Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! Since this year is the year of the Dragon, my sign, I thought it would be good to celebrate with some dragon cookies.

I saw these cool wafer paper images last month from Fancy Flours and knew I had to try them. I've never tried using wafer paper images on sugar cookies before, but saw Julia Usher give a demonstration in November and figured they couldn't be that hard to use. Wafer paper is an edible starch based confection, made of potato starch, water, and vegetable oil. The image is printed on the paper with food coloring.

The images came printed on a single sheet of wafer paper, which you cut to fit the size of your cookies. You then adhere the images to the iced cookies with corn syrup.

I baked and iced (using royal icing with the outline and flood technique) my sugar cookies. The icing has to be completely dry before adhering the wafer paper, which meant leaving them sit out for a good 24 hours (the icing keeps them from going stale).

The images are then pasted on top of the cookie using a pastry brush or a foam brush and corn syrup. The trick is to not get corn syrup on your hands as you lift the image up and adhere to the cookie. You also don't want to brush too hard, or you could tear the wafer paper.

My biggest complaint is that there wasn't enough extra space around the image to cut it out in the exact shape of the cookie, so you wouldn't see any paper lines on your finished cookie. Smoothing down the edges was also a bit of a challenge.

See the paper lines below? I'm not really of fan of how these look.

Perhaps the challenge here is that these images are not your basic square or rectangle shapes that are easy enough to cut and paste. I thought about adding a border to the cookies to cover the paper, but realized that wouldn't work because the paper is too far from the edge.

I'm not sure I'll use wafer paper images again, but if I do, I'll make sure the shapes are simple squares or rectangles. I'll also make sure the cookie cutter I use is the same size as the images (there wasn't one available for these images, so I had guess what size to bake the cookies).

Despite my perfectionism with the lines (part of my Dragon character, showing here), the images do look pretty cool.

Hope you all have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A taste of summer and lessons learned

It's been cold here, as I'm sure it has been wherever you are too. It is January, after all. But up until last week, my husband and I haven't had to turn on the heat in our apartment. One of the benefits of living in a high rise building, I guess. So when it got cold enough last week to make us want to finally turn on the heat, I had a real longing for summer.

When I was a kid, summer meant sleeping in, reading lots of books, going to the pool, and making S'mores in the backyard. I decided to try and see if I could recreate those summer S'mores in cookie form. I've seen lots of recipes online for everything S'mores, but I thought I could make my own cookie recipe. Basically, I thought I could use my standard chocolate chip cookie dough recipe and add marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs with a Hershey's chocolate square on top for decoration.

In hindsight, I should have read the recipe posts from other bakers. My first mistake was to not use mini marshmallows. When I decided to make S'mores cookies, it was late and I didn't feel like going to the grocery store two blocks away. Instead, I went to the deli across the street and they only had large marshmallows. I thought I could just cut them into small pieces and they would work fine. Have you ever tried cutting marshmallows? Don't.

They are really sticky and hard to cut. My trusty kitchen scissors made it a bit easier, but really, it was too much of a hassle. Just walk the two blocks to the real grocery store to get what you really need.

Which brings me to my next mistake: Baking with marshmallows. As I learned, they don't really bake well. Mixed into the cookie dough, they look great. See?

But after baking, they turn out like this:

They make the cookies look gross. And while my taste-tester said they tasted good, the cookies certainly didn't look good. I promptly threw them in the trash, along with the rest of the dough.

Later on I read some blogs where bakers made S'mores cookies and gave lots of advice: freeze the marshmallows before adding to dough, chill the dough before baking, etc. But I was convinced that baking with marshmallows was not a smart move.

I came across one recipe on Pinterest that seemed to be solve my S'more cookie problem. S'mores bars! Instead of using marshmallows, the recipe calls for marshmallow fluff. The result? Perfection!

For some reason, marshmallow fluff doesn't get weird when baked. The bars also seem to mimic an actual S'more, so that's a plus, too. Instead of regular chocolate chips, I used mini dark chocolate chunks from Whole Foods that look like little Hershey bars.

Here is the recipe, adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe:

S’mores Cookie Bars
Note: Do not use regular marshmallows in this recipe!
Makes 9X13-inch pan of bars
INGREDIENTS: 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, softened 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 large eggs 2 cups marshmallow fluff (I used a whole container) 2 cups chocolate chunks (a whole bag)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9X13-inch pan with foil, leaving an overhang on the 2 short sides. Grease the foil with cooking spray and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until combined. Divide the dough in half. Press half into the bottom of the prepared pan until the dough is evenly flattened. Dollop the marshmallow topping on top of the cookie base and gently spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the chocolate chunks on top.
Scatter the remaining dough over the top in clumps. Don’t worry about completely covering the top, the marshmallow and chocolate chunks should peek through. Bake the bars until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool completely. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil overhangs. Cut into bars and serve.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pecan bars and my new toy

I've always wanted a food processor. But since I've lived in New York City for the past 10 years, and my kitchens have all been the size of most normal people's closets, there was no room in my precious cabinets or counters for a food processor. Several years ago, I bought one of the mini processors at Williams-Sonoma, and while it managed to chop nuts fine, it didn't do much else. I also tried the blender-food processor combo made by Cuisinart, but it was too loud and didn't really have the power of the real deal.

Last month, out of the blue, a large box arrived from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. My husband ordered me a shiny red Kitchen Aid food processor! In the past month, I've used it for just about every shredding or chopping job I can think of. And I love it. Fresh grated cheese? Coming right up!

During my Christmas baking extravaganza, I planned to make pecan bars, but stopped when I read in Martha Stewart's recipe that you needed a food processor to make the dough. Well now that I had one, it was time to put my new toy to the test!

It's amazing how quickly the processor made the dough. It was just as easy as using my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer.

Martha's recipe says to use a 9-inch square pan, but I decided to double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan. In the future, I'd probably stick with the 9-inch pan, as mine came out a bit thick. I tried to cut them into smaller squares to compensate for their thickness.

This one was for my husband, who said the bars tasted just like pecan pie. He seems to be enjoying the treats from my new toy -- although I think he's more excited about being able to have freshly grated Parmesan cheese at any moment.

And although I truly love the processor (the red makes me want to buy a new matching Kitchen Aid Mixer!), I do have one slight problem. Where on Earth do I put it?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oreos are yummy!

My 13-year old nephew likes Oreos. A lot. I never realized this until last summer, when he sent me a random text message with his signature line reading, "Oreos r yummy." It took a couple of back and forth texts before I realized his "Oreos r yummy" comments weren't actually part of our conversation. I'm pretty sure all of my texts back to him were "What is 'Oreos are yummy?'," at which he probably got a good laugh. He's probably still laughing, or shaking his head, at my ignorance.

Tomorrow we're getting together with my husband's family, so I thought I'd whip up a sweet treat to bring with us. Since my nephew will be there, why not make something with Oreos? I've seen lots of recipes on Pinterest lately for Oreo cookies, Oreo cupcakes, Oreo cheesecake, Oreo bars, Oreo truffles.... Oreo everything. I decided to try this Oreo cupcake recipe. The result? As my nephew would say, "Oreos are yummy!"

The real surprise of the cupcake is the inside. There is a whole Oreo cookie at the bottom. 

The cookie softens a bit when you bake it with the cake. There are also crushed Oreos added to the dark chocolate cake mix and to the homemade buttercream frosting. I also added a mini Oreo as a garnish.

The recipe made far more than the usual two dozen cupcakes (almost three dozen), so I baked and decorated the rest and took them downstairs to the doormen. They were happy for a treat on this cold January night. The others were boxed up in a bakery box ready for the family.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend! 
Oreos r yummy.....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Baking: Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

My husband runs a club at his school called the Young Men's Club. Since he works at a performing arts school, there aren't a lot boys in his classes. I think it's because they don't want to take dance as their gym class. The club is a great opportunity for male students to bond and to talk about guy issues. Awhile ago, I started baking treats on Sunday nights for my husband to take to school for Monday's after school club meeting. He said the treats have doubled his attendance this year. Selfishly, the Sunday night baking is an excuse to try a new recipe or to use up ingredients taking up my precious cabinet space. This weekend, it was the latter.

I also needed an excuse to try out my new toy, a new flat beater with a scraper, that I picked up at Sur La Table yesterday. With the new beater, I won't have to constantly stop and scrape the bowl.

I still had almost an entire bag of chocolate chips left over from the owl cake pops. And I had a bag of white chocolate Ghirardelli chips, which I opened thinking I could use them for the owl ears only to remember that Ghirardelli makes their chips flatter. I decided to use both in my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.

This recipe is not as decadent as my Jaques Torres chocolate chip cookie recipe, but then again, this recipe doesn't take at least 24 hours to make. So what makes this recipe different and better than the average Toll House recipe?

I use Italian pastry flour instead of regular all-purpose flour. I stumbled upon this flour at the gourmet market located on the ground floor of my apartment building. It has a higher gluten content, so it makes the cookies chewier.

The second key ingredient is adding an extra egg yolk (so one egg plus one egg yolk). This wisdom comes from Alton Brown and his Chewy episode on Good Eats.

Here is my adapted version of his recipe:

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Alton Brown)
Preheat your over to 325 degrees now

  • 3/4 cup salted butter (melted)
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg (make sure it's large, not extra large or jumbo!)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (use good quality, pure extract)
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 bag)
  • AND
  • 12 ounces white chocolate chips (1 bag)
  • or
  • 1 bag of M&Ms

  • Directions:

  1. Sift together the flour and baking soda into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Pour the butter into your stand mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until well-mixed.
  3. Whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract in a measuring cup or separate bowl. Never crack eggs over your dough/batter in case a loose shell gets in the mix!
  4. On a low mixer speed, slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
  5. Gradually pour in the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl (unless you have a super cool new beater-scraper!).
  6. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to "stir" and add the chocolate chips, M&Ms, and/or other goodies.
If you want larger cookies (like mine in the photo), scoop the dough using a 1/4 measuring cup. For smaller cookies, use a cookie scoop (a good rounded tablespoon). Make sure your cookie sheets are either lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. You should be able to fit about 6 cookies per sheet.
Bake larger cookies for 16-18 minutes (check them at 15 minutes though). Smaller cookies usually take 10-12 minutes.
As a side note, the dough mixture is really versatile. I've made the recipe with white chocolate chips and cranberries, with M&Ms and chocolate chips, with peanut butter and regular chocolate chips.... I think any combination that sounds good will work. Just make sure you have at least 24 ounces of something or the cookies will be really doughy -- unless that's the way you like 'em!

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Blog!

Happy New Year! After having several people tell me this past year that I should start a blog, I've decided to give it a go. I figure it can be a good place to show off my craftiness -- whether it's cookies or other confections I've baked or crafts I've created using my beloved Cricut.

To get started, here are a few of the cookies I baked for Christmas this year. I didn't go as crazy as I did last year, where I swear I baked more than 500 cookies, but I did try and top myself artistically.

These Santa faces were perhaps my favorite. I used luster dust for the first time to give Santa his rosy cheeks.
The snow globes are a repeat of a cookie I did last year, but I liked them so much I had to do them again. They were originally featured in Martha Stewart Living in 2009. The snowmen I made for my students at school. Lucky kids! They were an easy cookie to decorate, using a simple ornament cookie cutter. I used black candy pearls for the eyes and mouth and more luster dust for the rosy cheeks.
I am most proud of my taxi cookies. There is no pre-made cookie cutter for the front of a taxi, so I used a car front cutter that I purchased from ecrandal and added the taxi top by cutting a small piece of dough and adding it to the top of the taxi before baking. The pieces baked together seamlessly, so you'd never know by looking at them. I used silver luster dust again for the bumper. The wreath and santa face were royal icing decors from Fancy Flours.
Of course, not everything I baked were sugar cookies. I also had to make some decadent chocolate chip cookies to keep my husband happy. These cookies are the Jaques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe printed in The New York Times a few years ago. They are quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie out there -- and they'd better be after having to chill the dough for 36 hours! I didn't use Jaques Torres chocolate though. I find the Guittard chocolate disks sold at Whole Foods to work better.

On the craft front, I managed to make some matching Christmas cards and gift tags. Both were made with my trusty Cricut.
Since 2011 led my husband and I to our perfect NYC apartment (after five years!), I wanted to celebrate our happy city life with our Christmas card. Of course, I had to have a matching gift tag, too! I used Cricut cartridges Going Places and Doodlecharms for the images. I wrapped the base of the tag with Divine Twine in Cherry (love this stuff).

I look forward to sharing more cookies and crafts with you this year!