Winter Cookies, What a Treat!

I am SURE all of you think January/Febuary cookies are a bit of a no no. But truth is…..a bit of sweet makes the chilly winter months seem more enjoyable.
One of my wintertime favorite cookies is a Snowball Cookie. Yes, it is the old fashioned mexican tea cake or pecan ball or sandies (as my mother called them). These buttery, nut ball are formed and baked just a few minutes then rolled while still warm in fluffy powdered sugar! Perfect with a cup of tea or hot cocoa!
Here’s the recipe:

1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teasp. pure vanilla
2 teasp. water
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans (or hazelnuts or almonds)
pinch of salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Beat butter for 30 seconds; add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
Add vanilla and water; beat well. Stir in flour and pecans. Don’t over work the dough. Roll into 1 inch balls, place on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 15 to 20 min. in a 325 degree oven. Or until very lightly browned on the edges. Remove from oven and cool for 5 to 10 minutes then roll in the powdered sugar. Makes approx. 37 cookies.
Happy Baking!
Cathy

Taking Care of your Cookie Cutters

As I carefully wash and dry all the Valentines cookie cutters used in the last few weeks, I thought it might be a good time to discuss the care of cookie cutters.
There are 3 basic cookie cutters that most of us have used.
Molded Plastic, Tin or Stainless Steel, and Copper (my fav.).
Plastic: Great all round cookie cutter. Simple shapes, easy to use, can be use for several ‘cutting jobs’.
Plastic cookie cutters are the only cutters that may be placed in the dishwasher. Most will be just fine.
I would bundle very small ones so they don’t get lost. Just tie a plastic bread wrapper twisty to bundle them together.

Tin or stainless steel: Never place these in the dishwasher. Only wash by hand with a mild soap. Dry completely before storing. (I hand dry all my cutters) Never let them just ‘air dry’ unless you keep turning them to drain the water out of the small gaps. (Water left in the cutter seams, will cause rust.)

Copper: LOVE copper cutters! They are so beautiful, easy to use, release cookie dough well and you can use them for decorations! Hand wash and dry. Sometimes you will need to use a copper cleaner to keep them looking bright. Be sure to completely clean the copper cleaner of the cutter before the next use.

Storage: Storing your cutters is easy. After they are all washed and dried, place them in large plastic bags by holiday.
This way they will be clean and ready to use next year!

Happy Baking!
Cathy

“Coffee and Cookies Two”!

Being the coffee nut that I am……IE: can’t move without my morning cup (or four)!  If anyone out there is like this, do I have a cookie recipe for you!

“Chocolate Espresso Cookies” is an old recipe, but very tasty!  Who doesn’t like caffeine, sugar and chocolate!? Exactly my point.  Just a thought here, espresso coffee actually has LESS caffeine than regular coffee. The water is forced through the espresso grounds so fast, that it absorbs less caffeine.  This is according to Mike and Shelly at Kitchen Affairs.

On to the recipe!

Chocolate Espresso Wafers

by Cathy’s Designer Cookies

1 cup  unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

1/2 tea. salt

1/4 tea. baking soda

3 Tabls. unsalted butter, room temp.

3 Tabls. margarine, room temp.

1/2 cup plus 2 Tabls. sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1-1/2 Tabls. instant Espresso powder

1 tea. vanilla extract

1 large egg white

Sift first 4 ingredients in to a small bowl.  In a large bowl, beat butter and margarine until creamy.  Add both sugars, espresso powder, vanilla and beat to blend.  Mix in egg white.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just to incorporate.  Use your hands to knead the dough briefly to make a smooth dough. 

Form dough into a log 14 inches long by 2 inches wide.  Wrap log in waxed paper and chill until very cold. (About 2 hours).

Bake: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice chilled log crosswise into 1/4 inch disks.  Place disks on a parchment lined heavy baking sheet.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.  Tops will be cracked and almost firm to the touch in the middle.  It’s okay to slightly under bake these cookies.  They just will not be as ‘crisp’.

Cool cookie on a wire rack.  Will keep in an air tight container for up to two weeks.  May be frozen for up to 1 month. 

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!

Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July!

  I love the 4th of July!  Fireworks and picnics, get out the lawn chairs and wait ….(what seems like forever) for the fireworks to begin. 

This year I am going  to fireworks celebrations Fri. and Sat. (maybe even Sun. somewhere?)  Can’t wait for that first ear-shattering……BOOM!  Then it begins!  Sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 1 hour of “open your eyes and turn on the party lights in the sky“.

One of my very favorite July 4th  memories is a yearly party with the Swemm family.  Kerrie Swemm was my very dear childhood friend and our families would meet near the American Legion Post in my hometown of Danville.  There was always wonderful picnic food; grilled hotdogs, red potato salad and  garden fresh tomatoes from my dads garden.  Then there were the desserts!   On one end of the food table lay a massive amount of all things sweet and tasty.  I remember the pies; berry, apple and lemon.  Also, my moms famous blond brownies and a sheet cake iced with homemade buttercream iced to look like the flag; red, white and blue.   Then there were the cookies!  Chocolate chip, molasses and ginger, peanut butter, and of course sugar cookies.  I helped make the sugar cookies. (go figure?)  My job was to sprinkle red or blue sparkling sugar onto the cut out cookies.  Then my mom would pop them into the oven and we would wait.  12 minute later………joy and happiness!  Cookies!  We could each have just one cookie before the picnic. Guess which one I wanted?

I remember all of this like it was last week……….can it really be over 30 years ago?  My mom no longer bakes so I carry on the cookie tradition for her.  So here’s to you mom (and dad).  Happy 4thof July!  Enjoy the fireworks tomorrow! I love you both!

Happy Baking!

Coffee and Cookies

Don’t you just love coffee?  People that know me, know I NEED my morning coffee!  I like to sit outside and drink my first cup and slowly greet the morning.  (It’s even better with a plate of cookies!)

Did you know, by adding strong, cooled coffee to any chocolate dessert, you bumb up the flavor of the chocolate? Just a tablespoon or so, really adds to the taste.  You will not really taste the coffee, but it will make whatever you bake with chocolate so much better.  You can also use espresso powder.  Yum!

Some of my favorite chocolate parings: Add orange, real vanilla or hazelnuts for a wonderful taste treat.

  I can never leave a recipe alone.  I am always experimenting with unusual flavors.  But…….trust me……sometimes they do not work.  (Like the time I added hot peppers to brownies.)  Now, a bit of heat in chocolate brownies can be quite tasty, but these were awful!  See?……..even I make baking “boo boos”.  The point is, I try…….I experiment.  And sometime it turns out to be a wonderful new treat!  NOTE: A word about altering recipes for baked goods. Be very careful not to alter the liquid/dry ratio or the fat/dry ratio in baked goods.  You want to add ‘flavor’ not change the structure of the basic recipe.

So go bake something today!  Let me know what you come up with! I love to hear from you!

Happy Baking!

Chill that (cookie) dough!

Wow! It’s hot out there! One very important thing in rolling out any cookie dough, is to be sure your dough is well chilled.  This makes rolling out the dough and cutting cookies out so much easier!  Remember, if your dough is too warm, it will stick to the mat and your rolling pin.  You will end up using more and more flour to keep it from sticking and your cookies will be tough and will grow to giant-size!  So always freeze or really chill dough.

Another tip: place several ice packs on your counter top.  Place the wrapped cookie dough on top. This way as you roll out small amounts of the dough, the rest of the dough will stay chilled.  I use to re-wrap my dough about every 10 minutes to chill it over and over.  Now I can leave it on the counter (on top of  the ice packs). It stays nice and cold.

Happy Baking!

-Cathy