Wednesday, April 17, 2013


When you hear the word "Ganache", do you automatically search for a different recipe without such a scary word? It's ok, I used to do the same thing.  It is such a serious baking term that many think you need culinary training to create it.  Do you know what it is? It's melted chocolate with cream.  Still sound hard? I didn't think so.

The silly thing is that it is so simple to make and very popular, but most people don't really know what it is.  Yet it makes a huge difference when talking about dessert.  If you go to a restaurant and the waiter asks, "Would you like plain cheesecake with melted chocolate on top?" you wouldn't be as excited to say yes as you would be if he said, "Would you like a New York cheesecake with a ganache?"  Apparently there is something in a name when it comes to dessert.  Sorry Shakespeare, a dessert by any other name would not sound as sweet.

So, let's break it down.  Ganache is literally heated cream poured over chopped up chocolate (or chocolate chips) and combined.  Simple.  Now, let's dress it up just for fun.  It's kind of like when you get a beer in a keg cup versus a frosted mug…there is just something about the frosted mug that makes it seem to taste better, right? Am I the only one that thinks that?

Here you can find the printable version.

Instructions: (These can be altered depending on what type of chocolate you prefer, it is a very forgiving recipe.  But the better quality of chocolate the better the ganache will be).

1 C. Heavy Cream
10 oz. Chocolate, chopped*

*The type of chocolate is up to you, as long as you prefer dark chocolate.  White chocolate and milk chocolate are made a little differently than dark chocolate, so you need to change the recipe if you are wanting to make anything other than dark chocolate. But within dark chocolate you have a variety of choices based on the percentage of cocoa content.  The higher the percentage, the more bitter and dark the chocolate will be.  The lower the percentage, the sweeter it will be…but that doesn't mean it is anything like milk chocolate.  If you are good with algebra, here is a basic formula to help you remember which type of chocolate you want.  

Dark Chocolate = Sugar + Cocoa 
*There are a few other ingredients, but for the purpose of this helpful tip just focus on these two ingredients.

So, the more cocoa means less sugar and therefor more bitter.  Less cocoa means more sugar and a sweeter taste.

Ok, let's move on to actually making this delicious treat.

Step 1.  Chop up your chocolate into small pieces, large ones will not melt so make sure they are at least 1/4 inch.  Or you can use chocolate chips but you might need to reduce your cream to 2/3 of a cup.  Place your chocolate into a metal bowl, or plastic if that is all you have but make sure it is heatproof.

Step 2.  Pour cream into large pan and put over medium-high heat on stove.  Continue heating until boiling, which means that it actually rises and creates large bubbles throughout the entire pan.  Be careful because milk can heat fast and boil over very easy. Keep stirring so that the bottom doesn't burn.

Step 3.  Pour boiling milk into melt bowl over chocolate pieces, but don't stir quite yet.  You need to let the heat of the milk begin melting the chocolate, so wait a few minutes.  Then take a whisk and mix it until smooth.

Boiling heavy cream is poured onto chocolate...

Melted chocolate begins to mix together with cream...

…and this is ganache!

At this point, you have ganache…congratulations! But why stop here when you could easily do a few more steps and REALLY impress people!

Plain Ganache: Simply let the ganache cool after you have mixed it thoroughly, then dip your dessert into it.  Just remember that it is hot, so depending on what you are coving with the glaze be cautious.  If you are coving a cupcake the heat won't affect it as much as a strawberry or ice cream bar.

Glazed Ganache:  Make sure the ganache has cooled but still in liquid form, and that the dessert you are glazing is colder than the ganache. Pour the ganache over the center of the dessert and let it spread out naturally.  As you pour it will spill over the sides and, depending on the look you are going for, you can leave it as is or smooth it out with a spatula.  Once you have covered the dessert to your satisfaction, chill for about 30 minutes to let the glaze set up.

Whipped Ganache:  This requires you to chill the ganache overnight and then bring it back to room temp to whip.  Once you have it back to room temperature, all you need to do is put the whisk attachment on your mixer and whip it for a few minutes, or until it looks fluffy.  Be careful not to over whip, though, because it will start to look grainy.  This makes a really tasty filler between layers, but it also is a delicious frosting if you like dark chocolate.

Ganache Icing:  This is a bit of a marriage between American icing and ganache. Let the ganache cool to room temperature, you can even leave it out overnight with plastic wrap over the top to prevent a film. Then mix in a half cup of butter, one small chunk at a time, and 2 cups of powdered sugar.  This will lead to a much sweeter taste, obviously, which might be better for kid parties who don't tend to like the bitterness of dark chocolate.

Whipped Ganache…yum...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There aren't too many things in this world that just make you feel complete and utter happiness…outside of baking of course. Because when it comes to baking, there are few times I am unhappy. For instance, looking at the dishes in the sink after I have put my last pan of cookies in the oven. Or hearing from your husband, "I love your baking, but I seriously don't think I can sample another cookie today." But all that is washed away when I see people enjoying wonderful food that they have baked from scratch in the comfort of their own home from my recipes. So thank you for reading, trying and reporting back to me on your adventures of baking. I love hearing from you how recipes went!

Now today's blog is a recipe that stems from many versions that have been around the world a few times, but never gets old. I've tried more chocolate chip cookie recipes than I can remember and they all consisted of the same ingredients with slight alterations to the quantity. Some called for more flour, making the cookies much more cake like, while others added more butter or salt. It wasn't until I found a recipe from Apple a Day that something new caught my eye: Corn Starch.

So naturally, I had to try it.  Could there be anything more mouth watering than a fluffy, chocolatey, warm cookie? You tell me, here is a picture of my 100th batch of these cookies…I just can't seem to stop baking them.

What makes this recipe different? Hm, how do I explain it….

Do you sample the cookie dough before you bake it? Yeah, I know it has raw egg in it and you could get sick from eating it….but be honest, do you? Do you perhaps arrange your cookies on the baking sheet in such a way that, oops, there's just a little extra dough that won't fit…better eat it??? Have you ever secretly made the cookie dough and stuck it in the freezer to nibble on when nobody was looking? It's ok, you can tell me. I love cookie dough, it is my secret passion.  I think I might actually like it better than the actual cookie when baked.  And that is why I love this recipe.  Once you have baked the delicious dough, the cookie still has the same taste.  It tastes like dough! It just comes with a little crunchy outer shell and is combined with melted chocolate.  Trust me, it is good.

Because everyone is different, I will admit that I love a ooey-gooey center for my chocolate chip cookies.  I detest the cake version where they puff up super high, but I'm not judging if you do.  This recipe is very simple to edit so that your cookies will puff up; simply add more flour.  The corn starch does make a difference though.  But what does the corn starch do, you wonder? Well, don't worry.  I didn't know either and had to Google what makes corn starch different from baking powder/soda…and for that matter, baking powder vs. baking soda.

This is what I found. The three are similar but totally different.  Confused? Think about roses; they are all the same plant, but they can look completely different.  Here is a break down:

  • Corn Starch:  Primarily used for thickeners and stabilizers in liquids (like gravy). When heated, it expands and unwinds, then starts to bond together when the hot liquid (like melting butter) moves around them. After a while, the bonds are formed and they begin to absorb the hot liquid. This allows the cookie, for example, to retain moisture while not being too gooey.  If you watch a cookie baking, it will transfer from the dough ball, to a sort of wet looking puddle, then slowly lifts into a normal cookie form.
  • Baking Soda:  Consist mostly of sodium bicarbonate, which means that a recipe needs an acidic ingredient to activate it.  This includes things like buttermilk, lemon juice or brown sugar.  (Why is brown sugar acidic? Because brown sugar is made up of cane sugar and molasses, which is acidic.  See all the stuff you are learning!).  So baking soda produces gas immediately when contacted with the acidic ingredient and your dough will begin rising the minute you mix it in.  (Another reason why you wait unit the end to add your "dry" ingredients).
  • Baking Powder:  This combines baking soda, corn starch and one or more acidic salts (cream of tartar and calcium aluminum phosphate).  Baking powder creates a little gas when you first mix it, but even more once the salts fully dissolve, and even a bit more when you put it in the oven.  It usually needs heat to fully work.
Now, don't you feel all smart and scientific! Who knew there was so much in such a little ingredient! What's that…you have no idea what sodium bicarbonate is? Ok, let me explain. They all do the same thing, right...just slightly different; baking soda helps the dough rise immediately, baking powder rises when heated mostly, and corn starch is a bit of a hybrid.

Ok, now on to the actual baking.  Here is the printable version, but don't worry about me going into too much detail about something that everyone has made using some form of the recipe.  I mostly just wanted to share with you how corn starch can make a difference.  It is also a cheap way to bake with your kids or for a quick pick me up after a rough day. For about two dozen cookies, it only costs a little over $3.  Now, go clean your kitchen and tape your recipe to the cabinet…it's time to bake!


3/4 C. Butter
3/4 C. Brown Sugar
1/4 C. Sugar
1 Egg
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 C. Four
2 tsp. Cornstarch
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 C. Chocolate Chips

Step 1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt in small bowl. If you are wondering why you have to sift, I made a little video showing you how much extra flour there really is after sifting.

Step 2. Beat butter until smooth, then add brown sugar and white sugar.  Mix until evenly distributed.

Look at how beaten down that butter is.  When you add the sugar make sure you mix it enough.
The picture in the middle is not mixed enough…keep mixing until it looks like the right photo.

Step 3. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until smooth again.

Step 4. Slowly add in dry ingredients, scraping sides as needed, until dough is firm and pulling away from the wall. Now like I said, I don't love a big cookie so I don't add extra flour. But if you do, then add a half cup at a time until it fully pulls away from the wall. If you aren't sure, go ahead and take a small dough ball out, stick a couple chocolate chips on top and bake it by itself. If it doesn't puff up enough, add more to the mix. (Then eat the test cookie while you mix it!)

Step 5. Add desired amount of chocolate chips, stirring until they are evenly distributed. I like to have every bite filled with a couple chocolate chips, so I put in a few extra handfuls! Most recipes will tell you to hand stir it in, I don't. Just use the mixer, it will be fine. Actually, in my opinion, it will be better because the mixer will chip off the chips (sorry, couldn't help myself) and those little bits of chocolate will melt into yummy hints of chocolate, while the larger chips will melt like normal. It's kind of like dusting the chocolate chip cookies with a little extra chocolate!

Step 6. Make 1” dough balls and place them on a cookie sheet approximately 2” apart.  They will spread as they bake. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to brown and the tops look dry. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes after removing from oven, then grab some milk and dig in!

A helpful tip for baking: Have an adorable cookie jar. It is fun to fill, and even more fun to empty!

Happy Baking!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Coconut Bread

Coconut Bread…could anything sound more intriguing? Last night I was thinking about how fast spring has come and how beautiful this time of year is with the bulbs blooming and the trees blossoming, the smell of fresh cut grass in the air and warm days playing in the yard with my kids.  I felt like baking something that was spring-ish.  So, instead of searching through my pile of yummy sounding recipes, I simply googled "must bake bread".  That's how I came across this recipe from smittenkitchen for coconut bread. I had never heard of such a thing, but it sounded like something that I would have to make first thing in the morning.

If you are wanting something to put turkey and mayo on, then keep on going because this is as much "bread" as zucchini bread.  In other words, slab a bit of butter on the top and eat as a snack! This is a quick bread, which means that it doesn't have any yeast to activate and let rise.  It is simple, delicious and (obviously) quick.

Just look at that heavenly thing!

I love this bread for many different reasons.  First, I love the level of sweetness.  Note that I didn't say I loved how sweet it is.  It isn't a real sugary-sweet bread, but it has this subtle hint of sweet that comes from the coconut.  The second thing I love is the touch of cinnamon.  I'm not a huge fan of cinnamon because it can over power everything.  But in this recipe it is just a slight taste at the end of each bite.  Finally, I love the texture of this bread.  The outside is the perfect "soft" crunch (for those who don't speak in the same code as I do, this means that it is firm but not crispy), and the inside is fluffy and chewy.  How can it be fluffy AND chewy, you ask? Well the bread itself is very fluffy but the shredded coconut  remains just slightly chewy (just like when you happen to take a pinch from your recipe while baking to…um, taste test).  Overall, I would have to simply say that this bread is my favorite of all quick breads.

It is also really pretty inexpensive to make, as far as store bought specialty breads go. You can see my cost of ingredients list to see how this recipe breaks down if you want.  Your overall cost might be different if you buy generic store brands, catch a great sale or use slightly different ingredients (such as substituting all-purpose flour for bread flour).  For one 9 x 5" loaf, it cost me a total of $4.14.  It was more expensive than other quick breads because the coconut is a bit more expensive than such things as zucchini or banana.  But it was still worth it! This is a really great gift to bring as a hostess gift or to new neighbors because they will be impressed with such a unique bread and think you've slaved away in the kitchen to make it (but really it only will take you about 30 minutes of prep work and an hour to bake).

If you want a simple step by step printable version, click here. For those that enjoy my process of baking, read on and enjoy…just try not to slobber on your screen!

Do you see the yummy bits of coconut!?!
As usual, make sure you have a clean kitchen to start with.  It really does make baking so much easier if you have a clean area to begin in.  Then print out the recipe and tape it to the fridge, microwave or cabinets…pretty much anywhere up high and off your counters where you will know it will be there and you can easily read the ingredients and steps.


2 Eggs
1 1/4 C. Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 1/2 C. Bread Flour (Substitute All-purpose if you wish)
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, Ground
1 C. Sugar
1 1/2 C. Coconut, Shredded and Sweetened
6 Tbsp. Butter, softened (not melted)

Step 1. Sift the bread flour (or all-purpose flour if you don't want to buy bread flour), salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a large bowl. 
  • Sifting all-purpose flour is really important because it settles into clumps and you will end up adding too much flour if you don't sift it.  What you need to do is take 2 1/2 cups of flour and sift it twice, then remeasure.  Most likely, you will have closer to 3 cups.  If you aren't sure how to sift, it is easiest to sift over a sheet of parchment paper, then fold that sifted flour back into the sifter over a second sheet of parchment.  Then fold that parchment paper and pour into a measuring cup. 
  • Bread flour will give you a bit more chewy texture because it will retain gas while it bakes, but all-purpose will work too.  
Step 2.  Stir in the sugar and coconut into the flour mixture and make a well in the bottom of it.  
It's hard to see from this picture, but I pushed the dry mix up from the center out
to make a small hole in the center for the milk mixture to be poured into.
Step 3. In small bowl, mix milk, vanilla and eggs with a fork until blended.  Add to the well of dry goods and mix until just combined.  

Step 4.  Stir in softened butter until evenly mixed, but don't over mix. 
  • Mix by hand, don't worry you probably won't burn too many calories…it isn't that hard to do. The reason for hand mixing is because mixers will over mix the batter, causing your bread to have holes inside while it bakes, creating tunnels that allow moisture to escape.  This leads to tough loaves instead of glorious, fluffy loaves.

Step 5. Prepare your 9 x 5 bread pan by spraying it with nonstick spray, laying parchment paper on the bottom and then spraying again.  Make sure the sides aren't completely covered.

Step 6. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for about an hour.  I have a convection oven that usually requires me to bake goods for a bit longer, so I ended up baking mine for an additional 30 minutes. Just make sure that a toothpick will come out clean when inserted into the middle.  Try to insert the toothpick in a "crack" on top of the bread to get a more accurate reading.

Look at that glorious baby baking…this is when the smell engulfs you and might feel inclined
to rip it out of the pan and shove your whole face in the center…try not to do that.
Step 7.  Once you have a golden top and a clean toothpick, remove it from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 10 - 15 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on rack…if you can stand to wait much longer.  (I couldn't! I sliced that lovely loaf and smacked some butter on it as soon as those 10 minutes were up! I was not disappointed.)

This bread is so delicious without anything, but it is even better when butter is melted on top from the warm slices. It doesn't need any jam, though I suppose you could try it.  If so, let me know how it is because my loaf only lasted one day! Which reminds me, don't worry about how to store this.  Simply leave it on your cutting board for about an hour and people will become intoxicated by the smell and come knocking at your door.  

Enjoy your bread! I would love to hear any comments from you; success, failure, questions or anything! Happy Baking!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lion Cake

Over this last weekend, I worked on my first lion cake to celebrate my son's first birthday. I can't believe how fast and wonderful this last year was. My kids have blessed my life with all their laughter, hugs and kisses. I wouldn't change them for anything.

So because my son is so wonderful and sweet, I wanted to make him an awesome first cake to dig into. This post is mostly about the construction of the cake instead of the baking process. But, unfortunately, I didn't take pictures throughout the process. I was a little stretched this weekend by planning my son's party and making 48 cupcakes for a friend, while trying to keep my three year old out of the frosting and make semi healthy meals for the family (I won't lie, I made a lot of chicken nuggets and Mac N' Cheese). But it was a fun weekend, the cake turned out really good and my son loved it. That's all that matters.

So here is the finished product:

The face of the lion is my Fluffy Chocolate cake and the cupcake mane is a vanilla cake.
The frosting a new type of buttercream (well, new to me that is) called German buttercream. Apparently there are many types of buttercream and the main difference between them is how you cook the sugar. I'll do a blog of the German buttercream next because it was delicious!
The accents are chocolate American buttercream for the nose and mouth, and green American buttercream eyes. The whiskers are piped milk chocolate that have cooled and hardened.

The eyes are cupcakes that I individually frosted and stacked onto of the face, which I also did with the mouth but I used a heart shaped pan.  The german buttercream was so easy to use and spread so smoothly that I will definitely be using it again next time I need to make a cake without fondant.  

For the mane, I used Wilton tip #2 and piped a bunch of fur.  I used my favorite Wilton disposable bags and just cut a small tip of the end to pipe the milk chocolate whiskers onto parchment paper and let them cool until firm.

Lastly, I put all the pieces of the puzzle together with parchment paper under the face, cupcakes around that and stuck the whiskers into the muzzle.  My son loved it and couldn't get enough.  I feel this is just the beginning of his deep love of baked goods. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fluffy Chocolate Cupcakes

Fluffy Chocolate Cupcakes? Oh, yes...

Here is the recipe for one of the most moist chocolate cakes I have ever had.  Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of chocolate cake.  It tends to be either too dense or too bland. So why do a blog on something that I don't love? Because I'm never happy until I've searched across the world to find a recipe for everything baked that tastes wonderful. Now, with peace of mind, I can say that I found a chocolate cake recipe that I actually love.  Adapted from Bake Happy, I altered it a little because I prefer a little egg in my cakes.

I love making cakes (or cupcakes in this example) because there usually aren't too many steps.  It's very simple and yet turns out so yummy. But, for those of you that don't enjoy reading every OCD step I do to make a cake, here is the printable version of the recipe.

Prep-Step 1: Get Organized! Print out the recipe and tape it to your cupboard or fridge.  Look over the ingredients to make sure you have everything you need.

Prep-Step 2: Prepare your pan.  If you are using a cupcake pan, then line them with paper.  But if you are using a 8" or 9" pan to make a round cake there is a very simple way to ensure a perfect way to remove the cake from the pan after baking.  First, spray the pan with a nonstick spray such as Pam.  Then line the pan with parchment paper, but make sure not to use wax paper.  Wax paper can't stand the heat like parchment paper so never use it in an oven! Finally, spray the pan once more with Pam after laying the parchment paper on the bottom.  Don't worry about the parchment paper lining up perfecting in the pan, it doesn't need to be perfect.  Just have it cover most of the bottom and your cake will flip out of this pan so perfectly after it has cooled!

Ok, let's get started!

1 ½ C. Sugar
½ C. Mayonnaise*
1 Egg Yolk**
2 C. Cake Flour***
½ C. Cocoa
1 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 ½ C. Water
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Step 1: Combine sugar, mayonnaise and egg yolk in mixing bowl. If you need a tutorial on an easy way to separate an egg, here is a video I made. Beat together until smooth.

Step 2: In separate bowl, whisk together cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder. Whisking simply breaks up the clumps of cocoa and flour, plus mixes in the baking powder and baking soda evenly. See how fluffy it looks!

Step 3: Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the water into the sugar mixture.  Don't over mix the batter.  You want to have the dry ingredients just starting to blend in before adding part of the water.

Tip:  Make sure you are measuring your water accurately.  You need to let the water settle, then get eye level with it to make sure it is the correct amount.  Often times, people miss measure because they are looking from above.  I've posted three different shots of how to view the water.  The picture on the left shows viewing the water from above…looks like its a bit more than 1 ½ cups, right? Well the top right picture is the same amount, only viewed from eye level.  If you look closely, it is actually less than 1 ½ cups.  You want the line of water to be just above you measurement line.  The bottom right picture is an accurate measurement of 1 ½ cups of water.

Step 4: Add vanilla extract and blend together. Don't worry if your batter looks a bit "soupy", that is normal.

Step 5: Pour into prepared pan.  I prefer to use an ice cream scoop because it keeps each cupcake evenly filled and prevents drips between cupcakes. 

*Ignore the orange sprinkles in some of the liners.  I wanted to see if they
would evenly melt to the bottom of the cupcake…they didn't.  
See how even they are!
Step 6: Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes for cupcakes (less if you are making mini-cupcakes) or 40-50 minutes for round cakes. To see if they are fully baked, try gently (and I mean gently) wiggling the pan to see if any cupcakes jiggle…nobody likes jiggle so stick it back in. If it doesn't jiggle, then do the spring back test. For a video tutorial, click here. But basically, you gently press your finger down on the top of the cupcake and if it springs back then it is done. If it doesn't then you need to put it back in the oven for a couple more minutes. It's always a good idea to start with fewer minutes and testing it, than to bake the full time and end up with over done cake (which will also dry it out).

Try to let it cool in the pan before tasting them….if you can! This will finalize the baking process since the hot pan will continue to bake the cake.  Make sure the cake is completely cooled before frosting it.

So I wanted to try a whipped chocolate ganache frosting, but lacked ingredients and time to go to the store.  So I made a basic chocolate buttercream, not my favorite but it is ok.  I'll do a blog for the frosting if anyone is interested, but really it isn't worth it.  It is simply butter, milk, cocoa powder and a bunch of powdered sugar.  What I didn't care for is that it tastes too sweet with all the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder left tiny clumps and tasted too "cocoa powdery".  You know the taste; unsweetened, little fake and not really blended into the frosting. 

That said, frosting is still frosting on a cupcake and it looked pretty yummy. I just would have preferred a more sophisticated frosting.  Perhaps I will make the whipped ganache or maybe a swiss meringue chocolate frosting next time and will blog about that experiment.

Seriously, how cute is this?
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below! I love hearing from you all and answering any questions. Happy Baking!

*Why use mayonnaise? Mayonnaise is made up of oil (which moistens a cake), egg (which gives it structure) and vinegar (which will enhance the chocolate favor of the cake). So to sum it up, mayonnaise will perfect your cake by making it moist, spongy and really chocolatey. 

**Why use just the egg yolk? Because an egg is consisted of two types, fat and protein.  The yolk holds the fat, which makes a cake moist. The white is the protein, which will actually dry out your cake, but it gives it structure.  If you have a recipe that calls for a few eggs, you can use just the yolk of one egg to help moisten your cake. For more information on how to moisten up a cake, this is a good site for helpful tips and why.

***Why use cake flour?  There are many different kinds of flour and what makes them different is what they are made from; either hard wheat or soft wheat. Cake flour is made mostly from soft wheat and is high in starch, allowing your cake to be more fluffy than when using all-purpose flour.  All-purpose flour is made with a more even combination of hard and soft wheat, which changes the amount of gluten levels and makes your cake more elastic.  It gets confusing fast, so just remember that cake flour makes it fluffy and all-purpose flour makes it more chewy.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Real Sugar Cookies

Real Sugar Cookies

I have had this recipe for quite a few years now and I haven't wanted to share it.  It came from my friend, Jill, and once I made them I realized that I had never had a real sugar cookie.  They were these magical little treat.  In fact, they are so good that I ended up making over 600 for my sister's wedding as party favors.  They are that good.  I just didn't want to share it because I loved the fact that people were so shocked at how good these were.  They thought I was an amazing baker because of these little cookies.  But it's time to own up to the truth…I'm not an amazing baker, they just come from the perfect recipe.

So many people tell me they don't like sugar cookies.  They are too sweet.  They are too bland.  They are too…blah, blah, blah.  It's because people keep adding different stuff to make them different.  These will turn you over and see the light…and the buttery, flakey goodness of a sugar cookie.  What makes these cookies different is an amazing balance between a flavorful cookie and beautiful frosting.  Independent, the cookie is pretty good and the frosting is ok.  But slap the two together and a miracle happens. Please, please, please…just once try this recipe without changing a thing.  Don't add, don't substitute.  Just follow the plan and see what happens. 

Before we start, I must warn you.  I tend to get a little OCD when it comes to baking.  For that I'm just a little sorry.  Just a little bit because it is also what makes baking simple, fun and easy to clean up.  So be prepared for a lot of explanation on each step and pictures along the way.  But I will also put a printable version of the recipe on here so you can have it for future reference without all the detail. Happy baking….

Link to printable version: Real Sugar Cookies

Pre-Step 1: Clean your kitchen.  Don't worry about scrubbing every nook and cranny, but clean off the counters and organize your junk into a nice pile out of the way.  This will help you to make a recipe without any mistakes. 

Pre-Step 2: Print out this recipe and read through it.  Then tape it to the cupboard above your mixer or on your fridge.  Don't just set it on the counter.  It took me years of doing that and getting frustrated with not being able to find the sheet because I moved it from one spot to the next.  Then finally finding it and having spilled vanilla extract or flour all over it.  It is so much more simple just to have it one place that doesn't move and stays clean.

Pre-Step 3: Check  your ingredients.  There is nothing more annoying than having your oven preheated and your dough almost ready to go, when you go to grab the last ingredient and you find your out.  Time to shut everything down and run to the store.  

Ok, let's do this.  You are set, let's prepare.

1. Set out all your ingredients and measure them.  This is critical for time specific recipes, but it is so helpful with every recipe.  
          1 1/2 C. Powdered Sugar
          1 C. Butter, cold
          1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
          1 Egg
          2 1/2 C. Flour
          1 tsp. Baking Soda
          1 tsp. Corn Starch 
          (yes, I typed Corn Starch instead of Baking Powder)

Tip: Why is my butter cut? Melting butter changes everything.  Part of what makes a cookie taste wonderful is how the butter melts while in the oven. Dough needs to have little pockets of butter that melt and blend into the cookie while it bakes.  If you melt the butter before hand, or even soften it, it changes the consistency of the dough and people usually end up adding extra flour to balance it out.  Thus, the cookie comes our completely different than it should.  I once heard in a baking show years ago that it is even a good idea to freeze your butter and use a cheese grater to break it up…but as I found out the hard way, that is a lot of work and very messy.  An easier way is simply cut the butter into small sections.  This helps the butter to break down and turn into a creamy mixture.

2.  It is important the order you put your ingredients in.  You've probably heard before that cooking is an art and baking is a science.  Well, yes and no.  You do have to have an understanding of baking, but other than a few important things, baking comes from the heart.  That being said…you always start by beating the crap out of the butter. Just the butter, no sugar.  When you think you've beaten enough…keep going.  The picture on the left is where most people stop beating, but the picture on the right shows you how creamy and smooth butter can turn into if you speed up the power on your mixer.  See how it sticks to the wall instead of only the beater?

3.  Slowly start adding the powdered sugar, mostly because if you add it all at once it will get puffed right back into your face when you turn the mixer on.  As you add the dry powdered sugar, the butter will roll into pea sized balls.  Once that happens, start adding the vanilla.  You can alternate adding a little powdered sugar, then the vanilla to prevent it from getting too dry.  The picture on the left shows the combination of butter, powdered sugar and vanilla.  

4.  Next add the egg and blend in completely.  Once it is evenly spread, start adding the dry ingredients, little by little so you don't get a face full of flour. Stop occasionally to scrape the sides AND the beater.  Many people forget to scrape the beater, but lots of goodness builds up on that little guy and it needs to be spread out.  Once the dough starts sticking together and pulls off the wall, you have mixed enough.  

5. Scrape the dough into a ball and grab a big Ziploc bag.  Plop the dough right into the bag and press the dough flat.  This way, while it's chilling in the fridge it is chilling in a way that you want to start rolling out the dough.  Why people chill a hard ball is beyond me.  Once you take it out of the fridge, don't you just spend the next 20 minuets trying to flatten that ball into something you can roll? Why not start flat and save yourself the extra time. You want to chill it long enough to firm up.  Warm dough doesn't roll out. You can chill it for an hour or over night, its up to you and what your back can withstand.  Now, go clean your dishes and drink your wine while your dough chills.

6. Once you have chilled dough (and aren't too "happy" from your wine), it's time to preheat your oven to 375 degrees and to flour your rolling surface and grab your rolling pin.  The important thing about rolling out dough is that you want to start with medium pressure in the middle of the dough and work out to the edge, lightening up on the pressure as you go.  That way you won't end up with a flattened border, but a smooth and even layer of dough.  Roll it out to your preferred thickness.  What does that mean? Well, if you like a fluffy cookie to sink your teeth into, roll it out thick.  If you like crispy cookies then roll it out thin.  I prefer a mid level cookie. As you roll, gently brush your hand over the top to see if it feels even.  Work out any areas that feel thicker and ignore areas that are thin, if it is too thin you can just re-roll it out later.  And if you are rolling out multiple batches keep all your scraps separate.  Don't add them into the next round you're about to roll out.  Save all the scraps, combine them at the end and then roll them out.  The reason is because each time you roll out the dough you are adding flour and if you keep adding floured dough back into your mixture, well, by the end you will have cookies that have a lot more flour in them than the first batch.

7. Place cookies on a cookie sheet evenly spaced.  This type of cookie doesn't "grow" as much while baking, but spreading them evenly helps to distribute the heat throughout the pan evenly and bake each cookie the same. 

Tip: When using cookie cutters, I get annoyed with pieces breaking off.  For this demo, I made clover cookies to celebrate St. Patrick's day.  Before I realized this, every time I used this cutter the stem would pop off when I tried to get the dough off the cookie sheet.  It took practice but the trick is a few things.  When you press down into the dough, wiggle the cutter a bit after you have hit the counter.  Then stretch the actual cutter out a bit.  They have some flexibility in them and this will help the dough pull away from the cutter and remain on the counter.  If you are still having trouble, take a butter knife and gently press the dough through.  

8.  Depending on how you like your cookie, bake from 6-8 minutes.  I like mine to have just a bit of crunch with a fluffy inside.  The cookie on the left has been baked longer, you can tell from the over all golden color.  This results in a full on crunchy cookie.  But the cookie on the right was taken out only a minute sooner and is not as golden in the center; only around the edges.  This is my favorite stage, but everyone is allowed their opinion.

9.  Let them cool on the pan, they will continue to bake for a few minutes while the pan is still hot.  This is important to finalize the baking process.  Plus, it is impossible to take a hot cookie off a hot sheet without ruining the form.  You'll end up with a blob instead of a clover.

10. Transfer to a paper towel and start making your frosting!

Frosting Ingredients

          5 Tbsp. Butter, cold
          2 1/2 C. Powdered Sugar
          1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
          Milk for desired consistence
          Food Coloring

1.  Begin, like always, by beating the butter smooth.  Then slowly add the powdered sugar and vanilla, alternating between each so it doesn't get too dry.  

Tip: If you want white frosting you might want to omit the vanilla or go find clear vanilla.  Because the vanilla is a dark color, your frosting will have a slight tint.  Not that big of a deal if you are just making cookies for yourself because you'll eat them too fast to notice the color.  But if you are making them for a special event, and having pure white frosting is important than make the effort to find clear vanilla extract. If you can't find it at your grocery store, try looking at a craft store nearby.  Both Michael's and JoAnn fabric have become my go to place for baking tools and ingredients.

2.  When you go to add the milk, you need to know what kind of frosting you want.  If you add to much milk, then the frosting will become very liquid and you can simply pour it on the the cookie.  Don't add enough milk and it will be thick and not spread easily.  But remember, when you add the food coloring you are adding another liquid that will "water-down" the consistence of the frosting even more.  
  I prefer my frosting a little firmer.  My preference is to pipe the frosting onto the cookie because it is faster and easier that trying to spread it with a knife.  For these cookies, I wanted to try a method I saw a 20 year veteran do on a cake challenge (you know, because I can totally do something I saw a professional with years of experience and professional training do on TV without any training myself….).  The technique is called stain glass frosting I believe and it is done by taking a thicker frosting and making a border around the cookie.  Then you take a much thinner frosting and pour it into the sections.  That way, you can use multiple colors and the thinner color will spread to all the edges of the thick border.  Well, I might need a bit more practice with the technique, but it didn't turn out too bad. 

Tip: Piping your frosting is more simple that you might think.  People often say they will just use a Ziploc bag and cut the tip off one corner.  I'm not a huge fan on this method because I've had the seam of the bag bust on me.  Wilton makes disposable piping bags that make life much easier.  You can either use a professional metal tip for specific decorations (like a flower), or just cut the tip off like I did in this example. Then just toss the whole bag when you are done.  If you've ever tried to wash a formal piping bag, you will appreciate the fact that you just throw these away instead of trying to clean the greasy butter off the inside of a "real" bag! But remember when you are piping, to NOT close off the end of the bag completely.  Twist the top a couple time to help keep the frosting from escaping, but you need to be able to let air out of the top so that frosting doesn't come splattering out the tip when an air bubble hits.  So, twist the top a couple time…don't tie it in a knot…trust me, I learned the hard way.

Tip: Buy a good spatula/scraper.  There are a ton of different "models" out there that range from firm, scooping or highly flexible.  Wilton makes the absolute best scraper.  The center is very firm and get's more flexible towards the edge.  I will not use any other than this.  I buy it for my friends who want to start baking because it makes a difference…not necessarily in taste, though it does help to mix the ingredients evenly, but because it is so handy.  I've yet to find a recipe that it doesn't work for.

Here are links to my favorite two tools when baking:

I hope you enjoy this cookie with as much passion as I do! Happy Baking!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Welcome to my world...

Welcome to BelievableBaking, a blog created for normal people who want to create extraordinary things.  In my mind, I usually picture amazing creations but when I actually try to make it…well, let's just say it doesn't look as wonderful in real life as it does in my mind.  But that doesn't mean it tastes anything less than perfect.  I might not be creative and artistic, but I am relentless when it comes to searching for the perfect recipe.  So I'm documenting my discoveries, photographing my steps and explaining how and why certain things are needed.
Mostly, I'm doing this for all my friends that ask me where I got a recipe.  I'll make note of where I originally got the recipe, but I usually make alterations based on what I have in my pantry.  I also tend to not follow the directions correctly because I'm teaching myself how to do it for the first time as I bake.  For instance, when I made homemade caramel for a holiday gift this last December and it turned out too soft to hold form.  It wasn't until afterwards that I realized there are helpful tips that I should have followed before hand…and that's where this blog comes in for you.  I'll make the mistakes and find the real way of doing things and lay it out plain and simple for you. Listing what ingredients and tools you need, and important tips to make it easy and successful (like double checking your candy thermometer is accurate before you make caramel).
Enjoy, comment (try to be nice…I'm really just a normal person who took a couple cooking classes in high school), suggest and for heaven sake, eat something great every day!
Real Time Web Analytics