Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Decorating Cookies - Bake at 350

Hey guys. Quick post today.

For my birthday, I received the brand spankin new book Decorating Cookies by Bridget Edwards, the author of the blog Bake at 350.

She is pretty much my favorite blogger. Every post is hilarious, every cookie is adorable, but most of all she is the nicest. And how do I know this? We had a twitter conversation on my birthday. I was in heaven. Pretty much the best birthday gift ever (other then upgrading my blackberry to an iPhone.... Actually, no. It was better.) Check it out. She is @BakeAt350tweets and I'm @JoyServedWarm (She even complimented my lipstick.... eee!)

Bake at 350
Isn't she the cutest???

Anyways. The book is amazing. If you are a beginner at decorating cookies and want to learn a ton, but also want some nice easy cookies to start with that will look great even when they are made by you, this is your book.

There are over 60 cookie ideas and a handful of recipes and tons and tons of helpful tips. I couldn't recommend this enough.

You can buy it on Amazon (here) for a REALLY great price (I thought it should be worth double with all of the valuable cookie knowledge that Bridget was dishing out).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me!

Whoa! How did that happen? I feel like just yesterday I was turning 21. So much has happened in a year. I worked on two wonderful shows, I had a blast with my 5 housemates up in Ithaca, I graduated college, and I ate a lot of baked goods.

I just want to wish everyone else who's birthday is today a Happy Birthday! I hope you have a fabulous day filled with family, friends and food. And I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes!

For me, I have a quiet evening at home with my Dad planned, and because it's just the two of us this year, and I didn't want a whole cake lying around for me to eat... I made this:

Exactly Two Chocolate Cupcakes

It is the prefect size for just you and a friend (or just you, I won't judge) and the recipe couldn't be simpler. All you need is a small bowl and some measuring spoons. I didn't even pull out the cupcake pan. I just used the Reynolds brand baking cups that are aluminum lined, so you can just pop them on a cookie sheet. So so so easy.

3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1/8 tsp baking soda (just eyeball half of a quarter-teaspoon and it will be fine)
1/16 tsp salt (otherwise known as a pinch)
2 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/16 tsp vanilla (ie, just a few drops)
1 tbsp chocolate chips (optional)

"Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In a second small bowl or spouted measuring cup, combine the wet ingredients. Add the dry to the wet and stir till combined, whisking well. Divide batter between two cupcake liners and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake for 18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool before frosting."

There is also a recipe for the perfect amount of fudgy chocolate frosting, but I had some vanilla butter cream left over in the fridge, so I just used that.

Have a good weekend!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

English Muffins, Butter, and StumbleUpon

I have a confession to make.

I'm addicted to StumbleUpon. If you don't know what StumbleUpon is, its probably best you don't find out.

But if you are itching with curiosity... It is the best website in the whole entire world, because it links you to endless amounts of websites that you might like. It is like your favorite blog being updated every second. It customizes the internet to help you find things you like. Its amazing, but the biggest time suck of my life (aka. hours a day...) Check it out at your own risk:

The one great positive to StumbleUpon is that it it gives me TONS of recipes and pretty pictures of cake and food (maybe not a positive for my waistline?). This week when I was stumbling, I came across a recipe for English Muffins. I actually didn't really know that you could make your own English muffins, and I really really didn't know that they were made on a griddle or frying pan. I assumed they were baked. But after thinking about that, I realized that of course they are done on a griddle, they are crispy on both sides and there is the magical "waffle iron flip bubble" in the middle. You know, that bubble that happens when you flip batter over and you get a nice fluffy baked good. Mmm.

I didn't love the recipe it gave me (weird ingredients, rolling pins... ugh) so I found another on Google.

I ended up trying this recipe one out.
It has a lot of basic ingredients. Alton's gets good reviews, but I didn't want to have to run out to the grocery store again to get powdered milk.
The recipe is very easy, which is nice. Its one bowl, a saucepan, and the griddle, which is right up my alley (aka. less to clean).

To get their super round shape, you can use rings, I tried them, but ended up finding it easier to go without. I also didn't mind having a little wonky muffins.


English Muffins

Yield: 8-14 muffins

4 TBSP (1/2 stick) butter
1 TBSP sugar
2 cup milk
1 package active dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten
4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
cornmeal for dusting

"Combine the butter and sugar in a small sauce pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the milk, stir it and remove it from the heat. Stir in the yeast and the egg.

Combine the flour and salt in mixing bowl. Add the milk mixture and stir till it’s all well combined. Cover and set aside for 1-1/2 hours, or refrigerate overnight (removing it from the fridge an hour before cooking).

Heat a griddle or a skillet over medium heat. If you’re using rings, butter them. Stir the dissolved baking powder into the batter. Dust the griddle or skillet with corn meal. Scoop-pour about 1/4-cup portions onto the griddle, free form or in rings. Cook for about seven minutes. Flip them and continue cooking till done, 7 to 10 more minutes.

Allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes, pry in half with a fork, toast and serve with butter, honey, or jam, or beneath Canadian bacon, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce."

My dad liked them, I thought they were good too. They are nice to know how to do if you don't want to get the ones from the store with a ton of preservatives. It was a little hard to tell when they were done. I kept pulling mine off the griddle, and then dropping them back on because I felt like they were still a little mushy inside. In the end, I really recommend toasting them. I just think they are better that way. 

When I made it I go 14.5 muffins. So be ready for that.

I was especially excited to have stumbled upon this english muffin recipe because a few days ago, I flavored my own butter!!!!!

I'm not going to lie, I was way more excited about this than anyone else. Partially because I FLAVORED MY OWN BUTTER, also because I didn't use a recipe. I always follow recipes, but this time I just went with my gut. I have read about doing this before, but here is all the breakdown you need.

Soften your butter, but don't melt it. Either let it sit on the counter all day, or speed things up by putting it in the microwave on half power for 30 second bursts or so.

Then dump in whatever you like and mix it up. You can do this by hand if its soft enough, or if you want use a mixer.

Then scoop out the goodness into a small ramekin and let it pop that baby back in the fridge.

For my recipe, I put in:
Chopped Garlic
Garlic and Herb Seasoning
Parmesan Cheese
Onion Salt
Olive Oil (to make it spreadable!)

I have stinky breath, but it is so worth it.
This butter is actually perfect for garlic bread, so that's definitely happening for dinner tonight...

Hope everyone had a nice weekend. Enjoy your week!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aaron's Beer Cookies

Monday morning I woke up in a sweat because the days had snuck up on me and I realized my friend Aaron's birthday was on Wednesday. I was planning on making him cookies... and I hadn't designed the cookies.... and I needed to then ship the cookies. Oh, and I was out of flour and sugar. So I was scramblin.

Luckily, I know Aaron loves beer. So I went down that road (it's hard to come up with "manly cookies"). It's funny, because after I shipped him the cookies we were talking about what he wanted to do for his birthday and he chose to go to a swanky beer bar in NYC (The Ginger Man. I highly recommend it).

So for these cookies. I hand cut all of the glasses and bottles. To do this you take a very sharp paring knife and go at it. Sometimes if I know they are cookies I might make again, I make a template using some hard plastic. My mom found these old plastic binder dividers down in our basement and they are perfect. You want it to be hard enough that it wont bend when you cut the shape out, but also easy enough to cut when you are making them. Other materials that work great for this are the tops of coffee cans or the flat sides of milk jugs. Once you have your material, just draw your shape on it (or print out a picture and trace it), and cut it out. What is nice about the plastic is you can just wash it with some dish soap and reuse it as many times as you need.

Also, if I need to make a lot of a certain cookie, but it is a really special order that I will probably never make again, I just use a manilla folder, draw my shape on it, and cut it out. Then when I'm done I can just chuck it.

But for these, I just eyeballed it. And it kinda shows, especially in the bottle. It was just a little uneven and wonky. Once again, I was rushing a bit. I do have the cookie cutter for the speech bubbles. You can buy it here. But if you don't want to splurge, you can easily just use an oval or circle and ad a little triangle to the bottom.

Then, when it came to mixing the icing colors, I mixed together my left over royal icing from the Back to School Cookies. I used the yellow, tan and reds to make all of the beer colors. And it worked great. Then I used the leftover black and white.

Finally, don't be like me. I made the same boo-boo twice in a row. When I was going to flood the speech bubble cookies, I picked the outlined ones up and crunched my royal icing (see exhibit A below...). I was upset after the first one, but I made three so I figured I would be fine. Then I picked up the second one and I DID IT AGAIN! Total bummer. The third I didn't screw up (Phew). But then when I was writing on it, I hit a water pocket in my royal icing bag and the whole cookie was ruined. So, don't be like me. Always be really gentle and careful when picking up your cookies and don't fill your icing bags too early, because the water will begin to separate out.

In the end, no matter how many imperfections you see on your cookies, your recipient will love them and eat them all up anyways. So, Happy Birthday, Aaron! I'm sorry you had to read this story.

Ps. I have been informed by Aaron himself that in under 24 hours of receiving the cookies, he ate 8 of the 12 cookies. I am unsure whether or not anyone helped him eat them. But I don't judge. Cookies are a perfectly acceptable meal.

You can find the cookie and royal icing recipes here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back To School Cookies & Tutorial

This week I made some cute back to school cookies for my niece and nephew. They went back to school today, 2nd and 5th grade.

I start the whole process by sketching out what I want. I love to doodle cookie ideas, I have a whole notebook that is dedicated to just baked good designs. After doing some preliminary sketching, and google-ing of cute pictures, I will do a final draft. A lot of times, I will traces my cookie cutters to really design exactly what I want my cookie to look like, especially if it is a more complicated cookie.  For this one, I winged it. I try to make sure they are as true to scale as possible though.

Then we bake the cookies. I don't own a crazy amount of cookie cutters (probably only about 100... it's sad that I don't consider this a crazy amount) so I have to improvise. For the apples I used 3 cutters, a plaque cutter, circle and a comma. For the pencils I used a spade and a rectangle. Then, just place the bits of dough together on the cookie sheet and they should bake together pretty nicely.

As for my recipe, I found it on a blog and it is fantastic. With a royal icing sugar cookie is it so important that you have a good cookie recipe, because royal icing doesn't taste delicious, in fact, it shouldn't really have a taste when paired with your cookie, it should just disappear.
Next onto decoration. Royal icing is the best. I love it. For everyone who is scared of it, don't be. It is perfect for these cookies. Once you get the consistencies down, it can be a cookie's best friend. Below is another great blogger's recipe for this.


Outline. Let dry at least one hour to prevent bleeding.

Flood section by section. Let dry for about an hour between sections. I do multiple non-touching sections at a time. See below. Shiny v. Non-Shiny


Vanilla-Almond Cut Out Cookie
(Bake at 350)

3 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar (I use sugar that I've stored vanilla beans in)
2 sticks (salted) butter, cold & cut into chunks
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.

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."

Royal Icing
(Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle)

2 lbs 91bag) confectioner’s sugar
1/3 cup + 1 TBSP meringue powder
3/4 cup water
1-2 tbsp oil free, colorless extract

"Add the dry ingredients first. Use your mixer’s whisk attachment to incorporate the sugar and meringue powder.

Add the extract to the water and slowly add it to the dry ingredients while mixing. At first the icing will be very liquid-like

Continue to mix it at medium-high speed until it is fluffy and stiff peaks form, about 7-10 minutes. Mixing times are approximate, keep your eye it icing and stop mixing as soon as it becomes stiff. Over mixing and oil-containing extracts can keep the icing from setting up, so keep this in mind as you work"