Sunday, December 7, 2014

Winter Sugar Cookies

I've learned from my mistakes: sugar cookies need body and flavor. Plain sugar cookies are fine, but I want something more. Enter this recipe. Vanilla. Lemon zest. Almond. And why not a little Rose Water for good measure? This recipe creates a workable dough and a flavorful sugar cookie, a perfect blank canvas for creativity.

I will say this: sugar cookies can be labor intensive. They take a lot of time, and usually by the time I'm finally ready to decorate them, I just want to be done with the whole project. Here's a quick breakdown of how I make sugar cookies easier and less laborious:

Day 1: make the dough
Day 2: roll out, cut, and bake the cookies
Day 3: decorate (plan for a minimum 3 hour process for an entire batch)
Day 4: give away (an extra day after decorating allows the royal icing to set properly)

3 - 4 days may seem time-consuming, but doing it all on one day makes for a long, frustrating day spent in the kitchen. Separating out the responsibilities makes each task manageable, even if it does require a little planning ahead. And when it comes to decorating cookies, I need all of the time and patience I can muster.

Sugar Cookies
yield: dependent on the size of the cookie cut outs, but 1 1/2 dozen larger snowflake-shaped cookies and over 1 dozen smaller star-shaped cookies

7/8 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
zest from 1 medium lemon

1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp other flavoring (as I mentioned above, I used Rose Water, but you could easily double up on vanilla)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and flavorings.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour and salt together.

Add the egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. It won't incorporate all that well, but mix it on medium low for about a minute. Gradually add in the flour. Only beat the mixture until it forms a dough. Avoid over-mixing which will cause cookies to spread.

Scrape dough out onto plastic wrap, form into a rectangle, wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Rolling out, Cutting, and Baking:

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Let the dough set out at room temperature while the oven preheats to make it easier to roll. Feel free to divide the dough in two to make it easier.

Roll the dough out to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut the dough into whatever shapes you like. Two different sizes of cookie cutters will help you make the most use out of your first rolling out of dough. Re-roll the dough scraps once. After that, bake the scraps for snacks and icing practice. Here, I used a snowflake cookie cutter and a smaller star cookie cutter. I got 12 snow cookies and 12 smaller stars on the first rolling out.

Place cookies on baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart and bake for  11 -13 minutes until set and barely beginning to brown on the edges. Time will vary based on the size of your cookies, so my smaller star cookies only took about 8-10 minutes.

Royal Icing
yield: more than enough to frost the above recipe of sugar cookies

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp warm water
3 tbsp meringue powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tarter 
1 lbs powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the water, meringue powder, and vanilla by hand. Whisk in the cream of tarter. Add all of the confectioner's sugar and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment for 10 minutes. Divide out dough and tint with color as necessary.

Decorating Process:

One batch royal icing
White sanding sugar
White, blue, and silver sugar pearls

One piping bag for each color of icing, fitted with a plain round size 3 piping tip

For each color of frosting you use, you will need two separate amounts of frosting: one for the outline, and one to fill in each cookie. So for a light blue cookie, I have two bowls of light blue frosting. One is just like the frosting in the recipe, and the other had a little water (a couple teaspoons to about 1/2 cup frosting) added to make it thinner and more spreadable.

Using the frosting as made in the recipe, pipe an outline around each cookie using a size 3 plain round piping tip. If the frosting is difficult to pipe, remove the frosting from the bag, stir in a little (about 1 tsp) water, and start again. Then, use a small spatula to spread some of the thinner frosting to fill in each outline.

I found it easier to pipe all of the outlines before flooding the cookies with thinner frosting.

I placed some sugar pearls on the still wet royal icing. Then, I sprinkled with white sanding sugar, giving the snow-affect look on your cookie. The sugar pearls worked out great, particularly the blue and the grey ones. White ones got lost in the royal icing and sanding sugar.

If I were to do these again, I would definitely use less blue dye. The blue worked on the smaller stars, but it really overpowered the larger ones. The packaged pretty ones and the rejects (that still make for nice decoration):

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ginger Molasses Cookies

When fall comes around, I can't help but to make a batch of these wonderful, warmly spiced cookies. They have a real zing to them thanks to candied ginger and a spicy glaze. If anything, I may try to add more molasses in the future, just to up the smoky aspect of these tasty, chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
yield: about 16 rather large cookies

2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp cornstarch

3/4 cup unsalted butter, browned*
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses

1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vanilla

1 cup candied ginger pieces, finely chopped*
Extra sugar for rolling

Glaze and garnish

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp ginger ale

1/4 cup candied ginger pieces, chopped finely and coated in sugar

In a large bowl, combine flour and all of the dry goods and spices. Whisk together to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine cooled brown butter, brown sugar, and molasses. Mix on medium speed until combined (though the mixture may appear separated and weird right now, the eggs will emulsify it).

Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing for 30 seconds to 1 minute on medium speed until homogeneous and lighter in color.

With the mixer running on low, gradually add in the dry ingredients until all are incorporated. Stir in the chopped candied ginger pieces. Transfer dough to a bowl and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.*

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop and roll dough into balls and flatten into discs. Coat in sugar and place on baking sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 325 until just beginning to brown at the edges. The cookies may still be soft or puffed in the center; this is perfectly fine. To make glazing the cookies easier, when they come out of the oven press a bowl or glass on each cookie to make a slight indentation. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the glaze:

In a small bowl, whisk the confectioner's sugar and ground ginger together. Add the ginger ale and whisk until smooth. Spread on cooled cookies, topping with extra ginger. Let the cookies sit for about an hour for the glaze to harden.

A couple quick notes:
  • Brown butter by heating it in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir it constantly with a silicone spatula, scraping along the bottom. The butter will melt, foam, and then become clear before it starts browning. The whole process takes about 7-8 minutes and is worth perfecting (I personally use browned butter in most (if not all) of my cookie recipes).
  • Candied ginger can be expensive and of low quality if you purchase from larger grocery store chains like Kroger. I get mine from Trader Joe's, but you could make your own or buy online as well.
  • You will give your forearms a great workout by chopping candied ginger. Seriously.
  • Personally, I love refrigerating cookie dough; the cookies seem to bake more evenly and the flavor is more evenly dispersed as well. These are also great cookies to roll into balls, press together and freeze for your own break-and-bakes. You can bake these immediately, but the cooking time will likely be lessened.
  • The glaze is delicious and gingery. Feel free to opt in your favorite cream cheese frosting for it though!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chocolate Truffle Confections

I've been on a candy kick. Typically, I hate 'candy.' Sour patch kids (where are the sour patch parents?), twizzlers (licorice in any form), starbursts (anything that removes teeth)... none of it ever appealed to me.

But chocolate? That is another matter entirely.

Here are two very different recipes for truffles, a classic confection. The first is a firmer truffle. The second is almost pillowy soft. Both recipes require a little patience; a lot of chilling and waiting is involved, but the wait is worth it. Both recipes were published originally in years-old issues of Bon Apetit magazine, but I've modified them slightly after some experimenting.

Pillowy soft Balsamic Truffles coated in cocoa powder

Balsamic Truffles
yield: about 24 truffles

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar

9oz dark chocolate, chopped

cocoa powder for coating

Bring cream to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, stir 7 ounces (not exact) in metal bowl over simmering water until melted. Stir in remaining 2 ounces of chocolate to temper. Stir until smooth.

Add the balsamic vinegar to the lukewarm cream and stir the cream mixture into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Taste and add more balsamic vinegar if you want a little extra punch. Otherwise, chill until firm enough to roll, about 3 hours.

Roll about 2 tsp of truffle base into balls. Place on a plate to chill. Once cold, coat with cocoa powder and transfer to a plate. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Enjoy!

Earl Grey truffles coated in toasted almonds

Earl Grey Truffles
yield: about 24 truffles

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
3 Earl Grey teabags
8 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tbsp orange curacao (optional, and other liqueurs may be used*)
1/8 tsp salt

1/2 sliced almonds, toasted, for coating

Empty the tea from the tea bags in a small bowl. Bring the cream and sugar to just a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot cream directly over the tea. Cover and let steep 20 minutes.

In another small saucepan heat the butter and chocolate together over low heat until melted and smooth. Careful not to overheat. Transfer to medium bowl.

Once the cream has steeped, sieve the cream, to remove the tea leaves, into the chocolate mixture. Stir to combine. Add the curacao and salt, stirring to combine. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill until firm, about 4 hours.

Roll about 2 tsp of the truffle base into balls. Place on a parchment-paper lined tray and chill until firm, about an hour. Coat in toasted almonds or cocoa powder. Chill until firm again, about 1 hour. Enjoy!

*Originally, this was a substitution out of necessity. The recipe called for brandy, but I felt the orange notes of the curacao would marry well with the bergamot in the Earl Grey tea, and I was very pleased with the results.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Apple Spice Cake

A Jam Cake (recipe to come) is to my memories of Kentucky winter what an Apple Spice Cake is to my Kentucky fall. And with autumn right around the corner, this classic Apple Spice Cake, updated with a browned butter caramel sauce, has been on my mind.

Apple Spice Cake
yield: 1 ten-inch bundt cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt

1 cup oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
4 eggs

4 cups diced Granny Smith apples (about 3 medium-large apples)
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans (or walnuts)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. To easily butter and flour a bundt pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a small bowl and combine it with 1 tbsp of flour. Brush the paste into the bottom and sides of the pan.

Peel the apples and quarter them. Remove the fragment of core from each quarter with a diagonal cut. Slice each quarter in half, lengthwise and dice the halves into even-sized cubes. Place the dices apples in a bowl of salted water (or lemon water) to prevent browning. Lightly toast pecans or walnuts in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, but leave the oven set to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat oil, apple sauce, and sugars until smooth. Add vanilla followed by the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the oil and sugar mixture. Mix to combine, and then add the remaining dry ingredients. Drain the apples and fold them in along with the pecans. Pour mixture in the prepared pan, spreading to evenly distribute and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted midway between the edge and center comes out clean. Personally, I have a darker bundt pan from Williams Sonoma. The cake baked in about an hour and twenty minutes at 325 degrees, so be aware and adjust cooking times based on your cake pan. 

Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before loosening the cake with a knife, inverting the cake, removing it from the pan, and allowing it to cool completely. Brush about half a cup caramel sauce over cake to make it look glossy and beautiful. Serve the rest along side.

Brown Butter Salted Caramel Sauce
yield: about two cups of caramel

4 tbsp of butter

2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup water

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp finely ground sea salt
1 tbsp bourbon? Sure, why not.

Begin by browning the butter in a saucepan. Set aside to cool. In the same pan (if you're bold and confident in your caramel-making abilities) place the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Swirl the pan intermittently to prevent scorching and encourage even browning. After about 6-7 minutes at a steady boil, the mixture should be golden. Continue to boil for another minute or two until the mixture is a deep amber. Deep amber is the goal regardless of how long it may take to get there, but be watchful.

Remove from heat. Add in the cream all at once. The mixture will spit and sputter and be all kinds of angry; just whisk it until it calms down. Add in the sour cream, salt, and reserved brown butter. Whisk to combine. Feel free to add a tbsp of bourbon if you're feeling extra frisky. Cool the mixture or refrigerate until ready to use. This can be made two days in advance. Warm slightly before pouring over cake.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gratuitous Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter: An American delicacy and a personal obsession. These are peanut butter cupcakes with a thin coat of peanut butter, peanut butter frosting, and crunchy, salty honey-roasted peanuts on top. Of course, just the cupcakes and frosting are delightful in their own right without going to the extra trouble.

If you love peanut butter, this is the cupcake for you.

Peanut Butter Cupcakes
yield: 24 cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural peanut butter (personally, I used Jif natural creamy)
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

extra peanut butter (optional)
honey-roasted nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 if using dark pans like mine). Line two muffin tins with 24 cupcake liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and peanut butter, adding sugar and continuing to cream until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on medium speed). Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine. Add in the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Divide batter among cupcake tin, using scant 1/4 cup of batter per cupcake. Bake in preheated oven for 15 - 18 minutes (18-20 if using dark pans) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely. If you're feeling frisky, smear the top of each cupcake with a dab of peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural peanut butter
3/4 tsp salt
4 - 5 cups powdered sugar
4 - 6 tbsp cream

Cream the butter, peanut butter, and salt until homogenous and lightened in color and texture (about 3 minutes on medium-high speed). Add in 3 tbsp of the cream and mix. Next, add 3 cups of the confectioner's sugar. The mixture, at this stage, should be stiff for frosting. Add the remaining cream alternately with the remaining sugar until desired sweetness/consistency has been reached*. Pipe onto cupcakes and top with lightly chopped honey-roasted peanuts.

*Personally, I like a lighter, less sweet frosting, so I tend to use 6 tbsp of cream and 4 - 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar in the end.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Raspberry Chocolate Cake

This was inspired by this Raspberry Chocolate Cake over at Ambrosia Baking. However, I really do like my chocolate cake and frosting recipe, so I thought I would adapt them and add a delicious raspberry filling.

Raspberry filling

1 cup raspberry jam (about an entire small jar)
1 cup fresh raspberries
lemon or lime juice

This filling is a total cheat.

Mix the jam and fresh raspberries together with a fork. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and stir. Taste and check for consistency. Cover and chill. This can be made two days in advance.*

Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk, shaken**
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup coffee, fresh and hot

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 if using dark pans). Butter two 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment and sides of the pan, sprinkling with cocoa powder or flour to ensure easy removal.

Sift together dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and vanilla, whisking to combine. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually pour in the wet ingredients into the dry goods. Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer continuing on low speed, pour in the hot coffee. Scrape and mix until combined and homogenous (the batter will be a bit thin).

Divide between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 27-32 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 30 minutes and then turn out to cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting

6 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup cocoa
2 - 2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes on medium high speed. Mix in the vanilla until incorporated.

With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the melted chocolate. Once incorporated, add the cocoa and half of the confectioner's sugar. Cream until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add in the remaining confectioner's sugar based on your personal taste. Frost cake.


Cut cake layers in half with a serrated knife. Place one layer on a cake board that is on a cake turner. Spread about 1/2 of the raspberry filling over the layer. Top with the second layer and spread about 1/2 cup frosting over. Top with another layer, spreading with the raspberry filling. At this point, I cover the cake and chill briefly.

Frost cake with remaining frosting. I whipped some cream and used some remaining raspberries, inspired by the Ambrosia Baking decoration.

*If you're concerned the filling is too thin, remove about half a cup and place into a microwave-safe bowl. Whisk in about 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tbsp cornstarch. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and microwave again until the mixture is bubbly and noticeably thicker. This will ensure the cornstarch activates. Once thickened, whisk into the rest of the filling. Cover and chill to completely set.

**I have this fondness for dry buttermilk powder. In place of the buttermilk, I mix in 4 tbsp of the dry buttermilk powder into the dry ingredients. For the liquid, you can use just about anything, but for this cake, I actually prefer 1 cup coffee, room temperature. The extra cup really provides a bold coffee flavor.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Beer Cupcakes

When I came across this recipe over at The Seaside Baker, I knew I had to try them! I have made beer cookies before, cooking down the beer to a rich, flavorful syrup. However, I had never considered using beer in cupcakes. These were delightful, and I will definitely be making them again!

Beer Cupcakes
yield: about 20 cupcakes

1 cup butter, melted
1 1/3 cups sugar

2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup craft beer, I used Tap Room Number 21's Amber Ale

3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 (or 325 if using dark pans) and line two cupcake tins with 20 liners. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until a homogenous, wet, sandy mixture forms, about 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs, beating to combine, followed by the vanilla. With the mixer running on low speed, add the beer and mix until homogenous (at this stage, the batter is quite thin).

With the mixer continuing on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Avoid over-mixing. I found the batter thickened nicely, even after I had stopped mixing. Divide the batter between the liners, filling each liner about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
yield: enough to frost about 20 cupcakes

3/4 cup butter, softened
8oz cream cheese, softened

3 1/2 - 4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cream

Cream the butter and cream cheese until combined. Add in one cup of the powdered sugar and mix to combine. Add in the vanilla, followed by another cup of the powdered sugar. Alternate remaining powdered sugar and cream until the desired consistency and sweetness is reached (I prefer a less-sweet frosting, so I wound up using about 3 1/2 cups of the sugar). Beat on high for 3-5 minutes. THe frosting will be light, airy, and will pipe beautifully. Frost the cupcakes.


1 cup crushed pretzels
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
melted chocolate

Top each cupcake with pretzels, peanuts, and melted chocolate as you see fit.