Step 1: Make Cookie Presentation Background
To start, first lay out the 50" x 25" butcher paper sheet that will serve as the background. Use a ruler and pencil to lightly mark a 2.5" grid across the whole sheet. You're going to erase the guide lines later, so don't use a pen or draw too darkly. Sanity check to be sure you haven't mis-measured and that the grid is at least 18 squares across to be sure that your table will fit.
Once the grid is ready, using a pencil lightly outline the shape of the periodic table and each of the groups to make sure it will be correctly positioned. Once you've verified the layout, color in the groups with different colors of marker and outline the table grid with heavy black lines. After the final colors are in place, erase the pencil lines to create a finished look.
Select a separate color of paper for each periodic table group and and cut it into 2"x2" squares. The square will sit on top of the marker color so pick something that contrasts a little. Letter and number the paper squares to match the elements on the table, and after each tile is lettered glue it in position. The nice thing about doing the lettering on separate tiles is that if you mess up the lettering alignment you can do it over easily.
Once the colors and tiles are all complete, coat the whole table in contact paper to create a surface that will stand up to buttery cookies without getting stained with grease and chocolate. At first I wasn't sure that contact paper would be robust enough, but upon actually completing the project I found that contact paper (I bought paper labeled as "book covering" at an office supply store) is perfect. After it's been covered the whole table can stand up not only to holding cookies, but to being washed vigourously with a sponge with no ill effects.
The one catch is that contact paper strong and water resistant, but it isn't particularly sticky, meaning that it will tend to peel off at the edges. This is great when you're trying to align big sheets of contact paper over the table without getting wrinkles in it, but a real problem when you're trying to wash it. To deal with this, once the contact paper was in place square up the edges of the table and coat the edge with scotch tape folded onto both sides of the table. This creates a nice edge and prevents the contact paper from coming unstuck.
Step 2: Mix the Dough, Store and Chill
Sugar Cookie Recipe:
1 cup butter
1.5 cups confectioners sugar
2.5 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
Pinch of salt
- Cream salt, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and almond together
- Add egg and mix
- Sift in baking soda, cream de tartar, and flour, mix
Step 3: Roll the Dough Flat
Using a metal spoon dig chunks out of the storage container and work them in your palms a bit until they warm up enough to feel like clay. Take clay-like chunk and work it into a pancake shape. Make several handful-sized balls into pancakes and stack them, then squish the whole stack together by pushing down on it. This process is both warming the dough and making it homogeneous, attempting to work out any air bubbles between chunks.
Pull combined dough into a sphere, compressing it into the center as you work with it. Once you have a nice ball, begin flattening it with your hands. Alternate squishing downwards and pinching the edges in to prevent cracks at the circumference. Flip the dough and add more flour to the work surface as often as you need to to prevent sticking. Gradually work the dough into a rectangle shape by pushing and pulling it as you squish. Flattening with your hands this way instead of using a roller provides more control over the shape the dough forms.
Once the hand-flattened rectangle is about .75 inches thick, move it onto baking parchment and get your rolling pin. Flatten to a height of .5 inches with the roller, attempting to maintain the rectangular shape as much as possible as you do so. Once baked the dough will be cut into 2" tiles, so the final unbaked dough rectangle should measure an odd number of inches to allow .5" of clearance around the edges during the cutting process. Measure and cut off the excess dough to make an odd-number-of-inches by odd-number-of-inches rectangle and throw the scraps back into the dough pool.
Use the parchment paper to pull the dough gently onto a lip-less cookie sheet without deforming it. Because the dough is being baked in big sheets, the parchment paper is vital for being able to get it on an off the cookie sheet without cracking or bending the product.
Step 4: Bake the Dough, Let It Cool
Once the dough is out of the oven, carefully use the parchment to slide the dough off onto a clear flat space where it can rest and cool while you start your next sheet of dough baking.
Step 5: Prepare the Toppings
(38) Transition metals: white chocolate, peach
(28) Rare earth metals: bourbon spice, green
(15) Halogens: vanilla, blue
(10) Poor metals: chocolate, brown
(6) Alkalai metals: almond, orange
(6) Alkalai earth metals: lemon, yellow
(6) Noble gasses: maple, red
Both the icing and melted chocolate will become hard in a few hours, so don't prepare them until your cookie rectangles are cooled and ready to use. Work with flavors one at a time rather than attempting to prepare multiple toppings in advance.
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
About 3 tbs of cream
Flavoring of choice
Icing is really just powdered sugar wet with a tiny bit of liquid until it forms a paste. To make just sift powdered sugar into a bowl (some powdered sugar brands come quite lumpy and you definitely want a smooth icing), add flavorings, then add cream by the tablespoon full until you get a nice gooey mixture. Be cautious with the addition of cream or it will take a long time to harden up. The finished icing should hold peaks but slowly ooze towards flatness.
If you are using melted chocolate melt chocolate chips in a double boiler, then just apply like icing. One of the most difficult parts of this project was attempting to stack and store all the cookies without damaging the finish, so the time it took the toppings to dry was a huge unexpected problem. Chocolate dries up fastest and hardest, so is by far the easiest to work with. If I was doing it again, I might try using white chocolate as a base for more of the flavors.
Step 6: Apply Toppings to the Cookie Rectangles
If you have problems leaving delicate projects out without them being disturbed by cats or other household pests, then carefully use the parchment paper (still under the cookie rectangle) to slide the iced cookie onto a hard flat surface such as a cutting board and refrigerate until the topping is set. Keep the cookie as supported and flat as possible while moving so that it doesn't bend or crack.
Step 7: Cut Cookies to Size
If you store the cookie tiles at this point, be sure to insert layers of wax paper between the cookies! If the icing is at all tacky the cookies will stick together and ruin the shiny finished look of the topping.
Step 8: Finish the Cookie Edges
At the end of the project I found the chocolate edges to be a mixed blessing, but all things considered I think I'd do it again. On the one hand they add chocolate to the otherwise plain cookie (yum!) and create a nice visual grid for the look of the table. On the other hand, as the chocolate warms the cookies can be really messy to handle. No kidding. *Really* messy. However if you're keeping the cookies in the fridge and taking them out to eat, the chocolate is pure win.
My first plan for coating the edges was to make a pot of melted chocolate and dip them. However I found that even when melted and kept over warm water the chocolate was too gloppy to make the results of dipping look neat. The better solution I came up with was to use a knife to spread molten chocolate across the edges in the manner of peanut butter.
To give the chocolate edging time to harden first do one edge of all the cookies, then the opposite edge, etc. Elevate each newly coated edge while it dries to prevent sticking and smudging. If you finish one set of edges and no cookies are ready for their next edge, you can pop the cookies into the freezer for 5 minutes to harden up the chocolate quickly.
Be prepared to make an awesomely huge chocolate mess. At the end of this step my apron and all my dish towels were practically rigid with chocolate, and there was a coating of sugar across the table, all the chairs, and one of the cats.
Step 9: Letter the Cookie Tiles
Work your way across the table, moving each row of cookies off of their space in turn so that you can see both the cookie and the underlying guide. Pipe chocolate into the appropriate letters on each cookie and then return it to position.