Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Decorated 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 had made sugar cookies from scratch once before when I made these cookies for the challenge. I was excited to try a new recipe and see how it compared.

Once again, I had trouble with the dough being very crumbly.

If ANYONE knows why this is happening, please let me know! (One theory presented so far is that it's because I use a hand mixer and perhaps the recipe is better suited for the faster and more powerful stand mixers?)

I had to smoosh the dough together to get it to form a ball so I could roll it out.

I did really like Mandy's tip in the recipe of rolling out the dough right after mixing and then refrigerating it so it's easier to roll out; versus refrigerating and then rolling out. I also think the refrigerating after cutout and before baking also helped hold the shape. Her other very handy tip was rolling out the dough in between two layers of wax paper; I loved that!

Sorry, I didn't get pictures of the dough rolled out or in the fridge.

Even though this recipe still had crumbly dough, it did a much better job holding the shape of the cutout than the recipe I tried last time.

Baked cookies on the left; cut out dough on the right...almost exactly the same!

All the baked cookies cooling on the rack.

The challenge required that we decorate the cookies with royal icing, using a flooding technique and any additional piping we wanted. However, the challenge didn't require us to use a specific royal icing recipe, so I just used the Wilton recipe that I usually use.

I knew I didn't need an entire batch of sugar cookies sitting in my house (after all, I have a wedding dress to fit into), so I found them a nice home.

My cousin is a firefighter, so I took the cookies to his firehouse. With that plan in mind, I used a variation of the fire department's logo to decorate the cookies.

I'm told the guys ate them up right away! Which is great news, since it's very likely they'll be receiving the results of future Daring Bakers Challenges.

Here's the recipe if you want to give this version of sugar cookies a try:


Basic Sugar Cookies:

Preparation Time
30 minutes: Making dough & rolling
1 hour min: Refrigeration
8-15 minutes: Baking per tray depending on size of cookies

Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies

200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

•Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becomingcreamy in texture.
• Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread duringbaking, 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.
• Tip: I don’t have a stand mixer so I find it easier to switch to dough hooks at this stage to avoidflour flying everywhere.
• 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 anhour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time andthen 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 30mins to an hour.
• 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 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
• 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 insome 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-decoratedcookies can last up to a month.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Party City Review

Party City recently opened in our area. A few weeks ago I decided to stop in after work and check it out. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, literally.

It’s huge! Much larger than I expected and with a larger variety and volume of products than I expected. If you haven’t been the best way I can describe it is that it has aspects of Party America, Hobby Lobby, and Michael’s all meshed into one great party planning and supplies location.

Take a look!

Any color of paper products you could want. In solids and coordinating patterns!

This is just one small end display of cake stuff (they have Wilton and other brands in another aisle.)

But this display has the new Duff supplies!

I wish I had a reason to buy this.

Check out the candy section!

Lots of fun candy options.

M&Ms in a variety of colors to match your theme!

Tons of balloons; obviously I had to to take a pick of the flamingo.

There is a lot more stuff that I didn't capture in pictures: gift wrapping, cards, an entire wedding aisle, seasonal items and more.

If you have a party to prep for, check out Party City!

(Note: Party City has no idea who I am, I am just very excited for a new place to get so many great party supplies.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Diet Crack

In college I drank A LOT of Diet Coke. I drank it for breakfast, I drank it with lunch, I drank it for a mid-afternoon energy boost, I drank it with dinner, and I drank it late at night studying or when I was out with friends. I generally wasn’t drinking just a couple of sips at a time either. Rarely was I without a Diet Coke.

There were also certain times that I drank more Diet Coke than usual; such as when I was stressed…although I didn’t even realize it.

On a trip to California that had a few unexpected situations (such as the airline losing half of our group’s flight reservations); my very good friend noted the following:

“Michelle, you reach for a Diet Coke when most smokers would reach for a cigarette. You’re addicted; it’s your Diet Crack.”

She was right. I can always count on her!

A short while later I decided I was going to quit Diet Crack, just to prove that I could. I’m happy to say that I did go without any Diet Crack for over a full year.

That was a few years ago. I have since re-allowed Diet Crack back into my beverage options, but I no longer drink anywhere near the amounts I used to.

From time to time it’s nice to have a refreshing Diet Coke; and some things just taste better with Diet Coke, like pizza. (Note: This is not an advertisement for Diet Coke, they have no idea who I am; I just really like Diet Coke.)

And from time to time, there are still occasions when I’m incredibly stressed that I may choose a Diet Coke over water. Or days when I may drink a little more Diet Coke than usual, like when the power goes out and I miss a conference call (which may have happened recently). But this does not happen nearly as often as I used to.

Although, it’s rarely called Diet Coke around me anymore…my friend’s phrase has caught on and it’s now affectionately referred to by most people in my life as Diet Crack.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Exception to the Rule – Flamingos

As I’ve mentioned before (here) I’m not much of a girly girl. So not surprisingly I really don’t like the color pink. Hate is a strong word, so I’m not sure I hate it, but it’s definitely not something I’m fond of.

I’m not for sure where my extreme dislike of the color pink came from. Although I do have one theory that centers around a flowery light pink dress I was forced to wear as a child; but in all reality I might have disliked pink even before then.

There always seems to be an exception to almost any rule. Even my no pink rule has an exception – flamingos. I only allow pink if it involves flamingos.

Feeding Flamingos in Mexico

I love them! I always have and I always will. I don’t know why, I just do…even though they’re pink. I think they're fabulous, they're one of my favorite animals (manatees are probably the other...that started when I did a report on manatees in elementary school...anyway...)

I love seeing flamingos at the zoo or on vacations to warmer weather locales.

I have a nice little collection of flamingos in my office; most have been gifts throughout the years. I also have a nice little collection of flamingo party accessories and serving items that are perfect for summer festivities (as you may have noticed in my last post).

Most of my summer BBQs and parties have a tropical theme in order to allow me to showcase my flamingo items. What can I say, they’re just so festive!

(Note: Obviously if I ever host a Memorial Day, 4th of July, baseball or other summer themed event I would not bring out the flamingos).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BBQ Recap & Sweet Links

A couple of weekends ago, my fiancé and I hosted an end of summer BBQ. (I know, I'm very behind on posting.) This summer has gone by so fast and so much of our free time has been spent on wedding planning that we wanted to get in one last summer celebration before the seasons change.

It was also the last BBQ at my house which was somewhat bittersweet. But we did it right – great friends and great food made for a great night!

We provided the meat and fixings, refreshments and desserts. Oh did we have desserts...but more on that later!

We asked guests to bring a salad or side dish to share and we had an overflowing table of amazing and delicious dishes. We have some very talented friends and I definitely need to track down some of the recipes!

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of everything, but some of the highlights were:

Broccoli, Almond and Grape Salad – It might sound odd, but it was wonderful
Cha Cha Chicken Canapes – These were all gone by the end of the night
Deviled Eggs – A classic; they were gone immediately
Fruit Salad – Very refreshing
Roasted Vegetables – Delicious; they balanced out the sweets, or so I like to tell myself
Homemade Baked Beans – Perfect for a BBQ
Baked Jalepeno Cheese Dip – This is one of my favorites.
Pioneer Woman’s Bacon Jalepeno Poppers – Of course!

I’m sure I’m forgetting some of the fabulous dishes, so my apologies, they were all great and there were just too many to keep track of.

Also, my fiancé did an excellent job at the grill!

To finish off the menu, we had a selection of desserts.

Everybody had their personal favorites; which is the whole point of offering a selection of desserts. Even some of the items that I wasn’t thrilled with found a fan in the crowd. Below is a list of the desserts (with links to the recipes) and my editorial thoughts.

Italian Cream Cake (from Pioneer Woman’s Friend) – I was very much looking forward to this and thought it would be my favorite. Sadly, however, I wasn’t as thrilled with it as I anticipated…it was really, really sweet; perhaps a tad too sweet. I used unsalted butter in the recipe (because I always use unsalted butter for baking) but I’m wondering if salted butter would have balanced out some of the sweetness…the recipe did not specify.

Better Than Crack Brownies (from How Sweet Treats) – This were a crowd favorite, they were delicious and not very hard to make at all. If you like peanut butter and chocolate, this is a must try.

Chewy Lime and Coconut Sugar Cookies (from Two Peas and their Pod) – These were my favorite! I love coconut and the hint of lime gave them the perfect fresh and tropical taste. Very good!

Brown Butter Pound Cake Ice Cream Petit Fours (from July Daring Bakers Challenge) – I liked how the pound cake turned out; I wasn’t thrilled with the dark chocolate glaze. These were definitely not my favorite, but they did find a few fans that loved the dark chocolate glaze.