Sunday, February 18, 2018

Puzzle Piece Sugar Cookies

My friend Dennis, who happens to be a superb baker, preserve maker, gardener and cook, recently helped his great nieces create some fantastic puzzle piece sugar cookies for a school project of theirs.  With the help of his two nieces, Dennis and company made dozens of multi-colored puzzle pieces which were gathered and arranged into cookie bouquets.  

The mission of this project was to let children know that we are all part of one great, big puzzle in life.  Puzzle pieces come in different shapes, sizes and colors, and every piece is essential.  Every piece is valuable.  

The girls holding a printout of my recipe, along with the dough!

I was flattered that Dennis decided to use my Heirloom Sugar Cookie recipe for these colorful beauties, because it is one that I've come to trust time and time again.  Needless to say, Dennis loved it and so did the kids.  

Dennis isn't one to do things on a small scale.  Using his large commercial Hobart mixer, pound after pound of sugar cookie dough was made in no time at all.

Here is that beautiful cookie dough as it was coming together.  Can you imagine having this 20qt. mixer?  The machine itself weighs around 200 lbs!!

Using this French rolling pin which was given to Dennis by his friend Judy, the dough was rolled out to the desired thickness before the pieces were cut out.

The girls took their duties seriously.  Dennis made sure to instruct them that the dough needed to chill thoroughly.

I love this photograph because you can tell that Dennis, as a great uncle, and as the consummate baker, has taught his nieces to cut out as many shapes as possible, as close together as possible.  This is the way I like to work with sugar cookies, because it creates less scraps and less waste.

Working over a paper plate, the baked and cooled cookies were given some colorful royal icing.

Some of the cookies were stenciled with food coloring spray.  Very spiffy!

Once the cookies were dry, Dennis attached lollipop sticks to the backs of each cookie, and these were then carefully arranged in baskets, which were filled with the most colorful ribbons and tissue papers.  Success!

This kind of project is one that you can recreate in your own home.  Cut out and bake sugar cookies in the shapes of puzzle pieces, make several batches of royal icing in bright colors, and assign the kids some simple tasks so that they are all a part of the big picture.  Before you know it, you'll have your own edible puzzle pieces.

Many thanks to my friend Dennis and to his nieces for allowing me to share their remarkable creativity!  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Xoxo Sugar Cookies for Valentine's Day

If you want to surprise your lovey this Valentine's Day, make a few sugar cookies and quickly decorate them using a combination of royal icing, and a cake decorator's gold highlighter.  There is no need to spend endless amounts of time in the kitchen piping elaborate designs on cookies to show how much you love your significant other.  A base coat of tasty royal icing, some brushstrokes of a superb highlighter, and voila!  

Let's jump right into this year's Valentine's Xoxo cookies because you're going to want to make some for the love(s) of your life.

Bake your cookies using a reliable sugar cookie recipe.  As you can see, I cut out dozens of hearts.    

For this project, I only used three colors to pipe onto the cookies.  White, red and light pink royal icing were the colors I wanted to work with.

There is something magical about seeing a tray full of iced cookies that are waiting to dry.  That glossy, wet look is out of this world!

Unfortunately, during humid weather (such as what we're experiencing here in Philadelphia) this part cannot be rushed.

Once the bases are completely dry, add some gold highlighter into a small container and either add, drop by drop, clear lemon extract or unflavored vodka.  You want to mix it with a small paint brush until you have a smooth color.

For my cookies, I centered the XOXO and left the letters to dry completely. The cookies can be left as is if you wish.

I decided to add a bead of icing, in the same color as the base, to each cookie. I used a #1 piping tip to create the border.

Once the cookies dry completely, they can be packaged up in boxes, clear cellophane bags, a platter or even some cake stands.  It's up to you.

These joined hearts were rather whimsical.  Each heart was given a base color, and while the icing was wet, I drew the colors in opposite directions as shown. As soon as the bases dried, I painted the same XOXO onto them, and finished each cookie with a bead of icing.  

Done and done!  It's up to you how you want to surprise your loved ones this Valentine's Day, but make sure to include something sweet, as per tradition. Make them bright, make them tasty.  Send the love of your life some hugs and kisses this February 14th.  


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Philadelphia Eagles Cookies

If you're in the Philadelphia area, then you know that this weekend is all about the Philadelphia Eagles.  A week ago I was asked to make some custom Philadelphia Eagles sugar cookies for my favorite cafe.  Going through images of the football team's logo, I narrowed it down to the football helmet that all of the players use; a Philadelphia green helmet with the wing of an eagle.  After making one large batch of them, I was pleased with the results.  Needless to say, people went crazy over them!  Throughout the week I had to make dozens and dozens of cookies, and each batch sold out within a few hours of arriving at the cafe.

You don't have to be from Philadelphia to support my city's football team.  I have friends in North Carolina, Massachusetts and California, who are behind the Eagles.  What better thing to have for people at your Super Bowl party than a plate full of Philadelphia Eagles sugar cookies?  Let me show you how easy they are to make.

Make several batches of my tasty sugar cookie recipe and then a couple of batches of my royal icing to decorate the cookies.  Here I am using my commercial Hobart mixer to make this an effortless process.

Roll out and cut 4" rounds, and then bake and cool the cookies.  After you've mixed the royal icing, tint a large batch of it using a combination of Ateco turquoise, Ateco leaf green and a drop of Ateco black, to get that unmistakeable Philadelphia green color.  It's not quite full on turquoise or leaf green.  It's somewhere in the middle, with a hint of black.

Freehand the shape of a football helmet as shown above with the Philly green color, using either a #4 or a #5 piping tip.  Don't forget to outline a small circle for the ear hole.  This is the dam which will hold in the color for flooding.

Immediately fill in the entire football helmet with the green color, getting an even layer of icing throughout the cookie as shown.  Continue with the other cookies.

It's important to let the base of the cookie dry completely before continuing with the decorating.

Using a black royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe the mouthguard area as shown, and immediately pipe the shape of that inimitable wing of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Using a gray royal icing and a #2 piping tip, fill in the bottom 4 feathers as shown.

Using white royal icing and a #2 piping tip, fill in the rest of the wing as shown.

While the royal icing is wet on the wing, immediately draw out the gray icing onto the white icing as shown, using a cake decorating modeling tool or a toothpick.  Do the same to the black areas where the feathers connect.  Using the same decorator's pick, draw out the ends of the feathers.  Let the entire cookie dry completely.

The cookies are done!

Aren't these super easy?  I know that if you decide to make a batch of these cookies for your Super Bowl party, you're going to be the hero of the day. Everyone is going to want to take one, so plan on making extras.  They're not going to last.

Whether you are rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots, get your cookie cutters out and make some fantastic football-themed cookies for tomorrow's game.

Go Eagles!!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Antique and Vintage Silverware

There is nothing like setting a table with antique or vintage silverware.  It has become the standard at home to set our table with a mix of vintage and antique silver, along with china patterns from a bygone era.  Although I do own complete sets of silverware patterns, I normally prefer to blend designs so that I create a little bit of visual interest at the table.

While in Los Angeles over the Christmas holiday, I was able to visit some of my favorite antique stores.  This time around I was determined to only look for silverware because I didn't want to bring back anything large or bulky.

I hit the mother lode at the Orange County Antique Mall on Glassel St.. It's an area known for having several stores which specialize in vintage and antique items.  The silverware is spectacular there!

This small stockpile of luncheon knives (or dessert knives) is great for weekend brunches.  Having a set of these means that I can still use knives for smaller plates, without overwhelming them with the proportions of Continental pieces.

The monogrammed patterned knives at the top left, have no markings, so I am at a loss as to who manufactured them.  The ones beneath them have an 1835 R-Wallace 12 mark on the blades.

There is something very elegant about using knives with Continental (European) blades.  The proportions are more substantial, and the look they create on the table is that of elegance.  It's a shame that these have fallen out of fashion.

This gathering of dinner knives is what it's all about.  At over nine inches in length, the clean, simple design of these knives makes them suitable for so many different occasions.  Formal or informal, the knives can be combined with a number of china patterns.

All have Rogers stamps on them, however, there are differences in dates and bolster shapes.  Let's take a closer look.    

The rectangular-handled dinner knives with a single bolster have a Rogers Bros., Warranted 12 DWT stamp on them.  The knives with the oval handles have a double bolster, and they are marked with Rogers Co. 1871, Hartford, Conn., 12.

While searching through the baskets of silverware at the OCAM, I was instantly captivated by several examples of dinner forks with narrow handles. This set of six forks shows a shell design at the tip of the handle and by the bolster.  These are stamped with C (or G) ES 12 on them.

I love these forks with their intricate design.  Grape leaves and bushels of grapes adorn the handles, and underneath, they are stamped with Rogers Warranted 12, Pat. Jan. 14, 08.

A plain design with a delicate bolster is the best way to describe these Wm. A. Rogers dinner forks.  I believe these were made at the turn of the twentieth century.

Not American at all, but rather British in origin, these fiddle tipped forks have stamps on them which date to around the 1830s.  They're beautiful!

Another shell pattern (single) adorn these forks by Wm Rogers & Son 12.

I took out a few of my favorite china patterns to see what would look good with what.  It turns out that I can really and truly combine the silver I bought with just about any of these designs.  The permutations are nearly endless because I can change it up based on what looks good at a particular moment.

Whether I use brown or red transferware, blue or silver lusterware, cream or taupe Wedgwood, new or old ironstone, I will be able to reach into my silverware drawers and pick something that will undoubtedly look appropriate.

Antique or vintage silverware doesn't have to cost a lot.  If you choose silver-plate instead of Sterling, then you will be able to spend much more freely on building a collection worthy of old or new china. It's such a luxury being able to use silverware at the dining table, and if it happens to be old, even better.  

Don't be surprised if you find yourself reaching for it before you do the stainless flatware.  As convenient as the latter is, a table set with silver will look and feel a million times better.  Call me old-fashioned or out of date, but I say nothing beats high-quality silverware that is classic, historic, ageless and pure.