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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine Cookies 2014

My husband asked me "who are all of these cookies for?" .... and I replied "oh, family and friends".  He just looked puzzled and walked away.  I asked him later, why did he ask?  Did he want to know if he could eat them, did he want to take some to work?  He said, "no, I just wanted to know why you made so many cookies."  My batches of cookie dough usually make about 2 1/2 dozen average sized cookies.  I baked off 2 1/2 batches of cookies and ended up with over 6 dozen undecorated cookies...then through trial and error, I ended up with about 5 dozen assorted sized cookies, decorated for Valentine's Day.

So, my dear, that is a good question!  Why DO I make so many?  I always have all of these ideas - and I want to try them all - and I plan them out.  Then, I end up going off in some different direction and I end up with lots of cookies.  My friends seem to be happy to be the recipients of the excess cookies.  My family enjoys getting them, and Mr. Flip Flop said "I wouldn't mind taking some to work".  All those cookies will be gone in no time!

So, for the almost final batch of Valentine's Day cookies, I present my favorites of the Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies for February 2014.  A lot of love in these cookies!  Enjoy show & tell  :-)

I am slightly addicted to DesignerStencils.  They are consistent
and beautiful and sturdy.  I have the least "trouble" with their
culinary stencils.  Nice people too!

I did a pearl spray over a stencil from Etsy seller StencilLand.  These
ended up being some of my favorite cookies and I actually put
them off to the end because I couldn't decide what to do with them.
White on white always seems so elegant to me.
Used various stencils - one from Designer Stencils and the other
two were just craft store purchases.  I enjoyed messing around with
"different" kinds of borders using my #13 Wilton tip.  I can't
find that tip anymore.  I'd like to have multiple tips.  I used a
#14 to alternate colors - they are nearly the same...but I can tell
the difference.

I kept my color palette fairly basic - pink, white, and red.
I thought about adding gray and soft pink but never
got around to it.  I like the traditional Valentine's Day
colors...and I love a very basic wet on wet technique.
Happy hearts!
These are a small sampling of the many "minis" I made this year.
Ian suggested stacking hearts (large up to small) but I make my
cookies so thick, it didn't look right.  I promised him I'd roll
and cut thinner cookies next year and try his idea.
For some reason, all of the polka dot double hearts I did reminded
me of men's boxer shorts.  Can't get it out of my head every time
I look at them.  (giggle)
Last, but not least, in my favorites were more stencils -
both pearl over red sprayed (stencil from Salsa Sweets)
and the pink on red from Designer
Stencils were larger stencils used on smaller cookies.
I also liked the simple royal icing rose in the center
of a red shell heart.  It reminds me of
a Valentine's card.

Well, those are my favorites of the ones I have finished.  I still have some large hearts to work on.  They were really big and hard to base coat...I'll see what I can do with them tomorrow!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Red Velvet Valentine Cookies

I was soooo excited to see Sweet Sugarbelle's recipe for Red Velvet Roll-outs.  She posted it on her website in 2012, but re-posted this year on Facebook for those of us who missed it.  I had been thinking about what flavors to do for Valentine's baking - I like to do at least two and, because my grandkids prefer them, I always include my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies in the mix.  I am linking the recipe above because I didn't change one tiny iota of the recipe.  It worked beautifully.  I rolled between parchment paper, wore gloves in fear of red food color hands, used her tip of mixing cocoa powder with flour for dusting when sticky.  Everything was smooth and beautiful.  Best of all, they smelled awesome when baking - enough to draw the boy from his man cave.  Best, BEST of all, they taste divine!  No red teeth thanks to the use of Lor-Ann's Red Velvet Emulsion instead of an entire bottle of liquid red food color, no bumps in the baked dough...smooth and delicious.  Ahhhhh.

So, as I moved on to thinking about decorating them, they were calling out to me, begging for a cream cheese icing.  Red Velvet must have cream cheese frosting/icing.  It's in the Southerner's Rules of Baking Book (if there is one, I'm sure it's in there).  The tastes just marry perfectly and, while I wanted to make them "purty", I did not want to top them with royal icing if I could possibly avoid it.  Let the science experiments begin!

I have previously used Karen's Cookies recipe for Meringue Powder Buttercream.  Gave a lovely mouth feel to piped icing.  However, it took three days to dry down in my humid May environment.  I knew I was going to be decorating a lot of cookies for family and friends, I was worried I would not have time.  My usual time frame takes five preparation days, including making the dough, baking, making the icing, and decorating in layers that require complete drying overnight between layers.  If I experimented and it didn't dry, I was afraid my cookies wouldn't be done until AFTER Valentine's Day! 

I cogitated about it a bit with a cup of coffee, sitting here cursing our weather, which is unusually cold this year (like the rest of the southern United States) and cut on the television to Food Network.  Now, my husband would say you can't cut anything can turn it on, but only cut it off.  Yankee, what does he know?  All of us down south know you absolutely can cut on lights, cut on the a/c, cut on the fan, cut on the t.v. - right?  I digress.  On that television was Alton Brown, discussing cakes.  Red Velvet Cake in specific and the fact that the invention of cream cheese "saved the south" because it had a much higher melting point than butter so it became the standard in frosting in the very warm southern U.S. - light bulb goes off in my tiny little 'ole brain.  Maybe I could use cream cheese instead of shortening in Karen's recipe for MP Buttercream.  Instead of Almond extract, maybe I could use some of the Lor-Ann's Cream Cheese emulsion that I had in my cabinet.  Lastly I remembered I had not used the extra MP last time, Karen recommended double for humid environments...I would do that too.  Woo hoo, I was off to the races with my fingers crossed.

I got everything out, mixed it up, and shoulders was too runny.  I added another cup or so of confectioner's sugar (maybe even one and a half) and beat it some more.  Now...that's what I'm talking about.  Perfect flood consistency icing.  So, I piped some on a naked cookie and halved the cookie with one of my food testers (Mr. Flip Flop) and we both agreed - yum!  Next to ice some more hearts and see if they would crust.  I put them under the fan and four hours later, the had a light crust, but my finger pressure broke the surface and it was still very "floody" underneath.    I left them untouched under the fan and the next morning I tried again.  They felt smooth for the most part, but still could be crushed.  I could work on them if I was careful and hope they'd continue to set up.  One of the things I noticed is the cookies closest to the fan had "waves" in them.  These were sacrificed to the taster and I allowed most of those wavy ones to continue to dry so I could check on drying status with ones I wasn't going to decorate...but then, I decorated a few to see if the wavy could be hidden by decor.  Actually, that worked pretty well!  Bottom line...the Cream Cheese MP Icing worked great.  Like the MP Buttercream, though, it did take 3 days to get dry all the way through to the point where I could package and stack them.  However, I could marble, I could make dot borders, and I could pipe some "designs" - although I did have a bit of running-together with that.  Anything that is bright white or a rose is royal icing.  The softer colors (and the green piped leaves) are all CC MP Icing!

So, here's the recipe, based on Karen's recipe, with my tweaks.  It's good, and if you have the time for them to dry, it's very, very tasty.  Fortunately, the Red Velvet cookies were so moist they stood up to the time under the fan.  Still soft to the tooth inside and incredibly delicious (I know because I just ate one to make sure ;-).

Cream Cheese MP Icing
Tested in a humid environment
Adapted from Karen's Cookies Recipe


1/3 cup room temperature water
6 Tablespoons Meringue Powder (I use AmeriColor MP)
4 ounces regular cream cheese, room temperature
5 1/2 to 6 cups of sifted powdered sugar (sift first, then measure), divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Lor-Ann's Cream Cheese emulsion (shake before measuring)


Place three cups of the powdered sugar and the meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment engaged.  Turn the machine on and whisk the two dry ingredients together until thoroughly mixed.  With the mixer still on, slowly stream in the water.  Mix until everything is incorporated, scrape down the sides if needed.  Turn the mixer on high and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add flavorings and mix well.

Change to paddle attachment at this point.  Try to get as much off of your whisk attachment as possible.  Use a rubber spatula to help with that.

Add remaining powdered sugar and the cream cheese.  Whip for about 3 minutes - or until you get to flood icing thickness.  Don't whip any less to prevent separation.  I used this as my base.  Store icing in the refrigerator with plastic wrap laying on the surface to prevent crusting (I'm guessing here - that's how I do anything that crusts).

To make piping icing for the leaves, I added powdered sugar and some base together with the green food color (AmeriColor gel leaf green) until it was the consistency I was seeking.

I think you can see from the photos, that it worked really well.  It tastes delicious and worked...what more can you ask for?  Well, you could have asked me to test it more than once to ensure consistent results...but I don't have time.  I welcome any feedback if you try this.  I haven't found anything in a Google search that provides a similar recipe, so I was on untried ground as far as I could tell.

I did find that it was easier for me to do writing with royal icing and the roses are all royal icing transfers I made on another cold day last week.  They are great to have on hand and a good way to use up your unused royal icing.  They last forever if kept in an airtight container!

Well, that's it for the experimentation phase of my Valentine's Day cookie decorating.  I'm onward to the rest of the cookies, still hoping I will get finished in time!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Run to Hear, Inc. is on AmazonSmile!!!

Do you shop on 

I live in the boonies… I shop on Amazon a LOT.  The nearest big stores are 25 to 30 miles away from my home and the “better” big stores are over 65 miles away .  I quickly became an avid Amazon shopper.  I am a proponent of “shop local” and try to shop at local indie shops regularly, but for much of what I need; it simply is not to be found in a 250 mile radius of my home!  I am a specialty baker and Amazon has a lot of the specialty items I need.  They send most of it right to my door – so I’m a huge fan!  The big Amazon-in-the-sky gets lots of bad press…but here’s some press about the good they are also doing.

Imagine my delight when I found “AmazonSmile” AND found out that Run to Hear, Inc. was a qualified recipient of a percentage of almost everything I buy on Amazon!  All I had to do was sign up and use my regular account (just whatever account you use when you make purchases on Amazon regardless of whether or not it is AmazonPrime) BUT I saved the AmazonSmile portal on my favorites bar so I start my shopping there.  All of my eligible purchases cost the same as the other portal…but, because I designated Run to Hear, Inc. as my charity, they get a percentage of my purchase price as a donation.  No extra cost to me – it’s just Amazon, through their charitable foundation, doing a good deed.  I think it's the right thing for big business to do, don't you?  If so, then take advantage of it without delay!

Here’s a link to the FAQs about the program.  PLEASE sign up today…select Run to Hear, Inc. from their list of qualified charities, and get busy shopping.  Just remember, you must enter through the AmazonSmile portal when you shop… and you will see Run to Hear is listed as your charity at the top of the web page when you are logged in correctly.

It doesn’t cost you a penny…but, as one of the parents of a Run to Hear founder said “Mama told me never to pass up any free money. Golden crumbs....” and that is the absolute truth.  You can help Run to Hear without it costing YOU any extra pennies.  They are indeed golden crumbs for those in need of assistance with cochlear implants, hearing accessories, and assistive technologies…whatever it takes for the hearing impaired, who want to hear better, to access hearing. 

Thanks for helping out in any way you can…be an AmazonSmile contributor today!
R2H group from 2012
Photo courtesy of  Gerald Tow
While you are thinking about Run to Hear....have you signed up for the 2014 5k?  We're at Lake Pflugerville Park again this year and we've moved to a much better (hopefully cooler) day!  MAY 10, 2014 with an 8:00 a.m. start time.  Family friendly, but timed for those more competitive runners (like my granddaughter who won 3rd place in her category last year...yay rah Audrey!).  The sign-up link is on our web site - please visit and get yourself registered today.  Can't wait to see you there!

Audrey and her Dad (my son Will), crossing
the finish line with a good time despite arriving and
starting 5 minutes after the start.
Photo courtesy of Alex Labry

Thank you - now I'm back to decorating my Valentine's Day cookies - look for those in an upcoming post!