Last Week's Gadget
No matter how large your array, holiday baking isn't finished until you make some pretty sugar cookies with festive icing. I always want mine to come out looking something like this, but then I remember it's not nearly as easy to draw with icing tubes or pastry bags as it is with pens and pencils—at least not for me. This mechanical pastry bag ($28 at Williams Sonoma) seemed to be the fix I was looking for.
The kit comes with lots of parts: standard piping bag tips in all the necessary shapes and sizes, attachments to hold both large and small tips, a tube and plunger that function as the main body, and one very special tip for injecting frosting into the center of cupcakes. Seems like a good amount of stuff for $28!
Well, that's about where the good news ends. The flimsy tube is outfitted with a thick acetate inner layer which seems to fulfill no other purpose than trapping icing and making it impossible to clean. The plunger is hollow, trapping more icing than it pushes through the tip, and feels far too delicate for its own good. Though there's good intent in putting measurements along the tube's side, they're impossible to read with icing smeared all around the window pane, and not enough icing fits to decorate a small batch of cookies with simple squiggles.
The most frustrating part? It's actually harder to control the "mechanical" pastry bag than a regular one! Since ample pressure is required to move icing through with the plunger, it's nearly impossible to get straight, clean lines with the simpler dot tips. And because it's harder to move your hand rhythmically when operating said plunger, star tips tend to yield messy and unattractive flyaway bits. The result is most certainly no improvement upon a normal pastry bag, and pre-packaged icing "pens" cost a tiny fraction without requiring any skill set, either. (They're not as tasty as homemade, to be sure, but they do make cookies look nice!)
Nevermind about there not being any more good news—that wouldn't quite fit with the holiday spirit. If you decide to chuck the whole gadget, know that the tips do fit onto regular piping bags (which you'd have a far easier time learning how to use, anyway). And Williams Sonoma makes some fine stencils for sprinkles or decorative sugar that look awfully nice over vanilla buttercream. If all else fails, even the ugliest holiday cookies emulate festivity. And if you don't gift them, all the more treats to make your holiday sweet!
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.