Monday, November 12, 2012

RIP Halloween

You know, I'm never quite sure if I'm giving enough credit or homage to the bloggers, bakers and creative souls who share their recipes and designs to us online.  I always reference whomever shared a recipe or design I reblog. I hope knowing they're inspiring others gives those that share a sense of accomplishment at being amazing and awesome.

I say this now because this adorable design is an almost exact replica of these gorgeous tombstone cookies (which you can buy!) from sugarandflour on Etsy.  (Except mine are less professional or beautiful!)  I used the large Wilton tombstone cutter so these were really two normal sized cookies in one.  Now, some explanation:

In the federal government, the fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30.  So once a fiscal year (FY) is over, we celebrate! Good riddance! My office usually has an end-of-year breakfast party. My mom's office decided to have a RIP Fiscal Year 2012 party. I was asked to make some cookies for it and I was happy to because they're kinda Halloween-ish and this is my FAVORITE holiday ever.

This is the first cookie platter I've done and I was really happy with the whole graveyard thing.  AND the green filler stuffing (I MEAN, grass) worked perfectly at padding the cookies and keeping the icing from breaking.  Yay!

So here lies so and so.  Thank you to sugarandflour for sharing such a wonderful design!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is it too autumn for Lemon Raspberry??

When I live somewhere more conducive to growing fruits and vegetables, I swear I want a whole backyard full of the junk. Strawberries, raspberries, oranges, grapefruit, avocados; everything!

As it is, the only fruit I have access to in the late summer is raspberries that grow at my mom's. I got a decent bowlful in August and went in search of something new.  What I found wasn't a solely raspberry concoction but it sounded too good not to try.

As advertised at Erica's Sweet Tooth (thank you for publishing the recipe!), these came out lovely and delicate but with just the right balance of flavor.  The 'lemon' cupcakes have only a hint of zest in them and make a stable but light counter to the berry filling. And my family loved the raspberry cream cheese frosting.

All around a hit!  Recipe at Erica's Sweet Tooth.

Friday, September 28, 2012

London, a second (third?) home

I know I've mentioned on this blog before but I used to live in London about 10 years ago and loved it dearly.  Well, I'm finally getting back this week and I made some cookies a few weeks ago in anticipation.  When I think of England, I think the Union Jack, PG Tips and football!

Even though I lived there for years, I'm ashamed to admit I didn't do all the touristy stuff I should've.  Never went to Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey.  It almost seemed unnecessary.  I had to go to work and go to school and junk; I didn't have time to stand around with tourists! But I should have made time because now I'm one of those tourists.  Sort of.

It's a weird mix of seeing new stuff (The London Eye was just opened and SO touristy when I was there) and old favorites (omg omg Harrod's I love so muhuhuhuch). AND my 15 year old nephew is going to experience a new country for the first time. I'm so excited for him!

About the cookies, I tried a new technique of completely painting with coloring diluted with vodka (because it dries quick).  On the red roses, I used a color pen for the detail and softened it with a brush. It's a technique I'd like to play with a little more with better brushes but I liked it! Like little canvases!

So this Sunday, I'll be in London having Sunday roast then watching Downton Abbey.  UGH.  SO English!!  I'll check back in a couple weeks when I return!  Cheers!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Football is finally here!

My family is Texan and, as such, we are football people.  I went to UT who (sorry my dear Aggie friend, Kelly) have the greatest football team in the state (country WORLD; what? we Longhorns are a proud legion).

I grew up watching the Houston Oilers and was quite heartbroken when they were dissolved in 1998.  Then in 2001 we finally got football back in Houston and all was good in H-Town. (hey, check it out Aggies: even the Longhorn is the symbol of all Texans. IN YO FACE.)

So we do fantasy football in my family and another league with friends.  Being as excited as I was for the season, I made these for our drafts and was pretty pleased with how they came out.  The Texan was, obviously, the hardest and the only one I did by a template. I used a #1 tip and went verrrrrry slow. lol.  If I was to do it again, I'd attach the fragile piece to a solid backing before putting it on the cookie; it was VERY thin, didn't sit flat on the uneven cookie base, and broke easily.

The other teams were my friends' favorites which were fun to give out to them. I'd have to say, as much as I love the Texans symbol on everything, I think the footballs were my favorite.  Footballs don't even look like that anymore but they're just so precious!

The Texans are looking good this year but I'm a superstitious gal so I won't say anything more. Except ANDRE JOHNSON IS MY PRECIOUS DARLING.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fancy Cake For Practice

After making so many cookies, I got very comfortable with royal icing and the piping bags and the whole routine of it.  I was asked to make a cake (or three) for my office and realized I was way out of practice in just CAKES: my first love. So I set out to make a tester just to get back in the groove.

I chose the Joy of Cooking's basic white cake because I'm always eager to try staples that have withstood the test of time.  I was also very eager to try out a few new bits and bobs as recommended by the cake queen, Rose Levy Beranbaum.  That lady is amazing. I'm talking so meticulous and exact, I read The Cake Bible with my jaw gaping. How to open and close the oven door?? (She says GENTLY so as not to force too much of the heated air out).  In awe of her.  SO. I got to try out, 1. Evenbake Cake Strips and Baker's Joy flour spray.  I used the spray on both layers (and a parchment round on the bottom just to be safe) then the cake strip on #1 and no cake strip on #2.  Take a look:

IT WORKS! So beautifully!  Look how even and golden #1 - the cake stripped layer - is! And the other, same cooking time AND in the back of my oven which is traditionally cooler, is darker and has a round center.  I will never EVER bake without cake strips again. Wonderful!  (And the layers slipped right out of the pans with the flour spray so a win on both new experiments!)

So I was basically playing around with decorating and trying to make it fancy schmancy.  I piped the border of buttercream around the inside edge of each layer then filled with a basic strawberry filling (because I felt like it).  Did the crumb coat and smoothed all the lines, etc, etc.  When I went to pipe the decoration though? woo boy. Rough.  Buttercream is most certainly NOT as agreeable as royal icing. Sure, it tastes better but it's just ornery! Go where I want you to, buttercream!!

And, for my own amusement, when we went to cut into it, I tried a new cut technique that I saw in a cake magazine so we got rectangle cuts from a round cake. Like wedding cake pieces! I just thought they were darling (and had a hankering for some white wedding cake).  Just cut all the way across, off center (however long you want a piece) then start cutting perpendicular from that line! Kinda want to do all my round cakes this way now.  No skinny triangle edge! All even square!

The recipe was pretty good but not going in my favorites box. It was dense but not heavy and was a solid, vanilla cake. The family liked it but I'll keep looking for the perfect white cake...

The Joy of Cooking

3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups sugar + 1/3 cup
8 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 375 F. Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Grease and flour two 8 x 2-inch or 9 x 2-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk together first three dry ingredients thoroughly in a medium bowl.  Combine milk, vanilla and almond extract in a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup.

Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy.  Gradually add 1 2/3 cups sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.  On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 parts, beating until smooth.  Using clean beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in another large bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, beating on high speed.  Beat until stiff but not dry.  Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in remaining whites.  Divide the batter among the pans and spread evenly.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes.  Cool and remove from the pan.  Spread the cake when cool with your choice of icing.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Icing

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 - 2 Tbsp whole milk
1 vanilla bean

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla, vanilla bean and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Spider-Man! Does whatever a spider can!

Spins a web! Any size! Catches thieves just like flies!  okay enough of the theme song.  I found these amazing, beautiful, adorable Spider-Man cookies at Bake Greek and wanted to make them so badly but I held off.  I wanted to get a little closer to the release of The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3rd) and I knew they'd be challenging because I'd use the same technique of tracing the eyes through wax paper and applying them.  So there were measurements and all that jazz but they still came out different.  I won't rag on them because they're not exactly how I wanted but they're still okay.  I guess that's just how stuff turns out sometimes.

That spiderweb cutter is monstrous, though.  I mean it.  Like 6" inches, point to point.  It's like four cookies in one.  Good thing I only made two.

So. I've found I have a pattern to my cookie decorating.  I get through the mandatory ones and there's always stragglers that I'm never sure how to decorate.  This time it was the spiders.  Didn't want them all black so I did a few other colors.  Then, as I'm looking at them I think, well. How about some eyes.

I swear to you, the second I put those murderous, beady eyes on, my skin started to crawl.  What the hell??  It's just instinct.  I didn't even want to look at it.  It was looking at ME!  So I tried making them bigger.  GO BIG AND CUTE.  But it didn't work.  I actually considered for a split second making it accurate and putting a couple of those hideous eyes on it and shuddered at the thought.  I hate them so much, it makes me want to cry.

Needless to say, none of the rest got eyes.

So I'm going to see the new movie because Spidey is my second favorite hero ever! (Wolverine #1 baby!)  AND Andrew Garfield (the new Spidey actor) does a lot of his own stunts!  I love that.  He's so wiry and bendy! So I'm excited to watch him flying around! Wee!

To him, life is a great big bang up! Wherever there's a hang up, you'll find the Spider-Man!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Are you going to live in an igloo?"

I moved to Alaska when I was 10 years old and I remember quite vividly saying goodbye to my 4th grade classmates.  I remember showing them on the globe how far away Alaska was from Texas and one of them asked me, straight up, "Are you going to live in an igloo?"  I knew it was ridiculous but the fact that I still remember that question makes me wonder if, at the time, I wasn't quite sure myself.

I'm kidding. I laughed in their faces. Pfft. 10 year olds.

So even though I spent the rest of my youth here, moved away then would eventually return, I still don't think of Alaska as home. Isn't that weird?  I'm not FROM Alaska; I just live here right now.  That doesn't mean, however, that I deny it's beautiful landscapes or quirky residents or wonderful summers.  That's all grand.  But it's the damn winters...

But I digress.  I did not, as one might suspect, make these in response to the Texas cookies I shared with my fellow Texan family a few weeks ago.  I actually made them to share with my Alaskan coworkers at a bake sale being held at work.  I thought they'd appreciate these familiar sights over any old design (or especially Texas. Imagine: feeding Alaskans Texas cookies! The horror!)

I used Sweet Sugar Belle's recipe but I've made a few tweaks and they're working for me (learning my wonky oven temperature is the biggest plus).  This is the 8th batch of cookies I've made and I'm finally getting to the point where I've got a routine and it's getting easy!  Yay!

Ready for a bake sale!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Texas, Our Texas

There is something about being Texan that very few others experience. I'm not saying we're better or worse (okay, some Texans are totally better or worse people) but it's a unique and distinguishing identity. Texans are a proud people. I was raised with the endless mantra of how beautiful and separate and special Texas was. We moved to Alaska when I was 10 and brought the pride all the way here. You can never take the Texas out of a Texan.

In search of cookie ideas, I stumbled on some University of Texas themed cooks and, being my alma mater, I fell in love. I started planning Longhorns and little states and the Hook 'Em hand sign. Just as I was about to order the special cutters online, my birthday rolled around and my mom got me a set of Texas-themed cutters. It included this huge 5 x 5 state and I knew I had to make it ASAP. The Horns would have to wait!

I found these beautiful designs from Deb's Crafty Cookies and the search was over. I can't thank her enough for sharing the lovely design with us all!

These are the little Texases I had from who knows where. I love finding cutters I forgot I had!

Then came the search for bluebonnets. Now, again, as a Texan, fields of wild bluebonnets are such a staple in the land we're raised on that every time I see them now, my heart just swells. It's hard to describe. It's like looking at your childhood home and it brings up every safe and happy memory you ever had. So looking through bluebonnet pictures might have been my favorite part of this exercise.

I'm happy with how they turned out.  I stuck to Sweet Sugar Belle's sugar cookie recipe and, my favorite because it's been so good to me, Lizy B Bakes' royal icing recipe.

Now on to the next theme... Here's a hint: he's got a movie coming out verrrry soooooon... (spins a web, any size, catches thieves just like flies...)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cookies for Mom

My mom specifically told me not to buy her anything for Mother's Day. I mostly acquiesced; I'd already bought her a card. But I know she likes the cookies I bring over for Sunday brunches so I made a batch just for her.

I also usually get her flowers so I decided on cookie roses instead of real ones.  These'll last longer (in the freezer)!

Happy (Belated) Mother's Day, to all moms!

Sunday, May 13, 2012


There's a moment when you're decorating that you survey your work and just throw up your hands and call it a loss.  I pretty much did that with these cookies but I have a pretty legit source for my frustration. The god of mischief has struck, determined that I not render him in cookie form. I guess he's not keen on being devoured by mortals.

First, I found these adorable action figures and immediately decided I wanted to make them into cookies.  I quickly realized they'd be the most difficult design I'd ever attempted and grew wary... Almost dreading the decorating, to be honest.  But I'd committed myself (and already made the cookies) so I couldn't back out.  So I went into it with trepidation.

But to back up really quick, as I'm mixing the dough, adding the flour to make it come together, my poor Kitchenaid starts straining with some severity. I turn it off, only to see the pin holding the head to the base almost completely worked out. I try to maneuver it back in place - hell, I took a hammer to it (not Mjolnir, unfortunately) - and still nothing.  And suddenly I realized what happened.

UGH. FINE. See if I make your cookies again, prankster!! (JK; I love you!)

So he broke my mixer.  I borrow my mom's to make the icing and decide to try a new recipe that looks super simple from the popular blogger's video. I make the colors and sit down to decorate and it is absolutely WAY too thick. I don't understand; it looked fine in the bowls! I give up and wait a day, go back and thin all the colors and start over.  Slightly better but now it's almost too thin! UGH, THIS ICING IS TOO FICKLE. And then I realized...

By the end of this whole ordeal, I'd mostly given up. They didn't come out as I'd wished but I've learned some things: that freakin icing is not for me.  And if designs look difficult from the word go, they're going to be freakin hard.

My one amusement from this batch was this.  The multiples of Loki!  It makes me laugh.  So many Lokis!  Which one is real?  I'll never not fall for that, right, Thor?

See the icing consistency from the first try (on the lightning) and the second day, after thinned on Mjolnir? 

Mjolnir turned out to be my favorite.  I used an edible marker/pen to detail it so it's the only one with any definition.  I attempted to detail Thor and Loki's helmets as well and they came out junk so I nixed that quick.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22 - Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!  Not only do I super love Earth Day because of the awesome sentiment and the beautiful greenery that goes with it, it's also my birthday! In my quest to find ideas for designs, I came across some lovely cookies from a young lady who had a giveaway and declared Earth Day was someday in March and I went 'Nuh uh never!!'  It's always April 22nd!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April Showers!

So the cookie obsession continues and each time I'm trying new techniques (sugar coating, wet-on-wet flowers) and learning through trial and error.  I tried a new recipe (not these pictured) and they held their shape wonderfully but didn't taste great. They were kind of your typical bleh sugar cookie. I really like Sweet Sugar Belle's recipe however, as you can see (especially on the umbrella), they spread a bit.  Even in her notes, she acknowledges this issue and suggests adding a little more flour. I'll try that next time because I thought chilling the dough might help but it had no effect at all! Next time: more flour.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cookies, Part Deux

Happy Easter!

In case you missed my Game of Thrones cookies post, I am kind of crazy into the cooks these days. Like, researching best techniques, buying all the tools, finding designs, etc.  This week was crazy baking-wise but I knew after the relative failure of the GoT cookies, I wanted to try, try again.  Easter was the perfect excuse!

I had better success on these but still not perfect. At this point, it's just about practicing. New techniques, seeing what works and what doesn't. My biggest issue was definitely the consistency: I was gun shy this time after the GoT royal icing was way too thin so for these I went a smidge too thick. I mean, they leveled off eventually (most of them) but I've watched dozens of tutorials and some decorators just squeeze it out of the bottle and it makes a lovely roundness and sets perfect and fast. That was the thing; I had to work it into place too much.  So.  Consistency still needs work!

(Bunnies love clover!)

Also, I used the same cookie recipe from Sweet Sugar Belle and they taste great but mine spread a little bit too much. Might be an oven that runs too hot.  Will experiment and report back!

As for the royal icing, I tried a new recipe from Lizy B Bakes and found it dried and worked wonderfully. I may just make this my go-to recipe!

Lizy B makes kind of amazing things so I was inspired by her design work, Sugar Belle's and many others.  I can wholeheartedly admit my own designs were the ones I liked least. HOWEVER, I will get better as I practice more and get more ideas from the brilliant bakers who blog and share their gorgeous work! (Thank you, thank you for sharing!)

A small note about the watermarks/blog name on the pics: I've never marked my pictures in the past because I thought no one would really take anything of mine. There's two reasons I'm doing it now. #1. It's kind of heartbreaking to see a picture you worked on setting up and making junk for being reused without credit. Like, my stomach falls out when I see one of my pics just randomly somewhere. So avoiding that feeling is a good thing.

And #2. I've noticed a few other blogs doing the same and realized, as I saved the picture to study later, it was a GREAT way to remember whose it was! I was cruising blogs, right-clicking away and when I went to study the pictures, there's the name of the creator right there! Now I can credit them easy! It takes the hassle off me to remember who made what and making my life easier is always a bonus! So that's that!

And everyone in my family got personalized egg cookies so, since my dad is in Houston, here you go, Dad! Love ya!

(The little chicky was my favorite!)