Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oh, Baby!

Some friends of ours just had a baby, which seemed like just as good a time to make cookies as any. :)  I used a recipe on one of my favorite baking blogs, Bake at 350.   Her cookies always look so perfect and don't seem to spread in the oven, so I tried her recipe (although I substituted the almond flavor for more vanilla since my friend has a severe nut allergy.  I don't know if there's any real nut in almond flavoring, but best to be safe!). 
I think it worked well, the cookies were nearly the exact shape as when I cut them out.  It's a little strange that her recipe uses cold butter instead of room temperature butter, but if it works, it works!   Here's her recipe:


Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies

3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
 2 sticks (salted) butter, cold
 1 egg
 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.

The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling (video on University of Cookie).

Roll onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets (I recommend freezing the cut out shape on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before baking) and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.




The little red wagon onesie above I did with the food markers I love, with just a few quick strokes.  
Then I boxed them all up for delivery (thank you trusty delivery lady!)
The twine is from an order I made at The Twinery...baking twine seems to be all the rate right now.  I ordered a small sample pack
and decided the "Caribbean" was a nice accompaniment to the blue and orange cookies:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Let's call it even...

Because it IS!  Look how even my dough is!!  My loving husband got me a new toy for Valentine's Day, a Joseph Joseph adjustable rolling pin.  Before you scoff, it was exactly what I wanted (and came with a pair of earrings) :) 
So, I tried out the new beauty today, and I loved it!





I used the 1/4 inch thickness (the middle disc) to roll out my cookie dough.  And my cookies turned out peeerrty!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's all about the frosting

Hi there, folks!  So, a little history for this post.  At my office, I make the birthday cakes.  It sounds like nobody did much celebrating before I worked there, and as an only child who was very used to having my birthday properly celebrated, I found this to be problematic.  I'm happy to report that I've taken over that function at work and now we get cake at least 5 times a year.  An acceptable start, right?

So this week was Tony's birthday, and Tony wanted double chocolate cake (which is what Tony wanted last year).  And this cake isn't really about the cake...it's all about the frosting.  This frosting recipe is the BEST chocolate frosting recipe I know.  It starts on the stovetop and finishes in the mixer and it is extremely fudgey and rich.  Here it is:

Chocolate Fudge Frosting Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 7 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 4 tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Just melt it, make sure you don't let it start to brown.  Nothing will ruin your chocolate frosting faster than the taste of brown butter!  Stir in cocoa and vanilla (do yourself a favor and use a good vanilla...it's a little known secret that the secret to great chocolate frosting is proper vanilla), remove from heat. Place confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. Pour in cocoa mixture. Beat well (mixture will be extremely thick). Beat in milk, a teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

Just a note about consistency.  I generally like a little extra milk in this recipe because it can be SO thick that it's hard to spread.  In this application, I actually left the frosting pretty thick, because I had plans that required a more stiff frosting. 

So let's start at the beginning, with the cake.  As I said, this post isn't about the cake, it's all about the frosting.  So, any chocolate cake recipe will do the trick.  
So, bake a cake:
I know that some people use leveling strips or rags that have been wet and wrapped around their cake pan in order to prevent the dreaded dome shape seen above.  While I have used these in the past, I find that they're far more necessary if you're making a cake that has a loose frosting.  With the frosting recipe I was using, I know that it's thick enough to fill in for a lot of boo-boos.

So, I did the most ghetto thing a baker can do...and I'm going to show it to you...

That's right...I squished it.
Before you judge, let me explain.  When the cake is nice and warm, right out of the oven, there's an opportunity for the first few minutes to force it to level out a little.  It actually works really well, it just feels horribly wrong.  Now, obviously if you're working with a delicate cake, or a really fluffy batter, this may not be the smartest move, but my cake was sturdy, manly even, and I wanted it just a little less poofy for decorating.  So, I squish.  I admit it. 
The down side is that I kinda scalped it a little...but no biggie.  I suppose I could have put a piece of parchment down before I squished.  Maybe next time...

So, I did a base coating of frosting, and a quick embellishment along the bottom (pardon the portable cake container instead of a nice cake plate, but I was preparing to transfer to work in the morning):
Then I wanted to try out my new toy...it's an embossing mat.  Technically, it's used for embossing texture onto fondant. I personally think fondant tastes terrible and I will go well out of my way to avoid using it, but I thought I could get this fantastic icing to hold up to some pressure and wanted to try it.  I chose this pebble pattern:
And then I made a mistake...I pushed it into the top of the cake thinking it would be fine and release on it's own.  I was wrong:
It pulled up as I tried to release it, chunks of frosting got stuck in the mat, and I needed to smooth it over and start again.  This time, I used a little Pam and sprayed the embosser first and it released quite well.  I got much better definition.
I'm still not sure if I like it.  I think without any color, it sorta looked like alligator skin, but I decided to roll with it. :)  I made some letters out of royal icing.  I use the standard Wilton recipe except I usually add some almond extract.  Make sure you use a colorless almond extract so you don't color your icing accidentally.  I like this one: http://astore.amazon.com/hoirowiit-20/detail/B0000VM8TK 
I made the letters extra long, knowing that I wanted to them to stand up in the cake.  For the "B" and "D" and "O", they needed a little tail.   It worked out well.  Make sure you make yourself a few extras in case they get broken (or eaten).  I did these with a #3 piping tip, so they were fairly fat and not as delicate.
Pardon the desk photo...gives it that genuine office flair, right?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I only have eyes for you!

Last night, for Valentine's Day, I wanted to make my Sweetheart dinner. I saw something awhile back on the Edible Crafts website (www.ediblecrafts.craftgossip.com) that piqued my interest. It was an article about getting kids to eat food by putting eyeballs on them, but this particular post involved making little birds out of meatballs. My husband and I got married at a bird sanctuary about 3.5 years ago and since then we've had a lot of pleasant associations with birds (well, Hubby might think we now have TOO many bird-themed items in the house...maybe).

In any event, I stored the idea away for a Valentine's Day dinner because I thought it was so sweet. And it turned out like so:

Cute, right?

I made the eyeballs myself (instead of having to figure out where to buy candy eyes) with white and black royal icing. I made them about a month ago when I already had white and black royal icing in piping bags leftover from another cookie project. I now think the thing to do is always just make a few eyeballs before you empty your piping bags! If you only have white royal icing (Wilton's recipe works just fine), you can just pipe little white dots and draw on them with a black food marker (I like these).


I left my eyeballs in a bowl in the kitchen wondering if they'd get discovered or questioned, but they remained under the radar...and I pulled them out last night to work on my meatballs (I don't eat meat, so mine were vegetarian meatballs, but I'm certain it doesn't make a difference!). I carved small pieces of orange pepper for the beaks, and cut small slits to insert the beaks and eyeballs.

While shopping at Wegmans this weekend, we found a spinach parmesan fougasse bread, which is a favorite of ours. The baker got a little creative and shaped his fougasse into a heart...the perfect accompaniment for my lovebirds!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mmmm, Valentine's Day chocolate chip roll-out cookies!

About a month ago on one of my favorite blogs, The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle, there was a post for a chocolate chip roll out cookie recipe (check out Sugarbelle's blog for the recipe, it's linked above in the title). I love sugar cookies, but not everybody does (and some people just get tired of them, imagine!), so I wanted to try something different and thought this was truly looking like the best of both worlds. The yumminess of a chocolate chip cookie, plus the flat canvas on which to decorate. Brilliant!

Sugarbelle recommends using only 2 cups of flour and I'd have to say that I agree. Even with a mere 2 cups of flour, it's still a dry dough (although all the gooey chocolate and melted butter make them plenty delicious coming out of the oven)! The dough is supposed to chill for 30 minutes before being rolled out. I left it in the fridge for a couple of hours while I ran errands, and when I took it out to roll it it was hard as a brick. So, boys and girls, take the 30 minutes of chill time seriously.
So, I gave the recipe a shot. It was DELICIOUS. The dough did spread a little on me, so the shapes of my cookies weren't perfect (a common problem for me), but I just kinda decorated around the fuzzy edges!








P.S. I apologize for the partially dark photos. I ordered myself a light tent set (yay!), but it doesn't arrive until Tuesday. I ordered this one... it's only 16 inches, so hopefully it'll do the trick for most projects. I didn't have anything lined up to make this weekend, but maybe i'll have to put something on the docket, just to try out the new toy. :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"I pity the fool whose cheesecake cracks into an enormous T!"



Okay...so I made some cheesecakes. I tried a new recipe (which was terrific, by the way, I found it here) and tried to prevent cracking with a pan full of water in the oven...


Same water technique, but I did open the oven to check on the doneness of the larger cheesecake, and I swear I saw it cracking before my eyes. I wanted to jiggle it a little to make sure the center wasn't runny. I guess lesson learned here is to trust your oven light to tell you everything you need to know. But since it was a cheesecake originally intended to be covered in berries, it was easily recoverable:


One note to share. There was a great deal of debate among the reviewers of the recipe that I noted above. It appears that traditional Italian cheesecake doesn't have a crust (my mini one didn't, I tried it that way), but Hubby and I decided that we needed a little texture so I went with a traditional graham cracker crust. I think it was the right move...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm in the mood for love (or cookies)


Or love and cookies? In any event, here is what's left of my initial attempt at Valentine's Day cookies. I made the mistake of showing them to my Dad before we left him to house and pet-sit for a few days...and this is what was left when I got home. D'oh! To make these cookies, I used the chocolate roll out cookie recipe I found on my cookie hero's blog, here.
Anyway, I think this weekend I'll be in the mood for love cookies again, so I should have some more photos to post on Monday.