Sunday, February 10, 2019

Heart and Cupcake Sugar Cookies

It's so difficult to resist an iced sugar cookie, especially when it is bright and colorful.  For Valentine's Day, heart and cupcake cookies iced in reds and pinks make for very festive treats to give to your loved ones.  Who doesn't remember having to pass out Valentine's Day cards in elementary school, making sure that every single classmate had a card in his or her little "mailbox"?  These days, handing out iced sugar cookies to those kids and teachers who are allowed to eat such treats, seems very appropriate for the holiday.

Variations of sugar cookies in the shapes of hearts and cupcakes abound online, which is why I think it's a great idea to ice them as you see fit.  There really is no way to go wrong because the end result is always sweet.

For my Valentine's Day cookies this year, I decided to give each one a little sparkle, a little pizzaz and lots of eye popping colors.  All of the designs are easy and I may have even repeated myself from year's past.  Oh well, it's bound to happen!

Valentine's Day Cupcakes:  On a baked cupcake-shaped sugar cookie, outline and flood the cupcake liner area using a #4 piping tip in a bright red-red royal icing and immediately, yet carefully, flock the area with red edible glitter; let dry.  Outline and flood alternating layers of "cupcake frosting" in either electric pink or white royal icing using a #3 piping tip, letting the alternating layers dry slightly (15 minutes is good), and then outline and flood the remaining layers of "cupcake frosting" in the other color.    This will give you the desired "layered section look".  Immediately flock the frosting area with red, pink & white nonpareils, and affix a heart-shaped candy at the top. Let dry.  Outline the folds of the cupcake liner as shown, using the same red-red royal icing and a #1 piping tip; let dry completely.  Done!

Valentine's Day Hearts:  Outline the heart with a bead of white royal icing using a #3 piping tip and let dry slightly.  Outline and and flood the entire base of the heart in either pink or red royal icing using a #4 piping tip and immediately, but carefully, flock the base of the heart with sparkly, edible glitter.  Let dry.  Pipe inner hearts in different colors with either a #1 or #2 piping tip.  Let dry completely.    

What could be easier?  Nothing fancy, nothing difficult.  Everything is beginner's royal icing technique, easily achievable by anyone with a piping bag.  If you want to be nice, you can carefully package each cookie in a clear cellophane bag tied with a red ribbon, and hand them out as you see fit.  

If you're hosting a Valentine's Day dinner or a party, simply put all of your cookies on pink glass platters and cake stands.  If you want to surprise the kids, put them in their lunch bags with a little note attached.  For your honey, put one next to the coffeemaker the night before or place one in their car before they go to work.  They're going to love you for it.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Steamed Pudding 101

It seems as if steamed puddings are rather underrated these days.  Most of us have abandoned the tradition of steaming desserts over a burner for hours on end, opting for baking our delicious sweets instead.  I admit that I don't steam puddings too often, but whenever I do, I know that the end results are always unbelievably good.

In essence, steamed puddings are nothing more than cakes which have been steamed in bowls, molds or cake pans.  Just about any good butter cake recipe can be made this way if so wish.  However, it's always best to choose those which have deep, spicy flavors.  Pumpkin, persimmon, ginger, chocolate, apple and fig are just some examples of steamed puddings that have the perfect assertive flavors for steaming.

An apple spice cake recipe that I make every single year was turned into a set of steamed puddings over the weekend, and the results were well worth the effort.

From the eggs, flour, butter, sugar, fruits and spices, make sure that your ingredients are ultra fresh.  The more impeccable the contents, the better the end results.

Whenever I get my ingredients ready for baking, I like to spread out at least one or two clean kitchen towels on my counters so that I can catch any ingredients that fly out of the mixer, bowls or canisters. It makes cleanup so much easier.

Steamed pudding bowls are easily found at kitchenware stores and online. These are usually made of porcelain or ceramic, but they can also be made of ironstone or glass.  They come in several sizes, with 1qt. and 2 qt. being the most common.  If you plan on using one of these bowls to steam your pudding, keep in mind that you will have to create a lid for it while the dessert is steaming.  The best thing to do in this situation is to cover the bowl with a piece of parchment paper, once it's filled with the batter, and then tie it with a piece of butcher's twine.  This can then be covered with a heavy plate or a piece of foil wrap so that condensation doesn't make its way into the pudding.

The tilted steamed pudding mold has been used countless times.
You can see how the simmering water has marked this tin over the years.

Steam pudding molds made from tin come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some have inner tubes much like bundt pans, but some do not.  These come with lids that are either held down with clasps or with with small indentations on the rims of the tins.

Whether you use a pudding bowl or a pudding tin, find a stockpot that is deep enough to hold the vessel with the pot lid closed.  Find a small round rack (as shown above) to keep the bowl or tin from touching the bottom of the pot as it is steaming.

While you're making the batter, set a teakettle full of water to come to a boil. After you've made the batter and have poured it into your prepared tin or bowl (make sure you've securely closed the vessel), center the pudding onto the rack in the stockpot.  Pour enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the pudding tin or bowl.  Set your flame to keep the water at a gentle boil and steam according to your recipe.  In general, steamed puddings made with butter will take anywhere from 1-1/2 hours to 2-1/2 hours to fully cook through.  Back when steamed puddings were made with suet, this took anywhere from 3-4 hours.  All baking times will vary according to the recipe and the size of your pudding(s).  

Steamed Apple Puddings Unmolded

When the puddings are done, make sure that they have rested in their tins or bowls on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before unmolding.  

Steamed Apple Puddings with a Caramel Glaze

Glazed or not, steamed puddings are indescribably tender and very flavorful.  I liken them to bread puddings that resemble small cakes.  They're a good alternative to fruitcakes if you don't happen to like them during the holidays, but they're also great to serve at small dinner parties or gatherings in wintertime. Depending on the recipe and the mold that you've used, a steamed pudding will serve 6-8 people.  

Have you steamed a pudding lately?  

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you.  I want to thank everyone who takes the time to read the blog, learn from it, and get inspired by it. Many of you who send me photos and share stories, inspire me in turn to try something new or approach a project differently. I love seeing people get creative with their baking, cooking, decorating and collecting. Keep it up!

Let's all make 2019 a fantastic year for ourselves and for our loved ones. 


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Woodland Sugar Cookies

To change things up a bit for my niece and nephews this Christmas, I settled on making them a set of woodland sugar cookies in the shapes of adorable animals and figures.  Among these shapes was a set of gigantic gingerbread boy and girl cookie cutters, which I found several years ago at a consignment shop. These particular cookie cutters were beautifully made in the United States by the coppersmiths at Copper Giftsin Missouri.  Although mine are vintage, you can find a similar set that is currently being made (click on the link provided)!

Woodland Sugar Cookies

Several of the cookie cutters, such as the adorable hedgehog, the mushroom and deer, came from my good friend Janet back when she was cleaning her cookie cutter pantry.  She loves everything woodland, and is known for imbuing her home every single Christmas with things that one finds in nature. With a nod to my friend and how she decorates for the holiday, I decided do something similar with sugar cookies for my family.

Christmas Cookie Selection

As you can see from the photo above, you can create shades of royal icing in greens, browns and reds, to evoke a woodland color palette.  Once you mix several batches of icing, you can tint accordingly.  For this project I used avocado green, leaf green (to make a mint color), nut brown, Christmas red, ivory and white.

If you look closely at the evergreen Christmas trees, they are the exact same shapes and designs that were used in a previous post of mine.

Christmas Tree Sugar Cookies

Christmas Tree Cookies:  to get the "sectioned" look onto your Christmas trees, outline and flood every other tier of the branches in green royal icing with a #3 piping tip and let the areas dry completely.  After those sections have dried, outline and flood the alternating tiers in the same fashion.  Let the entire base dry completely.  Using the same green royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe the lines of "tinsel" in a zigzag pattern as shown.  Outline and flood the trunk of the tree in nut brown.  While this is still wet, immediately flock the garland and tree trunk with clear, fine sanding sugar.  Do not disturb this until it has dried completely.  Gently pick up the entire cookie and flip it to the side.  Carefully shake off any excess sanding sugar, making sure that this is done over a rimmed baking sheet.  To attach the silver drageés, you have two options.  You can either pipe dots of royal icing and stick the drageés onto the dots while the icing is wet, or you can use cake decorating "adhesive".  Both are effective and both give the cookies a different look.

Mushroom Sugar Cookies

Mushroom Cookies:  Outline and flood the caps of the mushroom cookies in either red, green or brown as shown, using a #3 piping tip.  Using white royal icing and a #3 piping tip, outline and flood the stems.  While the icings are wet, pipe white dots on the mushroom caps as shown, and carefully place pearl candies in the center of each dot.  Place a gnome candy on the stem of the mushrooms and let the entire base dry completely.  Using the same icings, pipe a bead of royal icing around the perimeter of the cookies and let dry.

Woodland Deer Sugar Cookies

Woodland Deer:  Outline and flood the deer in nut brown royal icing using a #2 piping tip.  While the icing is wet, add white royal icing accents for the ears, underneath the eye area and around the breast of the deer, using a fine #1 piping tip.  Add a large white pearl candy for the tail; carefully place a red pearl candy for a nose.  Let the bases dry completely.  Using the same nut brown royal icing and a #1 piping tip, pipe a bead of icing around the perimeter of the deer.  Using black royal icing a #1 piping tip, add dots for eyes and dots for the hooves.  Using white royal icing and a #1 piping tip, add spots around the rump of the deer.  Done!

Cookie Platter

As you can see, every single cookie is exactly the same thickness.  You can use dowels or rolling pins which are premeasured to specific thicknesses in order to get uniform cookies.  Personally, I don't mind it if my sugar cookies take on a little color around the bases.  

Woodland Mushroom Sugar Cookies

Set on these Fire King jadeite "football" platters, the cookies look so magical. The tiny candy gnomes make these mushrooms extra special and cute.  You can find similar ones from baking supply stores, such as Fancy Flours.

Hedgehog Sugar Cookie

The Hedgehogs:  Outline and flood the body of the hedgehog with nut brown royal icing using a #3 piping tip as shown.  While the icing is still wet, outline and flood the face and feet of the hedgehog in ivory royal icing using a #3 piping tip.  Let these areas dry completely.  Using the same nut brown royal icing and a #2 piping tip, outline the body of the hedgehog with a bead of royal icing.  Using a #1 piping tip and black royal icing, add a dot for an eye and pipe little shoes for these lady hedgehogs.  You can add a drageé or a pearl candy to each shoe if you wish.  Using a red royal icing and a #1 piping tip, add a little mouth.  Using a royal icing in the color of your choice (I used red and green), pipe a scarf on the hedgehog as shown.  You can then add nonpareils, drageés and pearl candies however you see fit.    

Gingerbread Girl Cookie

This giant gingerbread girl is sitting on a 13" pink milk glass platter made by Fenton many years ago.  At almost 10" the cookie seems to take up the entire platter.  I could have made gingerbread cookies with these cutters, but I opted for sugar cookies instead.  My niece and nephews prefer them.

Gingerbread Girl Cookie:  Outline and flood the skirt of the girl in nut brown royal icing using a #4 piping tip.  Using white royal icing and a #3 piping tip, outline and flood the shirt area.  While the icing is still wet, pipe alternating lines in red and green royal icing with #2 piping tips, creating a Christmas Tree shape in the center of the shirt.  Add a nut brown trunk to the tree.  You can then drag the wet royal icing to create a pattern if you wish.  Using ivory royal icing and a #3 piping tip, add the hands and the head to the girl cookie as shown.  Using red royal icing and a #2 piping tip, outline and flood her shoes.  Let the entire base dry completely.  For the hair, outline and flood the area in nut brown royal icing as shown.  You can drag the icing out to create her bangs, mimicking the little Utz potato chip girl.  Pipe black dots for eyes and center a colored drageé on each eye.  Pipe a small red mouth.  Add red accents to the neck of the shirt and along the waistline.  Let dry completely.  Using a Christmas tree stencil, airbrush the design on the center of the skirt using Ateco gold sheen.  Once the image is dry, you can then add multi-colored drageés on the tree using dab-and-hold edible adhesive. Don't forget to add a snowflake hairpin on her.  Isn't she adorable?

Gingerbread Boy Cookie

Gingerbread Boy Cookie:  Outline and flood the shirt of the boy with nut brown royal icing and a #3 piping tip.  Outline and flood the shorts/pants of the boy in white royal icing using a #3 piping tip;  add red dots and drageés to the pants as shown.  outline and flood the shoes of the boy in black royal icing using a #3 piping tip;  add holly leaf candies to each shoe as shown.  Outline and flood the hands and head of the boy using ivory royal icing with a #3 piping tip.  Let the base dry completely.  Outline and flood the hair of the boy in nut brown royal icing using a #2 piping tip as shown.  Add black dots for eyes and center colored drageés on each eye.  Pipe a small red mouth with a #1 piping tip.  Using a snowflake stencil and Ateco gold sheen (for an airgun), airbrush the design as shown.  Using dab-and-hold edible adhesive, add multicolored drageés on each snowflake.  Add green accents on the shirt and waistline as shown.  Let the cookie dry completely.

Gingerbread Girl and Boy Cookie

No little boy or girl is going to be able to eat one of these gigantic sugar cookies, so we may need to share it.  However, my darling niece and youngest nephew are certainly going to want one of their own to open up on Christmas day.  Packaged in the largest cellophane bags possible and tied with a piece of deep crimson silk ribbon, I think that my little ones are going to love having them.

Use these Woodland Sugar Cookie designs if you want to create cookies for your Christmas gathering, for a woodland-themed celebration or as a surprise for someone special.  As much attention to detail as each of these cookies have, do make sure to have a bit of fun creating your very own.  Use the designs as a reference, but then add your decorative flourishes and artistic style to each cookie.

From my home to yours, I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas.