Thursday, November 28, 2013

Whoo! Owl Cake Pops and Some Tips

Happy weekend!

A former student of mine is heading back to college this weekend and has been asking for some cake pops. So, I thought I'd make some to give her a sweet start to the new semester.

I first discovered cake pops a year ago, when my brother bought me Bakerella's Cake Pops book for Christmas as a baking challenge for me to tackle. After many failed attempts and chocolate messes, I finally figured out how to get the cake to stay on the stick and make them look cute.


I've been a little obsessed with cute owls lately, so I thought they would be fun to try. Besides, a little wisdom for a new semester can't hurt! Here's what I came up with:


I'm quite pleased with how they came out. They're not as challenging as some of the other cake pops Bakerella has in her book (or on her amazing blog), but they are really cute.

If you've never heard of cake pops, they're basically cake crumbs (I used chocolate) mixed with frosting, rolled into a ball, and then dipped in chocolate.

When I first attempted to make them, I learned the hard way what worked and what didn't. I think I wasted several whole cakes and pounds of chocolate trying to make them stay on a stick. Decorating them was a whole other issue!

Here is how the owls were made:


There are three key things I've learned that make the difference between successful cake pops and "rejects" that my husband gets to eat.

The first is making sure your cake isn't too moist. Most box cake mixes are made to be super moist (with pudding and lots of good stuff added). The combination of a really moist cake and a lot of frosting doesn't make a mixture that is firm enough to withstand the dipping stage. I actually like using cake mix from Trader Joe's or an organic mix because it produces a drier cake.

The second key is to let your cake and frosting mixture (you will crumble the cake and mix it with almost an entire tub of frosting -- Yum!) chill in the refrigerator overnight. Really chilled cake mixture is much easier to work with.

The final key is to make sure the balls are rolled really tightly, so they are smooth. Lumpy cake balls fall apart when dipped in chocolate. And while they still taste great, lumpy cake balls certainly don't look too pretty. Squeeze the mixture in your hands and roll it in your palms.

One final tip that can easily ruin a cake pop making experience - never melt chocolate on a high temperature. If you're using Wilton's molding chocolate, make sure you melt it at 50 percent (or using the defrost setting) in your microwave. Overheated chocolate won't give you a smooth coating on your cake pops. Actually, it won't even drip or glob off the cake ball. Not that I know from experience or anything. :)

Have you made cake pops? Any valuable lessons from experience to share?

Happy Thanksgiving! Cute Owl Cookies With Nutmeg

Happy Thanksgiving! These cute owl cookies are going to my brother-in-law's house today, where my husband and I will celebrate Thanksgiving. 

I decided to change up my basic recipe a bit, and give these cookies an essence of the season. The secret? Nutmeg.
Nutmeg always reminds me of my Dad, who always used to make us eggnog on Thanksgiving while we watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He would grate some fresh nutmeg on top of the eggnog and the smell always reminds me of Thanksgiving. 

My great aunt Beulah also used to use nutmeg in her sugar cookie recipe, which was the one my mom used to bake when my brother and I were kids. It adds a nice, warm flavor to the cookie.

I don't have a fancy nutmeg grater like my Dad, but you can use the stuff from the spice aisle. I'd start with half a teaspoon and use that instead of adding almond extract. When you add nutmeg though, make sure you double up on the vanilla extract (2 tsp.), to equal out the dry to liquid ratio. 

I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Very Squirrley Story and Some Cookies

Many years ago, my Aunt Barbie took me on a college tour of The University of Maryland, College Park. The campus was amazing, the weather ideal, and being with my cool aunt made for the perfect day. But when I look back on that day, I don't really remember much about the campus or the tour (other than the impressive Journalism building). What I remember most is meeting George.

Somewhere along our self-guided tour, we realized we were being followed by a squirrel. Everywhere we looked, the same squirrel was behind us, in front of us, or right next to us. Since he seemed to like our company, we decided to name him and consider him a friend. I think it was Barbie who decided to name him George. Why George? I have no idea. He must have looked like a George.

Packed away somewhere I'm sure I have a picture or two of George from that day. But even without the picture, George's memory has lived on to this day. If either Barbie or I see a funny squirrel picture or there happens to be a squirrel nearby, George's name inevitably comes up. 

Since it's nearly Thanksgiving and all, I decided this would be a good time to give thanks to my Aunt Barbie in the form of a surprise box of cookies. It didn't take long to come up with the idea of baking squirrel cookies. And some acorns. George probably ate lots of acorns.
I originally wanted these cookies to be a squirrely grey-brown color, like I remember George being, but ended up with a darker brown. A few shades darker, and these squirrels could almost pass for Kent's black squirrels

Not only did these cookies provide a fun trip down memory lane, but they were pretty easy to make. A little sanding sugar. A little icing swirl for fur, and these little candy pearls for eyes.
The acorns were just as easy to decorate, with light brown icing and gold sanding sugar. 
These cookies should arrive at Barbie's house today, just in time for Thanksgiving. I'm so fortunate to have amazing aunts who have been there for me throughout the years. It was Barbie who first took me to New York City when I was 18, and who served as a role model, showing me that a woman can be successful in the workplace. She continues to show me how to be spontaneous, how to follow my dreams, and how to commune with nature. I am so thankful for all she has shared and all I've been able to experience with and because of her. 

Thank you Barbie! I hope you enjoy your cookies! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gobble, Gobble! Thanksgiving Mini Cookies

Where has the fall gone? Last time I posted, it was still sunny and warm. Now, it's 30 degrees for the high and snow is on the way. Brrr! While I have still been baking, I've been a little lazy at posting. I blame it on school. Fall always seems so overwhelming and busy.
Aren't these little cookies cute? I was inspired by Hayley Cakes and Cookies, who always bakes such adorable mini cookies. Each cookie is a perfect bite. 
My favorite is this cute turkey. Super easy to make, but so adorable.
The pumpkin is pretty cute, too! Along with the scarecrow. The cute scarecrow reminds me of the scarecrow my grandma used to have in my grandparents' backyard. It wasn't as much of a scarecrow as it was a piece of unique artwork. 
These cookies were packaged in a long pretzel bag (five mini cookies per bag), heat sealed, and sent off to my family in Ohio as a treat for Thanksgiving. I hope they serve as a mini reminder of how thankful I am for each of them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Keeping Busy, Baby! Cute Onesie Cookies

September seems like the longest month. Maybe that's because I'm a teacher, and after two months of life at a slower pace, it's so hard to get back to a routine. 

In addition to the start of the school year craziness, I've also been busy lately with some cookie orders. First up was an order for cookies to go with a Bubble Guppies party for a one-year old. Some beach scenes and cute purple starfish were in order. 
Next up was an order for baby shower cookies. I love these cute onesies!
I also made a few baby bottles with some extra dough to include. Super cute!
Hope you've been having a nice fall so far! I'm loving the weather we've been having lately. It reminds me of San Francisco and the trip I took this summer with my Mom! Look for more cookie postings soon. I'm already starting to plan for Halloween!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Here Kitty, Kitty! Kitty-Cat Cookies

Growing up, we had two cats, although not at the same time. After our cat Pepper ran away when I was in fifth grade, we got another cat and named her Lucky. We were lucky to have her, my Dad said. Lucky used to chew paper and paw on my bedroom door at night. She was a fun, quirky cat. I cried the day my parents had to put her down about 10 years ago. While I don't have any cats now, I always love visiting my friends and family who have them.

These cat cookies were sent off to my Aunt Nina and Uncle Bill, who recently adopted three cats. I imagine they have their hands full now!
These cute cats were such fun to make. And surprisingly quite easy, too. 
Looking at these cookies makes me want to get a cat! Don't you just love the little fish and yarn balls?
Hope you all are enjoying this last weekend of summer! I plan to do some baking to relax before school begins again on Tuesday. Where did the summer go?!

Monday, July 29, 2013

As Cute As A Pug: Dog Cookies

Growing up, I idolized my cousin Shannon. She had long blonde hair and lived in California and was infinitely more cool than I'd ever be. My parents have video of the two of us singing on the back of my grandparents' house in Ohio (I was under 10) and I kept trying to steal the microphone from her. Seriously, I wanted to be just like her.

Today, she is still just as amazing. We had to bond during family gatherings because we were the only girls of all of the grandkids and that bond stills holds today. So while I may not talk to or see her as often as I'd like, she's still just as special to me. 

So what does this have to do with cookies? Well, Shannon loves Pugs. Most dogs, actually, but especially Pugs. Her Facebook page and Pinterest board are loaded with cute pug pictures. I mentioned something casually in passing about sending her pug cookies for her birthday, but that was back in April, and no cookies were sent. Bad cousin. 

Now that it's summer, I figured it would be a great time to send a way-belated birthday surprise. These cookies were actually pretty easy to decorate. The cookie cutter I used was from Cheap Cookie Cutters. I also decided to make chocolate sugar cookies to go with the colors. 
After researching tons of Pug faces (those Facebook and Pinterest photos were helpful!), I determined that I really only needed three colors: dark brown, light brown, and black. I outlined and flooded the areas for the dark icing and let them dry for about an hour.
Then I added the light brown using 20-second icing (icing that is a mix between piping and flood consistency). Sorry for the upside down photo! After these dried for several hours, the last step was adding the details to the face using black piping icing.
I made a smaller few paw prints and dog bones (for us to eat, not dogs!) to go with the cookies.
After looking at all these Pug cookies, I can easily see why Shannon loves them. They are too stinking cute!
I sent Shannon two boxes of cookies, which she should arrive today (in one piece, hopefully!). I hope she enjoys the late Birthday treat!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Down at the Jersey Shore: Beach Cookies

When we were invited to our friend's barbecue this weekend down at the Jersey shore, I knew I wanted to create some themed cookies to go with the event. Cookies in the shape of the Garden State was a given, but I was trying to think of something else, that didn't evoke that once popular MTV show.
The Garden State Parkway is the main road to the shore points. Growing up, we never went to the Jersey shore (it's a hike from Ohio), but I've heard stories from my mom and grandmother of them visiting my great-grandmother who once owned a little house on the beach in Lavallette. I wish my family still owned that house today!
The weather was perfect for the barbecue and we got to spend some time with our friends. They have a great house in Toms River and definitely know how to throw a party.
I packaged the cookies in my new boxes from BRP Box Shop and they were good to go. I love the sizes of the boxes and how easy they were to put together.
Hope you all are enjoying your summer!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ohio Cookies: The Heart of It All

I made these cookies on a whim a few months ago after seeing some cool designs on etsy and just remembered that I never posted a picture.

I was experimenting with disco dust and a new royal icing recipe, so I wasn't in love with the lettering once they were dry. But the Ohio cookie cutter shape looks so cool, it would be sad not to share. Perhaps I'll have to try again next time I go visit my home state, which hopefully is soon!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Here We Go Brownies! Cleveland Browns Football Cookies

It's not technically football season yet, but they were perfect to take to my brother when we visited him in Miami a few weeks ago. My brother has been a Cleveland Browns fan since birth, under the heavy influence of my dad. 
I made several football logo cookies, along with some chocolate minis in Browns colors. Maybe I should have made all the cookies chocolate since they go with the color scheme. I have to say, the Browns have one of the easiest logos to recreate!
I had to do some research to figure out what an official NFL football looks like. I wanted to add some white stripes to the sides of the football, but my husband informed me that was only for college football. You'd think being from Ohio that I'd know the difference. 
I'm sure I'll be baking another batch of these cookies once football season begins to send to my dad, uncle, nephew, and all the other Cleveland fans in my family. Next time I'll try to recreate the old Cleveland Brownie. Go Browns!

P.S. - Don't worry, these cookies aren't sitting on grass! I used an extra piece of scrapbook paper I had on hand to give field effect. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Round 2: Fourth of July Cookies

Hope you all had a wonderful July 4th! Here are a few more cookies I made to share with my family.
I love the simplicity of these firecracker cookies. Easy enough, yet they have a sophistication about them.
God bless the USA!
These NYC-themed July 4 cookies were probably my favorite. In all the years I've lived in the City, I've only seen the fireworks there once, back in 2001. As soon as school ends, I'm usually off travelling with my husband, so we miss the fireworks. One of these years we'll have to stay in town!

Enjoy the long weekend!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July! Easy Polka Dot Cookies

As a teacher, the 4th of July is easily one of my most favorite holidays, as it marks the true beginning of summer. Unfortunately, July also brings hot, humid weather which doesn't fare too well for baking and decorating cookies. However, these cookies are a cinch to decorate, hot weather and all. 

One of my favorite decorating techniques is creating polka dot cookies using the wet-on-wet technique. Confused? Let me walk you through the process.

To start, you need your cookies, baked and cooled. You also need your royal icing colors, in both piping consistency (think peaks) and flood (think glue). Outline your cookie with the piping icing and flood using a squeeze bottle and a toothpick to get the icing into all the corners.
Be careful not to over fill your cookie with the flood icing, or you may find icing dripping over the edges. The next step is to take a second color of flood icing and squeeze little drops onto the flooded cookie.
The dots will vary in size depending on how long of a squeeze you gave. You could easily stop here and let the cookies the dry. Or, you can repeat the above step with more icing colors.
Repeat again with another color if desired. I chose four colors for these cookies and alternated the colors depending on which color I used for the base.
When you're finished adding dots, your cookie should look like this:
See that light blue blob in the right corner of the star? Don't worry, it will smooth out as it settles. Let the cookies air dry overnight or at least eight hours before packaging or moving. When finished, your cookie will be nice and smooth with cute little polka dots.
If you decide to add a border or some sanding sugar to the edges (like I did on a few of the cookies above) make sure the entire cookie is completely dry so the sugar doesn't get all over the place.

The great thing about this design is that it can be used for any holiday or event, just change up the colors. 

I hope you all had a happy and festive 4th of July! I am celebrating America's independence and my brief independence from lesson planning!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Play's the Thing: Literary Bake-off Round 2

Last year, the students in my AP English class participated in a Literary Bake-off for their final exam. The assignment was to create a baked good that reflected in some way a work of literature we read in class. The assignment was such a hit that this year's class began asking about their final exam back in September. Several students told me they thought about what they would bake all year.
I thought long and hard about what to make for my own entry, but settled on baking something reflective of the play Hamlet, the last thing we read this year. After the AP test in May, my students rehearsed and performed a 30-minute adaptation of Hamlet. Watching students perform and love Shakespeare makes my teacher heart smile.

When I saw this comedy and tragedy mask cookie cutter at downtowndough.com, I knew I had to use it for this project. I also decided to make some Yorick skulls to go with the theme.
Looking at the pictures I took on the day of the bake-off, I realized I had mostly pictures of the students and little of just their baked goods. They truly impressed me this year. One student ordered a baby mold and made chocolate babies swimming in Jello soma to represent the society in the novel Brave New World. Amazing. 

After I set up my cookie display and explained the symbolism of the cookies, you would have thought I was giving away money. Within minutes, not a single cookie was left.
I can't wait to see what my students create next year!

If you'd like to see more information about the assignment, with an assignment sheet and rubric, you can visit my store at Teachers Pay Teachers for a preview.