Thursday, December 6, 2018

Hanukkah Sugar Cookies

For those who are celebrating Hanukkah, the eight day holiday is a great time to eat traditional sweets of all kinds, but I personally think it's even better if you get to share a few of them with those who are dear to you.  This year, if you have a moment, bake and ice sugar cookies in the classic shapes of Hanukkah that we all know and love.

Two dear friends of mine recently asked me if I would make special Hanukkah cookies for their family and friends.   I immediately set to work on assembling my tasty sugar cookie dough as a base, and several batches of that good royal icing recipe I created many years ago. Hanukkah cookie cutters were then taken out, and I began one of my favorite tasks of all time.  Baking!

During the Festival of Lights, one candle on a menorah is lit for every night of the observance of this holiday.  Eight nights and eight days require a menorah with eight candles, plus an additional candle (in the middle of the candelabra) used for the actual lighting of the candles.  It is on the final night of the festival that every candle on the menorah is lit.  Throughout the eight day observance, families and friends gather together to play the game of dreidel and to partake of traditional sweets and foods.  That delicious Hanukkah gelt is adored by everyone, and yet, there is always room for sugar cookies so that guests can have one or two.

The menorah sugar cookies you see here were such an easy design.  I outlined and flooded round sugar cookies in white royal icing, which was then left to dry.  A menorah with a scrolled footed base was then piped as shown, with a #2 piping tip in sky-blue royal icing.  While the icing was wet, I placed eight 3mm gold drageés on the 'candleholders', and then carefully placed a larger 5mm gold drageé in the center of the candleholder to represent the candles of the menorah.  The perimeter of the round was then given a bead of royal icing in the same blue color.  After the icing dried completely, I took some Rolkem gold cake decorators dust and applied it carefully with a fine brush.

I love these gilded menorahs!

The dreidels were also very simple.  I piped a dreidel design onto a white royal icing base with blue royal icing (#2 piping tip), and then immediately piped the corresponding symbols of nun, gimmel, hey and shin as shown. Once this was dry, I took more of the Rolkem gold and applied it to the symbols of the dreidels.  Voila!

The Stars of David were created on round sugar cookies and on ones in the shape of the star itself.  All were given a base coating of white royal icing which was left to dry, and then I piped the double stripes of the stars as shown using two separate colors (teal and marine blue).  While the icings were wet, I flocked the cookies in a beautiful teal-colored fine sanding sugar so that the Star of David would sparkle.  Done and done!

Don't you just want to have a platter of these cookies for your Hanukkah table?  If you place each cookie in a clear cellophane bag and tie it with a blue ribbon, you can have each guest at your gathering take one from the dessert table.  You can also use cookies like this for each place setting on the dining table.

Consider making a few of these as a hostess gift if you're traveling to a friend's house.  Wherever you decide to celebrate the Festival of Lights, I hope that you are surrounded with friends and family, and are blessed with love, happiness and good health.

To my friends Candice and Rena, Happy Hanukkah!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

L.E. Smith Caramel Glass for Martha by Mail

In the latter part of the nineties (late twentieth century), the L.E. Smith Glass Company of Pennsylvania manufactured a special shade of glass, called caramel glass, for the Martha by Mail catalog.  This particular color was used on a limited number of glass items that were already being produced for Martha Stewart Living, back when their exclusive catalog was in business.  The production run for this shade of glass lasted for less than a handful of years.

Many of us collectors tend to classify this particular opaque glass as 'slag glass', while others label it chocolate glass, brown glass, and of course, caramel glass or caramel slag glass.  Make a note of it while searching for pieces online.  Not everyone is going to call it caramel glass.

Slag glass is characterized by swirls or whorls of cream or white glass mixed in with the dominant color portion of the dish.  Antique slag glass was actually made by combining molten metal ores with molten colored glass in order to produce that swirled multi-toned finish. More recent glassmakers, however, employed a simple mix of two colors of molten glass to produce the whorls found throughout the pressed glass.

When Martha by Mail commissioned the L.E. Smith Glass company to make their exclusive shade of caramel glass, the Pennsylvania glassworks used the technique of mixing small amounts of cream-colored glass into the caramel glass, in order to make each vessel unique.  Not one covered dish or cake stand in my collection is exactly alike in coloration.  Every single dish has a distinctive hue pattern.  

To my mind, they are the quintessential autumnal shade that I like to use this time of year, because the tone is warm, soothing and ideal for any fall table arrangement.  Since these covered dishes and cake stands are appropriate for table settings in October and November, I like to have them out in the kitchen or in the dining room where they are easily accessible.

Let me show you every single covered dish and cake stand that the former glassworks of L.E. Smith made for Martha by Mail in this wonderful shade of caramel. 

Over the years, I've managed to add a piece here and there whenever I find them.  Some covered dishes are more difficult to procure than others.  The cake stands themselves are probably the rarest of pieces to find these days.  

These are the plain round cake stands that measure 8", 10" and 12" in diameter.  I absolutely love the cupped bases, and the lipped plates.  They make just about any dessert look tempting.  Think of placing a pumpkin bundt cake covered in a delicious drippy glaze on one of these, or use them to showcase this year's Thanksgiving pies.  Pumpkin, apple, pecan or even a cranberry pie would look amazing.

The beautiful scalloped cake stand is a recent addition to the collection.  The design pattern of this particular shape is called 'Dominion' or 'Dominion-Honeycomb'.  It features a faceted scalloped base, and a scalloped-edged plate which has an intricate honeycomb pattern underneath.  I can say without a doubt that this cake stand is probably the rarest piece of caramel glass from Martha by Mail.  Collectors don't want to part with them.

The covered turkey dish is one of my favorites to use for Thanksgiving.  Sitting quite regally, the dish can function as a centerpiece, it can be used to serve soup during dinner or it can be a part of the dessert buffet to hold whipped cream for pies.

I don't know why, but the caramel turkey dishes are a bit difficult to find these days.  They pop up every now and then, but I think that collectors are holding on to their pieces because they truly are beautiful.

The charming squirrel and acorn covered dishes are always available online. These are the perfect bowls for butternut squash soup.  I love how the footed base has a leaf pattern to it, and I adore the shape of the acorn with its ribbed and diamond-patterned sections.

The footed melon dishes are works of art.  This is another one of my favorite pieces because the texture of the melon and the veining of the leaves is truly exquisite.  That small bud on top of the melon is what makes this piece a keeper.  If you ever come across this particular dish, buy it.  You will not regret owning one.

The caramel glass rooster is interesting because it has very realistic qualities to it.  The cockscomb and wattle are done to great effect, and the plumage on the body and tail are fascinating.  I believe this original mold used to belong to Westmoreland.

The bowl of the rooster covered dish is not very capacious, so this particular dish is great for serving scrambled eggs.

Another favorite of mine is the pumpkin dish.  Do not confuse this particular pumpkin with the one that was made by Longaberger.  Although both are equally charming, they do have distinctive leaf patterns.  The one by L.E. Smith is a bit more subtle, while the one from Longaberger is more pronounced.  I love using mine to hold candy!

By the way, if you look closely, you can see how gorgeous the slag glass coloration is on this particular pumpkin of mine.

Sheaves of wheat pair well with caramel glass dishes.  A gathered bunch of wheat stalks like this makes a good centerpiece for a dining table, a coffee table or even a sideboard.

Last year's Thanksgiving table had a simple centerpiece of sheaves of wheat surrounded by a quartet of caramel glass turkeys.  For your table this year, you can place any combination of these Martha by Mail covered dishes and, if you're not going to use them at each place setting, you can fill each one with nuts and dried fruit, or you can use them as containers for delicious gravy.

I loved this particular place setting from a couple of years ago.  Used as bowls for acorn squash soup, the caramel glass pumpkins looked irresistible placed atop this transferware china from Spode.  

Martha by Mail Caramel Glass

Whether you label it chocolate, brown, slag or caramel, this distinguished glass from the former L.E. Smith Glass Company of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, is highly collectible now.  Prices for Martha by Mail caramel glass vary from around $30-$40 per piece, to well over several hundred dollars for the much-coveted cake stands.

If you're fortunate enough to have one, two, three or more of these caramel glass dishes in your home, please use them in the coming weeks.  They are going to be a welcome addition to your living spaces.  If you don't own any Martha by Mail caramel glass yet, start looking for them online, in antique shops (they do pop up there) and in consignment shops.  You are going to become enamored with it once it arrives in the mail.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

PeekaBoo Halloween Cat Sugar Cookies

Kitty cats, jack-o-lanterns and candy corn are absolute essentials for Halloween.  If you cleverly combine their images, you can make the most adorable sugar cookies for your Halloween party and for neighborhood trick-or-treaters this year.  Trust me when I say that the little ghouls and goblins are going to want one of each of these cookies in their loot pails. 

I first came across the inspiration for my sugar cookies while visiting the local Paper Source store.  The images at the store were part of a charming Halloween paper kit, and as you can imagine, my mind immediately turned them into cookies.  I wasted no time in searching for the right cookie cutters for this endeavor from my holiday collection.

Using the Sugar & Spice Cookie Dough Recipe (use the blog search engine for the recipe), I made several batches of it and several batches of my royal icing (search for it on the blog).

The plastic candy corn cookie cutter can be found at Michael's Craft Stores under the Sweet Sugar Belle label.  Because the adorable candy corn is to be showcased in its entirety once the cookies are completed, it's important to keep that in mind when cutting out your custom cookies.  The heart is used for the kitty cat's head and the cupcake cookie cutter is used to cut out the tops of the heads in order to form the ears.  

PeekaBoo Halloween Cat & Candy Corn Cookies: cut out as many hearts as you have candy corns from a slab of rolled out sugar cookie dough. Cut off the bottom 1/3 or 1/4 of the heart at an angle using the candy corn, and then cut off the top of the heart to create the cat's head.  Using an egg wash, glue the cookies together before baking.  Continue cutting out and gluing cookies until you have the desired amount.

You can see how well the cookie cutter creates the tops of the kitty cats.  They look cute already!

The pumpkin cookie cutter is one that I bought from Williams-Sonoma many years ago.  The heart is a soft-grip cookie cutter made by Wilton.  The cupcake cutter, which is also made by Wilton, is the same one I used for the candy corn cookies. 

PeekaBoo Halloween Cat & Jack-o-lantern Cookies:  Cut out an equal amount of pumpkins and hearts.  Cut off the bottom 1/3 or 1/4 of the heart with the top portion of the pumpkin cookie cutter, and using the cupcake cutter, cut off the tops of the hearts to create the cat heads as shown.  Using an egg wash, carefully glue the "cat heads" onto the pumpkin tops before baking your custom-made cookies.

All of the cut out and "glued" cookies should be chilled for at least 30 minutes on prepared baking sheets before baking.   

Batches of royal icing should be tinted in the following colors: copper-orange, white, black, pink, avocado green and lemon yellow.  

This image shows you the baked-on egg wash which solidly glues the cookies together.  You're going to have people wondering how you made these!

After outlining the shape of the pumpkin in orange royal icing using a #4 piping tip, immediately flood it with the same icing.  Using black royal icing and a #2 piping tip, add a large solid dot for one of the eyes, and then pipe a "winking eye" on the other side of the jack-o-lantern.  Pipe an offset smile to make him even cuter.  Outline and flood the green stem of the pumpkin as shown.

Note: Some of the jack-o-lanterns were made with winking eyes, while some were left with plain round eyes.  It's up to you!

Outline and flood the cat's head in black royal icing using a #3 piping tip, and while the icing is still wet, pipe pink ears and a pink nose as shown with a #2 piping tip.  Using white royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe large white dots for eyes as shown, and then add a small black dot on each eye.  You can have the cat looking straight at you or you can have it looking off to the side.  

Let the cookie dry completely.

When the cookie is completely dry, pipe orange whiskers on the kitty using a fine #1 piping tip.  Using a #2 piping tip and black royal icing, outline and flood the cat paws hanging over the jack-o-lanterns, and while the icing is still wet, pipe 3 cat claws on each paw using the orange icing and #1 piping tip.  

Let the cookie dry completely.

Jack-o-lantern Sugar Cookies: some are winking and some are not.

Icing the PeekaBoo Halloween Cat & Candy Corn Cookie:  Outline and flood each colored section of the candy corn in the corresponding color, as shown, using a #2 piping tip. Outline and flood the cat's head in black royal icing using a #3 piping tip, and while the icing is still wet, pipe pink ears and a pink nose as shown with a #2 piping tip.  Using white royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe large white dots for eyes as shown, and then add a small black dot on each eye.  You can have the cat looking straight at you or you can have it looking off to the side.  Let the cookie dry completely.

When the cookie is completely dry, pipe orange whiskers on the kitty using a fine #1 piping tip.  Using a #2 piping tip and black royal icing, outline and flood the cat paws hugging the candy corn as shown (above), and while the icing is still wet, pipe 3 cat claws on each paw using the orange icing and #1 piping tip.  Let the cookies dry completely.

Whether the PeekaBoo Halloween Cat Cookies are hugging a delicious candy corn or a jack-o-lantern, they are going to look amazing packaged up for friends and family.  I can't wait until my niece and nephews get these treats in the mail.   

I have to thank Paper Source for giving me the inspiration. 

I can't think of any Halloween treats out there that are cuter than these PeekaBoo Halloween Cat cookies. With a handful of easy to find cookie cutters, you can custom make cute and mischievous kitties by shaping and forming cookie dough just like you see here.  I can guarantee you that your Halloween party will be the talk of the town if you include a set of PeekaBoo Halloween Cats holding some pumpkins and candy corns.  

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

My Favorite Desserts

It was National Dessert Day this past weekend and I began to reminisce over the sweets that I've indulged in and shared here on the blog.  It's impossible to photograph and write about everything that I bake and serve, but thankfully I've managed to do so for some of my all-time favorite desserts 

For those of us who can't pass up an occasional sweet, this post is for you.  I like just about every type of dessert, with the exception of a couple of pies and/or flavors, and am willing to try something if I've never had it before. When all is said and done, I like those things that I enjoyed from my childhood, like a layer cake, some freshly-baked cookies, a hand pie or two, and cupcakes just like the ones mom used to make for our elementary school parties.  

Cakes, cupcakes, puddings, souffles, pies, tarts and cookies can be as elaborate or as simple as you want them to be.  Depending on the occasion and the season, I like to mix things up based on what I'm craving or what I know company will like.  There really isn't any wrong way to serve dessert these days, because it seems like anything goes.

Carrot cake has its devoted fans.  I like the spiciness of carrot cake, but I don't like it when the cake is completely covered in cream cheese icing.  This type of icing tends to be a bit over the top for me, but in small amounts it is very delectable.  The triple layer carrot cake you see here leaves the sides "naked".

Bundt cakes are good just as they are, but if you decide to add a little icing to them, make sure it's thick and tasty.  Ganache is the perfect topping for bundt cakes, to my mind, especially if the base itself is chocolate.

Chocolate marble cake, in the form of zebra cake (above), is out of this world with a helping of ganache.  

Even more decadent with ganache, is a single-layer flourless chocolate cake. This cake layer relies on melted chocolate, sugar and eggs.  It is like eating a rich brownie without the heft of a flour-based cake.  It's outstanding for a special occasion or for a holiday party.

Simple layer cakes like this one here are the kind that childhood memories are made of.  Vanilla layers, a good-quality buttercream, and lots of sprinkles/jimmies.  What could be easier and what could be tastier?

If you want to keep things even more simple, don't ice your cakes.  A dusting of powdered sugar is really all you need if company isn't fussy.  If you're like me and can never get enough of lemon desserts, it helps to have some freshly-made lemon curd in the refrigerator to serve alongside some cake.  

Remember that a quick coating of a powdered sugar glaze is also a good choice when you want to keep things uncomplicated.

Don't ever underestimate the greatness of sprinkles.  Nonpareils which can be purchased at any supermarket, greatly enhance a layer cake covered in chocolate frosting.  This was my birthday cake several months ago.

Southern jam cakes really need to be experienced by everyone.  Some bakers only add jam in between tender yellow layers and on top of the cake itself, but if you make a jam cake batter, the cake is even more delicious.  I have great memories of this particular boysenberry jam cake.

The slices were sweet, spicy and very good with a cup of tea.  Don't you just want to bite into this slice?

White cakes are good for birthdays or for weddings.  I've made the Baking Illustrated recipe many times now, and it is always a winner with layer cake fans.  An even coating of Swiss meringue buttercream is all you need to enhance the tender cakes.  You can add some good jam in between if you feel like it.  It's entirely up to you.

The white layers are so delicate.

Use a St. Honoré piping tip to add a whimsical top to a layer cake and then sprinkle it with silver dragées.  Is this cake perfect or what?

Bundt cakes remind me of mom.  She used to make a good streusel cake once or twice a year if her family were visiting, and I used to love it when it was my turn to have a slice.

Although good year round, Bundts dusted in confectioners sugar seem right at home in the fall and winter.

Applesauce cake is one that keeps for days under a cake dome, and it's one that everyone loves.  That reminds me to bake a couple of them in the coming weeks.

Here is another bundt cake.  It's flavored with seasonal pumpkin puree and a variety of spices.  If I'm glazing a cake like this, I like to add a little bit of cinnamon to the the glaze itself.  A generous wedge is delectable with a cup of hibiscus tea.

You've seen those pinterest recipes for making pumpkin-shaped cakes.  If, however, you're lucky enough to have a cake pan that is shaped like a pumpkin, dust it off and make a pumpkin cake for  your Halloween party.

My favorite bundt cake for Christmas is enhanced with eggnog.  Because it bakes so well in any bundt pan, I like to try different ones each time.  This cake is a keeper for sure.

Cranberries can be combined with several flavors such as pumpkin, apple, orange and vanilla.  Buy them fresh and add a cupful or so to a seasonal cake this fall and winter.

Taken right from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, the idea of combining cookies and cake is pure genius.  For this Snowflake Cake, I baked two eight inch round layers of the eggnog cake and covered them in Swiss Meringue buttercream.  I then centered a large sugar & spice snowflake cookie which had been decorated with royal icing.  I can't tell you how delicious this was.  Superb! 

Have you ever made Bostom Cream Pie before?  You should because it is so easy.  Sponge cake layers get a filling of sweet, homemade pastry cream, and the entire cake gets a coating of rich ganache.  This is the kind of cake that you want to have on hand for company that loathes thick icings.

I know several people who don't like coconut.  However, if you're like me and you find it irresistible, coconut cupcakes made by the dozen are unfussy and so scrumptious.  This is dessert that you can eat with your hands!

Halloween cupcakes like these are just like the ones my mother used to bake for us when we were in elementary school.  Our teachers would hold holiday parties for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter, and a "room mother" involved in the P.T.A. would be in charge of providing refreshments and dessert.  Who else but my mom to do all of the baking for these events?  

If I had to pick a favorite pie I would have to say sour cherry.  It never fails that I bake one or two sour cherry pies when the fruits are in season.  

This past summer I decided to try making hand pies out of the sour cherries from the farmers market. I think I like this idea much more than a whole pie, simply because they are so handy.  

Small, individual sour cherry pies are also a good idea.  These diminutive desserts were baked in brioche molds and were given simple strips of pastry on top.  

Perhaps apple pie is a close second in terms of favorites.  Whenever I make one, I mix up the variety of apples so that I get a spectrum of flavors as well as textures.  Never mushy and never gloppy.

If I'm picking fresh raspberries from our yard, I either eat them out of hand (fresh fruit is always a sweet dessert that requires no baking), or I add them to something sweet.

A tart can only taste better if fresh fruit is added to it.  Don't bother with canned or frozen.  A sprinkling of raspberries makes this dessert tres chic.

Yes, I love pumpkin pies to no end, but I like pumpkin custards even more. Baked in individual ramekins or baking dishes, pumpkin custard gives you that texture and flavor you crave from pie, without the addition of having a crust.  

Homemade chocolate chip cookies are legendary.  They are definitely one of my favorite cookies of all time, which is why I bake them by the hundreds every single year.  I've experimented with mini chocolate chips, regular chocolate chips and chopped pieces of chocolate.  They're all good!

Palmiers fall into the category of cookies in my opinion.  Plain ones are good, but chocolate ones are even better.  You really want to serve them on the day they are baked or perhaps the following day at the latest.

Brownies, brownies, brownies!!  Who doesn't love a good brownie?  Again, this reminds me of mom's brownies baked every single Christmas, which get stacked on a platter or cake plate.  The nice thing about brownies is that you can cut them into bite-size pieces or into great, big squares.

Lemon bars are irresistible to me.  They have a crumbly cookie base and that unmistakable lemony filling.  I can eat a couple of them if no one is looking. 

Madeleines give you cake in the form of a cookie.  There isn't a madeleine flavor that hasn't met with my approval.  If you must know, though, I'm partial to lemon and vanilla.  Don't worry, reading Proust isn't a requirement to having a couple of madeleines. 

I think I've mentioned that one of my favorite treats that grandma used to give us as kids was a graham cracker sandwich.  Although I don't make her version of graham cracker sandwiches, I still like the combination of fruit and whole wheat.  These digestive cookies served with fresh raspberries from the garden would meet with grandma's approval.

Gingersnaps.  What is there to say about these spicy cookies?  I like them tender, spicy, crinkly on top and of generous proportions.  With a cup of tea, I'm in heaven eating one or two.

Speaking of spicy, mom's cinnamon-orange cookies are my hands-down favorite from her cookie repertoire (that reminds me to get her butter horn cookie recipe!). I grew up baking them, eating them and giving them to family and neighbors.  Essentially, these are little shortbread cookies flavored with lots of orange zest, which then get tossed in cinnamon sugar once they come out of the oven.  I kid you not, they're addictive.

Girl Scout thin mints are always reliable, but I don't like all of the additives in them.  With a solid chocolate cookie base and a mint ganache, you can make your own.  It's up to you whether you want to dip them in chocolate or not, but I prefer the cookies just like the ones you see here.

My mother in law makes the best biscotti.  I have to beg her every year to make me some for Christmas.  The good thing about these is that they are easily flavored with just about anything.  I love chocolate chips, but I also like those made with aniseed.

A cookie made with brownie batter is simply begging for a coating of Nutella.  One word: yum!

Can you see how tender this cookie is and how the Nutella just beckons?

I'm a sucker for drop sugar cookies.  It doesn't matter if they're thin and crispy or soft and chewy.  For me, this is childhood all over again.  Although I don't eat cookies and milk anymore, I do have sugar cookies whenever I get the chance to eat a fresh one.  They will always be winners in my book.

Rolled sugar cookies are my weakness.  When I began blogging I never thought that I would be developing recipes.  One year, when I started selling a set of cookie cutters, along with my friend Janet, we took it upon ourselves to develop recipes to go along with the sets.  Ever since then, I have been making my 'Heirloom Sugar Cookie Recipe' for all sorts of occasions.  It hasn't failed me once.

For the Fourth of July, sugar cookies dipped in red, white and blue royal icing are festive, quick to make, and utterly delicious.

My Sugar and Spice Cookie recipe is a simple variation of the sugar cookie dough from above.  It's a good alternative for those who don't like gingerbread cookies decorated with royal icing.  Every Christmas gives me the opportunity to bake a new set of royal icing cookies for my niece and nephews. Ornaments, snowflakes, evergreen trees, and stockings are very much of the season.

At the end of the day, I don't ask for much when it comes to dessert.  I am happy with a simple sugar cookie and a pot of tea.  As long as it's homemade, I will try it.

What are some of your favorite desserts to have?  Are you particular about flavors, textures, types of desserts and how you serve them?  If I'm serving dessert to a group of friends or family, I always think about what they're going to like and about how they're going to react to the sweet ending of a meal.  I never group together a heavy meal with a heavy dessert.  I like to keep things balanced so that people leave feeling satisfied.  If there are certain individuals who can't stand a certaint type of dessert, I make sure to have an alternative for them.  Cookies are perhaps the easiest thing to make and are never out of place at a dinner party.  

These days, we seem to be wanting to go back to the basics.  Homemade, from scratch, is what we're all striving for.  It really is the way it should be.  Mom taught me the importance of eating things which were made by her, and I have carried on with her lessons and tips in my own household.  Whether it's a cake, a cookie, a pie, some custard or a tart, I know that it's going to be infinitely better if it's homemade.

I hope all of you are baking something good this fall and winter.