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

National Sugar Cookie Day!

Hello Cookie Decorators!

Have you baked, iced, eaten, gifted, or crumbled a sugar cookie today??  It’s National Sugar Cookie Day!  Yea! It’s like Christmas/New Years/ and The 4th of July to all of us cookie bakers and decorators!  I’m so excited about it…..I made and gave cookies away yesterday!  (Photos to be posted this week on a new cookie tutorial).

So…..you have the recipes, go bake some cookies.  Give some away……..It makes you feel so happy!

Really Happy Baking!

January Cookie reflection!

January is a great time to start to slow-down and just breathe.
I took a week off and spent time in Colorado. Something about the mountians, LOTS of snow, and being outdoors just calms me down.
It seems like everyone else, I get caught-up in all of the “Holiday Spirit” that I sometimes miss the meaning of Christmas.
Time spent with family and friends is what I really LOVE about the holidays. Re-connecting and making new memories with love ones still with us.
I got to see my sweet nieces and nephew from Orlando, and their folks, We ate cookies, of course! Then, went to parties, carved out time with my family, shopped and shopped and made thousands of cookies for customers across the country. Also taught lots of new cookie classes throughout the Midwest and (starting last spring) began teaching new Skype online cookie decorating classes.
Oh, my…….this is a lot for this little Midwestern gal!

I would encourage each of you to take just a moment to refelct on Holiday, 2010. Would you do anything differently? Yes, we are all scattered and crazy in December, but we must love it!? We do Christmas every year!

Happy New Year!
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!

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!

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

To Hot to Bake Cookies???

What??! No baking cookies??  Hey, “It’s too hot to bake”,  you might say. (Even though it’s almost National Sugar Cookie Day!)  Remember….”must make cookies” for July 9th.

Idea, what’s wrong with buying a few baked cookies from your local bakery? (Shop from locals whenever you can.)

The best part of cookie making is the decorating!  Make up some fun, bright colors of Royal icing and let the kids decorate!  Round cookies can be the sun, a beach ball, logos, badges, baseballs, soccer balls…..whatever they can think of.  Just let them have fun!  (Sort of like Dec. cookie decorating in the kitchen, what a fun mess)! Pull out all of the holiday sprinkles, jimmies and silver dragees.  What a great way to fill up an afternoon!  Plus you get to eat cookies!

This is a great rain-y day activity for all ages.  Plus it’s fun when it’s too hot to go outside!

A neat idea: If the ‘store bought’ cookies are soft enough, try cutting shapes with your own cookie cutters.  Just be sure and use simple cutter shapes.  Place the cookie on a hard surface, (cutting board works great) place the cutter on the cookie and press.  Cut all the way through the cookie.  Heart, square and round cookie cutter seem to work best.  You can even use a mini cookie cutter to cut out the center of the  baked cookie for a ‘fun look’.  Decorate cookie as usual.

Happy Baking!