Monday, December 24, 2012

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Here is a sampling of some of the cookies I baked and decorated this year. I hope you all have a happy and healthy holiday and new year!









Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Grinch Cookie Cutter and Cookies!

One of my favorite Christmas books and movies as a kid was The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. For the past few years, I've wanted to make Grinch cookies for Christmas, but haven't been able to find a cookie cutter (and I'm not so good at drawing something freehand). You'd think with all the Grinch merchandising today there would be one, but if there is I haven't been able to find it. Even scouring Ebay and Etsy left me empty-handed.

I was about to give up on my Grinch cookie quest when I saw a posting on Etsy from Warp Zone, a small business that makes cookie cutters from a 3D printer. Honestly, I had no idea that a 3D printer even existed or how it worked, but looking at the samples of cookie cutters in the shape of Mario or Pokeman in their store, I knew I could get a Grinch made.

I sent the business a message along with an image I found by doing a Google image search of Grinch coloring pages and asked if the image could be make into a cookie cutter. I got a reply a few hours later from owner Athey Moravitz, who not only told me she could make my cutter, but that she would send me a screen shot proof for approval.

Here is the image I sent:
I decided I didn't want a scary Grinch, so I was happy to find this image. And here is the screen-shot proof I was sent:

I can't believe this amazing technology exists! With shipping, I paid about $17 for the cookie cutter, which isn't too bad considering it it was custom made. The cookie cutter has indentations in it, to serve as a guide for decorating the face. The smile and the eyes don't cut all the way through the dough, they just leave an imprint.
Here is the cookie cutter next to the finished product. I was told the cookie cutter is made from the same material used to make Legos, so it's pretty sturdy. The cutter cut pretty cleanly, although you can't roll your cookie dough too thick (I cut mine at 1/4 of an inch). 

I'm really happy to have finally made some Grinch cookies and happier yet with the awesome cookie cutter! 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The BEST Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever


I've baked a lot of sugar cookies over the years, always searching for the best, most consistent recipe. Some recipes called for the cookies to be chilled in the freezer before baking, adding tons of time to the process. Some recipes used powered sugar instead of granulated. And others used more flour than necessary.

But my recipe quest ended when I stumbled upon the recipe posted by Pam at CookieCrazie. Her cookies always look amazing and she used glaze icing instead of royal, something I'll have to try one of these days. 

I tweaked Pam's recipe just a tad, but it's the most consistent, best tasting sugar cookie recipe ever. And now, you can enjoy these cookies too. Here's what you need:
Yes, you saw that right. You need Greek yogurt for these cookies. It's the secret ingredient and what I think makes these cookies taste so good. Plus, you can convince yourself that the cookies are healthy! Greek yogurt is good for you, right?

The first step to making these cookies to get the prep work finished first. I like to measure the flour, salt, and baking powder and keep aside in a bowl until ready to use. It makes things go much easier. 

By the way, did you know the right way to measure flour is to use a scoop or a spoon and add it to the measuring cup before leveling? Now you do.
Don't you love the purple measuring cup? I got a set at one of my favorite stores, Sur La Table

Make sure your butter is at room temperature (leave it out on the counter for about an hour). Add it to your mixer, along with the sugar. It should look like this:
Mix your egg together with the vanilla and almond extract in a small bowl. Then add it to the butter mixture.
Mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. Measure out the Greek yogurt and add to the butter mixture.
Mix well. Your dough should now look a little lumpy, like this:
Now add the flour mixture you set aside. I like to add half of the mixture and mix for a minute, and then add the rest. If you have a splash guard for your mixer, now would be a good time to use it, as it prevents flour from flying out.
You'll know when the dough is ready when none of it sticks to the sides of the bowl.
Form the dough into two balls and cover with plastic wrap. Get your rolling pin and cookie cutters ready. One thing I love about this dough is that it doesn't need to chill before cutting and baking. Now is also a good time to preheat the oven to 325.

I like my sugar cookies thick. They keep their shape better and stay softer. I usually roll the dough to about 1/2 inch. You can buy rolling pin guides that help make the dough the same thickness. I have a set I picked up at a discount store awhile ago, and they are awesome. 
These cookies don't spread that much, so you don't need tons of space around them. That being said, don't put them too close together either. An inch apart should be good.
Another thing I love about this recipe is that you can bake two cookie sheets at the same time! This save so much time when baking. You will need to switch the cookie sheets halfway through baking though.
Make sure you keep an eye on the cookies, as you don't want them to get too brown. I found that small cookies baked for 16 minutes, while larger ones took almost 18 minutes.
Ideally, you don't want to see any brown on the cookie. You'll be able to tell when they're fully cooked when the tops and sides don't look shiny.
This is how you'd like the bottoms to look. It's okay if they're a little darker, but don't go any darker than this:
A cross between the above two photos is perfect. Pay attention to the edges around the bottom of the cookies.

Let the cookies cool on a cookie sheet, before storing in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware container. The cookies will keep for about a week or so, but it's best if you decorate them within two to three days. Once decorated, the cookies have a longer shelf life and can last for a couple of weeks if stored properly.

Here is the recipe, adapted from CookieCrazie:
The BEST Sugar Cookies Ever
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (don't use fat free)
4 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg, vanilla, and Greek yogurt. Blend in dry ingredients.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
Roll dough to desired thickness (I prefer 1/2 inch). Cut into shapes. Place cookies on un-greased cookie sheet, lined with either parchment paper or a Silpat. 
This recipe yields approximately 20-25 medium cookies.
Bake approximately 16-20 minutes, depending on cookie size.

NOTE: You can bake two cookie sheets at a time, but switch the cookie sheet positions (move bottom one to top and vice versa) after 10 minutes. Continue baking for the remaining time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! Marbled Leaf Cookies

I'm a few days behind schedule posting these cookies, but since it still is Thanksgiving weekend, I guess I'm just making the deadline. I've made these cookies for the past two years, and each year people are amazed at how I got the colors to blend together and swirl. Believe it or not, decorating these cookies is much easier than you might think.

The first step is having your sugar cookies baked, cooled, and ready to decorate. Line them up on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Mix up your royal icing colors. For these, I mixed four different colors: gold, brown, orange, and plum. You will need both piping and flooding consistency icing, although you'll need much more of the latter. 
Piping consistancy means the royal icing is pretty stiff and doesn't lose it's shape. You use this to outline the cookie, using a pastry bag and a #2 tip. 
The outline serves as a barrier for the flood icing, so it doesn't drip off the sides of the cookie. Flood icing is the same type of icing as piping, but it has been watered down so it has the consistency of glue. 

If you were mixing royal icing, once stiff peaks form, you'd divide it up into containers for each color you plan to use. Then you'd mix your color (use gel icing colors, they work better) and take a little bit and add it to your piping bag. The rest of that icing color you'd add water to a teaspoon at a time until it looks sort of like glue. This is flood icing.

The next step for these cookies is to add your base flood color. Using a squeeze bottle, squeeze some icing around the cookie. You don't want to fill the whole cookie, though.
Once you have enough icing on the cookie, grab a toothpick (actually have a box handy -- you'll need them) and use it to spread the icing to all the corners of the cookie.
I've found flat toothpicks work best, but any will do. Your flooded cookie should look like this:
Now you're ready for the fun part. Take a color of flood icing and squeeze drops, lines, or other designs on the cookie. Not too many but just a few.
Repeat with the next color.
Repeat again with the next color.
Make sure you have plenty of toothpicks handy. Grab one and drag the toothpick through the icing to create the marbled look. It's important not to scrape the toothpick against the cookie, just the icing. Work quickly before the icing sets. 
It doesn't matter which direction you go with the swirl, just mix the colors together until you're happy with the way it looks.
Here are a few tips. Notice how I arranged the cookies on the cookie sheet above? Make sure there is space between each cookie. You also want to avoid having to reach over other cookies to decorate. When I want to decorate the other side, I just turn the cookie sheet. 

The next tip is to have plenty of toothpicks handy. Don't use the same toothpick to create the swirl that used to smooth out your basic flood icing. 

Finally, allow the cookies plenty of time to dry. You'll need at least 12 hours before you can move or package them. Don't worry, the icing keeps the cookies from getting stale. 

I packaged these cookies in cellophane bags and tied them with orange ribbon to take to my in-laws on Thanksgiving. 
The marbled technique could easily be used to create other holiday cookies. Christmas trees? Ornaments? 

One last note: Many thanks to my husband for taking the pictures of me decorating the cookies. It's hard to decorate and shoot pictures at the same time. I'm thankful to him for this and for so much more!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Taste of Greece: Koulourakia (Greek Butter Cookies)

This post is a little late.... I should have posted it in August, after my husband and I got back from our awesome Mediterranean cruise. As I've mentioned before, my husband is Greek, and I've always wanted to visit Greece. When the opportunity arose for us to take this trip of a lifetime, we jumped. There are no words to describe just how beautiful Greece is, especially the islands. 
Looking at this picture of Santorini makes me miss summer, travel, and the food. Some of my favorite Greek foods are the bakery items: Galaktoboureko (a custard pie baked in phillo), tsoureki (a sweet bread, I wrote about here), and Koulourakia (butter cookies). I loved visiting different Greek bakeries and seeing (and sampling) their creations. 
When we got back from our trip in late August, I knew I had to try my hand at baking some Koulourakia (and making some tzatziki). While these cookies look complicated with their braid, they really aren't difficult to make at all. Here's what you'll need:
Please note that I made these cookies in August (not in November), so I wasn't using expired orange juice. :) The ingredients are mixed together with butter and sugar mixed first, followed by the addition of the eggs, juice, and some vanilla, and the flour mixture. Using a cookie scoop (or a tablespoon), scoop out a ball of dough, roll it to create a little snake, then bend and braid as shown in the photos below.
Top off each cookie with some egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional, but traditional). 

Here is the full recipe (adapted from Greek.food.com):

Koulourakia (Greek Butter Cookies)

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
6 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg, beaten (mixed with the milk)
7 tablespoons milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cream butter. Add sugar gradually.
  3. Add eggs one at a time alternately with orange juice.
  4. Add flour that has been sifted with soda and baking powder, a little bit at a time. Should be a soft dough.
  5. Shape as desired and brush with egg and milk mixture. Traditional Greek cookies are 2 small strands of dough twisted together and brushed with egg-milk mixture and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
  6. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet or use a Silpat. 
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops should be lightly golden brown.
  8. Recipe makes about 48 cookies.
These are the perfect cookies for dunking in your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Store them in a Ziploc bag and they will keep for awhile. Enjoy!