Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sugar cookie tutorial

After many attempts at a perfect dough, and many recipes tried, there is one that I come back to time and again.  It makes a very large batch of dough (although I can't see a reason to ever make less of it, because it freezes really well and it's nice to have on hand).  Here are your list of ingredients:

2 cups butter, softened (I use salted and I don't find the cookies too salty)
3 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you don't have this you can use another tsp regular vanilla)
1 cup sour cream
9 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

and here's what you do:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees
cream together your butter and sugar
then beat in your eggs, vanilla, and sour cream

mix together all of your dry ingredients and run a whisk through them to mix them thoroughly
and add to your creamed butter/sugar
it'll leave you with a very sticky dough, but this is ok.

I roll out the dough straight onto a countertop with PLENTY of flour.  The reason it's okay to use suck a sticky dough is because it'll get the rest of it's flour while you're rolling it out. I am, of course, using my favorite rolling pin too. :)
Roll the dough out thick and even.  I use the 1/4 inch setting on my rolling pin. 
and cut out whatever your desired shapes are.  If you're using more than one shape, make sure you bake like-sized cookies on each tray.  Baking small cookies and large cookies together only means something's getting burned. 

Since you've heavily floured your surface, these should lift right off with a spatula and can be easily placed on a cookie sheet.  I cook them on parchment, just to make it easy to take them off to cool and continue using the cookie sheets in rotation.  These cookies were about 3 inches across, so they needed about 20 minutes in the oven.  Your baking time is going to depend on the size of your cookie, so just test bake the first batch and make sure you keep an eye on them to get the time right.  They'll puff up a little but will still keep their shape.  And then should be slightly golden brown on the bottom but still pale on top. 

and they'll be uniform and easy to stack and store.  I think we got between 50 -60 cookies of this size out of the one batch of dough.  Not bad. 

Next, we mixed up a batch of royal icing.  The idea with these particular cookies was to do a dry run of a monogram to be used for wedding cookies.  So we wanted some white (for the monogram itself) and some flood icing of a pale color.  

For the royal icing you will need: 
21/4 lb powdered sugar (that's POUNDS, not cups)
3/4 cup warm water
5 Tbl meringue powder
1 tsp cream of tartar

If you're a good kid, you sift your powdered sugar first.  If you're a little bit lazy, you put it in a bowl and run the whisk through it. 

Start by mixing up the warm water and meringue powder in the mixing bowl.  Mix with a whisk until frothy and slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.
Add cream of tartar and mix in mixer 30 seconds
Add all powdered sugar and mix slowly for 10 minutes. 
After the 10 minutes, your icing will be well-formed and nice and thick.  This is not the thickness of a meringue peak, it's a little heavier than if you turned it rightside up, it would fall over a little. 
I like to thin it just a little bit in the bowl to make it the perfect consistency for piping outlines on cookies.  Just a touch more water from here makes it perfect for such a purpose. Set aside what you want in terms of white, and color the rest as appropriate.  Using the Americolor gel paste colors, you need very little color.  You can see this one dot and this enormous bowl of turned the whole bowl a lovely peach color.

The peach I knew we'd be using as our flood color, so I thinned this using the 10 second rule.  Basically, you run your spoon through the frosting (below) and drizzle a little on top in a stripey pattern.  This stripey pattern should disappear back into the rest of the icing in about 10 seconds.

Put the white piping consistency icing into a piping bag.  I use many of the disposable piping bags, plastic couplers, and metal tips from Wilton.  Cut the bag to the appropriate sized opening to insert the coupler (I never get this right the first time, hence the extra tiny piece of bag cut off.  I prefer to be conservative because once the hole is too big, there's nothing you can do other than throw the bag away)

This is a #2 tip, I believe we ended up using a #3, just so we didn't have to squeeze quite so hard with the more firm white frosting. 
The best tip I've heard for filling a piping bag?  Put it in a tall glass so you're not stuck trying to hold it open with one hand and fill it with the other...that never works. 
The flood consistency icing you want to put into a decorating bottle.  You just pour it in. :)

Then the cookies get outlined with the piping consistency
 and flooded with the flood consistency.  I like to zig zag back and forth to fill in the area.  It helps make sure you don't overfill your cookie and have icing spill outside of your outline.  Another helpful tip is to make sure that you start the flooding at the edges, right by the outline, so you know they get filled in. 

once you're at this point, shake the cookie gently back and forth to watch the icing spread evenly.  It's like magic! 
In our case, we went back through the cookies and piped small dots along the outside. 
Waited for the flood icing to dry a bit and then piped on the monogram free-hand. 

If you don't trust yourself to do it free handed, another trick you can use for lettering is to print out what you want to letter and then put a piece of wax paper over it and pipe on the wax paper.  You can let it dry overnight and gently peel it off of the wax paper and adhere to the dry cookie the next day with a little fresh royal icing. 

and that's the long and short of it.  Happy Baking! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Someone needs to light a fire under me!

I can't believe how far behind I am in my posts.  Sigh.  In my defense, I am now 9 months pregnant and doing my darnedest to actually continue to bake (if not blog).  But I'm going to make a sincere effort to catch up...before I lose my desire to bake for a little while! 

This next item is a cake I made back in August and have yet to post...a fire engine cake for a  little girls' 4th birthday.  Originally, when I was asked to make a fire engine cake, I was envisioning the standard red truck with the ladder, etc.  What I learned is that a fire engine doesn't have the ladder the way a fire truck does and isn't even always red, which is the case with the cake they wanted.  The birthday party was being held at the local fire station and the kids were all going to get to ride on the fire engine...this one: 
So, that was my challenge.  Re-create this engine in cake.  Here's how it turned out: 
The cake structure was fairly simple, actually.  A couple of sheet cakes, sliced for stacking. So, SOMEHOW in the time that passed between baking and blogging I seem to have managed to lose the construction photos, but you can look back at the post of the train cake for a good demo of stacking.
My Kopycake sprayer made quick work of the yellow and gray/silver spray, and then I set myself to making some royal icing decorations:

All the little grey pieces are royal icing.  I essentially just made my own candy buttons to simulate all of the controls on the side of the truck.  The colorful ones are Ju Ju Bees. 
Not all the decorations were as successful.  These were supposed to be the windows for the front of the engine, but they didn't set in time (you can see the smear of wet icing on the wax paper below the broken piece).  This is when I decided to just spray color in the windows.
The top bar of  lights?  Jolly Ranchers.  More Ju Ju Bees in front for the various headlights.  At this point, however, I thought the windows looked a little one dimensional, so I made some wiper blades with royal icing.  They set up perfectly and peeled right off the wax paper:

A little squirt of icing "glue", and then attach! 

The last item to address are the wheels. They are mini chocolate donuts, cut in half and glued in place with frosting.   Fairly tire-like, and not bad scale.  All in all, a successful party!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hawaii 5-0 (I mean, 0-1)

Do you guys remember Anderson's birthday with the train cakes ? Well, his baby sister, Abby, just turned 1 and her parents threw her the most adorable Hawaiian-themed birthday party. Naturally, this called for some confections from Aunt Amanda's kitchen. Where to begin?
How about with Hula Abby! Hula Abby is a creation her Mom and I came up with when we were strategizing about the party. We were talking about the option of making a cake with a waterfall and having a miniature of Abby as a cake topper. I suggested I could use my handy dandy food printer and make a paper doll (well, cookie doll) of Abby, and voila!
How cute is she? Couldn't you just eat her up?(har har) :)

So, I also made a few other items. The main cake, of course, and a mini 3D pineapple cake for the birthday girl to make a mess out of while people clapped. Here they both are:

And I made the favors for the kids, which were flip flop lollipop cookies. (try saying flip flop lollipop 3 times fast!)

Anyway, let's start with the cookies.  I got a flip flop cookie cutter, made my standard sugar cookie dough (upcoming post with details on my current favorite recipe), and flipped the cookie over to attach the lollipop stick, which you can see I did with an extra little piece of dough.  Once you bake it, the dough just bakes over the stick and you're good.

Make sure you let them cool thoroughly before you pick them up by their sticks...the sticks WILL remove themselves when the cookie is nice and warm!

Mix up the colors of royal icing you'll need.  I'm doing some pink flip flops with green pattern and blue flip flops with green pattern, so just 3 colors for me

Next, outline, as usual

then flood

and to make the Hawaiian print pattern (hibuscus-ish, no?), use the wet on wet technique and make some little circles
and drag a toothpick from the outside to the inside of the circles to make the petals
I did the blue cookies the same way, and after they dried, I added some piping consistency royal icing flip flop straps in orange

and I wanted to make some little flower or embellishment for the pink flip flops, so I experimented with the leftover blue flood icing, trying to make some different shapes on a piece of wax paper.  Most of them were a failure

but I settled on the asterisk-y ones in the middle and sprinkled some sanding sugar on them while they were still wet.  Then let them dry and peeled them off and attached them to the finished flip flop with a dot of royal icing "glue".

While we're still talking cookies, I made a few others, just for a platter for the party.  Same techniques, really.  The Hawaiian print shirt was the same exact technique as the flip flops above and the Aloha signs I made with the food printer.  Made for a quick and pretty display:

Moving on to the tiny 3D pineapple cake.  I gave construction a lot of thought on this little cake.  Thank goodness it wasn't going to be very large because I didn't relish the idea of having to balance something pointy that was also heavy, but this guy turned out to be a breeze.   Here's what I started with: 
Mini bundt pan.  In my mind, I thought 2 of these would be a good height, so I baked 2.
In reality, the poofiness from the baking didn't look super-sturdy, and it wasn't quite tall enough. 

so I gave them a haircut so they'd be more sturdy.  But now they're REALLY not tall enough.  What to do?  I don't have anymore yellow cake batter...but I DO have an extra layer of chocolate cake from the main cake that I'm pretty sure I'm not going to use, so I cannibalized that. 
and crammed it in the middle.  The birthday girl won't mind multiple flavors in her first cake, right? 
and you might notice that I decided to reinforce the bottom a little with some extra frosting, just to make it a little more sturdy.  Then I grabbed my trusty bag of dowels, measured the depth of the cake, and crammed one in there for support (and then trimmed it, of course).  Then I (obviously) just dragged some blobs of frosting up the side to wipe on my coating of frosting.

and smoothed it out!

Ordinarily, here is where I would get super-retentive and let the frosting crust over a little and put more frosting on it to make it look smooth so you couldn't see any of the crumbs, but since this was a pineapple and was going to be roughly textured anyway, I decided to just smooth it from here and give it some spray color.  Those of you who read my blog know that means the Viva paper towel technique, followed by a hit of food coloring from my trusted Kopycake machine. :)

Is it perfect?  No, but that's kind of the point, right?  Next I took a piece of twine and scored the outside to make the pineapple-looking texture (sorry no action photo, I needed both hands), here what it looked like when I was done and had sprayed the scored lines with brown

Then I wanted to create something textural to make the little spikey-things on the side of a pineapple...I have no idea what they're called (clearly).  So I approximated with a star tip, and it came out like this:

(like my actual pineapple in the background? ;) )
and I sprayed the little thingies a bronzey yellow
and at this point I thought "i could go over it again with a light coating of brown so the yellow thingies are less pronounced", but then I thought that it looked okay...and if I hit it with brown and screwed it up, starting over again would suck.  So I decided not to be my own worst enemy, and I set it aside.

And went on to make some spires for the top of the pineapple out of gum paste.  I mixed it up with water and a touch of green food coloring, rolled it out, and cut some random spikey triangley pieces. 

and before the party, I inserted them into the top of the pineapple, and we were all set. 

"Mom, what am I supposed to do with that??"

I took out the gum paste leaves and the dowel rod in the center before feeding it to little Abby.  I'd hate for her to poke herself with a leaf and be traumatized forever and not like cake!  Or pineapple! ;)

How is it Abbs?  You know, if you keep digging, you'll find some chocolate! 

Okay,  I know this is turning into the longest blog post ever, and I apologize, but we're just not done yet.  Next, the waterfall cake.  I'll spare you some of the boring parts.  We'll start here, with some stacked layers of yellow cake, already crumbcoated: 
Then I measured and cut more dowels (fyi, that is a speckled cutting board, NOT a majorly dirty work surface...that's somewhere else!)

and I hid the dowels approximately where I thought I'd stack the top tier of chocolate cakes.  I knew I wanted them off-center since there would be a waterfall running down the front.  So I put them toward the back.  Sorry this photo is so dark, it was getting late and I guess I got sloppy with the flash!

Then I put the top tier on a paper cake circle, and stacked it on top of the dowels.  This means when it's time to serve, you can just insert a knife under the top tier and remove it to slice.  It worked really well.  Don't forget to take the dowels out of the bottom tier!
and finished stacking, and crumb coated
Then I carved a little trough out of the center for the waterfall and gave it kind of a messy coating of frosting, since it was "terrain". :)
sprayed green and blue (the unsprayed area was roughly where I knew my sand would go)

and set to embellishing the cake.  First I finished off some little palm tree cookies I'd made by using the handy food coloring pen to draw some detail onto the drunk.  I used a Foodoodler in this case. 
and used them to decorate the cake, along with some of those Pirouette cookies, you know the ones from the grocery store?  I thought they might look like bamboo fencing and provide some interest to the back of my cake
oh, and what are the rocks, you ask?  They're chocolate rocks I found online at a place called Baker's Nook
and I cheated in one other substantial way.  I knew I'd be doing a lot of projects all at once, and I'm really no good at traditional cake decoration flowers (since I never do them, I never practice!), so I bought some pre-made flowers and leaves...
but they looked really good!

You can see along the right side, I started to go back through the blue spray and pull up some white frosting from underneath.  I thought I'd try to be clever and make it look like the water was rushing over the rocky falls....well, whatever, it's close enough. ;)

And somehow I forgot to take a picture of my final step, which was something new.  I mixed some blue food coloring into piping gel (from Michael's, nothing fancy) and smoothed it over the water, so it looked really shiny.  At the party, I sprinkled my homemade sand.

Recipe for sand: 
food process Chips Ahoy cookies and graham crackers (the ground up choc chips give the sand some dark brown specs I find particularly believable) and then my husband suggested throwing in some sanding sugar so it looks like the fine clear grains in sand.  Brilliant. And yummy.

and here it is, all done and ready to eat.

Don't have to tell big brother Anderson twice!  That boy makes a baker proud! :)

Happy 1st Birthday Abby!!  Can't wait for next year...