Category: - The Baker and The Chef
 
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I love when people ask me to make them something for a special celebration they're having.  I like to try to come up with something that will really wow them.  So when the GM at The Chef's restaurant asked if I could make a cake for his brother and sister-in-laws baby shower I was all over it.

He sent me a copy of the invitations and wrapping paper they were using.  My idea was to make a cake with animals modeled out of chocolate to match the theme.  The only problem was I had no idea how to model animals out of chocolate.  I'm not even really good with play-doh.  Really long snakes are about the best I can do.  I swore The Chef to secrecy just in case I couldn't pull this off.  I even came up with a Plan B so when the day of the shower came and I was sobbing in a heap on the floor I would have something to give them.

I remembered a Wilton cake that was decorated with animals and so I quickly googled my little heart out and found the cake.  Gulp.  I was pretty sure there was no way I could pull this off.  I stalled and texted a couple of friends to whine that there was no way I could do this.

Finally I sat down and figured out exactly what I would need, wrote a list and went to the store.  Then I came home and paced.  And then paced some more.  I figured I would just start and see what happened.  So I worked my way step by step through the modeling of the animals.  It was incredibly easy!  They turned out so cute and I really couldn't believe I had made them.  And, apparently the guests of honor loved them, which makes me immensely happy!  Congratulations to them and their twin baby girls!

-The Baker

 
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I love the beautiful sugar cookies you see in magazines at holiday time.  I've never actually made them because they are a lot of work and I've never found a sugar cookie dough that was good enough to make all that work worthwhile.  I guess I'm not a huge fan of sugar cookies.

Then, a friend asked me if I would make her some undecorated sugar cookies for her son to take to school to decorate with his classmates for a school project.  Sure, no problem!  I can roll and cut out dough all day long... easy breezy!  But then... she asked would I make some more for her own holiday parties.  Uh-oh.  I knew I would have to find a better recipe and then I would have to actually *GULP* decorate them!  The thing I've been avoiding all these years!

I was a little stumped what to do about the recipe.  I mean, I've been searching for years for a good one and I've never found one.  Why did I think I would suddenly find it now?  Oh, man, did I finally bite off more than I could chew with this little project?  The problem with sugar cookies, well any recipe, is if you ask people if they have a recipe they always tell you the one they use is "the best", but I've always found sugar cookies to be dull and bland.

A few days later I was trolling the internet looking for new food blogs to read when I stumbled across a site with sugar cookies.  Hmm...  I loved her description and the fact that the recipe was her grandmother's.  These might be a possibility.  I decided to try the recipe out.  Wow!  Were they delicious!  And, I'm talking about the raw dough.  Seriously delicious!  I couldn't wait to taste the baked cookie.  Needless to say, the baked cookie was also delicious.  Holy cow-after all these years of searching I had actually found a delicious sugar cookie recipe!  I couldn't believe it.  (Go check out the site, which is filled with all sorts of wonderful recipes and stories: www.wiseanticsoflife.blogspot.com and tell her The Baker sent you!)

The recipe Kristen gave also included a frosting, but I knew that I wanted the finished cookies to be very high-end and not homemade looking, so I wanted to use a royal icing.  But, again, I was in the same boat... I've never found a royal icing that I really liked.

Again, fate intervened and brought me to www.joyofbaking.com for a fantastic royal icing recipe.  The key difference between their recipe and all the other royal icings I've made is that they beat the icing for a solid ten minutes, which really thickens it and makes it the consistency of lightly whipped cream.  I've always just stirred together some egg whites and powdered sugar, and wound up with some super sweet sludge... yuck!

The other difference was that the recipe called for a small amount of lemon juice.  I was afraid I was going to end up with lemon cookies, which are good, but definitely not what I was going for.  But, the lemon juice was like the magic ingredient!  When first mixed up, you can taste the lemony flavor, but as the icing sits and ripens it mellows out and the lemon juice just adds a bright fresh flavor but the actual taste of lemon disappears.  It's absolutely delicious!  Honestly the best royal icing I've even eaten.

The process of baking and decorating the cookies took many, many days and I was very lucky that my sister was in town for a visit and came to help me.  We had a great time and ate quite a few cookies in the process.  Hey, somebody has to do quality control around here, right?

The decorating process is the same no matter what the holiday is, so while it's too late to make these for this holiday season, you can certainly make these for Easter or Valentine's Day.  It's definitely something that the more you do the better you'll get at it, so find lots of reasons to make them!

-The Baker

Grandma's Sugar Cookies (taken from: www.wiseanticsoflife.blogspot.com)

Christmas Cutout Cookies:

  • 3 C All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 t Baking Powder
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 8 oz Butter
  • 3/4 C Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 T Milk
  • 1 1/2 t Vanilla Extract
  1. cream butter and sugar; add egg, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth
  2. sift dry ingredients and gradually add; chill 1 hour
  3. roll 1/2 inch thick and cut into shapes
  4. bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 400 F for 5-8 minutes; don't let them get brown
  5. frost when cool
Note:  these cookies freeze well (unfrosted) and you can double or triple the recipe with great results

Royal Icing
(www.joyofbaking.com)

  • 2 Egg whites (large)
  • 2 t Lemon juice
  • 3 C (330 g) Powdered sugar, sifted
  1. in the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the lemon juice, until light and frothy
  2. add the sifted powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth; then turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat it for at least ten minutes; it will be thick and very creamy; thin it down with a few drops of water at a time until it is the consistency of whipped cream
  3. the icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air; cover with plastic wrap when not in use
Decorating the cookies:

  1. outline - after the cookies have cooled, outline the edge of the cookie using the royal icing; if you're planning on filling in the body of the cookie with a color other than white you'll want to color the icing that color; if you don't you'll have a white outline; use a disposable plastic piping bag fitted with a #2 or #3 tip, that way you can easily refill and keep going; you want the icing to be just stiff enough to hold it's shape but fluid enough that it easily flows out of the tip; to get the best outlines you want to hold the tip about 1/2" above the cookie; it takes a bit of practice to get used to not working right on top of the cookie
  2. flooding - let the outline dry until it's sturdy enough to be handled and dry enough to act as a dam for thinner icing; thin down icing to fill in the dam; tint the icing to the color you want (colors will darken the longer they sit); you can thin the icing by adding drops of water; you can use a pastry bag to flood the cookies, but I found it much easier to use squeeze bottles, which can be found at any craft store in the cake decorating section; you don't need to fill the entire area, you can fill in any holes with a paint brush sized pastry brush or a toothpick
  3. let the flooded icing dry overnight unless you're dipping the cookies in sanding sugar; if you're dipping in sanding sugar you want to let the icing dry until it's tacky and then dip the cookie in sugar that you've got spilled into a wide shallow dish; keep in mind that some of the sugar will spill off once the icing is completely dry so dip a little heavy; if you want to do multiple colors of sanding sugar (like stripes) then you will need to flood the different sections separately and dip them in the sugar, let them dry completely and then flood the next section and dip, etc
  4. once the icing is completely dry you can pipe decorations over it, you can paint on gold or silver dust or you can use markers that are made from edible ink to draw on decorations
  5. the biggest key to successfully decorating the cookies without pulling out your hair or giving up is to have a plan and stick with it... choose the shapes you're making ahead of time, plan how you want to decorate each design, decide on the colors you'll use and if you'll be using sanding sugar; make a list of everything you need and get it all ready before you start to decorate; trust me-it will simplify the process and keep it enjoyable!
  6. keep in mind that this can be a long process, so give yourself enough time to do the different steps and your cookies will turn out beautiful
 
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So I've been away from the blog for a little while because I've been working on a special project and I didn't want the person I was doing it for to find out the surprise.  M2's best friend in the world is Morgan and yesterday was his 3rd birthday party.

His mom planned a "Mr. Man" themed party for him.  The invitations that Abbi made had a picture of him with a graphic of a necktie around his neck.  She decorated the room with neckties and she found chocolate mustaches on a stick for everyone to hold in front of their face.  Needless to say she's very creative.  So when she asked me to make cupcakes to serve at the party I was sweating!  My shtick is really yummy goodies but not necessarily anything cute and creative.  I thought maybe I would just make a variety of cupcakes and make some sprinkles using the colors from the invitations to coordinate; boring I know, but at least they would taste good.  And then, about a week before the party, I had a stroke of genius at 4:30 in the morning... and then couldn't fall back asleep because I was planning.

There's a fabulous site called Bakerella, featuring the most amazing, creative and fun goodies.  They say imitation is the best form of flattery so my mission was to emulate some of the cupcakes she makes but re-work them a bit to fit with my own tastes and of course the "Mr. Man" theme of the party.  I remembered that Bakerella had visited The Pioneer Woman and made cupcakes that Ree gave instructions for how to decorate, so I also visited that site.

The main thing I changed is that Bakerella uses fondant, and I have a major dislike for fondant, you might even say hatred.  I instead made and used chocolate clay.  I also used my own chocolate and white cake recipes instead of the recipe they used.  I had a blast making the cupcakes, and now all I can think about are other occasions that I can make them for.  I've been calling them "Capped Cupcakes" because of the chocolate clay cap.  I hope that if Bakerella ever sees my cupcakes she's flattered and not appalled!

Making all the decorations is a major undertaking, so get a cup of coffee and a muffin and sit down for a nice long read... at least there's lots of pictures!

-The Baker

CHOCOLATE CLAY:

  • 10 oz Chocolate
  • 1/3 C Corn Syrup
  1. in a shallow bowl, melt the chocolate in microwave (be careful so that the temperature does not exceed 100 F) for approximately 1 minute; stir. if chocolate is not completely melted, return to microwave for 10 seconds at a time and stir until smooth
  2. add corn syrup to the chocolate and mix well (scrape all the corn syrup into the chocolate with a rubber spatula)
  3. using a rubber spatula, stir and fold mixture, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well, until no shiny syrup is visible and the mixture forms a thick ball
  4. knead the clay until oil begins to ooze out, this is called "milking'; a lot of oil will come out, keep kneading until the clay is still oily but is starting to melt and feel very sticky in your hands
  5. pour mixture onto parchment paper (or waxed paper); let it sit and stiffen, uncovered, for at least 2 hours then roll into a ball and wrap in plastic until ready to use
  6. use at once or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month
  7. your cutouts will harden after a few days at room temperature and can be saved by storing in a cool, dry place
  8. just remember to not overwork the clay or it will begin to lose oil again and become sticky and impossible to work with

BAKERELLA'S SIMPLE BUTTERCREAM:
(taken from The Pioneer Woman's site)
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • Cream or half-and-half for consistency
  1. cream butter and vanilla, then add powdered sugar in increments
  2. add cream or half-and-half to reach desired consistency; color with gel food coloring as desired
Notes:  Definitely check out The Pioneer Woman's site for beautiful pictures of the making of the buttercream.  I had some pretty nice pictures of me making the buttercream but they were accidentally deleted... sniff sniff...  I'm still upset.