Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hershey's Kiss, Kiss "Dah-ling" Cookies

I must be watching too many episodes of the Real Housewives Franchise because, while putting these together, "Kiss, Kiss, Dahling" (in the voice of Lisa Vanderpump or LuAnn De Lesseps) kept going through my head.  Despite this, I had so much fun making these!!  I first spied the idea on Pinterest here at Munchkin Munchies.  They looked so adorable I had to try them myself.  Since we are fast approaching February 14th, I decided to mimic the hues of the Kiss wrappers found in the Hershey Kiss Valentine's Day packages.  So cute.

I have an absolutely favorite cut-out cookie recipe that I always use, but it contains lemon juice and zest.  I planned to use melted Kisses for some of the cookies instead of icing, however, which didn't seem to appealing to combine with lemon.  Also, I wanted to flavor some of the dough with almond (to create a faux Hershey Kiss Almond candy) and some with cherry (for Hershey Cherry Cordial Kiss cookies).  Neither would be tasty with a lemon based cookie.

For a new sugar cookie dough recipe, I turned to The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle, since she makes some of the most amazing cookies I have ever seen.  It only stood to reason that her basic cookie recipe must be delicious, too, right?  I made a few slight changes but was VERY happy with this recipe.  I will most definitely be using it again.

Before baking the cookies, be sure you have your decorating supplies ready:  Unwrapped Hershey Kisses (save the "Hershey Kiss" tag from each), food coloring in the shade of each wrapper you are turning into a cookie, and edible sprinkles in the corresponding icing colors.

Basic Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) of real butter (I used salted)
1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons flavoring extract (I used Almond)
2 1/2 - 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together butter and sugar.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg and flavoring.  Combine butter and egg mixtures and beat until fully incorporated.  In another separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients and add to butter an egg mixture in three intervals.  Mix until dough is pliable but not sticky.  Roll out dough* and cut into desired shapes.  Bake for 7-8 minutes.  Let cool completely before icing.

To make the Kiss shape, I used a small heart cookie cutter.  I tried to smooth out the top of the heart into a straight line for the bottom of the Kiss.  Some were more successful than others.  Last night I picked up a small metal heart cutter and flattened the cutter itself for the future.

Next, I mixed up some icing - confectioner's sugar mixed with water to a thickish consistency.  To test the thickness I run a knife through the icing and count to five.  If the line disappears before 5 seconds, I add a bit more sugar.  If it takes 5 seconds for the line to disappear, it's exactly how I want it.  I just eyeballed the amount of icing, making as much as I thought I'd need for the amount of cookies I had.  Then, I split the icing into three parts dyeing the first one gray, the second light pink, and the third red.

Working with one color at a time, I poured the icing in a plastic piping bag fitted with a #3 tip.  Outline the Kiss with icing and fill the inside.  You can use a toothpick to nudge fill out the icing completely inside the outline.  Immediately after icing a cookie, take one of the Hershey Kiss tags and, again using a toothpick, push it into the icing so it will be secure once the icing sets.  After the tag is applied, immediately pour the sprinkles that match the icing color onto the cookie.  (TIP:  Pour the sprinkles over a coffee filter.  When you are done sprinkling, use the filter to pour the unused sprinkles back into the container.  Not my original idea, but it's genius and works like a dream!)

I started with gray icing and sprinkles:

Then I rounded out the Valentine collection with pink and red:

Once I completed the icing/tagging/sprinkling process, I melted down the unwrapped Hershey Kisses in the microwave in one minute increments at 30% power until they were melted.  I poured the melted chocolate into a piping bag, snipped off a TINY bit of the end, and made a triangle of chocolate on each cookie:


Using a toothpick, I pushed the chocolate into a kiss shape and did my best to create that iconic swirly flourish at the top!  I can definitely use more practice with that:

They are not perfect, but I *love* them.  :)

I think these might be a new favorite of mine.  I will make them for every Holiday and event coming because WHO doesn't love a Kiss?  Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Tiramisu Triumph!

I'm excited to share this recipe with you.  Of all the desserts, cupcakes, and sweet treats I've made to date, these cupcakes absolutely received the most rave reviews.  They are both pretty and pretty easy to make!  If you like tiramisu, I cannot  recommend these enough.

To begin, mix up your favorite yellow cake recipe and bake it into cupcakes.

As they are cooling, make a cup of coffee.  Any flavor you like will do just fine.

Next, using a skewer, poke holes into the cupcakes.  Be sure to poke several holes so the coffee absorbs.  You can either use a pastry brush to apply the coffee to the cupcakes or a spoon to pour it on.  I found using a spoon worked better to achieve the sponge-soaked cake effect of tiramisu.  I poured a teaspoon sized spoon of coffee onto each cupcake, one at a time, and repeated the process until the cup of coffee was gone.  

This photo shows the three steps from bottom to top:
1.  Bake cupcakes
2.  Poke holes with skewer
3.  Apply coffee with pastry bush or spoon

While the cupcakes sit soaking up the coffee, prepare the icing (which is soooo delicious!).  One of the distinctive flavors of tiramisu is mascarpone cheese, a smooth and soft buttery cream mixture with a sweet, light flavor.  In the cupcake version it's used in the icing.  You can find it in the cheese section at most grocery stores.

Mascarpone Cheese Icing

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 8 oz. package of mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Using an electric mixer, beat heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks.  (To see the progression of stiffness as you beat the cream, click here for photos at one minute intervals).

In a separate bowl, beat together mascarpone cheese and sugar.  Once the mixture if fully creamed together, add the whipped cream in three increments, beating until completely incorporated at each interval.  The final product of icing will look like this:

To ice the cupcakes, I used a piping bag with the end snipped off.

After each cupcake is piled high with fluffy icing, dust the tops with cocoa powder.

Lastly, add some bittersweet chocolate shavings for garnish (if desired).

And there you have it! 

You can see the coffee soaked cake deliciousness after just one bite.  

Tiramisu is my Husband's favorite dessert so I'll be baking him these for Valentine's Day.  I hope you have an opportunity to make and enjoy them, too!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What? Halloween is only 9 Months Away! ;)

I've been on a bit of a hiatus.  I hadn't intended to be away for so long, but life happens, right?!  I had this Halloween Cupcake-scape in cue since last October and initially thought it was too late to post it.  But then again, why not?!

The idea came from my an order my neighbor placed for a birthday cake for her son, who was turning 6.  He requested a Halloween theme to celebrate, and we arrived at this idea instead of a traditional cake. 

Begin by baking cupcakes in the flavor of your choice.  While they are cooling, start on the chocolate trees.  You can find directions for making them here.  They cannot be easier to put together!

While the chocolate trees harden, arrange the cooled cupcakes in a random pattern close enough that they are touching.  Dye a batch (or can) of icing green to create a "grass" color.  If you would like to use homemade icing, you can find my favorite recipe here.  Using a Wilton Grass Tip #233, start piping the grass.

Now comes the fun part - using your imagination to create any type of Halloween scene you'd like!  I decided not to be too ghoulish, as this was to be for 6 year-old children.  I made some white chocolate ghosts using a ghost lollipop chocolate mold.  These, too, were super easy.  Melt white chocolate, pour them into the molds (first, I melted a bit of dark chocolate, just a small amount, and used a small brush to paint in the eyes and mouth), add the lollipop stick and place in the refrigerator to harden.  When you pop the ghosts out, you can use the lollipop stick to anchor the ghost into a cupcake.  

I also added a chocolate tree, sprinkled a few autumn leaves quins underneath the tree, placed a few sugar pumpkins around, and randomly threw on some candy skulls.  

Lastly, I added a "BOO" banner to tie it all together.

This was a really fun cup-"cake" to put together.  The birthday boy was happy and the kids loved it.  Mission accomplished!

I'm looking forward to blogging about desserts and such in the coming weeks.  I haven't been blogging, but I sure have been baking the last few months.  I'm excited to start experimenting and trying new things and hope you'll find some things of interest, too!

Happy New Year to you all, and thanks for continuing to follow Life Is Sweets!!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cupcakin' It Old School - Jell-O Poke Cupcakes!

Back in the day there was not a dessert I loved more than Jell-O Poke Cake!  Seriously, this combo of jello and cake could not be beat.  :)  In an effort to make them more portable and eater friendly I wanted to make a cupcake version.  This recipe has been around, as far as I can tell, since the dawn of time.  Is there anyone who hasn't had this cake?!  If you haven't I urge you to make this summertime staple.  It couldn't be easier and it's just delicious!!

Begin by baking up some cupcakes.  There are so many combinations you make.  The standard while growing up in my family was white cake with fruit jello, usually strawberry.  I made a vanilla cake with Blackberry Jell-O.  Yum.  Prepare the cake batter as directed (you can use a box mix or your favorite recipe). After baking, remove from oven and let cool for around 15 minutes, give or take.  In the meantime, dissolve one package of Jell-O in one cup of boiling water.  Using a fork, poke holes in the top of each cupcake.

Once the Jell-O is dissolved completely, spoon or brush it over the tops of the cupcakes.  I poured one spoonful at a time on each of 24 cupcakes until the Jell-O mixture was gone.

Place cupcakes in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill.  Next, prepare the topping.  I've had this two ways: either Whipped Topping or Pudding Topping.  I do have a preference for the whipped version.  You can either use Cool Whip or make your own.

Homemade Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl (large to prevent spray of cream flying everywhere!).  Using an electric mixer, beat on medium until mixture thickens, at which time increase speed up to high.  Beat about 4-5 minutes until peaks form.  To see photos of this process in one minute intervals, click here.

If the Pudding Topping sounds more appetizing to you, try this recipe:

Dream Whip Frosting

1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 envelope vanilla instant pudding
1 envelope Dream Whip

Beat milk and Dream Whip on medium speed until mixture thickens enough to beat on high speed.  Beat until peaks form.  Add pudding and beat until well combined.

Pipe or spread your desired topping onto the cupcakes and refrigerate immediately.  Store any remaining cupcakes in the fridge.  These cupcakes are best eaten chilled.  Look at the pop of color when you take a big bite:  

I hope you have a chance to make these before summer's end.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Treat "Fore" The Golf Lovers In Your Life!

The one year anniversary of my blog is coming up next month and one of my first projects was a golf course made out of cupcakes.  At the time I thought it was a bit sad looking and had wanted to give it another go with the proper tools, namely a grass piping tip.  Finally, I had a reason to do it when I was asked to create a cupcake golf course for a birthday party.

As with any cupcake project, I baked up the cakes!  Once they cooled, I arranged them on a cake board.  Without giving it much thought I designed the shape the same way I've noticed the courses on google - random and askew:

The order was for 20 chocolate and 20 vanilla cupcakes.  I purposely placed the chocolate on the outside so it would resemble earth beneath the grass.  I'm not sure it made a real difference.  Vanilla would have been just fine.  Next, I mixed up three batches of buttercream icing.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing

2 sticks of butter
4 cups of confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-5 tablespoons half and half

Using a mixer, beat butter until it is fluffy.  Add 3 cups of sugar - one cup at a time - mixing until it's completely incorporated.  Add vanilla and half and half along with last cup of sugar and mix, adding more half and half until the icing is the desired consistency.

I wanted to make enough to cover the entire golf course.  Since I was dying the "grass" green, I needed enough to be sure I wouldn't need to mix more icing.  If I needed to make more I couldn't guarantee the greens would match and that there wouldn't be a darker or lighter patch on the course.  For 40 cupcakes three batches of icing was perfect.  I didn't have much left over at all by the end!

So, I combined the three batches (I mixed them up separately to ensure it turned out okay.  Recipes are funny like that; some you can double or triple with no consequences, some you have to make adjustments in the measurements.  I was under a time crunch, so I played it safe mixing the buttercream in three separate batches.  I spooned out a nice sized scoop for the water and another spoonful of white for the sand trap.  I spread the blue and white over the areas I designated for the water and sand.  On top of the white I sprinkled brown sugar.  I thought it had a nice, sand-like texture.  I've seen other courses where crushed Nilla Wafers or Graham Crackers were used for the sand and I think next time I will do that just to cut down on the sweetness factor.

Once the "water" and "sand" were applied, I filled a piping bag with some of the green icing fitted with a Wilton #233 grass tip.  Using the green, I filled in the remaining surfaces of the cupcakes.  My client asked me to make it look like a smooth course, not like separate cupcakes arranged as a course.  To that end, I filled in the spaces between cupcakes with some icing for a surface to pipe the "grass" on top.  Once I made some decent progress with the rough, I designated an area for the green.  Using the same frosting/smoothing technique as for the "water" and "sand", I added green icing and topped it with some light green sanding sugar to mimic the short grass of the green.  Then I continued piping the rough.

To finish the "water" I added some small chocolate rocks:

Lastly, for the golf course, was the flag and hole in the green.  I used a wooden skewer (next time will use a lollipop stick) for the post and white fondant for the flag.  The hole was an upside down chocolate chip and the golf ball a white dragee:

That's it!  A bit time consuming to pipe all of the "grass", but EASY.  As always, however, I have a few ideas to improve the design.

So, the order was for 40 cupcakes, but I was only able to fit 30 onto the cake board.  For the remaining 10 cupcakes I made cupcakes designed to be a golf course "green".

Picture quality is not so great, but you get idea.  I have a new macro lens and camera I'm still trying to figure out, which means some photos will be better than others until I work it all out.  :)

In elementary school one of my teachers had each of us students write a paragraph on the first day of school.  On the last day of the year she handed them back to us so we could see how our writing improved and how much we'd progressed during the course of the year.  This golf course is kind of like that for me.  When I see where I was a year ago and what I can do now, all just because I keep trying, it feels pretty good!