Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snowflake Cut-Out Cookies

From my home to yours I'd like to wish you all a HAPPIEST NEW YEAR!!  May 2012 be your best yet!!!

Unfortunately for me, this holiday season I've been plagued by a cold/flu that won't seem to go away.  This meant I did not make nearly as many treats as I'd have liked.  I did the best I could, though, and had a great time with these snowflakes.  I really do love making cut-out cookies!  I find the icing of cookies very relaxing and great opportunity to be creative.  Snowflakes are the perfect shape to experiment with new designs and have some fun decorating.

I made both small and large cookies.  For the background of the cookie I chose a light blue so the white flake design would stand out more  I used the standard outline and flood method.  To decorate the small flakes, I used a #1 tip with a very thick icing mixture of water and sifted confectioners sugar poured into a pastry bag.  The icing was thick enough that my hand began to cramp up from squeezing.  I made the icing so thick because I did not want it to spread and not keep its' shape.  Despite the discomfort, I love the way they turned out!

I need much more work on my hand control to make the lines even.  I free-formed the designs and want to try different patterns.  I'm actually excited to make more!

For the large snowflake cookies, I used a #2 tip with what I THOUGHT was a thick enough icing, but it wasn't.  So, the lines spread out more than I'd hoped.  Since they were large it wasn't that big of a deal, so I finished them with the icing mixture I had prepared.  They were pretty, but I still think they would look lovelier with a thinner flake line.  When I make them again I'll post an update!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Frog and Lamb Cupcakes

Just before leaving for our trip to India, my family celebrated my twin nieces 5th birthday.  Since they were very small, Abigail has loved frogs and Madeline loves her lambs.  So, I wanted to create fun birthday treats for them.  While browsing on Pinterest (if you haven't signed up for Pinterest yet, you should!  It's a virtual pinboard filled with ideas and inspiration for just about anything you can think of!)

Many times on Pinterest you can find how-to's or recipes but in this instance, I had to work off the photos alone.  These did not appear to be too complicated so I gave them a go!

To begin, I made Funfetti cupcakes for the girls.  I baked them as directed.

While they were cooling, I started to make the froggy eyes and lamb heads.  The original picture of the frog eyes looked to be sliced marshmallows and chocolate chips.  I wanted a deeper black eye dot and cleaner circles, so I went with white chocolate wafers and black cake gel.    I used the flat part of the chocolate wafer to add the black dot, as you can see in the photo below.  While the gel was setting I started working with pre-made black fondant, which I purchased at Michaels craft store.  This was my first time working with fondant, and I didn't see a need to try making homemade since no one eats it anyway.  At least no one I know does.  So, bought it and was surprised at how it had a liquidy film around it and how and messy it was!  At first I assumed it was a bad batch, or too old, or something wrong.  However, as I worked it all together with my hands it became firmer and drier.  Once this was done I made nice round ball shapes and flattened them out  to add the eyes, as in the photo below:

Once I was done I referenced the lamb cupcake picture I was working from and saw that a flattened ball was completely the wrong shape!  I needed to make a much smaller OVAL shape and add tiny ears, as in the photo below:

I never follow the first rule in baking....ALWAYS read the entire recipe first (or in this case, double check the photo you are following).  Save yourself the trouble and wasted time!  I share this mistake of mine with you as a cautionary tale!

Once the lamb heads were done, I melted some white chocolate in a squeeze bottle.  I wanted to add small white dots to make eyes on the fondant shapes.  Be warned that if you try to do this immediately after melting the chocolate it will be extremely runny and you will not have control over how much comes out.  A mess will ensue.  Again, a firsthand cautionary tale.

To finish the eyes, I used the same black gel I used for the frog eyes to dot the white chocolate.  Then, I took the top of the chocolate squeeze bottle (after removing it from the bottle and rinsing the chocolate off) to make two indents for a nose shape.

I mixed up two batches of buttercream icing.  From the first batch I put aside a few spoonfuls to dye red for the frog mouth.  I dyed the remaining icing a deep green.  Just green alone wasn't achieving the shade I wanted, so I added a small bit of blue and then red to the green.  I don't know the exact number of drops I used, I just played around with it until I was happy.  It's important to add one drop at a time, though, so you don't overdo it and ruin the icing color.

Next, I iced the frog cupcakes, trying to make them as smooth as possible.  I took the spoonfuls of icing I set aside and added red gel.  After placing the eyes on the cupcakes, I used a ziploc bag with a corner snipped off to pipe the smile on. They looked adorable!

As for the lamb cupcakes, I filled a piping bag with buttercream icing and used a #4 piping tip, lifting up and down repeatedly on the top of the cupcake to create a "fluffy" effect.  I added the pre-made fondant heads to the iced cupcakes, placing them at a small angle, finishing off by piping a bit more fluff on the top of the head.

The girls and party guests loved them!  Yes, they were cute, but they were also DELICIOUS!

Happy Birthday to two of my favorite girls!!

A Little NoshI have shared this recipe with A Little Nosh for Tastetastic Thursday, a linky party.
It's a great site, head over there to check it out for some great ideas and inspiration!

To India and Back

My husband and I returned from India this past week.  It was a truly amazing experience that is not easy to describe.  Along with the well known issues of polluted air, poverty, and general uncleanliness we discovered India's beautiful and friendly people, wonderful scents of spices everywhere, incredible wildlife, ever changing landscapes, and VIBRANT color.  And this all just in Delhi and Rajasthan!  One day, we plan on going back to explore other states of India because, honestly, I am hooked!  This week it's back to baking, in time for the holidays.  It's been a bit rough adjusting back to this time zone and I've caught a cold, but I'm ready to spring back into action.  For now, I'll leave you for now with a few images of our visit to what is now my favorite country!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving and Christmas and Birthdays. Oh, My!

I am just back from Buffalo where I celebrated Thanksgiving, (early) family Christmas, my Father's birthday, and the birthdays of my twin nieces.  It was a whirlwind trip but SO much fun!  I was able to do a lot of baking for my family and loved every second of it.  I could use a bit of a rest now.  However, in a few hours I will be boarding a plane to India.  I'll be traveling around with my husband for two weeks, so I won't be baking or posting anything new for awhile.  The trip should be exciting, I'm sure, but I'm already looking forward to coming home and baking for Christmas!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoys this holiday season.  Try something new and be creative in the kitchen!  You'll be surprised by the things you can do.  Enjoy and I'll be back mid-December!  In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the birthday girls with the cupcakes I made for them (their choice, of course!).  I love them to pieces!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chocolate Chip and Cream Cheese Cookie Dip

Okay, this is delicious.  Even for someone (me) who is not terribly fond of cheesecake, this dip is fantastic.  And, even BETTER, it's ridiculously quick and easy to make on short notice.  Your guests will love it.  Just be sure to make enough, it disappears pretty quickly!

Chocolate Chip and Cream Cheese Cookie Dip

1 package (8 ounces) Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature chocolate chips

In a large bowl beat together cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract until fluffy.  If you are not using a hand mixer be sure to beat until completely combined.  Add the sugars in small increments, stirring well with each addition.  Next, add the chocolate chips and mix until well combined.  Refrigerate at least two hours and serve with graham crackers.

See?  Easy!  Except that I don't like graham crackers, and I'm sure I'm not alone.  I decided to make chocolate cookie sticks to use for dipping.  I mixed up a batch of Chocolate Cut-out Cookies.  They are not too sweet and complement the dip perfectly.  After refrigerating for 20 minutes, I began to cut the sticks using a square cookie cutter.  

Once the square shapes were cut, I used the same square cutter to make sticks.  I decided I didn't mind if the sticks were evenly cut or all different widths, so I did not focus on perfectly shaping them.

I baked them as directed, but I think they could have used another minute or two.  They were a bit on the soft side, so not all of them were sturdy enough to actually dip.  Next time, I will make them thicker and bake them longer.

This is a phenomenal dessert perfect for parties, showers, holiday get-togethers, book club meetings, or just because!  You can also use Nilla Wafers, Sugar Cookies, Tea Biscuits, or any type of cookie you wish.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Flavors - Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

I feel like I've been gushing over everything I've made recently.  The thing is, though, is that the last few recipes have been THAT GOOD!  I wish I could say I was responsible for these creations, but I must give credit to the amazing bloggers out there who are kind enough to share their creative, tasty recipes.  These cupcakes are no exception. I absolutely, positively love them.  They are the very essence of autumn with a wonderful apple flavor.  Without further ado, here is the recipe!

Apple Cider Cupcakes

2 eggs (at room temperature)
 1 2/3 cup flour
1 cup pasteurized apple cider
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or place liner in cupcake wells.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  

Add eggs, beat well.  Add the baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Combine ingredients, alternately adding the flour and apple cider in small increments until thoroughly combined.  Pour into prepared cupcake pan.  Fill each cup 3/4 full.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.  Makes about 12 cupcakes.

At this point my kitchen already smelled SO good!  One of the responsibilities of a baker is to taste test at certain intervals of the process.  You know, someone has to do it....So, I tried a cupcake and already I was in love.  I was hoping the caramel icing would compliment and enhance these cupcakes.  I set out to find the answer and gave it a try!

Caramel Frosting

1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Next, add the milk and brown sugar.  

Obviously, I didn't read the recipe correctly, as I did not melt the butter completely before adding the milk and sugar.  In this case the icing turned out just fine, but you should always read the recipe entirely before you begin!!

Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1/2 cup confectioners sugar.  Let it cool slightly, then vigorously whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners sugar.  If you have problems doing this by hand, use an electric mixer.  It is very important to whisk very quickly or frosting will not be smooth.  Frost cupcakes while the frosting is still slightly warm.  There will be enough icing for about 12 cupcakes.

This is what the finished icing looked like after beating.  I used an electric hand mixer.
When it comes to frosting with this icing you should be as quick as possible.  It begins to harden very quickly and does not have a nice finish.  Here is the progression of my icing experience:

Next time I think I would add just a touch more milk to keep it smooth.  My favorite finish is the second cupcake.  The first one settled too smoothly.  The second had a nice little flourish I think is cute.  From there the icing hardened and was not as easy to spread.  It's a bit touchy, but worth it because it's DELICIOUS!!

And so it was time for the final taste test.  Heaven.  I'm not exaggerating.  One cupcake was so fulfilling and the perfect amount of sweet after a meal.  Now, my husband did not care for the caramel icing.  It may not be for everyone, but you should definitely give it a try!  This is my new favorite treat of the season.  What is yours?

I shared this recipe with :