Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cookie Packaging Essentials

As much as I love to bake cookies for friends and family, it's also a lot of fun packaging them up to make the treats extra special for gift giving.  I've always felt that homemade cookies one gives out to loved ones can be some of the best gifts ever, because it makes the recipient feel that a lot of effort and good will went into creating them.

Just imagine receiving a cookie or two packaged in a clear cellophane bag that's been tied with a nice ribbon or baker's twine.  Who wouldn't be impressed with that type of gift?  Cellophane bags, ribbons and twine are just some of those 'essentials' that every baker should have at their fingertips, especially if homemade gifts are important to you.  There is no reason to wait for the holidays to be handing out baked cookies.  There are plenty of occasions to do it throughout the year!

Over the years and through my baking thousands upon thousands of cookies, I've learned how to streamline the packaging process.  Everything is gathered on a clean surface, with cookies laid out on one side on big baking trays, and the rest of my essential packaging materials on the other side.  Then, it's all about packaging up cookies assembly line style.  Trust me, it works and it cuts down on time spent doing this.

This is what I do.

Cookie Packaging Essentials
  • Baker's Twine or Butcher's Twine
  • Waxed Linen Thread 
  • Metal Rim Tags
  • Ribbon (a variety of colors)
  • Blank Labels (for handwriting)
  • Personalized Labels (design your own!)
  • Paper Bags (white or natural)
  • Clear Cellophane Bags (a variety of sizes: 4x6", 4x9", 5x11" and 9x13" are my go-to sizes)

I love using old Ball jars for storing these cookie essentials.  On the left I have spools of waxed linen thread in a mint-green color ready to be cut to size.  To the right of that I have a jar filled with precut baker's twine.  Measuring it out ahead of time helps a lot.

For standard-sized cookies (3-4"), I find that baker's twine cut to a length of 14" is perfect for cinching a cellophane bag with a pretty bow.  Simply pull the twine to the desired length and snip as many pieces as you will need.  Drop extras into a Ball jar like I do.  As I said, it helps tremendously to precut these 14" pieces ahead of time.  Whenever I need to quickly tie up some cookies and send them off, I simply reach into the Ball Jar and pull out what I need.  How easy is this?

Metal rimmed tags for writing a message or letting the recipient know what type of cookie is in the bag helps, but so do extra pieces of ribbon.  Don't throw away those birthday or holiday ribbons that people use for your gifts.  Keep them in a Ball jar for future use!

I find these to be my go-to treat bags.  The paper ones on the left are perfect for placing just about any cookie.  If I'm handing them out to people nearby, I simply put the cookies in the bags and seal them with a label, but if I'm mailing the cookies, I slip the sweet edibles into a smaller-sized cellophane bag so that the butter doesn't seep through.  

Cellophane bags are must-haves for all cookie bakers.  Having a variety of sizes will give you the option of choosing one that that is appropriate for the cookie you're gifting.  I find that placing a cookie into a bag with a snug fit to be the best, because this way the cookie doesn't have a lot of room to get tossed around.  The last thing you want is to have the recipient receive bits of cookie in a bag.  Not nice!

Another nice thing to do ahead of time if you're going to be gifting a lot of cookies is labeling bags in bulk.  I like to put my personalized label about 2" from the bottom if the cookie is 3-4" in size.  A larger cookie should have a label that is 3-4" above the bottom of the bag.  

If you look at these bags filled with cookies, all of the labels are affixed approximately halfway up from the bottom.  This looks neat & professional.

Some of my favorite cookies of all time.

I hope this gives you some idea of how to streamline cookie packaging in your home.  Take one suggestion or two and implement them this holiday season or throughout the year when you give out cookies.  As I've said, prepping things ahead of time when you have a moment to spare, will be less stressful for you than leaving everything at the last minute.  If I can do it, you can do it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Good Things by David at Williams-Sonoma

I'm happy to announce that starting next month I will be collaborating with Williams-Sonoma by giving hands-on master classes for the coming seasons at their Ardmore, Pennsylvania location.  I couldn’t be happier bringing what I already teach on Good Things by David to a live audience, because it will give me the opportunity to explain in-depth how I achieve the results that you see on the blog.  To be able to teach one on one in such a public way is going to be fun, exciting and most certainly, a learning experience for all.     

My first lesson will be on September 7th, between 1pm-3pm.  This class will introduce you to my Heirloom Sugar Cookie dough, Heirloom Chocolate Cookie dough (time permitting) and my Best Chocolate Chip Cookie dough, in addition to picture perfect M&M Cookies for kids.  

Many tips and in-depth how-to information that you’ve come to trust on Good Things by David, along with an ongoing Q&A dialogue with the audience, will be explored throughout the two hour session.  

I want to thank Williams-Sonoma and the entire staff at the Ardmore location for reaching out and encouraging me to demonstrate what I love to do best.

If you’re in the Delaware Valley, I do hope you’re able to attend this first master class of mine.  Stay tuned for further information on upcoming classes as I develop them from month to month.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tangled Birthday Cookies

Adorable sugar cookies iced in striking colors are just the thing for a child’s birthday party, and I can’t think of a better way to mark such an event for someone special than with Disney-inspired cookies.  At the request of Teresa Bonne, I created a variety of colorful treats for her adorable granddaughter’s third birthday.  You see, for Elley, it’s all about the movie ‘Tangled’.  The Rapunzel fairy tale recreated by Disney is the theme for her birthday party this year and so, for Teresa, she wanted treats evoking this movie for her guests that were bright, sparkling, magical and extra special.  

With this in mind and with a few images, I took the task of baking and icing several dozen cookies for her.  Thankfully I had a little help.  The inspiring baker & blogger, Sugarbelle, had the perfect cookies that she made back in 2012.  Those extraordinary cookies became my templates for Elley’s cookies.  I thank her tremendously for the inspiration and, above all else, for her creativity & artistry.

I can’t tell you how much fun I had making these charming cookies.  In the middle of icing the treats it struck me that certain things were coming full circle for me and for Teresa’s family.  With two very special and collectible cookie cutters that I personally purchased from Teresa over a decade ago, I cut, baked & iced the largest of the cookies.  I’ll save the little history behind those particular cutters when I show you the cookies.

Take a look at the cookies that I made for little Elley’s third birthday.  

The Ingredients & Tools

Tangled Birthday Cookies
To personalize the cookies for Elley's birthday part, Teresa asked me to make name plaques, cookies with the number 3, and the letter 'E' for the guests. Using royal icing in a beautiful shade of pink and plain white, I kept the designs for these three cookies simple and delightful.  Each letter was flooded with a solid color and left to dry; dots of royal icing were added along the borders.  The name plaques were outlined in pink royal icing using a #2 tip and alternating dots of white & pink royal icing were piped in a symmetrical pattern.  The numbers were simple: I outlined a number 3 in the middle of each cookie with royal icing and flooded it; the negative of the cookie was then immediately outlined and flooded in pink royal icing.  Left to dry, the rounds were then given simple dots of royal icing.

The charming tower cookies of Rapunzel were cut using the cottage cookie cutter from the Martha by Mail House & Tree Set.  I simply removed the chimney with a sharp paring knife before baking.  The roof of the castle was outlined and flooded with a deep lavender royal icing, while the tower was outlined and flooded with a 'stone' colored royal icing.  These were left to dry.  'Roof tile' swags were piped in a haphazard fashion as were the blocks of stone on the castle.  The window was flooded with an ice blue shade of royal icing and a creeping vine found its way up along the side.  Small vine leaves were ruffled here and there with stiff royal icing.

Rapunzel's little friend, Pascal, was straight out of Sugarbelle's post on the Tangled Cookies she created.  I just love that little charming face.  He was perhaps my favorite cookie out of the bunch.  For the face, I outlined and flooded the base in apple green which was left to dry.  Eyes were piped with white royal icing; hold your piping straight down and pipe out large mounds of white icing to the desired diameter, then add black dots.  Dots around the eyes and down the forehead, along with two nostrils are piped with the same green royal icing. A black mouth is piped with a #1 tip.

Whimsical pink & white flowers were iced in simple patterns and were either flocked with fine sanding sugar or were embellished with flourishes.  Lavender number 3s were also included.

Gigantic suns were cut & baked using the sunflower cutter from the Sunflower & Papillon Set from Martha by Mail.  For the history...

In 2004 as the Martha by Mail catalog was closing, I realized that I did not have 'the essential' cookie cutters that had been sold in years past.  I won several through online auctions back then.  When I received my first set I realized that the seller was Teresa Bonne!  I knew that her husband was the coppersmith who had produced all of the MBM copper cookie cutters, so I was thrilled to have these in my possession.

Fast-forward to 2013.  While talking to Michael Bonne when he came out of retirement, he asked me about certain MBM cookie cutters in my collection that I had blogged about.  When I asked why, he mentioned that I had a lot of first-generation (first run) MBM cookie cutters; he should know, he created them!  I then told him about winning them from Teresa back in 2004.  As you can well imagine, this simply astonished him.  He said to me: "those were from Teresa's personal collection that were original shop samples for her to test out in our home.  At the time she was sad to let them go, but to know that you now have them in your home is a 'good thing'."

True story.

Having first generation Martha by Mail cookie cutters directly from Teresa and using them to create several cookies for Elley's birthday party is a full circle moment or me as well as for her family.  

Who could have predicted this?

~First Generation Martha by Mail Cookie Cutters~

"I used first generation as a term to describe the earliest form or issue of an item. As in computers First Gen. would convey the idea that it's new, the latest, maybe first of its kind even.  But improved versions came later.  The very first star and moon set ever made, if placed next to the very last set that rolled off our production line would appear similar, would make nearly identical cookies yet some differences would be noted. 

First Gens. would show more earmarks of hand construction: wrinkles, hammer marks, slightly asymmetrical, heavier soldering, etc.  

So after the second year we developed advanced techniques to build the cutters so they became more and more " perfect" as time went on. 

This is why you see variations, however slight, in the cutters sometimes!

The first dies were made by me.  I formed the best shape I could by eye, freehand.  Then soldered that copper band to a big flat square piece of copper sheet.  Then filled it with plaster! Bolts ran through this down into a wood table.  We pushed and hammered the copper cutter shapes into these primitive molds. 

We made 50 to 80 cookie cutters a day this way!"

~Michael Bonne

Placed into clear cellophane bags, each cookie was then carefully packaged to send via mail.  

Tangled Birthday Cookies

I hope many of you take an idea or two from these 
cookies to make them your own for a future celebration.  
Everyone is going to love them!

Happy Birthday Elleanor!

Good Things by David

Friday, August 15, 2014

Favorite Roast Chicken

Fridays can only mean one thing at my house.  It's roast chicken night!  Roast chicken is something I really love to eat and it's something I really love to make, because it is comfort food at its best.  The aroma that wafts from the oven as the plump, juicy bird roasts is unlike any other.  This recipe is one that I turn to every single week because my family loves it.  The bird always comes out juicy and succulent, never dry or tough. 

One thing I strongly recommend is that you buy a free-range, organic chicken from a reputable butcher or supermarket.  I'm lucky to have several sources, including my local Whole Foods.  However, any good chicken that's humanely raised will undoubtedly make a delicious main course. The great thing about this recipe is that it can be customized to your family's liking.  Add some spices to give it some zip, tuck in some herbs underneath the skin or change the citrus to a lime or orange if you wish. 

Make this tonight!

 The Ingredients
  • Organic free-range chicken (3 1/2 to 4 lbs.)
  • One large onion peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 4 sprigs of Italian flat leaf parsley or other fresh herbs
  • 1 lemon well washed
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • salt and pepper
Fresh Herbs: flowering oregano & basil.

Favorite Roast Chicken How-to
  • Pat the chicken dry and let it sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 350° F.  Line the bottom of your roasting pan or other oven-proof dish with sliced onions and place the chicken on top.  Lift the skin from each breast and tuck a teaspoon of butter on each side, along with some salt & pepper.  Massage it in very well.  Salt and pepper the cavity and tuck in the sprigs of parsley or other herbs.  With the heel of your hand, roll your lemon on the counter back & forth (this helps release the juice) and then pierce it about 20 times with a paring knife.  Stuff it in the cavity. 
  • Rub the remaining butter all over the chicken (if it's at room temperature it will smear nicely). Salt and pepper well.  Truss your chicken and tuck the wing tips underneath.  Don't forget to salt and pepper the onions.
  • The chicken is ready to be put into the preheated oven.  I'm using a 12" stainless steel All-Clad frying pan for this.
  • As soon as you put the chicken in the oven, set your timer for one hour.  After the hour is up, immediately raise the oven temperature to 400° F  and set your timer for 20 minutes.  The higher temperature will brown & crisp the skin beautifully. 
  • Remove the chicken & test for doneness.  An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read 180° F according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  I take it out at 170° F because it will continue to cook as it sits.  
  • The chicken should rest for 10-15 minutes before you carve into it.  

I hope my family's favorite roast chicken soon becomes a favorite of yours.  You really can't beat having this once a week, because it is always welcomed at the table.  What I love about roasting whole chickens is that there are inevitable, tasty leftovers which can be made into a number of dishes like my Fried Rice or some chicken salad.  When you're done picking the bones clean, place them in a freezer bag and save them for making my Chicken Stock 101.  You'll be glad to have a few of these carcasses in the freezer for stock.

Cheers and bon appetit!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dear David: Mosser vs. L.E. Smith Cake Stands

Dear David:  Are Mosser glass cake stands the same as the ones that were sold through Martha by Mail when the catalog was around?  They look the same to me, but I’m not so sure.  Thanks for your help.

~ Amber S.

Dear Amber,

I’m glad you brought this up because there seems to be some confusion out there about the Mosser Glass cake stands and those made by L.E. Smith for Martha by Mail.  The differences between both styles of cake stands are very subtle, yet the hallmarked areas along the stem of the pedestal tell you what’s what when you take a closer look at them.  Once you pick up on those differences, it is very simple to determine who made what cake stand.  You will never make the mistake again of confusing both of these styles of cake stands from two of America’s premier glassworks.

The jadeite glass, milk glass, pink glass, delphite glass and clear glass, which seem to follow traditional colors from the 1950s, makes it rather problematic for some people to see beyond the spectrum of these shades.  It’s the silhouette of the cake stands one needs to pay close attention to. 

This is what I mean. 

I think we can agree that the cake plates themselves, meaning the flat rounds where cakes sit, are pretty much the same on both the L.E. Smith and the Mosser.  It's the stem of the pedestal where the contrasts begin to tell a different story.  

  • Both cake stands have a band halfway down the stem.  The Smith stand has a wider band that barely protrudes from the stem.  The Mosser stand has a very thin ring which protrudes noticeably.
  • The base of the L.E. Smith stand is cupped, rather like a plunger.  The Mosser base is 'bell-shaped' and curved.  Also, the Mosser base is more substantial. 
  • The foot of the L.E. Smith stand has a flat lip, whereas the Mosser foot is rounded and smooth.

Can you tell the difference now?  Remember, the band along the stem, the base and the foot of the cake stands will tell you which is which.  

L.E. Smith for Martha by Mail

My Cake Stands

I hope this easy tutorial helps you decipher the differences between these two makers of American cake stands.  The L.E. Smith cake stands that I own are used throughout the year for celebrations and holidays, and they are cherished indeed.  Although I don't own any Mosser glass (yet!), I greatly admire the silhouette of those beauties.  Both Mosser & L.E. Smith glass cake stands are gorgeous and deserve a place in our homes.  Whether you use them for display or for desserts, cake stands make a charming addition to one's kitchen & dining room.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Organizing My Jadeite

It’s no secret that I love collecting jadeite and that I enjoy using it on a weekly basis.  Although I have gathered several pieces throughout the years, I still consider myself a budding collector of it.  What pieces I do have I cherish immensely for many reasons.  A few of them were gifted to me, while most were lucky finds from antique shops and flea markets, or were purchased from Martha by Mail many years ago.  As much as I pride myself in organizing the spaces in my home, I honestly did not have a dedicated area for my jadeite up until now.  

After clearing out some Wedgwood from a cabinet, I decided that the beautiful tones of my vintage and contemporary jadeite would look wonderful against the ‘Peale Green’ cabinets in the kitchen.  This historic color from Benjamin Moore will sometimes be a rich, deep green and at other times will reveal a different shade giving off a lot of gray undertones.  It all depends on the time of day and what kind of weather we're having.  The color combination is a good one to my mind, because it is not jarring or unpleasant to look at if I happen to be in the kitchen.

What I tried to create was a bit of harmony with these miscellaneous pieces since I don’t have two or more of everything.  Sectioned between three shelves on a glass-fronted cabinet, I went about dividing up the jadeite based on height and numbers.  You’ll see what I’m talking about when you look through my cabinet.  

At the very top of the shelf I have some enamelware canisters (these are powder-coated steel) and some little jadeite buckets.  The canisters and the little buckets were exclusive to Martha by Mail.

The middle shelf has Fenton flower pots, both large & small.  The versatility of these pots has me reaching for them quite often when I'm setting a table. The L.E. Smith 8" cake stand in the middle has a McKee 5" mixing bowl sitting on it, while the scalloped cake stand with the intricate underside has a citrus juicer from the 1940s.  The cake stands & flower pots are Martha by Mail.

The lower shelf is also a mix of old & newer jadeite.  The stacks of Restaurant Ware dinner plates are 1940s Fire King, as are the two double-egg cups.  The covered melon compotes, covered bunny dish sitting on a 10"cake stand, as well as the bunnies with baskets are Martha by Mail.

This overview shows you what my jadeite looks like at the moment stored in the kitchen.  As you can see, the larger 12" L.E. Smith cake stand is too large to fit in the cabinet, so it sits on the counter.  

Hopefully I’ve created something which does a bit of justice to this wonderful American glass that so many people collect. With my budding collection all housed in one area, I am going to use it more often than in years past. I am a firm believer in using and enjoying what one collects rather than keeping it stored for that 'rainy day'. Why not bring a bit of joy into your life by displaying the jadeite that you collect in a coherent arrangement or in a controlled chaos, and then using it every day or on special occasions? I guarantee you will be reaching for this green glass regularly if you do display it.  


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Nordstrom Bear Cookie Cutter

A superb addition to anyone’s existing collection of cookie cutters, the Nordstrom Bear made for Martha by Mail is worth taking a closer look.  This particular cutter has always baffled me because of the lack of information in the collector's market.  I don’t recall it ever being sold through Martha by Mail, and yet, the decorating card clearly says it is from the catalog.  After contacting the original manufacturer of this adorable teddy bear, we now have the answers to your questions about the limited-edition single cutter.

I’ve always loved this copper cookie cutter because of its versatility and its charming silhouette.  It can be used for so many special occasions such as baby showers, a child’s birthday, the winter holidays and even for weddings (think of dapper teddy bears in tuxedos and lady bears in wedding dresses!).  

This is what the coppersmith had to say about his creation from 1998.

"Nordstrom teddy bears were designed by Martha's team to be sold at Nordstrom stores in the spring of 1998.  Although 10,000 boxes and colored inserts were delivered to Michael Bonne for the project, only 2,500 bears were actually ordered and made. 

Martha teams went to individual stores and put on baking & decorating demonstrations or mini-seminars using the bear.  The special bear displays, copper cleaner, a few other Martha by Mail items and bears were only available for a short time in the stores, perhaps 30 days at the most.

This is the only closed-backed cutter of Martha's that was sold singly, that is, not part of a set.

Only one other set of Martha's "giant" backed cutters had a lower production run.  This would make these bears among the most scarce of her backed cutters.

Because "Nordstrom" is stamped on the handle some confusion is out there as to the origins.  But I can tell you Martha's design team, Martha herself, and the Michael Bonne Coppersmith Shop made this cutter for this special promotional deal with Nordstrom.  I think Martha herself did at least one of the cookie demos in person.

On a personal note, I always thought this was a great design and was a "sleeper" on the secondary market due to so much misinformation and lack of marketing. Nordstrom promoted it, but I don't think the word got out at the time to Martha's fan base adequately. 

It was speculated at the time that more promos were in the works, but nothing like it was ever done again."

Nordstrom Bear Cookie Cutter

The Handle

Martha by Mail Stamp

The Nordstrom Bear Cookie Cutter is not only a very collectible cookie cutter in my opinion, it’s also a very affordable piece of history that is always available through online auctions.  Look for one to add to your collection if you don’t already have one and create lots of adorable bears.  You're going to love having this cookie cutter in your home.