your designs.  Like when working with royal icing, if you'd like to layer colours, you can apply quickly when wet (to melt into the layer) or after the bottom layer has started to firm (to sit proud, as pictured).  Place on a firm, stable, surface and allow to thoroughly set and dry. Time will vary with your mix, thickness, and ambient conditions, but I find it's usually 12-24 hours for my starch mixes. Tip: Don't give in to the temptation to move them early, when firm but still drying. For the prettiest results, allow the icing to fully dry before moving/storage (unless you're popping them straight into the waiting jaws of your taste testers!) to avoid introducing accidental stresses during handling, which can lead to later cracking.

Spoil your dogs (or dog friends) with a special little treat!  Since these do contain a small amount of dairy (if you used cream cheese), they're best enjoyed fresh. Not that that's an issue given how much our dogs liked the smell/taste! As with all iced dog treats, once dried, you can refrigerate or freeze, but may experience some cracking due to expansion/contraction. Again...not that your dogs will care! :)

If you're keen to decorate some Easter treats without icing, stay tuned for next week's post when we'll share an alternative way to create fancy festive Easter egg treats!

Hungry for more tasty treats?  See all of our recipes here. Remember, treats are for spoiling your pup in moderation. Some dogs have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies/intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about your dog's diet and health, have a chat with your vet.

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