Christmas Cookie Decorating Tips

I haven’t written a baking post in forever! Baking is pretty much my life right now and I’m ok with it. Since I lost my job I have been trying to keep busy any way I can without actually spending money, and I got the idea to try and sell some baking during the Christmas season- I love to bake so it’s something I would be doing anyway, I can just scale it up as necessary! It’s not a lucrative career but I do have a lot of time on my hands at the moment, and it sure beats the last season of Gilmore Girls on Netflix (ugh Lorelai, Chris or Luke? Make up your damn mind). I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of support from a great network of family and friends.

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One order I received was for sugar cookie cutouts and I was a bit nervous about it, because in the past when I’ve made them they have not exactly been photo-worthy. They taste great, but the icing is always a bit too runny or a bit too thick, and I can never get the rich red and green colours that you want to see on a Christmas cookie. But I spoke to a friend who also bakes, and did a bit of research, and with some practice I managed to make them look quite presentable!

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I thought I’d share some of the tips I learned, because I’m not kidding, these are LEAGUES nicer than anything I’ve made before. The proportions I used for the icing was as follows: 1 cup icing sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract for pure white); adjust consistency as necessary.

Use gel food colouring for richer colours.

This really makes a difference! I could never get the liquid food colouring to the right red/green colour. You still have to use a somewhat obscene amount of dye and it will thin out the icing a bit, so you might have to adjust the consistency again. But I’ve never been able to get this colour intensity with liquid dyes.

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Use a piping bag and a piping tip (#4 worked well).

Maybe a bit obvious, but in the past I’ve tried to get away with a ziploc bag and a hole cut in the corner. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t measure up! I bought a reusable piping bag (Wilton) and rinsed it out between colours; it’s very durable and I can minimize my consumer guilt by avoiding disposable bags. I just pop the tip in the bottom of the bag, push it towards the end, and fill the bag with icing; I found it works to use a glass to hold the bag and fold the edges over the rim so that you can get the icing right in the bottom; then I tie off the top of the bag with a rubber band.

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Follow the 10 second rule for icing consistency.

This was really important! My icing usually falls off the cookie in a big messy puddle or is too thick to pipe. Here is a helpful video that shows you how to do this; basically the icing should settle into a smooth surface at about 10 seconds after disturbing the surface.

 

Allow icing to harden and set before packing.

It’s really hard to be patient and wait when it FEELS like the icing is set, but giving the cookies more time won’t hurt, and no one wants to spend hours and hours decorating cookies only for them to crush each other in the container. I laid them out in a single layer on baking pans, and covered the pans with a layer of plastic wrap (more as a cat prevention technique than anything- the icing forms a protective layer that will prevent the cookies from getting stale if they are left out for under 24 hours). When packing in containers, place in a single layer with parchment paper in between multiple layers.

cookies drying

And that’s it! They take some time for sure but the end result is both tasty and pretty. I really liked substituting the almond extract in the white icing instead of vanilla- vanilla darkens the colour too much, plus I love the almond flavour. The stars and snowflakes were my favourite!

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Happy baking and Merry Christmas if I don’t post again before then!
-C

The Take-Out Avoidance Challenge

Friends of the Internet! I need your help. As you probably know, we get the keys to our house in 2 days. While we are STOKED, I am also getting nervous about how we are going to manage to go to work during the day and spend our evenings and weekends fixing up the house without getting scurvy. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that while I love to bake, sew, and clean, my one domestic skill that is lacking is cooking. The entire process has always felt like such a chore to me- deciding what to make for dinner, grocery shopping while hungry, and spending the time to actually prepare it, only to have it not turn out the way I was expecting or taste half as good as some online reviewer made it sound. Our worst-ever home cooked recipe was something called a Tex Mex Skillet that my husband found online, and every time we make something that isn’t super tasty we’re always like “at least it tastes better than the Tex Mex Skillet.”

We have tried to get into the habit of meal planning so that we know in advance what is for supper on most nights of the week, but that assumes that we have the time/energy on the weekends to spend a few hours planning and then grocery shopping, which we often don’t. The summer has been a pretty busy one so far, and too often we take the easy route of fast food or take out. With the coming challenges of the next 2 months, where we will be trying to get the house ready before we have to move out of our apartment, I am worried that we will be visiting Chez MacDonalds, Harvey’s and Wendy’s more than I would like to admit out loud.

So I am hoping that some of you have ideas or suggestions for quick, easy and tasty summertime meals that don’t take a lot of advance planning or strange ingredients that you only buy once and then never use again. I know we have our favourite recipes that we bring out time and time again because they are delicious and easy, but a little variety would be great. I’ll share first!

Here are my go-to quick and easy weeknight meals for the summer:

1)  Grocery store rotisserie chicken: Ok, this is an obvious one, but there are literally tons of things you can do with these, and our local grocery store has them on special on Monday nights- so I know what we’re eating one night of the week, at least! All you need is fresh bread and a side salad, or you can cut it up to use with any recipe that needs cooked chicken.

2) Southwest salad: I discovered this by accident once when I was really craving a buffalo chicken wrap, and noticed that we usually have most of the ingredients (sans wraps) on hand. All you do is cook frozen breaded chicken breast strips, chop them into bite sized pieces, toss with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, and combine with lettuce, tomatoes, whatever other veggies you want, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and salsa. Ta da! Southwest Salad. Bonus points if you have fresh corn on the cob on hand- slice the kernels off the cob for some added sweetness.

3) Cobb salad: This one does require some advance prep/chopping but the end result is so tasty and worth it, and because it’s chock-full of veggies I tell myself that it’s healthy. Different people have different interpretations of what makes a great Cobb salad, but what we put in ours is: grilled chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, grated cheddar cheese, romaine lettuce, and croutons, topped with Ranch dressing (sorry to the purists out there, neither of us like the blue cheese dressing that is traditionally used).

4) Philly Cheese Steak: totally cheating because I have yet to make this, but friends of ours made it for us for dinner one night and it was so tasty. Grilled steak, grilled onions and peppers, fresh rolls, and au jus sauce for dipping. Yum.

Ok, now I’m hungry. More importantly, I feel motivated to get shopping and cooking and do my best to avoid take out! Do you have a favourite 15 min meal or slow cooker recipe to share? Alternatively, if you want to share what your Tex Mex Skillet equivalent is, then I’ll know what to avoid!

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Coconut Lime Bundt Cake Recipe

Today’s post is another recipe. Can you tell I am a baker and not a cook? I made this cake last weekend and I’m still dreaming about it. It was the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

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Also, I got to try out the new bundt pan that I got for Christmas from my sister-in-law, so it looked as good as it tasted!

Here’s the recipe, adapted from Food & Drink‘s Spring 2014 issue.

Coconut Lime Bundt Cake

Cake

2 1/4 cups cake and pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp coconut extract
1 cup milk, at room temp
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Lime Syrup

6 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
toasted coconut and lime zest for garnishing

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the bundt pan with wax paper rubbed in a bit of butter, then lightly dust with flour.

2) In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3) Using an electric mixer, cream butter until soft, then add the 1 cup of sugar slowly. Beat until light and fluffy.

4) Separate the eggs, reserving the whites in a small bowl. Add the yolks one at a time to the butter/sugar mixture, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla and coconut extract and mix to combine.

5) Slowly add the dry ingredients, alternating with the 1 cup of milk. Mix until smooth.

6) Beat the egg whites in the small bowl until foamy, then gradually add the 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

7) Stir the coconut into the cake batter and slowly fold in the egg whites. Mix gently.

8) Pour the batter into the bundt pan and bake for 40 min or until a toothpick comes out clean.

9) Towards the end of the baking time, combine the lime juice and sugar for the syrup in a small pot. Heat over medium until sugar dissolves and keep warm.

10) Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Invert onto a wire rack and brush the sides and top with the lime syrup while still warm.

11) Allow the cake to cool completely. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, lime zest, and lime slices.

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I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I wish computers had smell-o-vision. Standing over this cake and breathing in the limey, coconutty goodness was heaven! Enjoy with a latte and a book.

If you’re looking for the bundt pan, I’m pretty sure it’s this one from Williams-Sonoma.

-C

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

A while back I did a cookie exchange with some friends, and I got a surprise when I bit into what I thought was a plain old chocolate chip cookie: a sprinkle of sea salt. I’ll admit that at first I was uneasy about salt on my cookies, but man was I proven wrong!

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When I asked for the recipe, my friend sent me a link to a blog called For Me, For You. The recipe there was adapted from a recipe that appeared in the New York Times. And so I give you this, a three-times-removed version of chocolate chip cookies with a hint of sea salt! I never tried the original cake flour/bread flour/Ghirardelli chocolate version because I’m not that fancy, but these cookies are pretty damn good anyhow and if they tasted any better I would get horribly fat. Another win: the recipe makes a huge amount of cookies (or a normal amount of cookies after eating a bunch of cookie dough).

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Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from For Me, For You and Jacques Torres
Ingredients

3  2/3 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (e.g. kosher/sea salt)
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Coarse salt to garnish

Directions
  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy. Add in the eggs and the vanilla and mix on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  3. Slowly add in the dry ingredients with the electric mixer, mixing after each addition. You may have to add in the last bit with a spoon.
  4. Add in the chocolate chips.
  5. Drop in large mounds with a spoon on to lined baking sheets and sprinkle with a few granules of coarse salt.
  6. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 mins. Cool a few minutes on the pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool.

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Enjoy with a nice cold glass of milk!
-C

 

Cherry Cupcake Recipe

Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

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Today’s post is a bit of a diversion but it’s still a DIY of sorts… remember cherry chip cake mix from those childhood birthday parties? Well, a friend of mine made these a few weeks ago and kindly shared the recipe with me (and then another friend kindly translated it, since it was en français). The recipe is originally from Jasmine Cuisine. There are tons of other yummy looking recipes on her site, one more reason for me to learn french!

These turned out almost as yummy as they did when my friend made them (I forgot to add the almond extract and the bottoms got a bit tanned in my turbo-hot oven. Sad face).

Cherry Cupcakes

Ingredients
Cupcakes

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup maraschino cherries
1 tsp flour (to coat cherries)

Frosting

3/4 cup butter
3-4 cups of icing sugar
1/4 cup maraschino cherry juice
1 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp milk

Cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin trays with paper cups.
  2. Drain the cherries well, reserving 1/4 cup juice. Finely chop the cherries and coat with the 1 tsp flour, mixing gently. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cherries and mix to combine. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the unsalted butter with the sugar, vanilla, and almond extract. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.
  5. On low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk.
  6. Fill the paper cups about 2/3 full with the batter and bake for 20-25 min, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Allow to cool on a wire rack before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Cream the butter and slowly add the icing sugar, alternating with the maraschino cherry juice and almond extract. Add milk for a thinner consistency or more icing sugar for a thicker consistency.
  2. Use a piping bag to frost the cupcakes. Top with coloured sugar, more chopped cherries, or silver dragées.

Enjoy!
-C