Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

As we enter the new year, I want to wish you all good health, peace of mind and happiness.  Whatever goals you set for yourself in 2017, may you be able to reach them.

This past year may not have been great for many of us for many different reasons, but we shouldn't lose hope that good things are always on the horizon.  Good things come our way when we least expect them, and we need to be able to recognize them when they do.

I don't make resolutions at the beginning of the year because I try my best to live a good life throughout the year.  Living a good life doesn't mean one has to have the best of everything all the time.  Living a good life is all about being content with the good things in our lives.  It's up to us to look inward and realize that we are indeed blessed for what we have.

Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Winter Snowflake Cake

Cakes can be made for any type of celebration.  Recently I had the pleasure of creating a Snowflake Cake for a fun holiday party, and I thought to myself that the cake's design could easily lend itself for any kind of winter get-together.  All you really need to do is bake the cake layers, bake a snowflake cookie or two if you wish, get a snowflake cake stencil and whip up a large batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  Putting it all together is when the fun begins. 

Tinting the buttercream is completely up to you.  Leaving an all-white cake will certainly make it look frosty and snowy, but if you brighten it up with a bit of red gel paste coloring or any other hue, your cake is sure to stand out and be worthy of any dessert table.

This is what I used for my Winter Snowflake Cake
  • Eggnog Cake  (baked in two 9x2" round cake pans for approximately 45 minutes)
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream (two batches)
  • Baked & Iced Snowflake Cookie (optional)
  • Snowflake Stencil (found at cake baking supply stores)
  • Silver Disco Dust (found at baking supply stores)
  1. After the cake layers have baked and cooled, and the buttercream is made, apply a layer of buttercream to the bottom layer of one cake layer and add the top layer.  Immediately crumb coat it and chill the layers until completely set (30 minutes to one hour).
  2. Coat the layers with a good amount of buttercream, smoothing it out so that the cake has a perfectly level top and smooth sides. 
  3. Using a snowflake stencil large enough to cover the 9" diameter cake, carefully center it and gently press it to the top.
  4. With a small spatula or demitasse spoon, carefully sprinkle the silver disco dust (very similar to fine glitter) over the stencil cut outs, making sure to get every part of the snowflake design. Carefully remove the stencil so that you don't disturb the  snowflake designs.
  5. Center a decorated snowflake cookie, pressing it down onto the buttercream as shown.
  6. Using a pastry bag fitted with a large 1M piping tip, pipe buttercream stars (tinted or not tinted) around the top perimeter, and continue to pipe horizontal rows down to the bottom.  Use a rotating cake stand to make this job easier.
  7. Thoroughly chill the cake before transferring it to a cake stand, cake box or serving platter.

If you look closely, you can see how the stenciled snowflakes sparkle.  A small amount of that shimmery disco dust goes a very long way.  You'll love working with it if you haven't already.

Set on top of a milk glass cake stand, the Winter Snowflake Cake looks outstanding.  I have to say that the cake layers themselves are pretty tasty and easy to work with.  They slice beautifully!

Think about making a snowflake cake in the coming weeks for a special birthday or for anyone who likes layer cakes.  It's going to turn some heads, and it's going to make people smile.  More importantly, it's going to be devoured by all.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Sugar Cookies

This year's Christmas cookies for family and friends were some of my best-loved to date.  I really enjoyed making these iced sugar cookies because they were decorated with only a handful of colors and a few flourishes. I wanted to keep the spirit of Christmas by showcasing some of my favorite images and shapes of the season, such as Christmas trees, snowflakes, ornaments and stockings.

I only need to go back to my childhood and remember what mom used to do for us kids on the days leading up to Christmas.  The tree would be decorated with those multi-colored lights that looked so beautiful when lit at night, and our stockings would be hanging on a doorway or wall, along with die-cut images of Santa and candy canes.

For me, nothing evokes Christmas more than the color combination of red and green.  Whether you have ornaments, lights, Christmas cards or desserts showcasing these colors, you're bound to create a festive atmosphere once you display them throughout the house.

The Christmas cookies were made using my Sugar Cookie Recipe and my Sugar and Spice Recipe.  You have to have sugar cookies for the holidays, along with the flavors of spice.  What I love about the sugar and spice cookie recipe is that you get those spicy notes associated with gingerbread cookies, but you don't have the hassle of rolling out sticky gingerbread dough.  The royal icing was my tried-and-true recipe which is flavored with lots of freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Everything looks ultra-luxe with silver and gold.  Iced cookies will be the talk of the town if you use these decorative embellishments on your cookies.  I have to say, that I tried something new with a few of my cookies this year, and I am really pleased with the results.

A while back, my good friend Janet, introduced me to edible disco dust.  This glittery powder makes everything that it touches, sparkle and shimmer. Using a set of tweezers (used only for cookie decorating), I picked up small amounts of silver disco dust, and sprinkled it haphazardly over a cookie which had just been iced.  I love this effect!

These Christmas tree cookies were a last-minute idea.  I originally wanted to flood and ice the shapes, but being pressed for time, I decided to leave them "naked" and simply pipe some swirly outlines.  I started from the top, with white royal icing, and made the first set of loops on that first tier.  Each subsequent tier of branches was piped in the same manner with a different color of royal icing.

The snowflake cookies were also piped with a minimum of fuss.  I piped spokes for every branch of the snowflake, using a #2 piping tip, and added gold and silver dragées where I thought they would look their best.

It's all in the details.  The center of all my snowflakes became jewel-like focal points with a centered dragée and some extra pearls along the perimeter.  This created a lot of buzz with my friends and neighbors.

The cookie dessert table looks so bright and festive with the abundance of iced cookies.  Set on various antique ironstone platters, and a larger Spode transferware platter, everyone is invited to take whatever they want.

These evergreen trees were cut out using a Martha by Mail cookie cutter.  The designs on the left were ones I used last year, so I thought why not use them again this Christmas.  On the left we have a flooded base, which is then given a piped outline and dragées throughout the tree.  They look quite tasty on that small service platter. 

Perhaps my favorite of all the cookies were these delicious Christmas ornaments.  The bases were flooded in either red, white or green, and were then enhanced with piped designs or gingerbread men candies.  The finials were flooded with royal icing and were then sprinkled with mini silver dragées.  Loops were piped for 'hooks'.

Christmas isn't Christmas without a few stockings.  For family and friends, I made every single person a unique stocking cookie.  Even I got one this year!

Don't you just want to eat one of these snowflakes?  I guarantee you that everyone will want to have a snowflake cookie if you make them like this.

Christmas tree cookie cutters come in all shapes and sizes.  You don't have to use expensive copper ones (although they are very nice), because craft stores and baking supply stores carry superb tin cookie cutters that don't cost a lot of money.  

My favorite way to gift the kids their cookies is to place them in clear cellophane bags tied with bright ribbons.  Samantha, Remy, Olivia and Luke all loved their Christmas stockings!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!  I hope that you are surrounded by loved ones this season, and are partaking of the holiday cheer.  


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Beautiful Ring Cookies

The idea of handing out beautifully iced ring cookies as favors for a special celebration, is brilliant.  Every admirer of precious stones can find numerous occasions on which to gift these to close friends and family, be it for a wedding, a wedding shower, an engagement, or even a special milestone birthday.  

What I love about creating this type of cookie design is that you can tint the icing of the precious stone to match someone's birthstone, or perhaps the recipient's favorite gem color.

If you want to make your cookies sparkle like these rubies, amethysts, emeralds and sapphires, I highly suggest using fine sanding sugars that match the color of the royal icing.  Not only do you want this for the stone itself, but for the ring band as well.  The platinum rings were dusted with a good amount of silver sanding sugar.  However, if you want to make gold bands for the rings, use  a sparkly gold sanding sugar. 

Nothing is more important than starting out with a good sugar cookie dough. You want it to be flavorful, sturdy to work with and able to stay fresh for several days.  If you aren't familiar with my recipe already, I highly suggest that you use it for your next decorating project.  Not only is it easy to work with, but it tastes extraordinary, and can be flavored to your liking.  Making a double batch of it is easy with my large 7qt. KitchenAid mixer. 

Use a wedding ring cookie cutter to cut out shapes (these can be found at many baking supply stores and online), and make sure that they are baked and cooled completely before icing.

I always roll out my cookies to a good 1/4" thickness, because it gives the cookies a professional look, and it makes them very sturdy to work with.  

Fill a pastry bag with white royal icing, that is of flooding consistency, and flood the entire base with it. Let the icing dry completely before continuing.  If white icing is not dry and you begin to add other icings, it runs the risk of bleeding and making a mess of your work.

Once the bases are dry, begin the ring designs.  I used two round cookie cutters and a food-coloring marker, to outline the ring.  Make sure that the ring is centered in order for it to work with the gem.  Anything off center is going to give you a crooked ring.

Outline and flood the gem in the color of choice, using a #2 or #3 piping tip, making sure that the point of the gem meets the top of the ring as shown above.  Let it dry completely.

Using a fine #1 piping tip and the same color of icing, trace the cuts of the gem as shown (top, right). Immediately flock (dust) the gem with a matching sanding sugar.  Let dry completely and remove any stray crystals with a fine brush.

For the platinum ring, outline and flood the ring area in a very light-gray royal icing, adding a set of prongs on each side of the gem.  Immediately flock the wet icing in silver sanding sugar and let dry completely.  Remove any stray sugar crystals with a fine brush.

Can you see how even each of these cookies are?  I love using 1/4" dowels when I roll out my cookie dough, so that every single cut out is exactly the same as the next.  

When the cookies have dried completely, you can then transfer them to clear-topped boxes filled with crinkle paper or slip them into cellophane bags for gift giving.  

How easy was it to create beautiful ring cookies?  Dozens of these can be made for many types of celebrations, and I can almost guarantee that everyone will want to have at least one of these precious beauties.  

Remember these beautiful ring cookies the next time you want to add some sparkle to your special occasion.  


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Favorite Martha Stewart Living Special Issues

Everyone needs a bit of inspiration around the holiday season, and I'm no different.  At the beginning of December, I pick up the well-worn special issues of Martha Stewart Living magazine that I've collected over the years, and I begin to find that little something to spark my holiday spirit.

What I love about doing this is that I get to sit back and remember the recipes, ideas and projects that have worked for me in the past.  I try to recall who liked what, and which treats were by far the winners of that particular year. Keep in mind that some of these issues go back well over a decade, but make no mistake: they are as useful and inspirational today as they were back then.

I can't say that I have every single Holiday Special Issue from MSL, but the issues pictured in the collage above, are certainly my favorites.  Below are the ones which I feel are must-haves from Martha Stewart Living.

Everyday Food magazine published their special issue of 51 favorite holiday cookie recipes years ago, and it's a digest-sized magazine that I turn to quite a bit.  Their Outrageous Chocolate Chunk Cookies and their Coconut Snowballs are so tasty.  I also like the simple sugar cookies and their toffee bit blondies a lot.

This special issue pamphlet was not available at newsstands to my recollection.  Instead, it was offered as a subscription gift.  Martha's recipes, which include her Cream Cheese Bows and her mother's Chrusciki, are all found in this glossy pamphlet.  I love the chocolate sugar cookies that are in this issue because they can be baked any time of the year.  Pick through your favorites and begin baking now!

The holiday baking issue from 2002 is perhaps my all-time favorite special edition. Not only is it quite informative and chockfull of recipes, it is probably the most beautiful of the special issues published by Martha Stewart Living.  

I love the glossary of desserts in this special issue, which begins with that gorgeous apple pie featured on the cover.  From there, desserts of all types fill the subsequent pages.  I've made several of the steamed puddings from this publication, as well as the hermit bars, the coconut cake, and other sweets. Everything has turned out beautifully year after year!

This special issue was the first devoted entirely to cookie baking.  It has the classic recipes which were created and featured in the magazine, as well as in the television show taped in Westport, Connecticut.  

The endless versions of Scottish shortbread, the bars, the sandwich cookies, are all perfect year round, but they're especially welcomed during the holidays.

Handmade gifts don't mean that you have to do everything from scratch.  A simple arrangement of sweets inside a jar that is personalized, can do wonders during gift-giving season.  However, if you want to try your hand at handmade soaps, cookies, and little pompom animals, this issue has all of the necessary instructions for you.

Although I have yet to try making my own soap, I will keep this Holiday Handmade Gifts issue within easy reach in case I get inspired to do so.

If you don't already have these special issues, I strongly suggest that you look for them on eBay or ask around in those social media groups to see if anyone is willing to part with them.  I think they're well worth having in one's home because I have a feeling you will go through them, and be inspired like I am every single year.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Saying Goodbye

We welcome pets into our homes for many different reasons, but everyone will agree that they greatly improve our lives and our well being.  The act of rescuing a pet and giving it a good home filled with a lot of love, is one of the most selfless acts we can ever do as human beings.

Eighteen years ago we rescued a cat named Izzy, who was quickly named Mistress (aka Ms. Kitty), and brought her into our first home in Haddonfield, New Jersey.  She and Lion instantly became the centers of our universe.

I can best describe Ms. Kitty as one of the most inquisitive, smart and very in-tune cats that I've ever come across in my lifetime.  She was always near me in the kitchen, watching me prepare our lunches and dinners, as well as desserts. Her favorite spot in the entire house was resting in front of my giant spice rack.  We used to joke that she was judging my technique and recipes, to make sure I wasn't skipping steps or messing things up.  

I can't tell you how empty my kitchen, my home and our lives feel without our kitty by us.  Believe it or not, she was a very important part of this blog because of her presence.  Letting go of that love and that companionship has been the hardest thing for us.

Our pets are members of the family, and in this lifetime, as parents, we make the promise to love them dearly and provide them with the best possible care. When it is time to say goodbye to our loved ones and make our peace, that love will continue to be there in our hearts.  

Ms. Kitty, you're going to be greatly missed.