Monday, September 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers Make Sugar Cookies!

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

I was excited when I saw this month's challenge. I love sugar cookies (and cookie cutters!!!!) but have never really taken the time to professionally decorate them. I had a lot of fun making these. I didn't get them decorated as detailed as I would have liked (or even what I had planned on doing) because of time constraints. Apparently baking sugar cookies and having a baby who refuses to nap and only wants to play don't really go hand in hand. I enjoyed learning about marbeling (I've always wondered how they did that!), flooding, and other cool tricks and techniques used to make sugar cookies.

We were supposed to pick a "September" theme for our cookies - whatever September meant for us. September is when my husband and I first started dating 6 years ago, so I decided to make my cookies for him. Our first ever date was camping, but try as I could I could not find any camping themed cookie cutters. Ok, I found a teepee, and a tent, which just looked like a giant blob. So I decided to do fall leaves. 

My husband was in the Boy Scouts when he was younger, is now an Assistant Troop Leader of his old troop, and Boy Scouts go camping. Ha, full circle, back to camping! :) 

I also found these great message cookie cutters from Williams-Sonoma! You can spell out whatever message you want! Having a massive cookie cutter addiction like I do, I couldn't live without these. I have actually been wanting them for a long time now, but couldn't justify getting them. Until now. :)

There are some great sugar cookies out there this month, so make sure you check out what amazing things other bloggers from the Daring Kitchen did! Check it out here!

Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes Approximately 36 - 4" Cookies
½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose
 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp Vanilla Extract 
• Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture.
• Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.
• Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
• Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.
• Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)
• Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
• Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.
• Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
• Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.
• Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 15 to 30 minutes.
 Tip: It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking.
• Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
• Preheat oven to 350°F.
• Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.
• Tip: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in some cookies being baked before others are done.
• Tip: Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly.
• Leave to cool on cooling racks.
• Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.
• Tip: If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated cookies can last up to a month.
General Baking Tips
• When measuring by volume (cup) always shift/aerate your flour/icing sugar in the container/bag before measuring because it settles as it sits and so you end up with more flour/icing sugar in your cup. I do this by moving the ingredient around with a spoon, whisk or fork.
• When measuring flour or icing sugar by volume (cup) never scoop the flour/icing sugar up with the cup otherwise you compress the contents and this can make a big difference in the amount you’re using. Rather, spoon the ingredient into the cup until level with the top.
• When measuring baking powder or baking soda, always level off the top of the measuring spoon with something flat (like the back of a knife) as these ingredients need to be accurately measured.
• When mixing your ingredients, always follow the recipe instructions, especially when it comes to beating in eggs and flour, so if it specifies to mix until just combined or to beat for 4 minutes, follow the instructions to get best results.
• Unless otherwise specified, always have your ingredients at room temperature.
• It’s always best to invest in an oven thermometer so that you know exactly the temperature you’re baking at then you can also find out if you have cold or hot spots in your oven.
• If you need to rotate your trays midst baking, always allow at least half the baking time to lapse before opening your oven to move baking trays around, this allows time for your baked goods to form a good structure so that they won’t flop.

Royal Icing:
2½ - 3 cups  Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Almond Extract, optional
• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
• Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and grease free.
• Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
• Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
• Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.
Decorating Your Cookies: Flooding
“Flooding” a cookie is a technique used when covering a cookie with Royal Icing.
1. You outline the area you want to flood which helps create a dam
2. Then fill or flood inside the area you’ve outlined
Decorating Your Cookies: What You'll Need
- Piping bags / Parchment Cones / Ziplock Bags
- Elastic bands
- Piping tips (between sizes 1 & 5)
- Couplers
- Glasses (handy for standing your piping bags in)
- Clean clothes, dry & damp
- Toothpicks
- Gel or paste food colouring
Decorating Your Cookies: Royal Icing
The most important thing when it comes to decorating with Royal Icing is the consistency.
There are two ways of flooding your cookies. Some like to do the outline with a thicker icing and then flood with a thinner icing. Some like to use the same icing to do both which saves time and you don’t have to have two different piping bags for each colour you’re using.
The Same Consistency Method
• Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions
• Drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing and count to 10
• If the surface becomes smooth between 5 & 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency
• Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, do the 10 second test, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
• Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test
Two Different Consistencies Method
• Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions.
• Separate into 2 different bowls, one lot of icing for outlining, the other for flooding.
• For the outlining icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
• If the surface becomes smooth at around 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
• Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 10 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
• Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.
• For the flooding/filling icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
• If the surface becomes smooth at around 3-4 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
• Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 3-4 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
• Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 3-4 second test.

• Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each colour you plan on using.
• Tip: Make sure to cover the bowls with cling film or a damp cloth to prevent the top from setting and then making lumps
• Using a toothpick, add gel or paste colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached
• Tip: You can use liquid food colouring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of colour, liquid colouring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.

Prepping and Filling Your Bag
• Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers
• Tip: You don’t need to use a coupler but it makes it easier if you want to change tip sizes
• Tip: A size 1 tip is best for doing intricate details. A size 2 tip is good for some details and outlining. Fill or flood with sizes 2 – 5.
 Tip: You don’t need a piping bag, you can use a parchment cone or ziplock bag with a tiny bit snipped off the corner. I would however recommend getting a piping set if you don’t have one as it will be much easier and more precise.
• Stand the piping bags in glasses with the tops of the bags folded over the top of the glass.
• Fill your icing bags with each coloured icing.
• Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.

Decorating: Outlining
• Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip.
• Tip: Or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a parchment cone or Ziploc bag
• Hold the piping bag at a 45 degree angle above the cookie where you want to start the outline.
• Gently squeeze the piping bag and start moving in the direction you want to outline the cookie.
• Start lifting the piping bag away from the cookie so that the flow of icing falls onto the cookie, making it an even and neater outline.
• As you start to reach the beginning of the outline, bring the piping tip closer to the surface of the cookie to meet the start of the icing outline.
• Tip: If you’re doing an intricate cookie, like a snow flake, you won’t be able to lift the tip as far away from the cookie.
• If you’re doing a different colour border, eg a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same colour for the outline as you’re flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.
Decorating: Flooding
• Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip.
• Tip: Or cut slightly more off the corner of a Ziploc bag to create a slightly larger opening.
• Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill.
• Tip: You need to be quick when flooding the cookie so don’t worry too much if it’s not filled in neatly.
• Using a toothpick or clean paintbrush, push the icing around into the gaps that are still remaining.
• Either pick up the cookie and tip it from side to side to even out the filling, or lightly bang the cookie down on your kitchen counter.

Decorating: Melding Colours
• If you would like to add lines or dots to the base colour that you flooded the cookie with so that they meld and dry as a smooth surface, you need to add the lines/dots/patterns as quickly as possible after flooding and smoothing the surface of the cookie.
• Tip: Make sure to have all the colours you’re planning on using ready and close by so that you can switch between colours quickly
• Simply pipe other colours onto the flooded surface in patterns or lines which you can either leave as that or then drag a toothpick through to make marbling patterns.
Decorating: On top of flooding
• If you’d like to do other patterns/outlines or writing on top of the flooded surface so that they are raised above the flooded background, simply allow the icing to dry, preferably over night.
• Fit the piping bag with tip sizes 1-3.
• Pipe patterns or write on top of the dry icing
• Tip: For writing, the consistency of your icing should be thicker rather than thinner, drag a knife through your icing and when the surface smoothes around 12-15 seconds, the consistency is correct.
Packaging and Storing
• Once fully decorated, allow cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area.
• Stack cookies in an airtight container, from largest cookies at the bottom, to smallest and more intricate at the top, with parchment or wax free paper in between the layers.
• Store in a cool and dry area with the container’s lid firmly sealed.
• Will last for about a month if stored this way.
General Royal Icing Tips
• Keep a damp cloth handy while decorating your cookies so that if you’re switching between different icing bags, you can keep the tips covered with the damp cloth so that the icing doesn’t dry and clog them.
• If your icing tips do clog, use a toothpick or pin to unclog them.
• Always pipe a little bit of royal icing onto a board/paper towel before you begin to make sure there are no air bubbles.
• Remember to always cover bowls containing royal icing wither cling wrap, a damp cloth or sealable lid so that the surface doesn’t dry.
• Don’t store anything decorated with royal icing in the fridge otherwise the royal icing will become tacky.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brown Butter Peach Shortbread Bars

Well, it's official. I have become obsessed with brown butter. Ever since the last Daring Baker's Challenge, all I can think about is that velvety nutty smell filling my house, and the taste...oh the taste! I utterly HAD to have some again. And since I had a few peaches getting soft on my counter that I had intended for the upcoming Daring Cook's Challenge (oh, look at that, another hint!) but ended up not using, I wanted a recipe to incorporate both. And what do you know, it's darling Smitten Kitchen to the rescue. It was like she read my mind - the second I wanted a peachy/brown butter recipe, BAM, she posted one. Man I love her.

These bars are fantastic! They are really light - in texture and flavor. They aren't overly sweet or rich, definitely a perfect "end of summer, oh my god it's hot" dessert. The flavor of the brown butter really comes through, and my super ripe peaches add a perfectly peachy punch. Plus I love how you can see bits of yellow, orange and red poking through the crumble topping. 

I found these bars to be challenging to make. Not because they were hard. They weren't. In fact, I am so glad that they were really super easy to make because I decided to make it harder on myself. See, I've been reading a lot on "baby wearing" lately, and how good it is for the baby to be with you while you do your daily tasks - that they not only enjoy it, but that it is good for their mental development. So we got a great baby carrier, and the little cupcake DOES love it! We take walks almost every day, and she has gone to the farmers market with me in it. Before now, though, I had kept it strictly to walking activities - I hadn't really done any household chores or anything. However, on this day, my husband was gone, and I didn't want to just put her in her swing/bouncy chair/on the floor where the dogs will surely maul her when I am not looking. In the carrier we went! And let me tell you - it was nice having her there, but it was HARD! Why do you ask? Because this was the only thing I could see:

I kept getting a crook in my neck because I was having to look around her cute little head that was so perfectly in my way! (And yes, it was rather difficult to take those pictures, but I did it just for you!)

I've been storing mine in the fridge, and I really love them cold! If you are short on time, or you happen to not be utterly in love with brown butter like I am, you can omit the step of browning the butter, you can use the same amount of softened unsalted butter and increase the flour to a full 3 cups. Although why you would want to do this, I don't know. 

Brown Butter Peach Shortbread Bars

1 cup (7 ounces or 200 grams) white sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (12 5/8 ounces or 359 grams) cups all-purpose flour (or you can measure 3 cups and remove 2 tablespoons flour)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces or 227 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)

Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. 
Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). 
Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. 
In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. 
Use a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly. 
Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. 
Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. 
Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. 
Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Daring Cook's Preserve Stuff!

I was really excited about this month's Daring Cook's Challenge! I have been wanting to try this for a very long time, I just hadn't forced myself to do it!

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

I really wanted to make some Apple Butter, but as of right now I just haven't had time! But as soon as the Apple Orchards open up, I am so all over it! I did, however, decide to do something that I have been wanting to try my hand at! I decided to make BABY FOOD!

Now it may not seem that difficult, and really, it isn't. The hardest part of this is knowing when and what to feed your infant. However, there are a lot of really great resources out there, and I learned quite a lot. I am so excited to be able to introduce my baby to the wonderful world of food, and why not do it with wholesome, organic, yummy food that I have prepared myself?! I will know exactly where it came from, under what conditions it was prepared, everything that went into it (including love, aww!) and how long it sat before it was consumed. Of course I am going to make it myself - especially now that I know how easy it is!

I was totally prepared to completely stock my freezer with nothing but baby food this month, but I found a lot of conflicting information as to how long you can keep homemade baby food frozen. Some resources said up to 6 months, some said 3, and some said no longer than 1 month. I was rather discouraged by the fact that it could not keep longer. No one really explained it veryh well, but it had something to do with the ice crystals that form during freezing, and upon thawing can change the consistency, texture, and flavor of the puree. I found the majority of the information went with 3 months, so I decided that was how long I would keep mine for. Which means that since my little cupcake is just now turning 3 months, I could neither make a large quantity of food nor a lot of "flavorful" food. Yet.

I stuck with the basics, some "first tastes". I purchased some organic green beans and squash from the farmers market and went to town.

Green Beans - I thoroughly washed the beans, and snapped the ends off. I then steamed them for 12 minutes, or until they were tender. I then blended them in my food processor and poured them into my steralized specialized baby food freezing container - aka an ice cube tray! BUT this one has a lid! (Everyone say it with me now - oooOOOoooh!) I did not water my puree down, as everything I read said that you should thin it out after you thaw it out. Then you can make it the desired consistency with water, prepared formula, or breastmilk.

Butternut Squash - Peel and cube a squash into 1" cubes. Steam for 15 minutes, or until tender. Transfer to a blender and process until silky smooth! Transfer to your prepared freezing container.

I CANNOT WAIT until December for my little one to be on solid foods to see how she likes these, and to make her many other fabulous creations! I just might even post them all! :)

Resources -  
The Healthy Baby Meal Planner - Annabel Karmel (She has several books on feeding infants, toddlers and children that I found to be great. I've created a link on her name which will take you to all her books.

The Everything Organic Cooking for Baby and Toddler - Kim Lutz

Friday, September 10, 2010

Coke Glazed Wings

My dear husband has been hankering for some wings lately, and since I utterly despise buffalo wing sauce, I went on the hunt for something a little different. I stumbled upon this recipe, and immediately knew I had hit the jackpot. I have been itching for an ice cold glass of Coke lately, but am trying to stay away from caffeine for the little one's sake. I won't lie, though, I did sneak a sip. Or two.

The original recipe for these called for them to be broiled, but I don't really trust my broiler, and I didn't want to heat up my house with a hot oven. I decided to cook them in my cast iron pan instead. They turned out wonderfully! The flavor of the glaze is amazing and very complex! You can really distinguish all the different flavors, except for the jalapenos, which you couldn't really taste but gave it a tiny bit of heat. My husband thought it needed more jalapenos, but I thought it was perfect.

I think this glaze would also be perfect on grilled chicken breasts! 


1 cup cola
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 jalapeno, finely minced (discard the seeds)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 pounds chicken wings
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small sauce pan, bring the soda, lime juice, brown sugar and the minced jalapeno to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is syrupy, about 30 minutes; keep warm over low heat.
Season the wings with salt and pepper.
Heat some oil in a large skillet.
Cook the chicken until browned nicely and mostly cooked through.
Pour the glaze over the wings and toss to coat.
Continue cooking over medium heat until the glaze is thickened and the chicken is cooked through.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grilled Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Garlic Basil Pasta

One of my absolute favorite things to do is go down to the farmer's market, traversing all the stands of fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies, crafts, and jams and jellies, hunt down amazing ingredients, take them home, and create a wonderful fresh, tasty dinner.

Last week I found a company that makes fresh pasta. They had all kinds - chocolate fettaccini, sun dried tomato linguini, lemon poppy seed bowties, along with a rainbow assortment of other shapes and flavors. I settled on a lovely green garlic basil. Although I wish I had gotten some chocolate pasta as well. 

Added to that I purchased cherry tomatoes in a all shapes and colors (my favorite!), fresh locally grown organic chicken breasts, and creamy mozzarella cheese. 

Once home, I threw the chicken on the grill, drizzled the freshly made pasta with some high quality EVOO, and threw it all together with some parmesan cheese. 


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Walnut Rosemary Oven Fried Chicken

After the Daring Cook's Challenge where we used nuts to make a savory meal, I decided I definitely wanted to explore this concept some more. I found this recipe at Cooking Light, which is fantastic because not only is this meal delicious but healthy! I also made a yummy homemade Honey Mustard dipping sauce (my husbands favorite!) This turned out great. It had a nice crunchy coating and was very moist and flavorful! Neither my husband or I could decide if we liked it better with or without the sauce, it was great both ways. Which way do you like best?

Walnut Rosemary Oven Fried Chicken

  • 1/4  cup  low-fat buttermilk
  • 2  tablespoons  Dijon mustard
  • 4  (6-ounce) chicken cutlets
  • 1/3  cup  panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/3  cup  finely chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2  tablespoons  grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3/4  teaspoon  minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/4  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • Rosemary leaves (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Combine buttermilk and mustard in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk. Add chicken to buttermilk mixture, turning to coat.
3. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko to pan; cook 3 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Combine panko, nuts, and next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a shallow dish. Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture; discard buttermilk mixture. Dredge chicken in panko mixture.
4. Arrange a wire rack on a large baking sheet; coat rack with cooking spray. Arrange chicken on rack; coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 13 minutes or until chicken is done. Garnish with rosemary leaves, if desired.

Honey Mustard
5 Tablespoons Honey
3 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons Rice Wine Vinegar

Mix, and enjoy!


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