Daring Bakers do Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies!  I haven’t made these in a long time, not since this post in March.  I have a recipe that I like a lot, but I have never iced them.  Icing and frosting or whatever you want to call it, is just not my forte – it’s a bit intimidating.  So I decided that I had to do this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge so that I would force myself to learn how to use it.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

In preparation for this big feat, I emailed my friend S. of The Cookie Cutters fame as she is an expert in the cookie decorating field.  I know that the challenge was to use royal icing, but I wanted to try using fondant, something that I have never used before.

Fondant
The necessary tools - 100 cookie cutters!

Conveniently the Little Rocker’s birthday was on September 15th, sheturned two years old!  So I decided to make these cookies for the birthday party that we were hosting over the Sukkoth holiday.  As we were at the grandparents’ we are doing the party in their Sukkah.  Check it out:

Sukkah entrance
Inside the Sukkah - the Little Rocker helped me make some of the chains that are hanging from the roof.

So I spent a three nights making these cookies – one night to bake, one night to cover in fondant and one night to add the details.  My darling daughter is obsessed with Elmo and Sesame Street, so I made Elmo and Big Bird cookies (if you use your imagination a little – but isn’t that what Sesame Street is all about – oh wait, that’s Barney).

The Little Rocker helps roll out the dough.

I got the Elmo one more or less down, until I realized that I didn’t have anything to make his fur look fluffy.  It was already 11:30 at night, and I just did not have the energy to make another batch of royal icing to make little tufts of “fur”, so Elmo has lost someof his hair.  The Big Birds were okay until I remembered that Big Bird has a yellow beak and not an orange one…

Rolling out the fondant

I ended up using fondant for the eyes, noses and Big Bird’s mouth, because I thought it would be easier, and I only used the royal icing for Elmo’s mouth and the pupils in the eyes – it definitely added.

Eyes on the cookies

Oh well,  the Little Rocker knew right away that they were supposed to be and as soon as she saw them she said “Elmo!” Okay that was after she said “Cookie!!”

Royal Icing
Don't they look just like Elmo and Big Bird? ;)

We are having a bunch of people over this afternoon to celebrate – pizza, Elmo cake, the whole kit and kaboodle.  Hope she enjoys!

Elmo! (Sorry the picture is a bit blurry, bad lighting!)

Here is the recipe from the Daring Baker’s site:

Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4″ Cookies

200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Directions
• Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming
creamy in texture.
Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during
baking, losing their shape.

• Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
Tip: I don’t have a stand mixer so I find it easier to switch to dough hooks at this stage to avoid
flour flying everywhere.

• Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.
• Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)
• Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an
hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and
then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.

• Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
• Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.
• Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour.
Tip: It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking.
• Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
• Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
• Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.
Tip: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in
some cookies being baked before others are done.

Tip: Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly.
• Leave to cool on cooling racks.
• Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.
Tip: If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated
cookies can last up to a month.

Royal Icing:

315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ – 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional

Directions

• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and
grease free.

• Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Coffee-Break Muffins

So as not to pull another last minute TWD baking, I decided to make these muffins on Thursday night.  Conveniently, our friends A. and E. came back from the US on Wednesday so they were able to join us and watch Empire Records together.  That is a classic movie that deserves to be watched every few months so that you always remember how to rock out.  I love the song at the end when Renee Zellweger sings “Sugarhigh”!  It’s probably my favorite part.  So while watching we had some of these muffins and fruit – you know, so that we wouldn’t starve before the Yom Kippur fast that started Friday night (I swear, what is it with Jews and food, either you’re eating too much or you’re not eating at all!!).

Batter - mixed up by hand!

The Little Rocker saw me pulling them out of the oven as she was about to go to bed, so I had to promise her that she could have one in the morning.  I know that I shouldn’t give her caffeine, but I have to be honest, I don’t feel a difference when I have coffee in food, and I don’t notice a difference in her either.

Filling the muffin cups.

Either way, this week’s recipe was hosted by Rhiani of Chocoholic Anonymous.  She chose these muffins, actually a recipe that I skipped over a few times because it didn’t seem my style, not sweet enough I think.  But for Tuesdays with Dorie – I will try anything.  These muffins mixed up in about five minutes (in between bathing the Little Rocker and getting her into pjs) and baked really quickly.  When we tried them, there were mixed reviews.  Everyone said that they tasted good, though Rocker Dude did say that they were a bit bitter.  Rocker Dude’s comment was that it was missing something sweet.  I told him that they didn’t have soymilk which is what I normally bake with, which adds a lot of richness to the end product.  So he said that next time I should add the soymilk, after all, who likes coffee without milk?

Coffee-Break Muffins

For the recipe, check out Rhiani’s blog here and see what other TWD bakers did here.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Peach Upside-Downer

Due to Rosh Hashana and all the holiday-ing that ensued, I was a bit behind on this week’s recipe.  I had bought peaches last week in anticipation (see, I am planning ahead!) but I did not have a chance to make the cake until Sunday night, which come to think of it is not that last minute.

I was really happy to see that Dorie provided the peach option for this cake as there is no way in heaven that I was going to be able to get my hands on fresh or frozen cranberries.  It’s just not a fruit that exists here in Israel (may have something to do with the climate, hmmm).  The most I can get are dried cranberries, or canned cranberry sauce imported from America.  Besides, it’s still peach season here, so why not take advantage?

This week’s recipe was hosted by Sabrina of Superfluous.  She just got married in August (actually on the same day as my brother!) so congratulations to her and her new husband and may they find only happiness together.

Sabrina picked the Cranberry Upside-Downer and I was really excited to make this.  I haven’t made an upside-down cake in a long time, in fact, I think I’ve only made one other upside-down cake ever.  (When I brought the cake into work on Monday, my coworker asked, “Why did you need to flip it over?”  I didn’t really have a good reason for that except that that’s what the recipe said.)  This cake turned out so easily and nothing got messed up when I flipped it over!

Margarine-sugar mixture waiting for placement of peaches (right next to break the fast potato-leek soup - mmmm)

I almost didn’t make this until Monday night because I was so tired.  Sunday was a fast day (almost like practice for the 25 hour long fast of Yom Kippur), and unfortunately, our air conditioning decided not to work on Saturday night, and on top of that, the Little Rocker decided to get up about four times during the night.  So we woke up on Sunday morning tired, already dehydrated and not ready for a fast day.  By the end of the day I was just so wiped that I almost went to sleep right after putting the Little Rocker to bed, but then I remembered this week’s recipe, and I sucked it up and made the cake.

So glad I did.

The hardest part of the cake was pitting and slicing the peaches – just goes to show how hard it was, and in about 20 minutes, I had the cake in the oven, smelling up the house.

Peaches are in!

Dorie recommends to eat the cake warm – no problem there, and when I tried the cake after it was done I was surprised.  I am used to apple cakes, and the peaches just added something special to the cake and made it just a little bit different.

Cake batter in and ready for the oven

In order to further our dieting goals, I decided to bring the cake to work so that we wouldn’t eat it all.  As I packed it up in the morning, Rocker Dude protested.  I asked if he wanted to try the cake (his excuse the night before was that he had already brushed his teeth, humph).  He said that he had planned on eating a slice for breakfast.  I offered to cut him a slice, but he declined.  I am not blaming him, he is under a crazy amount of stress, poor guy.  He just started a new job teaching high school English, and on top of that he has to defend his masters’ thesis on Monday – he’s a bit stressed – you can do it baby!

And when he passes (because I know he will) champagne and cheesecake for everyone!

Right, back to this week’s recipe – everyone, go get some peaches and make this cake!  But only if you want to eat something totally delicious.

Out of the oven!

Check out the recipe on Sabrina’s blog here and see what other TWD bakers did here.

Peach Upside-Downer

Summer’s last Hurrah!

I was browsing around on the blogosphere the other day and I came across this recipe for honeydew sorbet on Tartelette‘s website.  Helene has amazing recipes over there and is such a talented photographer that it is a pleasure to read her blog.  She just posted a recipe for watermelon and honeydew sorbets.  As I read that post, I could feel my mouth water (granted I was fasting at the time and anything liquid made my mouth water).

I immediately made a plan to go to the store on the way home and pick up some honeydew to make sorbet.  Watermelons are already out of season, so that will have to wait until next year.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an ice cream maker (yet!) so I had to make this by hand.  It came out more like a granita and not so sorbet-y but it is so refreshing.

We still have a couple more months of warm weather to look forward to, so I may make this again, and again, and again.

I tortured my friend S. with the thought of this sorbet while we were both fasting, so I invited her over tomorrow night to make up for it.

Honeydew Granita. I didn't take a lot of pictures, so try and get the idea from this one - sweet and fluffy!

Make this when it is hot out and enjoy!

Recipe (adapted from Tartelette):

4 cups of honeydew, cut into chunks

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp. lemon juice

Grind up the honeydew in the food processor until you get a smooth mixture.  Add the sugar and lemon juice.  Chill and then add to your ice cream maker to finish the process.

Or, place the honeydew mixture in the freezer and every two hours or so, scrape it down with a fork to break up the ice crystals.

Serve and enjoy!

Tuesdays with Dorie: Peanut Butter Crisscrosses

Peanut butter cookies – yum!  I have had my eye in these cookies for a while.  They look so good in the picture and look so easy too.  Rocker Dude, as usual, was a bit more hesitant and always steered me elsewhere.  But now I had an excuse and a reason why I had to make these cookies.

This week’s recipe was hosted by Jasmine of Jasmine Cuisine – thanks for choosing this recipe!

I took off work on Wednesday because the Little Rocker’s playgroup has a policy that after being off all of August, they like to ease back into service.  So Tuesday, the Little Rocker was in playgroup for two hours, Wednesday until 12:30 and Thursday until 5 pm.  Rocker Dude took off Tuesday, so Wednesday was my turn.  It was his first day teaching so there was no way he could take off.

Little Rocker with her new knapsack.

I decided that my day off would be super-productive.  After dropping off the Little Rocker at 7:30, I went to the store and did some grocery shopping.  There are a ton of sales now because of the holiday coming up (Rosh Hashana).  I shlepped it all home (now I don’t normally use Yiddish in my posts, but sometimes it just really expresses the reality – carrying 40 lbs. of groceries home – a 15 minute walk – was quite a shlep!), and then proceeded to bake.  I made the cinnamon swirl bread that TWD made a couple of months ago – it tasted just as good!  And I made these cookies (I also did laundry and cleaned the house, but who wants to hear about that?)

I was right, these cookies are really easy to make.  Pretty much mix everything and dump it in.  I did not add the peanuts in order to respect a certain person’s preference that there be no nuts in his food and they were still yummy.

Peanut butter cookies all laid out on a pan - ready to go in...

When the Little Rocker woke up from her three-hour long nap after coming home from playgroup, she had a hot cookie waiting for her, and she gobbled it up.  Rocker Dude’s comment was, “These are the best cookies you have made so far.”  Now he doesn’t really mean that because there are two cookies that he likes more, but of the cookies that I made for the TWD group, these are the best so far (maybe he was just remembering last week’s cookies and thought that anything was better than those!)

Afternoon snack of Peanut Butter Crisscrosses and milk - okay I didn't let the Little Rocker have all those cookies - I'm not that bad a mom! She had one, then dinner and then another one :)

Check out the recipe on Jasmine’s site here and see what other TWD bakers did here.