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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa Redux - but Miniaturized!

Last year I had the most fun making the wonderful Santa from a nesting doll cookie cutter.  The awesome Marlyn from Montreal Confections made an easy to follow tutorial and I made the big cookie twice within my Christmas cookie-baking season in 2013.  I made them for Mr. Flip Flop's co-workers and then I made some more later because I had extra RI Transfers and, well heck, couldn't let those go unused, right?

I mused on what to make this year - I always try to make something new and sometimes I just make one of a specific cookie.  Unless it's a "project" I rarely make more than 2 or 3.  This year, though, I decided to have two projects.  Shockingly, neither are new - but both are different.  The Snow Globes for 2014 were for my husband's co-workers this year and they took an unbelievable amount of time (because I went a little overboard) so I needed to make a second "project" of a smaller, more simple cookie.  I decided to use the smallest cutter of the nesting set I had gotten from Truly Mad Plastics.  I messed with Marlyn's template until I got it sized down to the size of the cookie cutter I was using.  I then used that template to make the tiny little gloves, nose, and belt buckles.  This year, using acetate for my transfers, wasn't the smartest thing because they released so easily that when I added the "fur" to the gloves, they fell off.  I got the loose ones "glued" back to the acetate sheet and quickly dunked them all in a row.  Whew, it worked.

These are the perfect size to add to a simple box of drop cookies when delivering little gifts to friends.  They get a sweet decorated Santa, but I'm not made insane with trying to do too much decorating at the last minute (which I may still do, but I'll be doing it to myself on purpose if I do).  Anyway, that's my plan...we'll see how it goes.

I'm heading North to visit family for an early Christmas so my cookie baking is on hold until next week...and next week is Christmas.  I fear this is all I'll finish.  So, all of the great ideas I have researched and drawn and listed...will likely be held over for next year.  Sometimes it happens that way.  I was sick when I should have been starting and, not desiring to share germs, I just couldn't get it all done.  Jeez, that's beginning to sound like a recurring theme... "I just couldn't get it all done".  I'll just repeat my mantra "it is what it is"!

Enjoy the look-see at this cute rendition of Marlyn's great cookie - which is sure to be a classic for me and mine!  Merry Christmas, friends!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 Snow Globes

I am frequently asked "do you sell your cookies?" The answer has become a resounding no.  I did a few times, but found the stress involved more than I care to handle.  However, I do make cookies, from time to time, to give to friends, co-workers, and family.  It is a time-gobbling, labor of love, hobby!  I don't know how professional cookie decorators do it.  After about 10 days of this, my hands and shoulders ache.  I still have much more to do before Christmas arrives!

This year I have spent a long stretch of time creating the 2014 version of a Christmas Snow Globe.  The original tutorial for this lovely cookie was created by SweetAmbs and can be found on youtube.  Last year I made a few, but this year I made a dozen.  I was much more organized than last year.  I made my royal icing transfers a week before and it took 3 days to complete them.  I tried acetate for the first time instead of my normal parchment paper.  Wow!  Talk about sliding right off and zero breakage!  That is indeed the way to go if you have a lot to make!  I made a variety of snowmen and trees and the detail work was so time consuming.... I may make them in the Summer this next year.  I'm so far behind on my regular baking, I know this year is not going to be up to my expectations.

Royal icing, piped on  either acetate sheets, parchment
paper, or wax paper and allowed to dry until hard, are called
Royal Icing Transfers.  They keep forever in a sealed container.
A step above the "candy flowers on a sheet" you buy at
the grocery store.  I adored eating those as a child.
These are miles above the factory-made decorations!
After drying, store in a container with a good seal.
For delicate decorations like these, I temporarily
used a cupcake and deviled egg carrier.
Long term storage would be a plastic container
with bubble wrap between the layers for the
snowmen and the trees are sturdy enough
to just be in a container sans bubble wrap.

However, I like the snow globes a lot, so the effort has given me a sense of satisfaction, despite the physical aches and pains!  Once they get baked and cooled and the various icing colors and consistencies all mixed up/bagged and have the proper sprinkles on hand (white nonpareils were not to be found this year - I had to order online and pay for express shipping...then low and behold, they appeared on the HEB shelf the next day - ayi!), anyway, once all that is done, the actual decorating took three days.  I made one dozen.  They are large cookies so it took 1 1/2 batches of my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Dough (that's a lot for one dozen cookies).  I hope the lucky recipients enjoy the effort that went into these.

I hope you will watch Amber's video and then see how you can use an available cookie cutter, different sprinkles, and different design details to make it your own, like I did.  It doesn't have to be perfect (mine sure aren't) and each of mine are different.  Here's a photo journal of making this fun cookie.  Enjoy!

After baking and allowing to cool, I piped on sky blue royal icing, 
then while wet, sprinkled on some white nonpareils.  
Then I piped a white royal icing "reflection" 
on the upper edges.  This technique is demonstrated in the 
video tutorial from SweetAmbs.
These must dry completely (over night) before you can continue.
I am using some "tipless" piping bags.  
I ordered them on E-bay and they are very popular 
in the cookie artist community.  
They are very thin, you can cut the tip, thus the
nickname "tipless bags".
(if you don't need any fancy tips)  

They are so cheap you can throw them away
without feeling like you should clean and reuse.  

A sharp pair of embroidery scissors helps 
you get the tiniest opening...or a slightly larger opening
for the flood consistency I was using here.  Cool new tool!
Base for the "snow" is ready for some sparkle 
to be added while still wet.
I use a bead tray for sprinkles.  
It's easy to pour the leftovers back into the jar
using the little tubes at the end of the tray.  

I chose to use sparkling sugar
crystals for the snow 
on the ground.  
I like the glistening appearance.
Once the sparkling sugar is on and you have neatened up the 
edges of the snow globe with something like the yellow 
boo-boo stick on the right, it is time to apply
the royal icing transfers by applying some of the 
same white RI to the back
and carefully placing it on the cookie.
You can see that after you press the RI transfers, the icing
is displaced and moved towards the edge.
You'll need to neaten the edges again.
Now I want to add some depth and further dimension.  
I pipe some royal icing
on the tree and at the base of the tree and snow people.
This time I lay the cookie in the tray face up and manually sprinkle 
sparkling sugar over the wet icing and then carefully 
move the cookie up so that the excess falls off.
I clean it up with a dry paint brush in case sugar is where 
I don't want it....and once more  fix the edges of the snow 
to be even with the blue sky while it is still wet.  
Allow to dry overnight
or with a fan blowing on it for several hours.
The base is a simple flood.  Use a needle tool or tooth pick
to pop any bubbles or smooth any bumps.
Allow to dry.  
Then pipe a red line on top of the outline of the base.
Allow to dry.
Top outline again to get height and dimension.  

And, again allow to dry.
A simple zigzag and dot  pattern  in green outline 

consistency icing  with a very small opening 
cut in the tipless bag (on top of the dry red) 
gives it a Christmasy look!
The last step is piping some white snowflakes in the blue sky 
in any blank spaces.  I usually add 3 or 4 of these.
Allow everything to dry at least 12 hours before bagging 

(I always dry under a fan for 24 hours 
because of our humidity and then bag)
Now that I'm finished with this project, I can move on to my small nesting doll Santas which are a take-off, or miniaturization, of the large ones I did last year.  Got to get busy...Christmas is coming fast!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Favorite Cookies

It's December....

It's Time!


I wanted to give you an easy to find list of my favorite cookies from past years.  Many I make over and over - some are reserved just for Christmas time.  I included my favorite brownies and homemade marshmallows...things that would go nicely on a "cookie tray" you might make for you friends or family.  So, here they are - enjoy!

DROP Cookies

Oatmeal Cookies

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry, Chocolate, Oatmeal Cookies

3-Kinda Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mint Chocolate Delights

Forgotten Meringue Cookies

Lemon Ricotta "lemon drop" Cookies

Meringue Kisses

Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Peanut Butter Kisses aka Blossoms

Melting Moments

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

Spice Gooey Butter Cookies

BAR or SHAPED Cookies

Almond Joy Bar Cookie

Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

Homemade Marshmallows

Peanut Butter Crunch

Amish Friendship Bread made into bite-sized or mini cakelets

Fantasy Fudge

Lemon-glazed Madeleine

Pumpkin Spice Madeleine

Vanilla Bean Madeleine

Sugar Cookie Spirals

ROLLED Cookies
Free Christmas Clipart, Clip Art Pictures, Royalty Free Photographs...
Vanilla Bean Rolled Sugar Cookies

Acorn Squash Rolled Sugar Cookies

Applebutter Rolled Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Espresso Choc Chip Rolled Cookies

Red Velvet Rolled Cookies

Gingerbread Rolled Cookies

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Fresh Pumpkin Pie - take two!

So excited to have fresh canned pumpkin shipped to me by Mr. Flip Flop's sister, Ruth, in Indiana.  I used her recipe and pumpkin last year to make my first ever pie from fresh pumpkin.  It was, indisputably, the best pumpkin pie I have ever eaten.  Hope this year's lives up to the previous one.

I didn't have luck last year with my fancy pie crust border.  A few years ago I used a leaf cookie cutter and used a paring knife to mark the veins.  That was quite labor intensive, but looked beautiful IMHO, for a first attempt at a "fancy" crust.  I baked a piece of cut-out pumpkin shape dough on top of the pie - and it didn't work very well.

Last year, I used a Paula Deen plunge cutter - but the pieces were too big for a crust edge, they just draped down - not a bad look - but it didn't look like I expected, nor wanted.  I used an egg wash and a pastry brush on the crust top - and only had foil to cover my crust - I felt like the egg wash was too abundant and it browned too quickly.  I was darn well determined to find a pie crust protector instead of foil for future use. I used some extra dough to cut out pumpkins and baked them separately for embellishments.  They turned out quite well.  Every year is a learning experience.

So, this year?  I got out 3 different plunger cutters.  The pumpkin from last year, with thoughts of trimming the pieces (nope - too much work).

Another large maple-type leaf from the Paula Deen set I bought last year, but it looked too big also.

 My third choice was the one I used... a rose-leaf shaped fondant plunger (worked beautifully).  I also changed from a pastry bush and egg wash to a small paint brush and painted the crust with a conservative amount of heavy cream - lightly painted on each leaf to enhance the veins.

Additionally, I bought a pie crust shield (silicone) that ended up being too small to cover my crust once the leaves were on the edge and caused the 10 inch pan to actually extend to about 10 1/2 inch from leaf edge to leaf edge.

I turned the shield over and placed it on the crust between the 15 and 20 minute mark, and it worked just fine!

I used the maple leaf and the pumpkin leaf from the Paula Deen set to cut out some leftover dough for toppers.  Also painted those with cream and sprinkled on some sanding sugar for shine.

The toppers turned out quite nicely.

I've said it before - I am not a great pie baker, but with the right tools, even a mediocre pie baker can make a really nice pie presentation.  Like men have been saying for years "it's all about having the proper tools"... well, the same thing goes in my kitchen.  I try not to buy single use items, but the pie crust shield is a necessity for me.  I get so frustrated trying to cover an edge of a pie without messing up the pie or the crust and having to worry that it is going to fall off.  Not worth the stress and anxiety.  So, this is going to be one of those "one use" products I do recommend.  Too bad I can't find one that actually fits my glass pie pan.  But, hey, upside down worked, so I will just go with it.

Everything came together and was placed in the oven on a cookie sheet.  (just in case of high rise overflow)  I took it off the cookie sheet for the last 10 minutes to ensure the bottom of the crust was done enough.  It is perfectly browned.  I'm so pleased.  Oh, and in case you are wondering?  Pillsbury refrigerated rolled pie crust.  I simply can't make it any better and this is very consistent.  Another de-stressing choice for me on holidays.  I have not had great luck with store-brand rolled pie Pillsbury it is!

A little freshly whipped sweetened vanilla bean cream, a cute topper, and one delicious pie, ready to serve.  The full recipe is on the 2013 blog post which you can find here.  If you have the chance to make a pumpkin pie using fresh pumpkin, it is really something special!  If you don't have the inclination, canned pumpkin is great - I've used it for years...but give these pie crust decorations a try - easy enough to do, and makes a simple pie look special!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone...

Bon appetit, Y'all!!!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving Cookies 2014

We are having our Thanksgiving on the Saturday before Thanksgiving... because nurses rarely get time off around the holidays...and my husband is a nurse.  Hospitals are 24/7 and you are all glad they are when you need them.  Like other service providers - police, fire, EMS, hospital, military - and any others I left out, well, the families learn to be flexible.  We learn it isn't the specific day we celebrate, it's celebrating the season in whatever special way we make it.  I'm kind of used to it now...still don't like it, but I'm used to it.  We are driving to spend time with some of our Austin family and to make our presence known with the Indiana family, I sent cookies (what else).

I've been working on these for days - and they are bagged, sealed, bubble-wrapped, and boxed with a prayer that they make it through the US Mail system to the Indiana crew.  If there are broken cookies, well, look at the photos and enjoy the taste.  I'm always wanting my cookies to taste better than they look.  A cookie is to be enjoyed both visually and by taste...but really, primarily taste, right?

I got my leaf inspiration and my cute turkey inspiration from enrolling in the online version of McGoo U.  That Arty McGoo has put together a first class cookie instruction/entertainment/share fest and I'm so thrilled to be a subscriber.  I have watched all of the October and November videos and the dotted and painted (with food coloring) leaf project was part of the long class for November.  Then, the precious seated turkey, looking somewhat alarmed and bug eyed (with those cuteeee feet) was the project from visiting Professor Georganne Bell aka LilaLoa, in the segment "Expert Lab" in November's sessions.

I doubt I really did either cookie artist/instructor justice, because I had to adjust each for my "tastes"...but I admit to feeling somewhat proud of my watercolor leaves!  It gave me the courage to try it different ways, despite not having a good color palette of Wilton gel colors to use.  I stopped buying Wilton several years ago and have been a devotee to AmeriColor with a few sidesteps to ChefMaster from time to time.  I will absolutely admit though, Arty McGoo is right on.  I had left some AmeriColor gel colors on the palette from maybe 6 months ago, in a plastic baggie.  The darn things were still sticky to the touch!  I set up a palette with the Wilton and they are dry and not sticky at all.  I'm going to re-stock my Wilton colors, just for painting!  My leaves look a bit psychedelic because I really didn't have the recommended colors.  Nonetheless, I like them...I am embracing my inner kindergartner who enjoys playing with water colors.

Let me just say... CHECK OUT McGOO U ONLINE!!!  If you want to step up your cookie decorating game, this is a great way to do it.  Internationally renown cookie artist, Arty McGoo, shows you step by step how to make some really cool cookie sets.  You can try it out on a monthly basis or there is a reduced price for annual subscriptions.  I'm changing my monthly to annual as soon as I finish paying for Christmas!!!  My gift to myself. (Although I may sound like it, I am not a paid endorser, nor stalker of these people...LOL!!!)

I haven't stenciled in a while, so I tried a few different plaques and stencils and sprays and thick RI...I learned, once again, that my cookies are not flat - but I still liked the overall look of these cookies.  My favorite is the large leaf with a pearlized spray over a Designer Stencils paisley stencil I picked up at CookieCon.  It looks simple, yet elegant.

I also really like the Cookie Countess subway art and leaf stencils.  They turned out nothing like I expected, but absolutely love they way they look in the end (the gold tint is from an epic fail on my part by over-saturating spray which I quickly wiped off - to result in a gold overtone to the light green cookie - then I sprayed darker green on top of gold green...turned out kind of cool.

Simple leaf was stenciled with thick royal icing, just blobbed
on in layers, then scraped upwards to make the
color changing Autumn leaf!

The stencil for this plaque cookie is from Designer Stencils obtained last year.  The berries along the edge were also sort of learned in McGoo U - I had never thought about dropping another color inside a berry.  That was from the October tutorial with visiting professor, Maryann Rollins, aka The Cookie Artisan.  I also used foodcolor from my palette and a fine tip brush to paint some copper/brown leaf veins and acorn tops.  I need to get over being afraid of painting things - especially when icing just won't do.  I'm gonna be stretchin' my wings, y'all!

I got this tall pumpkin cutter earlier this Fall and I must say I am in love with it.  The ivory pumpkins turned out just the way I envisioned them in my head.  I got it, and a stencil genie, from Creative Cookier.  Unfortunately, my big plaques were too large for the genie...but the paisley stencil on the leaf worked beautiful...Literally hands-free stenciling!  So excited to use it on some of the Christmas cookies I am planning.  Wheeee!!!  I'm getting wound up just thinking about it :-)

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my playtime with cookies.  I baked and decorated 80 cookies (I ate two - one red velvet and one vanilla bean sugar - just to ensure quality control!).  I can't wait to share the goodies with my family members, both near and far.

Good thing we are empty nesters and don't eat at our
kitchen table...because where the heck would I spread out
my cookies while decorating?
I cropped out as much of the surrounding area as
 possible - you just cannot imagine the mess I make
when decorating.  It's an embarrassment!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!! 


Friday, October 31, 2014

Sugar Skull Cookies

Dia de los Muertos is a big deal where I live in South Texas, really close to Mexico.  I really wasn't very familiar with it and, prior to living here, thought of it as a part of Halloween.  It is not!  Here's a link to a National Geographic article that describes the celebration, which is held on November 1st and November 2nd.

I remember first learning more about it in a Rick Riordan book I read from his Tres Navarre series.  As a native Texan, I loved the familiar locations and events and the description of traditions like Day of the Dead.  Rick Riordan is now so famous for his young adult literature that many people don't know about his adult mystery series.  It starts with Big Red Tequila and the whole series is worth reading!  As usual, I digress.

A friend asked me several months ago if I would make some sugar skull cookies as a decorative addition to her dessert her wedding...on Day of the Dead.  She just wanted a small nod to the date.  I had never done them before so I was somewhat nervous...but agreed, thinking I would have plenty of time to learn!

So, I studied a 2013 tutorial from Marlyn at Montreal Confections and actually watched it several times to get the concept sort of embedded in my head.  I also made a Pinterest board of make-up ideas for the holiday - thinking I could "cookie" them.  I also started making royal icing transfer roses for use on the cookies, as well as some fondant/white sculpting chocolate sea shell molds (my personal nod to our coastal location).  Those items may be made well in advance and stored in tightly sealed containers.

I also purchased some cookie cutters of various shapes and sizes and some stencils from The Cookie Countess to try out.

I planned out all of my steps and ended up using the complete basic layout method from Marlyn's tutorial...but wanted the nose and eyes to be black with depth to show some dimension.  I used the one piece of the 3-layer stencil to mark the eyes and nose for consistency (since I don't own a KopyKake projector...aka a KK).  So, using my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie dough, rolled at 3/8" thickness and the most basic and small skull cutter I had obtained which was about 3 1/2 inches in length, I got started by marking (with food color marker) and painting the eyes and nose sockets with thinned black royal icing.  Then I outlined everything in black outline consistency icing, using a template from Marlyn to get the jaw line standardized (just printed and cut that section, used a food marker to locate it on the cookie) and after crusting, filled first the jaw section with white RI, and then the top section.  After letting dry completely, I used Marlyn's technique with dry brushing lustre dust... my preferred color was bronze, although I tried rose and red as well.

After that, I wanted the cookies to be unique - two dozen needed so I made 28 to ensure adequate supply in case of breakage (or snackage).  I wanted to use the royal icing transfer roses (I'm not great at those yet, but Sweet Ambs has a great tutorial in her shop)  in the eyes but realized I hadn't made enough so made some small black drop flowers with a colored dragee in the middle out of leftover icing.  They worked really well! Perfect fit in the eye socket!

Several of the cookies used Marlyn's technique of "watercolor" with food markers instead of paint.  It did give great control and I was much more comfortable knocking out many of the cookies with that technique - others I just piped and did curliques (also technique learned from Amber's tutorial shop).  I still have trouble mirroring swirlies, but the more I did, the better they got.  I had so much fun looking at each cookie as a new piece of art.  I'm not overly fond of knocking out a lot of cookies that are supposed to look the same, so the freedom to make a couple of dozen unique cookies was much more appealing to me!

I'll end this with some encouragement for you to check out Marlyn and Amber's tutorials.  They are awesome.  The rest will just be show and tell of most of the cookies - I don't think I photographed each one...but this gives you a good flavor of my nod to Dia de los Muertos!  Partying with the spirits of your relatives who have crossed over feels like a good thing to me.  I am embracing it this year!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

(Mr. Flip Flop's favorite of the bunch)

Jessica sent me a Facebook post of the picture from their Day of the Dead Wedding Cookie Table... now I wish I'd packaged them a little nicer, I could have put some ribbon on them or something...I was more worried about them being intact and fresh, so I just heat sealed.  Oh well, they still look nice and decorative.  Hope they tasted good too!  Congratulations to Jessica and Michael!!!