Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Sugar Cookies!

It's starting to look a lot like Christmaaaaaas! (I sang that last part like Oprah would. Try it. I promise it's fun) I think decorating sugar cookies will really get you in the mood for all the holidays. All the piping with multiple colors and piping bags can seem daunting, but this process is pretty forgiving (provided you have a steady hand).

First, you can usually freeze the dough if you don't have time to roll, cut and bake right away. Second, royal icing consistency is pretty easy to tweak. Third, you can spread out the decorating over a few days (it's actually better that you do). And the best part: you can make these ahead of time to gift because they'll stay good for a few weeks in an airtight container especially in the cool holiday weather.  Whats more, it's not a problem if you don't have a huge variety of little specialized cookie cutters, a simple round one will do.

The problem I usually have with cutout cookies is that they tend to puff up and spread out in the oven, losing their delicate shapes. I'm glad to report, there's a recipe that doesn't do that! I tried two recipes. The first was a traditional sugar cookie from Sweetopia with a truck load of butter in. Ohhh, the buttery goodness!  Sugar cookies are great for looks, but of the two recipes, this cookie actually tasted so good I wanted to keep eating them with my coffee. And after two weeks, they still tasted and smelled great.

They did puff up a bit though even with all the chilling I did both before and after making the cut-outs. In all fairness, Sweetopia is the queen of sugar cookies and I am but a humble admirer of her work, so maybe they don't puff when she makes them. Not a deal breaker though. These are the ones you wanna eat.

The second recipe is a spiced brown sugar cookie that held their shapes immaculately. They had a nice, subtle holiday spice flavor but did not require additional chilling. These are the ones you wanna admire.

I don't have a boat load of cookie cutters and I don't really miss them with this method of decorating.  I also think they're cuter this way.  As you can see, I've been lazy with mixing up the right consistency for piping versus flooding. The letters are more like blobs and the leaves are somewhat shapeless. I still have some more practicing to do, but not bad for my first owl, eh?

Sugar Cookies
Source: Sweetopia
2  1/2 cups (4 1/2 sticks!) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
seeds from 1 vanilla bean (or 3 tsp vanilla)
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in using an electric mixer on low to medium speed for about one minute, scraping down the sides to fully incorporate.  (Use the paddle attachment) Do not overmix.
  2. Add eggs slowly and mix.  Scrape down the bowl with your spatula at least once and mix again.
  3. Cut open your vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out.  Add to mixing bowl.  Alternatively, add liquid vanilla extract.  Stir briefly.
  4. Sift your dry ingredients together.  (Flour, baking powder and salt).
  5. Add the flour mixture to the bowl.  Mix on low speed for 30 seconds. When the dough clumps around the paddle attachment it’s ready.  Do not over mix.
  6. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. Chill for at least 1 hour.
  7. Roll out the dough to the desired thickness and cut out cookie shapes.  Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. 
  8. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again.
  9. Preheat your oven to 350°F or 176°C.
  10. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes (depending on size and thickness of cookie) or until the edges become golden brown.
  11. Cool completely and decorate.
Spiced Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies
Source: Annie's Eats
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
½ cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
16 tbsp. (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a medium bowl; whisk to blend.  
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, brown sugar and butter.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  
  3. Blend in the egg and vanilla.  
  4. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  
  5. Form the dough into a ball or disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill until firm, at least 30-60 minutes.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  
  7. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters to form desired shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.  
  8. Bake 10-12 minutes.  
  9. Cool completely and decorate.
Royal Icing
Source: Sweetopia
6 oz (3/4 cup) of warm water
5 Tbsp Meringue Powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 kg (2.25 lbs.) powdered icing sugar
  1. In mixer bowl, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder. Whisk until it is frothy and thickened (about 30 seconds).
  2. Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more.
  3. Pour in all the powdered sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer.
  4. Using the paddle attachment on the LOWEST speed, mix slowly for 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy.
  5. Cover the bowl with a dampened tea-towel to prevent crusting and drying.
  6. Tint with food colourings or thin the icing with small amounts of warm water to reach the desired consistency.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Pumpkin Baby: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I have a bun in the oven. Well, it's more like a cupcake.... OK! It's like half-a-freakin'-dozen pumpkin cupcakes! Don't judge me - it wasn't planned! At first, it was just the one. But then, there was another one.  And... well, I don't know what happened after that. Things got blurry, I lost count... and now I have a pumpkin baby. You would have done the same thing if you were there.

I was looking for a festive recipe for this Thanksgiving, and what's more apropos than Pumpkin Cupcakes? Even with all of the cake flour called for, I half expected these to be a little dense from past experience. Fortunately I was wrong. This cake was airy and light, and the frosting - well, let's just say it took all my will power not to intercept the frosting on its' way from the mixing bowl to the intended targets. This is a serious pumpkin pie experience in your mouth. I just might have had a transcendent experience (this seems to be a reoccurring theme).  I've been disenchanted by pumpkin pie in the past (think: mountain of mass produced pumkin pies at Costco) and hadn't had it in some time. It's just sooo "been there done that". However, this really took me back. This took me back to when my little sister was born, two days before Thanksgiving, over 20 years ago. It took me back to sitting on my mom's hospital bed in the Recovery wing of Labor & Delivery, when she was served her dinner with pumpkin pie. She let me eat her pie and it was really, really good. Maybe because I was a kid. Maybe because I just got a brand new baby sister.  

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Makes about 18 cupcakes

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla*
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting*
Once (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Making the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°  and Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.
2. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside
3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after the last addition. Add the milk mixture and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on slow speed until combined. Beat in the pumpkin until combined. Distribute the batter between the cupcake liners - they will be about 3/4 full (using a mechanical ice cream scooper helps). Drop the pans from about 2-3 inches in the air onto the counter to release air bubbles and even out batter. Bake about 23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

*I never have buttermilk, so I substituted with 1/2 tbsp vinegar and milk brought to 1/2 cup.

Making the frosting:
(Also see: The One: Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
1. Mix sugar and egg whites in bowl of stand mixer over simmering water until sugar is dissolved (170° F)
2. Continue to beat on the stand mixer, medium to high, to stiff peaks and bottom of bowl is cool to touch. Add softened butter 2 tbsp at a time until combined.
3. Add cream cheese, 2 oz at a time, and beat until combined.
4. Add maple syrup and beat until combined.
5. Frost cupcakes as desired.

** For a lighter version (read: so you can eat more of it), whip up 1 1/4 cups heavy cream with 2tbsp sugar and 1/8 cup maple syrup.

Cupcake recipe (barely) adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Beer for Everyone! Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes

If you're a friend of mine, you'll like this cupcake. Stout, whiskey and Baileys with your chocolate - what's not to like? I kick myself for not having made it sooner. I took a bite, and then I had to take a moment. This one deserves a moment because its' bold flavors make it so dangerous.

Most of the alcohol cooks out of the stout beer, but the flavor remains and even if you're not a avid beer drinker, which I'm not, you'll find that it makes one of the best chocolate cupcakes you'll ever have. And then there's the dark chocolate whiskey ganache filling. And also the Baileys swiss meringue buttercream.

Are you still there?

OK good. Just checking, because I had to hold onto something when I tried this. Um, I wasn't, like, strewn out on the floor in a chocolate coma with left over beer in one hand, Johnny Walker in the other and ganache smeared all over my maw, or anything...  

It is one boozy luscious cupcake and it's not for lightweights (not a problem here). These were actually made with love (and some mischief in mind) for a friends birthday and they were a huge hit. I have already gotten requests to make them again! So the lesson here is: Add beer to everything.

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup (oatmeal) stout beer
1 cup (2 sticks) (un)salted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process) (I subbed 1/4 cup for Ghirardelli Sweet Chocolate and Cocoa powder)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (light) sour cream

Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (I used Johnny Walker Scotch whiskey)

Baileys Swiss meringue buttercream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Simmer the stout and butter in a  large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat just to combine, then use a rubber spatula to fold batter until completely combined. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way. Bake cupcakes about 17 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely and then remove center using an apple corer.

Simmer the cream and pour over chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl and allow to sit for one minute. Whisk until smooth and then add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. Allow to cool until thick and pipe into cupcake centers. Frost with Baileys SMBC!

Adapted from: http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/01/car-bomb-cupcakes/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The One: Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Baileys and multiple sticks of butter - it's good already, right? Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC) and I have been involved in a love affair, and now I'm going to give you all the details: the good, the bad and the ugly. This takes more time than your typical powdered sugar frosting, but it's mind blowing as far as buttercreams go. You can make all kinds of variations, which is what I'm doing here. This is an Irish Cream SMBC, but the backbone is the same.

Start off mixing egg whites and granulated sugar in your stand mixer's mixing bowl, over a pot of boiling water (it should be a snug fit as double boilers go), until the emulsion is smooth and the sugar is no longer grainy.

Then start mixing with the stand mixer at medium to high speed. The egg whites will stiffen in the 8 to 10 minutes it will take the bowl to cool down.

Now we add the softened butter.

 I realized somewhere along the line, I was talking to the SMBC.

I.  was.  talking.  to.  the.  buttercream.

"You're gonna take all this butter, and you're gonna like it. Take it!"

"Oh, you didn't like it. You've curdled on me. I'm soooo sorry! Please forgive me!"

And then I realized, I'm more powerful than a bowl of butter. I was going to beat it into submission....



Once it came together again, in went the Baileys.


I wish you could smell the glorious victory.

 Baileys Swiss Meringue Buttercream
makes about 4 cups

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup Baileys Irish Cream

Whisk the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer over simmering water until the mixture  is smooth and the sugar is no longer grainy. Remove from heat and beat with the mixer until you have stiff (not dry) peaks. This should take about 10 minutes on medium-high speed. Once the bottom of the bowl is cool to touch, add the softened butter, two tablespoons at a time. If the butter is too cold or firm, the buttercream may curdle and separate. If this happens, continue to beat for several minutes to smoothen out the buttercream. Add the Baileys and mix. Once mixured is combined, switch to paddle attachment and continue to beat until smooth and fluffy.

This buttercream freezes beautifully to be stored for future use. Make sure to bring it to room temperature before re-beating with paddle attachment or the buttercream will curdle.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Butterfly Effect

My bestie's birthday just passed not too long ago and for that occasion, I decided to do something fun and colorful - like the person it was intended for.  And these butterflies turned out pretty colorful, didn't they? The idea for these dazzling beauties came from Hello, Cupcake! and I must say, I was pretty intimidated at first.  But as it turns out, if you can decorate a sugar cookie, you can make these butterflies.  I cheated a bit and used a squeeze bottle to draw everything onto the transparency film which was overlaid on hand-drawn templates. Just let the outline harden and flood with desired color. The antennae were simple "V's" that are inserted directly into the frosting.  For a more detailed look, you could probably go with a #2 wilton piping tip.  I used almond bark (candy melts also work) rather than chocolate for these and tinted to these vibrant colors. Remember to use oil-based gel candy coloring. Finally, white non-pareils were sprinkled on before the candy set.

See how nicely the frosting piped out? Do you know what the secret is? .... Wait for it.... wait for it.... it's swiss meringue buttercream! Thank you Martha. Once you try this, you'll never go back to confectionars sugar buttercream. In fact, you might say "Yeck!" and turn your head away in disgust when a co-worker dares to bring such a concoction in for an office birthday. Hypothetically speaking, of course. SWBC (yes, we've achieved an acronym-level relationship) tastes like ice cream bliss and it's worth the extra effort.

I made Ina Garten's lemon yogurt cake into cupcakes for this. I don't LOVE lemon cake, but you see, my bestie has this peculiar love affair with lemon and I had to oblige. It WAS her birthday, remember? Turns out, they were delish. They really really were. Even Miss Piggy wanted in...


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Airplanes in the Skies


I had been working myself up over last weekend’s project that I mentioned in the Marshmallow Fondon't post.  This was a baby shower with an airplane theme for a baby boy to be named Skylar. To die for, right? My friend asked me to make airplane sugar cookie lollipops as well as “sky” themed cupcakes.  

After playing with so many ideas for cloud decorations, I finally came up with homemade piping marshmallow  to make into free form cloud shapes because who wants to eat hardened gum paste or box fondant?  It worked like a dream! The results were amaaazing, if I do say so myself.


 Instead of using sanding sugar (as with marshmallow Peeps), I dusted with powdered sugar for a softer, billowy result.  They were also yummy with the frosting - a white chocolate cream cheese buttercream recipe courtesy of The Cake Bible (I <3 The Cake Bible) to complement the cookies and cream cupcakes.


For the sugar cookies, I used a great 2" airplane cookie cutter from Sur La Table and a basic sugar cookie recipe.  I am still on the fence about this cookie recipe because the cookies spread more than I would have liked in spite of chilling the dough before and after cutting, even with varying rolled thicknesses and baking times. 

I felt that filling and flooding the cookies with royal icing would have taken FOREVER and would have delivered less than smooth results. I used the homemade marshmallow fondant that I made earlier. This was my first time working with fondant and I found that this kind of fondant froze beautifully, was easy to work with and tasted great (yes, believe it).  In retrospect, I would have saved much time and anxiety by simply laying the lollipop stick directly over the sugar cook and pressing gently - rather than the many creatively difficult other ways I had been doing it (like pushing them in horizontally  or laying the cookie on top of the stick). Pressing the sticks in from the top, baking, and covering the visible stick with fondant would have made pretty cookie lollipops - front aaaand back. Right?
Cookies and Cream Cupcakes
makes 24
1 stick unsalted sweet cream butter, softened
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 pkg Oreo Cookies (Orea brand highly preferred)

Preheat over to 350F and insert cupcake liners into standard cupcake pan.

Twist apart 24 Oreos and place the half with the cream on it in the bottom of each well, cream side up.  Save the remaining halves for garnish, if desired.  Quarter the remaining cookies with a sharp knife and set aside to mix with batter.

In a medium bowl sift together the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl cream the butter until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla and mix to combine. Add egg whites, one at a time until well incorporated. Beat for 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low spead until just combined. Fold in quartered cookies. Drop batter into cupcake liners to about 2/3 full (a mechanical ice cream scoop helps).

Bake about 20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting. The bottoms of these cupcakes can be a little greasy, so I like to do the last bit of the cooling process on paper towels.

Adapted from Beantown Baker

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I was recently having a discussion with a friend about, what else, baking. What I love about it is that you can decorate your creations and make them, well, creative. What she liked making were hearty, comfort goods like banana breads and muffins. Bah! Too boring! I said. And to my admited hypocracy, I realized when I got home that I had a bunch of neglected, over-ripe bananas....

Ok, so I haaaad to make banana bread (with walnuts of course) and crossed my fingers that she wouldn't call me out on this.  But then there were still MORE ripe bananas to be dealt with...

...which spawned Banana Crunch Muffins. Yeah, she was calling me out on this for sure.