Cookies for Sweethearts!

Can you believe it??!!  We just took down the Christmas decorations and it’s nearly time for Valentine cookie baking!

Be sure and check out my cookie tutorial “Flying Hearts!”  You’ll find a step by step lesson on how to create beautiful cookies for Valentines Day.

With just over 3 weeks to Valentines Day, now is the time to make and freeze your cookie dough.  You can even bake and freeze un-iced cookies.  This do-a-head will make cookie decorating day go so much faster.

Happy Baking!

Cathy

Oh! That Holiday Magic!

Let it Snow!

Let it Snow!

Holiday decorating classes are in full swing this time of year. As I (frantically) prepare for several weekend classes I have one thing to say regarding preparations for the holidays. “Do-Ahead!”

Check recipes twice; Shop Early; Buy extra ingredients; Make dough ahead of time and freeze; Bake the cookies early; Make icing ahead and refrigerate; Call freinds for help (they will love you for it) and plan for extra munching treats!

The more that you can prepare in advance the more you can enjoy your friends and family during this joyous time of year.

Enjoy the Magic of Christmas!

Cathy

European Cookie Class 101

Yummy! Is all I can say after last night’s fabulous cookie feast!  The setting was Campbell’s Gourmet Cottage in Louisville, KY.  I have been baking all week, preparing for The “Sublime European Cookie Class”.  I used 14 pounds of unsalted butter!

Needles to say….we all tasted great cookies!

Susan, my super-dupper help (and the owner of Campbells) was so much help!  Serving tall classes of ice cold milk, and passing tray after tray of butter-y brown-sugar shortbread cookies and  chocolate laced biscotti sweet treats. We tasted 11 different cookie recipes.

All of the student were sent home with a fun parting gift;  a bakery box full of assorted cookies.

If you missed this class, don’t worry there are several other cookie classes coming in the next 3 months. Cookie Decorating classes,  Gifts from the Kitchen and a special Girls Night Out Cookie Swap.  Can’t wait !

Thanks to all of the students who came to class!  Enjoy the treats!

Happy Baking!

Cathy

Flour; "What’s Best"?

“What’s the best flour to use”? Is a question I am often asked. I say, “Depends on what you are baking”.
Flour is the backbone and structure of your baked goods. It is a binding and an absorbing agent. It affects the quality of your baked goods. It adds flavor and nutritional value to the baked product. That’s a lot for humble, little ‘ol flour to do.

“All Purpose Flour” is just what the name suggests; this flour can be used successfully in a variety of baked goods. It is a mixture of soft wheat flour and hard wheat flour and gluten flour. (Gluten adds protein). I have used “unbleached all purpose flour” for many years. I like this type because it has less chemical treatments. For most home cookie bakers this is the flour I recommend. I like to buy organic flour when I can find it. (I just feel good about using anything organic.)

Do not be tempted to use cake flour for your cookie baking. Cake flour is extra fine, soft milled flour (low gluten) and your recipe measurements will be off. (If all you have is cake flour, substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for each cup of all purpose flour your recipe calls for.)

I look for “low protein content flour” for cookie baking. (9.2 or lower) This will help produce a tender cookie.
For bread baking you want high protein flour. (14.5 or higher.) Since you want to develop the gluten in bread, you need this extra protein in your flour.

All flour has a shelf life. The expiration date should be printed on the package. If you buy a large quantity of flour on sale, you can freeze the extra. Be sure it’s wrapped well and placed in a freezer bag. Flour can keep 5 to 6 months in the freezer.

So, why have I said all of this??? Just to say it’s okay to use a good quality all purpose flour. Most home bakers will be very satisfied with the results.

Happy Baking!

Packaging your Treats

It does seem a little early to be discussing packaging and the how-to’s of wrapping your cookies for gift-giving.  But, I like to share this information in the summer.  This way, as you are out shopping you can keep an eye open for tins, boxes and baskets on sale that you can store away and use when gift giving season rolls around.  Funny thing, the holidays come exactly the same time every year yet we are some how ‘surpised‘ to see how fast they arrive.  Nothing is worse than  making some beautiful cookies and having nothing to deliver them in.  I shop/buy  year round for unusual containers, tins of all kinds, pretty boxes and totes to place my cookies in.  Even the most humble homemade treats look fabulous in a lovely tin or little hat box.  It’s like getting two gifts.  #1, the cookies or treats you made and #2, the tin or container they arrive in.  Many people re-use the containers to store items or pass it on to a friend.

Keeping the cookies fresh is really important.  I always package cookies in airtight containers.   Because home bakers do not use any type of preservatives, most cookies will last 4 to 7 days without loosing quality.  After this, most cookies or baked goods start to dry out or become stale.  The exception are highly spiced cookies like my gingerbread cookies.  These cookies will last several weeks if kept in an airtight container.

It is important to keep crisp cookies together and soft cookies, (like chocolate chip cookies) in a different container.  Do not mix the two types of cookies.  The crisp cookies will absorb moisture from the soft cookies making both cookies taste less than perfect.  If I am going to ship two different types of cookies together, I’ll place each type of cookie in different air tight containers.  Then place the two types in the same box and ship it off.  I know the cookies will taste great when they arrive.  It is fine to place your cookies in large zip-lock type bags.  Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can before you seal it.  I like to wrap decorated cookies in their own little cellophane bags and hand tie the bags with a pretty ribbon.  This way, each cookie looks like a little “gift“. You can purchase these bags at party stores and hobby stores.

Happy Baking!

Cookies of Louisville!

A really big Thank you to all of the students in my Cookie Decorating classes in Louisville, KY this week!

Classes were held at Campbell’s Gourmet Cottage in Louisvillewww.gourmetcottage.com (ph.502-893-6700).  The class members made wonderful Holiday cookies in the “Christmas in July” Cookie Decorating Class.  About 18 students participated in each class. The students learned several decorating techniques and applied them to a Giant Santa cookie, as well as several other cookies we created in class.  Everyone’s cookies were simply outstanding!  Students were able to take home 4 beautiful Holiday cookies they decorated in the class.

In addition to the Giant Santa Cookie, the class made a large Holiday Cottage, an adorable Snowman and a Decorated Christmas Tree.

I encourage everyone in the greater Louisville area to check out the classes at Campbell’s.  Sign-up for a cooking class, and bring a friend!

(Special thanks to Jennifer for bringing her gal friends Cindy and Amber!  We all had way too much fun!)

Looking forward to September!

Happy Baking!

Decorating Party!

As I’m getting ready to teach a cookie decorating class this week, I started thinking about all the different steps needed to make a class fun and successful.

The same preparation steps I use to teach a class are the same steps you would use to bake and decorate cookies with your kids.

First, make your cookie dough and chill for several hours. While the cookie dough is chilling, decide what cookie cutters you want to use. I like to make cookies similar in size so they will bake evenly. If you really must have a ‘giant butterfly’ cookie then bake this cookie on a baking sheet all by itself. You will be much happier with the results. Remember always use parchment or a Silpat liner on your baking sheets. (Plan on 3 to 4 cookies for each child to decorate.)

Once your cookies have been baked and cooled, it’s time to make the icing.

I would limit your icing colors to five or less. Make several double batches of royal icing and place it in a covered bowl to keep it from drying out.

Take some of the white icing and place it in a medium size bowl. Place a very small amount of color gel or color paste into the icing and mix well.

Pour the colored icing into a quart size freezer zip lock bag. Or place it directly into a prepared pastry bag fitted with a #3 or #4 tip. You can also place small amounts of the colored icing into pint size zip lock bags. Nip a small hole in one of the points and use this as your pastry bag.
Seal the bag(s) well. Repeat with the other colors you make.

If using pastry bags, keep the tips moist by placing them in a tall glass with a damp paper towel in the bottom of the glass.

You are now ready to start your cookie party! Be sure you get out all the sprinkles, jimmies and other candies in the cabinets. Most of all , have fun by turning a dull summer afternoon into ‘arts and crafts time’ that you can munch! Yum!

Royal icing: 1 lb powdered sugar, scant ½ cup water, 5 tbls. meringue powder, 1/8 tea. real vanilla. Beat all ingredients until smooth. Keep covered.

Happy Baking!
-Cathy

Baking Sheets: The Key

I know, I know. What could be more boring than a discussion about cookie baking sheets?
I taught a cookie decorating class last night and question came up about baking sheets. “Why couldn’t I just use my moms’ old thin baking sheets?” was one question. I understand perfectly well, why you would not want to toss out an old baking sheet. It’s still good, right? If it’s like the baking sheets I grew up with, it probably was thin, light weight and would warp after about 4 minutes in a hot oven.

I like to use very heavy gauge aluminum baking sheets. There are several good quality manufactures of baking sheets. Several are commercial quality. I prefer shiny aluminum to dark coated sheets. Even though they might be a bit expensive, I consider them an investment. These baking sheets will last forever.

Baking on a good quality baking sheet is a joy. Cookies bake evenly, because the heavy sheet transfers the heat to the whole pan. No ‘hot’ spots. Cookies bake to a golden brown.
Plus I use these baking sheets under casseroles, pies, cobblers and anything else that might bubble or spill over in the oven. Even roasting vegetables or potatoes is easier. The result……I almost never have to clean my oven! I do have a self-cleaning oven but why turn it on and heat up the kitchen to 500 degrees for several hours? Yikes! Think of the energy you save!
One more trick is to line the sheet with parchment paper. I use this under my cookies and don’t have to wash the baking sheet. Yea! Less dishes to wash!

I recommend you invest in at least 4 high quality baking sheets. The sheets must cool down between batches of cookies. Do not place chilled cut out cookies on a hot-from-the-oven baking sheet. The butter in the cookies will start to melt and your cookies will loose their shape.

Happy Baking!
Cathy

Cookie Tips and Techniques-2

Okay…….here it is!  The one technique you will use nearly every time you bake  a batch of sugar cookies.

After you roll out your well chilled cookie dough, cut out the shapes you want with your cookie cutters.

(Note:) Bake same size and same shapes of cookies together on a baking sheet.  This will insure even baking of all cookies.

Once you have placed your cut out cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet, place the whole tray of un-baked cookies in the freezerfor 20 minutes.  Remove the tray from the freezer and place in a preheated oven.  Bake as usual.  This will do two things.  1.) It will re-freeze the butter in the cookie and  2.) It will help keep the cookie shape during baking.  What happens:  The butter, if not frozen or well chilled, it will start to melt as soon as the baking sheet is placed in the  hot oven.  If the cookie is frozen before baked, the cookie will start to bake before the butter starts to melt.  It’s that simple!  Once I discovered this simple tip I was amazed at how well my cookies kept their shape during baking.

Also, be sure you let your baking sheets cool between batches of cookies.  Never place chilled cut out cookies on a hot baking sheet.  This is why I recommend buying several heavy duty baking sheets.

Try it this week end!

Happy Baking!

Cookie Tips and Techniques

I know all of you want to make really “pretty ‘ cut out cookies that don’t look like the dreaded “blob” cookie. ( Note to self,  if no one can tell what the baked cookie shape is………time to read the “Cookie Tips and Techniques.” ) Again.   You want nice, sharp cookie edges.  (This is, after all why we buy cookie cutters…….so the cookies will have some resemblence  to the cutter shape.)

Always have all of your ingredients at room temperature.  This will make creaming your butter and sugars so much easier.  Be sure the butter and sugars are well creamed before adding the room temperature eggs.  Add one egg at a time. Combine each egg and then add the next.  Making sure all of your wet ingredients are well combined will make adding your dry ingredients much quicker and easier.  You do not want to over beat the dough once you have added the dry ingredients.  Beat just to combine.  

Chilling your cookie dough is very important.  Well chilled dough doesn’t stick to the surface as you roll out it out. (I mean cold.)  The more flour you add as you are rolling  your dough out, the  less tender the baked cookie will be.  Incorporating more flour also makes the cookie ‘grow’ larger.  I only re-roll my scraps one or two times before I bag up the left over dough to use for drop cookies or “eating cookies”.  I’m sure all of you cookie bakers have made the ”giant…is it a poodle or Easter egg” ? cookie.  No one can tell what it is!!  Scary! 

More tips Friday!

Happy Baking!