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!