Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Hint of Fall & A Birthday Cake

You wouldn't know it from the warm weather we're having at the moment, but Fall is certainly here.  Everywhere I look there are warm browns, yellows, shades of orange and dark crimson tones.  Yes, autumn is here and if the weather behaves, the deciduous trees promise to give us a splendid show of color.

I took a few photographs this past afternoon so that you could see the hints of autumn we're experiencing in our area.  Although I did not do a long photo shoot, because I was on a lunch break, I did capture what I think are the best views around our home.

The photo of our group of beech trees was taken from the second floor of the center hall.  If the time is right and the weather has been kind to the trees, I literally gasp the first time I notice the splendor of that giant beech that is front and center.  So many leaves fall from this area that our driveway is completely covered for days.  Someone is going to be busy clearing them next week.

Walking up the driveway next to the walnuts and oaks, the tall, majestic trees have begun to go from green tones to pale yellows and bright shades of orange.  

On a side note, a small bank of stones that was put in along the driveway has really managed to keep the bottom of the hill, around our home, free of storm runoff.  I'm so glad that was done. 

Going up the driveway whether on foot or in the car is so extraordinary for the few days that it looks like this.  I live for these fleeting moments of autumn.

Standing on the front porch of the house, looking up the driveway, you can see what I mean about the area being covered in beech leaves.  

And now, for a bit of cake!

Over the weekend I made a tasty cake for a very dear friend of mine who was welcoming an au pair into her home.  Following two of Martha Stewart's recipes from her 'Cakes' book (Martha personalized my copy of this book!), I quickly iced the layer cake with a minimum of fuss.

I used her buttermilk cake recipe (page 259) for the tender yellow layers, and her flawless Swiss Meringue Buttercream (page 336).  However, I decided to add 1/4 cup of strong, brewed espresso to the finished buttercream in order to give it a fragrant, and very delicious coffee flavor.

This icing pipes beautifully!

The layers were thoroughly chilled before applying the crumb coat.  I simply put the layers in the freezer as I started making the buttercream.  Everything was perfect the moment I stopped the mixer.

This crumb coated cake was then chilled for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to help the icing set and harden.  After this chilling it was only a matter of applying the final coat of buttercream along the top and sides.  This was done with my rotating cake stand and a bench scraper.  Perfect!

For the top, I used a large St. Honoré piping tip to create that wonderful border.

A sprinkling of French dragées in both silver and gold, completed the cake.

Voilà!  I had so many requests from individuals wanting to know what type of icing this was.  Well, now you know.  Get Martha's Cakes book and you will never want for a better tasting cake.  If you don't own a St. Honoré piping tip, and you happen to love decorating layer cakes, buy yourself at least one of these and experiment with it.  

Have fun baking and decorating birthday cakes for the important people in your life!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Cooking for Jeffrey, by Ina Garten

Ina Garten is about to release her tenth cookbook, 'Cooking for Jeffrey', on October 25th.  This cookbook is perhaps her most personal compilation of recipes, because they are those which Ina's husband has enjoyed for many years.  Ina states: "I can assure you that all the recipes have been 'Jeffrey-tested' again and again."  

In the cookbook, which I was given an advance copy of, Ina gives us snippets of the early days being married to Jeffrey, and of creating a home and opening a business (Barefoot Contessa) in East Hampton, New York.  Not only is the cookbook a compilation of amusing and fascinating stories from Ina, it is also a book dedicated to cooking with good ingredients, and showing us step-by-step how to make each fantastic dish.

What I love about all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and Ina's style, is that each recipe is approachable and doable.  None of them seem complex or intimidating in the least.  I already have my eye on several lunch, dinner and dessert recipes to try in the coming weeks. 

If you haven't preordered your copy of 'Cooking for Jeffrey', I suggest that you do so immediately.  You can, however, visit your local bookstore and pick up a copy on October 25th.  I truly think you're going to like Ina Garten's latest!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Teal Pumpkin Project for Halloween

Are you familiar with The Teal Pumpkin Project?  If not, you may want to participate in it this year, especially if you have kids with food allergies or know of any in the neighborhood that do.  

The teal pumpkin project was created so that all kids could have a safer Halloween.  By putting a teal-colored pumpkin on your doorstep, you are letting trick-or-treaters and their parents know that you will be providing non-food items as treats on Halloween.

Make Halloween in your neighborhood an all-inclusive occasion for the kids this year by providing food/candy alternatives to those who can't eat packaged candies & treats.

For more information on The Teal Pumpkin Project,
please visit:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Halloween Sugar Cookie Ideas

Halloween is a good time to ice sugar cookies for gift giving.  Whether you hand them out at a Halloween party or package them up in clear cellophane bags for local trick-or-treaters, decorated sugar cookies can be as intricate or as simple as you want them to be.  There are a few things, however, you should keep in mind when making these types of cookies: make them colorful and make them flavorful.

Over the years I have made several sets of Halloween cookies for my niece and nephews, each of which have been devoured with such pleasure.  I have yet to get started on this year's designs for them, but rest assured that I will get the task done.

In the meantime, let's go over some of the more memorable cookies I've shared here on the blog.

With several dozen cookies in shapes of owls, skulls, spiderwebs, pumpkins, witches and cats, you can ice some frightfully delicious cookies in all sorts of colors.  You can even tint the cookie dough to make things super easy.

Set aside a weekend to make iced sugar cookies, and freeze them weeks in advance of Halloween.  As long as you follow a few simple suggestions, the cookies will keep fresh for up to one month.

Here are some of my favorites from years past!

The Sugar & Spice recipe is so flavorful.

Sugar Cookie Recipes:
All three of these sugar cookie recipes make flavorful cut out cookies.  What's great about these particular recipes, other than their terrific flavor, is that the cut outs keep their shapes when baked and cooled.  The Heirloom Sugar Cookie dough can be tinted whatever color you want it to be should you wish to do so.

Royal Icing:
The royal icing is a tried and true recipe.  It's citrusy in flavor, but if you want to try a concentrated, clear extract to flavor your icing instead of using fresh lemon juice, by all means try it.

My Simple Halloween Cookies post shows exactly how easy cookie decorating can be.  With colored cookie doughs, a mix of charming pumpkins, bats and mini cats only need a minimum of icing.

Marbleizing colored cookie doughs will give a different look to your cookies.  Those monster blockheads in shades of green and purple are cute.  

I love how the black and orange pumpkins look on this caramel glass cake stand.

If you're hosting a Halloween party, set out your cake stands at a dessert table and stack your cookies for everyone to grab.  Even a weekend get together is a good time to have sugar cookies for nibbling with a cup of tea.  Those mini cookies allow you to eat a few without feeling any guilt whatsoever! 

You can't have a set of Halloween treats without pumpkins.  My large pumpkin cookie cutter from Martha by Mail makes beautiful cookies.  This eight inch cookie cut out leaves plenty of space for one to get creative.  The warty pumpkin above, was given a smooth burnt-orange base of royal icing, and once dried, I piped dots in seasonal colors throughout the cookie.  A sprinkling of sanding sugar on the stem is entirely optional.

A classic jack-o-lantern using the same cookie cutter is great for Halloween.  Orange, black and green royal icing will do.

Make sure that you have large cellophane bags and colorful satin ribbons if you plan on giving these to the special people in your life. 

By the way, the other cookies in this photograph are from my Halloween Cookie post from a few years ago.  Those were cut out with other Martha by Mail copper cookie cutters.  

Do you remember my Spooky Halloween Cookies post from last year? The kids loved these cookies so much that they gave many of them to their classmates.

The Dia de Los Muertos sugar skull cookies were so much fun to make.  I let my imagination dictate how and when to finish the designs.  My little nephew loved these best because he said they were scary!

Here is a close up of that cookie.  I used little monster head candies for the eyes.  The rest of the skull was decorated evenly on both sides.

Spooky owls are perched here looking a bit menacing, but not to worry though, because these sweets are anything but frightening.

Note:  Iced sugar cookies that are completely dry can be successfully frozen for up to a month if they don't contain any colored candies, nonpareils, sprinkles, dragées or embellishments which will bleed upon thawing.

Freezing Iced Sugar Cookies

  1. Freeze shapes in single layers on baking sheets.  Once frozen, stack similarly-shaped cookies in bundles of no more than 4 high.
  2. Cover stacks of cookies tightly with plastic wrap, making sure that they don't shift at all.  It's a good idea to give them two wrappings of plastic wrap.
  3. Place these bundles into zip-top freezer bags, removing all air, and lay them flat in the freezer for up to one month.  
  4. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and serve/package as desired.

As I said before, pumpkins are a must for Halloween.  Gather all of your pumpkin cookie cutters and cut out as many as you can.  Flip the images of the cookies before baking so that you have even more variety when icing them.

At no more than 2-1/2" in length, the little vampire bat cookies are so cute! Don't you just want to eat them up?  Even the spiderweb teeming with spiders looks frightfully scrumptious.

Packaging treats should reflect your style. 

Baking and icing sweet, memorable cookies takes time, careful planning, and a bit of imagination.  It is a task which should be enjoyed by everyone no matter who the recipient(s) of the treats happen to be.  If cookies are made with excellent ingredients and your cookie decorating exhibits a dash of your own artistry, people are going to appreciate them year in and year out.

I try my best to create a new set of cookies for my family each and every holiday, so this Halloween, I hope to make a unique batch which will capture the spirit of the season.  

Happy Cookie Decorating!