Saturday, March 29, 2014

Decorating Easter Egg Cookies

Hello again, I wanted to share the pictures of how I decorated the Easter Egg cookies, so you can try it sometime yourself!  It isn't hard, and I find it to be very fun.  I can get a zone, and it sorta makes the rest of the world go away for a while.  That is what happened for me Wednesday night after work, and I love when that happens.  It rather sets my world back aright, if that makes any sense.  I don't have the "eye" for this like others such as my daughter, S, but this is one of those techniques you really can't get wrong since each one is unique.

I used a shiny glaze for the "plain" eggs and piped icing for the imprinted eggs.  I will start with the glazed eggs.

I believe I've said this before on here, but I don't like the royal icing flood that is very popular for cookies these days.  I don't care for the taste; but even if that was ok, I don't like how hard it dries.  I find it too hard.  I don't enjoy biting into a cookie iced with the royal icing flood.

So I use this Simple Sugar Glaze I found on - where else? - the King Arthur Flour website.  It is much easier to put together than the royal icing flood, tastes great and dries hard and shiny, but not rock hard so you can still bite into the cookie and appreciate the tender softness of the cookie itself.  It is basically a powdered sugar glaze that includes clear corn syrup.  I add a touch of vanilla and/or almond, lemon, etc., and a dash of salt for flavoring.  It sorta surprises me that KAF doesn't include these for flavoring or mention them, but I guess they assume we will figure that out by ourselves?

The main trick is the balance - it needs to be pour able like the flood icing and should form a ribbon that folds back on itself and then disappears in about 15 seconds +/-.  Something like this...except this isn't a good video...sugar cookie glaze consistency

I mixed together 9 ounces of sifted powdered sugar (it took two weigh batches and kinda sorta got just about everywhere)..
I added 2 T. of corn syrup, a dash of salt and flavorings and began with 1 T. of milk.
I had to add more milk, a teaspoon at a time until I got the consistency I felt like would pour from the squeeze bottles I use for this.
I used to have more of these squeeze bottles, and while one has been re-purposed by G for use in the garage/garden/man-type chemicals, I could only find 3 on Wednesday night, so I made 3 colors.  And since I already had yellow and green on the tray from the lemon and lime cookies, I kept to those 2 plus a springy orange.  (I mixed 2 parts red with 4 parts yellow for orange.)  Although I did goof on the color. One of my favorite little taste testers asked "Where is the blue?" since his twin brother had gotten his favorite color of orange.  I need to remember the blue the next time!
Mixed together and voila!  Colored glaze!
I poured these into squeeze bottles and I was ready to glaze away!
Present cookies...
..and glaze!  Note that I did not fill in the entire area, because I wanted the glaze to spread a bit to fill in the gaps and not be too thick.
I used a toothpick to help the glaze along a bit...(please forgive my poor video camera skills..) spreading glaze with toothpick
This cookie was now ready to add stripes or dots of a contrasting color and then drag a bit with only a toothpick... this...
...or perhaps this...
...or even this.  See what I mean about not being able to get this wrong even if you don't have the eye that S or others do?  I look forward to decorating the rest of these with S on Good Friday and see the designs she comes up with!
I did a total of 8 of these.  G came through the kitchen and said, "Those are beautiful!"  I was pleased with how they turned out!  K said something about them being ready for the Easter car show so I only needed to add some Rice Krispie treat eggs, and we're set!  Hmmmm...
With a little time, they dry up hard to the touch and can be stacked between sheets of waxed paper for storage.  I'm sorry, folks.  I don't mean to sound like I'm tooting my own horn here, but these really do make me smile!

We also had another kind of Easter egg cookie.  These were cut using this genius cutter.
Each plastic impression insert is held in the cutter with this twist handle that fits on the top.
I colored icing - still no blue!  Double fail, Deb!  Sigh...And I was ready to pipe!
I began with the bunnies.
But not before taking a pic of the impressions so I'd know where stuff was!
I let the icing crust a bit and then smoothed out with a Viva paper towel before giving them eyes and ears, mouth and whiskers.  But I gotta tell ya.  They didn't come to life until I'd given them eyes and goatees with a tiny paint brush dipped in black food coloring thinned with vodka.  Then they were happy little bunnies!
I filled in the flower on this one...
...and filled in the dots and stripes on these others.  The impressions are really pretty easy to work with by using small tips and thinning the icing just a bit.
And here are the eggs ready to dry!
Or stacked on a tray ready to serve!
And it was Easter!  Not hard.  Quite fun.  Therapeutic and putting me in touch with the creative spirit that has been placed in all of us.

Happy Easter everyone!  I promise that my next few posts won't have anything to do with cookies!!

As always I appreciate you stopping by and your comments and feedback as you have opportunity.  Thank you mainly for your grace with my picture/video taking skills as I learn by doing.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Baking Friday - Cookie # 3

Hello again!

Are you tired of me posting about Easter cookies?  I can respect that, if that is the case.  If you need to stop reading right now because you think I'm never going to talk about anything other than cookies, I get that.  I appreciate you stopping by anyway, and I hope you'll stop by again soon when I talk about one or all of the grandsons or the kids (meaning the grandsons' parents!) or cat fights and chicks (all part of doing my job sometimes).

And speaking of kids and grandkids - some of those reading this will have already heard - but for those of you who haven't...we are getting excited about grandchild # 5 due in November!  R&E (as well as A-man and O-man) are going to have a new little one in their lives!  They let us in on this secret when we visited a few weeks ago, but they announced on FB this week, so I can share with all of you now!  I love the grandmother gig!  And I love fun ways young people use to announce little ones on the way!
See?  I can and do still talk and think about things besides cookies!  Woo!  (I was getting a little scared there myself, if truth be told...)

So now for the official Baking Friday Cookie # 3...that is actually cookie # 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D.

...except really those are 3A1, because here are 3A2...
...and here are 3B and 3C...

...and finally 3D.
And here they are all together...including the lemon almond biscotti and the Italian Easter knot cookies.
So why 3A thru 3D?  Is this some weird nod to Deb's geeky job?

No, not really.  I said in the biscotti post that the cookie week is a challenge for me, in part because doing only one cookie doesn't feel "right" or "enough" some way.  And when I Google for ideas of cookies for the next upcoming holiday, I get hundreds of differently decorating sugar cookies.  While I enjoy decorating cookies, and will even post separately on how I decorated the Easter Eggs above, I do not want to post 12 different ways to decorate cookies for each holiday of 2014.  That just isn't what I am about.

BUT - I do enjoy a good sugar cookie...and it's been a while since I posted about sugar cookies...and what if I approached it with a slightly different twist - for this month only, you understand - of the same sugar cookie dough "base" that I then did 3 different ways?  And then actually got 4 different cookie flavors and 5 different cookie looks?  Would that be worth writing about?

You be the judge of that, in all fairness.  I trust you to decide how to spend your time.  If you are a bit intrigued or interested in what I did, please keep reading.  If not, that is cool.  I thank you for reading this far, and I hope you stop by again sometime soon!  Happy Friday regardless!!!!

So all of the cookies above (3A - 3D) began in the same place, with my favorite cookie dough recipe.  Predictably - because I need a KAF 12-step group after all - these are from King Arthur.  They are not necessarily G's or R's favorite sugar cookie recipe (I can't compete with Mother/Grandmother in any circles!), but they happen to be mine.  Here is the link for the KAF sugar cookie recipe that I like best, but it is also repeated below.  I just like to make sure I have given credit for recipes where credit is due.  This base recipe is one of what KAF likes to call "KAF Guaranteed" - their moniker for recipes that hit a standard and if followed as directed will yield a result that is highly predictable.  In this case, they guarantee that this recipe will give us a sugar cookie that has crisp edges and soft middles, and if you add another 1/2 cup of flour, it can be used for cutout cookies.

I imagine you've noticed how many cookies (sugar, chocolate chip, chocolate, oatmeal, peanut butter, snickerdoodles, etc.) all begin in the same place - creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs and flavoring and then finishing up with the flour, salt and leavening agents.  (How old-fashioned is that phrase?  Do schools still teach home economics or whatever it may be called these days?  And if schools do teach it, do teachers still use phrases like "leavening agent" to describe baking powder and baking soda?  Or have I just dated myself totally out of anything remotely close to "cool"?)

Anyway back to my story.  Since most cookies have the same basic structure, and sugar cookie dough is one of the most basic of this basic structure, I thought I'd try mixing that base up once and then changing it up at the end to make 4 different tasting cookies.  Ready?  It was really kind of fun - if ya enjoy this baking thing, that is.  I did all of this on Saturday (up through the final icing decorating that is) while G was off working on finding fruit trees for our community garden with a neighbor.

As for the icing and decorating, that will be a separate post as well, because if I included that here, this post could easily turn into a book rather than only a dissertation!

Ok, moving on to the cookie!  I doubled the standard recipe shown below so that I would have enough for taking to work plus our family throughout Easter.  So the volumes you see in the pictures will be bigger than the standard recipe.  (Objects in pictures may appear larger than their actual size and all that sort of thing...)

Sugar Cookie
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (I used salted, but the recipe calls for unsalted...shame on me...)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cream cheese (this is why I love this recipe!  KAF says that using the cream cheese will give a puffy, cake-like cookie.  If that doesn't suit your taste like it does mine, KAF says to leave it out to give a flatter/crunchier cookie.)
Splash of vanilla and almond
1 egg

I measured and sifted the flour with the leavening agents (apparently now I can't seem to stop using that phrase!) and salt on waxed paper. I don't always sift, but I felt like sifting on Saturday so I sifted.  It gave me a strong sense of meaning and purpose you understand.  Or not.

Then I creamed the butter, sugar and cream cheese together.  Except I did use a bit of vanilla sugar simply because I have it on hand, bumped into it and said, "Oh hello!  I'd forgotten about you!  Yes, welcome to my sugar cookies!"
In case you haven't heard of vanilla sugar, it is just what you see in the pic above - sugar that hangs out with a vanilla bean or two to enjoy an infusion of the vanilla bean essence.  (How's that for a fancy way of saying that the sugar starts to taste a bit vanilla-like?)

So I creamed.  And all was well. We went from this...(cream cheese is under all that sugar)... this once the egg and flavoring were added.
Then I added the sifted flour mixture and we got this.
This.  It can be such an word of understatement.  For this particular "this" is the finished base.  In SAP talk, this would be considered WIP or semi-finished product that then becomes something else but has value in and of itself.  And trust me, this stuff has value.  It is a rather bland-looking big old bowl of potentiality with value!  So this this is a very special this, just so you know.  (Are you rolling your eyes at me yet?  Ok, just thought I would check.)

I took this this and then split it into thirds and then split one 1/3 in half again.  Like this.  (Do you have a whole new level of respect for the word "this" now?  I hope so.  I know I do.)
I left 1/3 in the mixing bowl and added 1/3 cup more flour.  Here is my math for that amount.  KAF says that adding 1/2 cup more flour will work to cutout sugar cookies (one of my goals in this project).  Since I was doubling the recipe, that would mean 1 cup to add.  But since I had split the double recipe into thirds, that meant I needed to add 1/3 cup more flour to this third.  (Do you love math as much as I do?  I'm serious here.  I am a math geek and proud!)
Once I had that mixed in, and formed it into a disk and wrapped it up to chill for a while.  I was trying to think of a way to show how the dough changed from the original base, and I thought maybe the two balls of dough below would illustrate how the extra amount of flour makes a smoother dough, a bit less scraggly or rough, a bit more structure.  Just a bit - not a huge difference to look at, but it changes it significantly when we add heat from the oven.  The ball on the left will hold its shape - hence useful for a cutout cookie - while the ball on the right will spread - useful for drop cookies. Make sense?
So our first third is resting in the fridge waiting for rolling and cutting.  Our second third is ready for rolling into balls, dredging in sugar and then flattening just a smidgen and baking at 375 for 9 - 11 minutes.  I didn't flatten the first tray and realized when they came out that I wish I had, so I did that on the second tray.  So in other words, if you make these at home, your balls should look like this after dredging in sugar, but not like this right before going into the oven.
If they do, then your cookies will look like this.
You want your cookies to look more like the ones in the left column when you put them in the oven... they come out looking more like this.
Much prettier, don't you agree?

But now those last two pics beg the question, what are the yellow and green cookies, Deb?  What a great seque!  I'm so glad you asked!  Those, my dear friend, are our last third that we had split in half!  I wasn't sure if I wanted lemon or lime, so I made a small amount of both!

For the lemon, I added the zest of one whole lemon, a few drops of lemon oil and some yellow food coloring.
I started out mixing with a spoon, but ended up mixing with my hands before I ended up with this.  I added a plain sugar cookie ball to the bowl to show the difference in color.
For the lime, I would have added the zest of one lime (if I had it on hand) but since I didn't, I had to rely on a few drops of lime oil and green food coloring.
To give us this bit of spring!
To bake I shaped into balls, rolled in sugar, flattened (as shown in the picture above) and baked at 375 for 9 - 11 minutes.  As is normal for me, I err on the side of underbaking just slightly and leave on the baking sheets outside of the oven for 1 - 2 minutes to finish before sliding off the cookie sheet to cool.  I always bake things like cookies on parchment paper these days, so I will simply slide the entire sheet of parchment with the cookies still on it off the cookie sheet when I'm ready.  So much easier than using baking spray or other greasing agent and then lifting each cookie off with a spatula!  Just a little tip there!

Now I was ready to roll out the first third for cutting.  First I want to show you the cookie cutter that I used, cause it's sorta different and fun in a cookie cutter genius sort of way.
It comes in 4 parts.  The cutter is the metal part shown above.  It's an Easter egg, and it can be used as only the blank cutter, or I can insert one of the 3 plastic impressions like so.
So when I roll the dough (which for the first time ever I rolled the dough onto a mixture of sugar and flour rather than only flour - something I believe that I will do again!) and cut, if I press down with the handle on the top that holds the plastic impression maker in place (not shown above cause I forgot!), I get this.  Pretty fun, huh?
I did a mix of all 3 impressions plus just plain Easter shapes...
...and baked at 375 for about 9 minutes until lightly golden.  Again, I let them finish baking on the pan out of the oven so that they didn't get overbaked in the oven.
I packed these cutout cookies between layers of waxed paper and froze them until Wednesday eve for decorating.  I will post about the decorating in a separate blog, because this is getting waaaaaaaay too long even for me!  I'm sorry, folks!  I will try to finish up quickly now!

I will show you how I finished up the regular sugar cookies as well as the lemon and lime before I go!  Are you still awake out there?  If not, sorry.  I will try to be quieter...

For the regular sugar cookies, I wanted a different flavor to come from dipping, but I didn't want to do chocolate.  I wanted peanut butter.  I wanted a coating like chocolate but the flavor of peanut butter.  I searched online for peanut butter coating, but didn't really find anything. So I decided to live on the edge and make one up by combining peanut butter with melted almond bark and the last of some candy melts that were colored orange.  It sounded too easy to work, so I wasn't sure that it would, but I had to at least try, right?
And guess what?  It did work!
I tested two cookies to start - one for me and one for G to taste test.  I dipped and I let them rest to see if it would harden.
It did!  But would they taste ok?  I split one in half to see...
It cut nice - soft on the inside, even if cut by just a spreader.  And it tasted really quite good as a matter of fact!  So good that I decided I wanted the peanut butter coating on more than only one side, so for the rest I dipped, and then coated the bottom so that I got peanut butter flavor in every bite!  (And no, I did not get any pics of that activity.  I am still so picture taking challenged!)

Finally  - and yes, we really are getting to the finish line here! - I will show you how I finished off the lemon and lime cookies.  I made a simple powdered sugar glaze using powdered sugar, the zest and juice of one lemon or one lime, respectively, a dash of salt, a teaspoon or so of softened butter, a splash of vanilla and a bit of milk for creaminess until I had the desired consistency to glaze.
I also added a touch of gel food coloring (I never buy the liquid food coloring any more - haven't for over 20 years I imagine), because I wanted to match the cookie and be a splash of spring color!
And then I glazed!  It took me a whole 2 minutes to do all 10 cookies if that.  And then because I began to sing "ya put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up!) I had to toss a few with coconut, right?
I really liked both cookies, but I'll tell ya what!  The lime cookies are BRIGHT!  If you don't like lime, you won't like these.  But if you like lime, you may potentially LOVE these!  Two of the guys at work both liked these a lot!  S said he liked them the best and even suggested that if they were smaller, they could be a palette cleanser between courses.  Genius idea that I hope to remember the next time I'm doing a 5 course dinner and need a palette cleanser!  The other guy described the brightness factor of the lime flavor like this - the lime kicks you in the teeth!  It grabs you by the neck and says, "listen buddy, I'm lime, and I mean it!"  How great is that word picture?!  I like lime, so I really enjoyed these but they are not for the lime faint of heart.  If you think you are part of the lime marines, go for it!  If you are more like a member of the lime hinters, then cutting back on the amount of zest and juice in the icing would probably be more to your liking.

Ok, I think I have talked your about sugar cookies for one day!  Here are a few pics of the finished trays to leave you with, hopefully getting you in the spirit of spring and Easter!
These cookies really do make me smile!
As do these!  I can't wait to show you how I decorated them!  (Plus they taste good, too, and aren't too hard from the icing!)
See?  Even this Easter bunny is excited about how I decorated all of the shiny glaze cookies around him!

Hope you enjoyed reading if you stuck it out this long!  Thanks for stopping by, and hope you'll come back!