Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Macarons for the holidays

I almost forgot about my sweet macarons.  Between the sports treats and halloween goodies, they slipped off of my radar.

These little cuties are chocolate peppermint  macarons, featuring crushed peppermint candy on the top and chocolate buttercream in the center.  If you are a mint/chocolate fan *Isabelle,cough*, you would find these to be delightful.

I have a new secret method to making my macarons - sifting the almond meal.  Wow, what a difference that makes in terms of fewer bumps on the tops.  Hmmmm, I wonder if I was the only one who didn't know the secret.  Well, it's out of the bag now.

My second baking session is what I call the angel macaron.

This is a vanilla cookie with white food coloring added (to make it look more angelic) and vanilla buttercream tinted a gentle aqua blue.

I added matching blue pearl dragees to the tops.  I really wasn't sure how the dragees would do in the cooking process on such a light and delicate batter, and some of them did in fact sink into the top crust.  Overall, I was pleased with the look - very heavenly!

If you haven't given macarons a try, I would encourage you to give it a whirl (yes TRISH, I am speaking to you!).  The worst thing that can happen is they crack a bit on the top or don't have their "feet", but they will still be delicious and special and just the thing for a holiday gathering or tea party.

I am glad they are back on my radar!

Linking with
Pink Saturday
The Charm of Home
My Romantic Home
Feathered Nest Friday

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tips for baking and decorating sugar cookies

It has been not quite a year since I began my cookie decorating, and I have learned (mostly the hard way...) quite a few little tips that make life much easier and more successful in the realm of cookies.  Because we are on the verge of holiday baking season, I wanted to share what I have found to be helpful.

This is a fairly long post, so pour yourself a cup of something warm and we will have a little chat about making  sugar cookies.


*   There are plenty of  good sugar cookie recipes out there and all I will say is to use a good deal of flavoring in your dough - one teaspoon is never enough.  Real vanilla extract and some almond or lemon extract makes a cookie go from hockey puck to tasty.

*   Don't try to roll out cookie dough until it has been well chilled.   I chill mine for a MINIMUM of 4 hours before rolling it out.   Not only is chilled dough easier to work with, it helps the cookie maintain it's shape.

*  I like to roll out my dough on a large wooden cutting board with an old wooden rolling pin.  Nothing beats it.  To keep the dough from sticking, use as much flour as you need.  If you want, you can use powdered sugar instead of flour.  It  is an excellent way to keep the dough from sticking and adds to the sweetness.

*  NEVER use an insulated baking sheet with sugar cookies because they won't firm up well.  Regular old baking sheets work great.

*  I try to bake roughly the same size and shape cookie on each  baking sheet.  If you put a large round cookie on the same sheet as, for instance a small cookie or one that has very narrow shape like a broom, they will bake at different speeds - you will end up with the smaller ones being over baked or the larger ones being under baked.  Not a good situation at all.  Bake for the minimum time and check them.  Don't let the cookies bake long enough to brown - you want a nice even light tan color.

*  After the cookies are out of the oven, I always let them sit on the baking sheet for approximately three minutes so they have a chance to firm up before being moved to a cooling rack.

*  While they are still on the baking sheet fresh from the oven, you have a small window of opportunity to gently reshape the cookies if they haven't gotten a little out of shape (which happens if the dough is too warm before it goes into the oven).  Use a spatula or knife to do the reshaping.

*  Speaking of spatulas, razor thin is the only way to fly.  If you use a thick one, the warm cookie will loose some of it's shape while being lifted off the sheet.  You want the spatula to be so thin, you could cut your finger on it - not that I recommend you doing that of course  :)

*  Don't even think of decorating them until they have had a chance to thoroughly cool.


*  This important folks, so listen up:  no matter how beautiful a cookie is, it is a no go if it doesn't taste great.  I don't like the taste of traditional royal icing so I use one made of powdered sugar, corn syrup, milk, a tiny bit of meringue powder, and some flavoring like almond or vanilla.  I would give you a recipe, but the truth is that I don't measure.  I find that that weather tremendously effects the icing so I adjust for humidity and what purpose I have for the icing.  Example:  lots of humidity in the air, more powdered sugar. Using a very tiny tip, more milk so it will easily flow out of the tiny opening.  Writing or fine detailing, more meringue powder and less corn syrup. Basically, I use the LEAST amount of meringue powder I can get away with because it tastes NASTY.   Play with your icing and don't be afraid to adjust a recipe to suit your needs.

*  My favorite tools for decorating are disposable Wilton bags, PME tips, cling wrap, toothpicks, and safety pins.  I use the toothpicks to help push the flood icing into the corners and pop air bubbles.  The safety pins come in very handy for clearing the small tips that get pesky clogs in them.  And what do I do with the cling wrap?  It is the best tip of all!!!

*  Wrapping the icing in  cling wrap is the way to cut down on bag clean up.  For the record, cleaning tips and bags is the worst part of cookie decorating.  I. HATE. IT.  So here is how to make it easier - first you get a piece of cling wrap and put your icing in the center of it.  Then you roll it up till you have kind of a "log" of icing wrapped up.  Pick up both ends of the plastic wrap and spin the log like you were getting ready to snap a towel (think back to when you were a kid at the swimming pool).  Place the log of icing into a bag.

At this point I use a long handled paint brush (which I use for food) to scooch the end of the cling wrap into the tip end of the bag.

Cut off the end of the cling wrap so it is flush with the coupler and put the tip on.

If you have never done this before, you may think it is a hassle and not worth the effort.  Trust me, it is well worth it, because it only takes a minute to do and it will spare you a ton of clean up.  AND, I use the disposable bags over and over again.  The cling wrap gets pulled out and the bag only needs a very quick rinse.  And I can use the disposable bags at least 10 - 12 times before it wears out and I actually need, well, to dispose of it. The tips are still a pain to clean - oh well.  I soak them in hot water before I attempt it.

*  After you have your icing in your bags you are ready to go with outlining.  My only advice with outlining is to move quickly for straight lines.  The slower you go, the more the icing wants to squiggle on you.

*  Now, a word about flood icing.  After mixing it up, let it sit for a few minutes for the bubbles to rise to the surface and then gently stir them out.  There will still probably be a couple of bubbles to pop with your handy dandy toothpick, but it will cut WAY down on the number of them.

*  I use squeeze bottles to add the flood to the cookies.

Here is an evil bubble about to be popped with a toothpick.  Die evil bubble!

*  When you are doing really dark icing and really light icing together on one cookie, let the icings dry really well before adding the opposite color to cut down on the chance of the colors bleeding into one another.  The black and white cookies below are a prime example of that.

*  My favorite food coloring is Americolor which I buy at Hobby Lobby or online.  The colors are fantastic and the darker colors don't leave a bad aftertaste.  I couldn't have made my tie dye cookies look as vibrant without them.

*  If you want your icing to be white, use white food coloring.  Yes, there IS such a thing.  It makes and keeps the icing a crisp snowy white like on these baby cookies - say no to dingy whites!

*  My favorite tips for doing fine detail work are PME tips.  I won't do writing without them.

That's about it my friends.  Experiment - Enjoy - Practice!  And remember, it's just  a COOKIE so don't stress over it.  Even if it doesn't turn out the way you want it to, it will still taste good AND make someone smile!

 Happy holiday baking and

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving cookies

I went an entire 7 days without baking.  It wasn't really by choice -  I spent the last week clunking around in a ski boot like contraption for a hurt foot as well as a prolonged period in Migraine Land.   I missed my oven!

Still clunking around in my boot, but I'm BAAAAAACK!  I began my Thanksgiving cookie baking with some more fall leaves because I am relishing the last few that are hanging on and coloring my world.

Because my three oldest children can't be here for the holiday (the Philadelphians going to New York this year, the green beret is in Japan, and Ted in Bahrain - I guess they all have good excuses...), me along with the enchanted husband and younger children will be driving to Iowa to celebrate with my mom.

It is a long haul in the car, but I am so excited to spend the holiday there!  I guess going back there has got me thinking about my childhood thanksgivings and put me in a retro mood.  Remember these vintage candles of figures like pilgrims, or Indians, or Santa?  They never got burned because they would be brought out year after year.

My mom never burns candles because she hates the idea of them being used up.  One year I went around with a book of matches and lit every last one of them and then blew them out so they would have a blackened wick.  I didn't want those poor candles to feel like they weren't being useful :)

She forgave me.

Also in the retro mode, I wanted to make some pumpkins reminiscent of the plaid jumpers that were so popular back in the 70's.

Throw in some knee socks, thick yarn hair bows, and a turtle neck and you had my look - a plump-ish Jan Brady.  Sigh.

There will be plenty of football on TV.

And of course there will be a ton of great food, but most importantly, there will be FAMILY!

 I hope everyone's holiday will be filled with people you love, laughter, and safe travels,


A special thank you to Michelle from The G-Free Wifey for the triple cute blogger award.  Check her out because she is pretty cute herself!

Linking up with

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Field hockey cookies

Fall sports are over and I am a little sad.  Yes, the constant running around in the car is decreasing, but I really did enjoy watching the kids at their games.  It also kept me busy in the kitchen with preparing treats each week for the varsity and jv football teams as well as the 7th and 8th grade field hockey teams.  That is a lot of baking my friends, but I loved every minute of it.

So for the end of season field hockey banquet, I made sugar cookies styled like the uniforms.  BFF's Isabelle, Grace, and Chloe made sure they got their three jerseys in numerical order.  Girl solidarity and all.

I was still in my happy haze of tie dye cookies, so I decided to make them in little rounds with each of the girl's names to go with the uniform cookies.

Tonight is the birthday party that fueled the 70's fire, so I thought I would share my daughter and her friend Kaylynne in their hippie attire.  Like the white lipstick?  The birthday girl's brave mother had the girls all over on Saturday for a "pre-party" to tie dye their tee shirts.  She deserves a REALLY good mother's day gift next year.

Stop me if I start making tie dye Thanksgiving and Christmas cookies

Monday, November 14, 2011

Peace and Love - mastering the tie dye cookie

I have made tie dye cookies before......badly.  They looked like pretty swirls of color, but not tie dye.

I was a teen in the 70's and I know what it looks like.  Just sayin'.

Just add some love beads and a head band, and we are in business.  The key is pulling the wet icings in a random way and in multiple directions.   MU HA HA!

In an unbelievable stroke of good timing, my best bud Mary (Rosanne Rosanadana) asked me to make some tee shirt tie dye cookies for her son Dylan's birthday for the same week Isabelle's friend Chloe wanted me to make some tie dye cookies for her 70's theme birthday party.

Once again, MU HA HA!

And imagine my delight when I found a bag of peace sign ribbon I happened to have on hand.

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Happy birthday Dylan and Chloe!

Linking with
Savvy Southern Style
A Stroll Thru Life
Sweetology 101

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Using cookies to dress a holiday table

I have been thinking about the holidays, and more specifically, how I can incorporate my cookies into seasonal entertaining decor.

I love looking at the gorgeous tablescapes I see on favorite blogs and pininterest, but I often wonder where these good people store all of those dishes.  And how about the linens and chargers and serving pieces and crystal and decorative pieces, and......, well, you get the idea.  As appealing as that dreamy world is, the fact remains - storage is at a premium at my house, and THAT  means I am always looking for new ways to use what I have.  Today's post uses my every day dishes, stuff found around my house and yard, and of course - COOKIES!

I made three shapes of cookies - a plaque for the place card, a large scalloped round for a favor, and a tiny scalloped round for a do it yourself cup hugger.   I decided to color my  icing to match the burgundy color of the dishes, and made designs that were reflective of the toile pattern.  Just a note here, it would have been more obvious to ice the cookies in white and do the details in burgundy just like my dishes, but by flipping the dominant color, they have more visual impact.

I am completely infatuated with the little cup hugger cookies.  These are not from a special cutter like earlier this week.  I simply made a small round cookie and cut out the rectangular section with a knife.  Very easy and very cute.  I know at my holiday meals, dessert is generally served later in the day because everyone is too full from the big meal.  But who could resist a darling little cookie with coffee?  I mean ANYONE would have room for this, right?  You can get a better idea of what they look like below.

So no special equipment needed and you could easily do any small shape you already have a cutter for.  Just remember to cut out the little rectangle before baking.  And now a word about the place card cookies.

If you are like me and have a few people in your family with names that have a lot of letters (Isabelle and Genevieve), you could use a shortened nickname like I did with Izzie, or initials in a monogram style.  To write a name or any word on a cookie, I start with the letter in the center of the name like O for Bob.  Place the middle letter in the middle of the cookie and then work your way forward and back.  If the name doesn't have an odd number of letters like Tony, make the O and the N slightly to the left and right of center.  Nothing worse than starting to write a name or word on the left and then running out of room.

I put the favor cookies in the center of the salad plates, but they could also be wrapped in clear bags and tied with a ribbon.  I love consumable gifts both in giving and receiving.  From the recipient's end, it is small, doesn't need a special place to put it, one size fits all, and if they don't want to eat it (hard to imagine isn't it?) they can palm it off on someone else without too much of a problem.  For the giver, it is cost effective and  shows you care enough to take the time to MAKE something.  Little home made gifts are the very best kind!

And for flowers?

I got out an old tureen and went into my back yard and foraged.  I used ornamental grass, beauty berry, sedum, arborvitae, white pine, maple leaves, and pine cones.  I took branches that had already broken off our trees and grasses from the freakish snow storm we had weekend before last.   And because I wanted it to have a bit of je ne sais qois, I wrapped the base with a vintage fur collar that was my grandmother's.

For the record, I am a tree hugging animal lover who doesn't wear fur.  My grandmother was not.

I got out an old lace tablecloth, vintage white napkins, some candles, and my grandmother's crystal and silver.  Much gratitude to my fur wearing gram.

My point is, use what you have.

Scrounge around your basement, garage, attic, and kitchen cabinets.  Think of using garden statuary, an assortment of candles, little family pictures, jewelry - repurpose and use your imagination.  And finally,

USE COOKIES!  One thing I have learned in this last ten months of cookie decorating, is that cookies make people very happy.

I also think that when you are using cookies as a decorative element on your table, you are better off reflecting the colors of your china or tablecloth.  If, for example, your china is blue and white and it is Christmas, the cookies will look more elegant done in blue and white than red and green.

 And because I am a mother of five and have eyes in the back of my head and can read minds,  I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ALL THINKING -  "I don't know how to decorate cookies" or "My piping skills are terrible", or you just have that deer in the headlights look on your face.  To that, I say go with polka dots or stripes or squiggles.  I am a huge fan of squiggles, in fact, I do it all the time.  Pretend you are doodling on a notepad while talking on the phone - trust me, it works.  Or here is an even better idea, fill some icing bags and give them to the children or grandchildren to do.  I used to give my kids a bag of feathers and construction paper to make turkey place cards every year, and they were my favorite part of the table (and when I get grandchildren, they will be getting feathers)

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Linking with these wonderful parties
Whisper Wood Cottage
Foodie Friday
Chic on a Shoestring
My Romantic Home
French Country Cottage
Between Naps on the Porch
Somewhat Simple Thanksgiving Link Party
No Minimalist Here

The moral of the story is, you don't have to break the bank to set a lovely holiday table, and COOKIES are the answer to everything (well, at least I think they are).