Thanksgiving Turkey and Acorn Sugar Cookies

Baking date: November 19, 2016

Each year, I try and let my colleagues know how thankful I am for them by making sweet treats to share. This year was no different. In order to save myself some time, I used refrigerated sugar cookie dough, that I rolled to make cut-out cookies.

This shortcut does come with some compromises. The scratch sugar cookie recipe I usually make includes a step that allows the cookies to set and hold their shape. You can probably add the step of refrigerating the cookies for 30 minutes once they are cut out to help them set with any recipe or prepared dough, but I skipped that step in the interest of time. And here’s what some of the “round shapes” looked like once they cooked. To be honest, I didn’t leave much room between each on the cookie sheet:

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Some would say “what’s wrong with a giant cookie?”, and to them I respond “absolutely nothing because it still tastes great!”

I used round cut outs in two sizes to make turkey cookies. They were decorated using royal icing dyed brown for the main body of the turkey, golden yellow for the beak and legs, and black for the dots of eyeballs. Candy corns were added for the feathers, M&Ms were added for the eyes (although in the future, I won’t use the brown ones because you can’t see the dots for eyes piped on), and multi-colored jimmies were sprinkled on. Here’s how the turkeys turned out:

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For the acorns, they didn’t hold their cut-out shape well either. So I used the brown icing for the top and then dipped the still wet icing in chocolate jimmies for texture. Once that dried, I darkened the brown, piped an outline of the rest of the acorn to give it more shape, and filled that in with the remaining brown icing.

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With shapes that need more definition, I’ll definitely add in the 30 minute refrigeration before cooking in the future (regardless of the recipe or any shortcut I use). For the rounds that became turkeys, its not as important that they are perfectly round.

It’s always nice to remind those you work with how thankful you are to have them as colleagues!

Football Playoff Sugar Cookies

Baking date: October 28, 2016

My son Nick’s 8th grade football team made it to the playoffs this year. As has been my custom with football playoff games for my boys throughout the years, I make treats for the players, coaches, cheerleaders, and fans.  There would be three rounds of playoffs, quarterfinals, semi-finals, and the SuperBowl.

Originally, I was inspired by these cookies:

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but decided that those would be the cookies I would make if the team got all the way to the SuperBowl.

For this first round of playoffs, I decided to make sugar cookies in the shape of footballs that were personalized. I use a recipe for the sugar cookies that I found on Food Network. For the royal icing, I always substitute one of the tablespoons of water with a tablespoon of almond extract. I think it improves the taste of the royal icing.

Here are all the footballs with the brown tinted royal icing. I left a portion white for the football laces:

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I also tinted some of the icing golden yellow and royal blue, which are the team colors. I used these colors for piping on names, numbers and other decorations.

The players’ cookies had their name and number:

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The coaches’ cookies had their names:

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The cheerleaders and their coaches had their name and a blue “pom” (tip #233) on each end of the football. Not easy to do with royal icing that is more flooding consistency, so my poms looked more like blobs.

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There were also cookies for the water crew — younger brothers and sisters of players on the team. On the extra cookies, I piped on Lions:

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And last (but certainly not least!), I hand shaped a large football cookie for the team mom:

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Our team was up against the top ranked team…and I’ll spare you the suspense. Our boys did lose and our playoff run was over after only one game.

But the important thing is…even when it was very clear the game was out of hand, our boys continued to play hard until the end. And the other important thing? We had cookies to celebrate what great kids, coaches, and fans we have!

Good luck in high school, fellas!

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2016 GVAA Walkersville Varsity Lions

 

 

Hot Chocolate Cake

Baking date: October 15, 2016

My college roommate at Towson State University (as it was known at the time) was a gal from an area of Maryland, equally as rural as the place in Maryland where I grew up. Funny story – I ended up moving to the small town where she grew up to raise my family. She also lives close by, but in another school district. Over the years we have remained good friends – we have sons that were born one day apart.

Alex and Kendall are both athletic.  In middle school, both boys made the elite basketball team for their respective schools and were often on the court up against one another. Kendall excels at basketball and soccer. Alex has found his home behind the plate as catcher and on the football field. It’s a bit sad that we won’t see Alex and Kendall go up against one another any more as they head into high school.

So, it was great news to hear that as a freshman, Kendall had made the varsity soccer team for his high school. But it was terrible news to hear that Kendall had injured his knee before the first game of the season and would require surgery to reconstruct his ACL.

The day after his surgery, I arrived at their home to provide wishes for a speedy recovery in the form of a hot chocolate cake. The first recipe I found called for a now discontinued International Delights frozen hot chocolate, so I had to find another recipe. This is the recipe I eventually decided on, which includes the cake, chocolate frosting and marshmallow buttercream.

I made the cake in two 9″ layers. Note that the butter needs to be room temperature, along with the eggs, so allow time for that. When it came to icing the cake, I didn’t use the “nesting” technique described in the recipe because I wanted to write a message on top of the cake. In between the two layers was the chocolate buttercream, but I also swirled on marshmallow buttercream.

Here’s how my cake turned out, with the marshmallow buttercream piped on for the message:

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And a view from the side. I piped the marshmallow buttercream up the side in lines and added mini-marshmallows around the base of the cake, anchored with a layer of the marshmallow buttercream.

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Kendall said it definitely tasted like hot chocolate and assured me it would help with the healing process.

It must have worked because his surgery went well and he’s now on the mend. Heal fast and get back out on the field and court soon, Kendall!

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Brace off less than 2 weeks after surgery!

Field Hockey Cakes

Baking date: October 9, 2016

I was commissioned by a mom to make a cake for the high school field hockey team to celebrate senior night during the last home game of the season. There were no specific instructions other than it needed to feed about 40, but I knew I wanted it to include a special nod to the seniors in the school colors.

I started with a French vanilla cake mix. I always add a tablespoon of vanilla to any box mix, and if the recipe calls for vegetable oil, I used canola oil. I find that canola oil makes cakes a bit lighter/”fluffier”.

For the cake shape, I used the 8″ and 12″ squares from the performance pans square set. For the icing, I used my go-to buttercream recipe. I dyed some of the buttercream using royal blue, kelly green, and golden yellow icing colors.

To personalize it, I made yellow candy melt stars and piped on the girls names using the royal blue frosting. I started using a #1 tip, but the frosting was not going through the tip well (too thick), so I switched to a #3 tip. You can see the difference in the lettering (next time, I’ll use a small amount of the buttercream that is thinned a bit when I pipe with a #1 tip). I was able to script the name with the #1 tip, but the thickness of the frosting was an issue. With the #3 tip, I didn’t have as much room to script the letters because of the thickness of the piping.  I also made royal blue candy melts smaller stars, and using the golden yellow icing, piped the number of each player on the star with the #3 tip.  I also added a “bead” border between the top and base layer, using royal blue candy melts in the large size bead mold.

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I placed the stars with the players names on the base layer, pushing them against the top layer to anchor them. For the stars with the player numbers, I used a 3 tip to make a burst on the top layer above the corresponding player name star and anchored the number stars there.

Using a #17 and a #18 tip, I added yellow bursts with blue on top on the corners of the top layer. I did the reverse for the border of the top layer. In the corner bursts, I added white sugar pearls. I piped on grass along the base cake border using a #233 tip in the kelly green frosting, and added more of the white sugar pearls in the “grass”.

On the base layer of the cake, blue bursts with yellow on top were placed in the corners, and yellow bursts were placed along the border.

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I felt like the cake needed something more,  so using the blue and golden yellow icing, I piped on bursts in the shape of field hockey sticks, with a sugar pearl in the curve at the base of the stick.

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Now the cake was complete!

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I wasn’t done there, tho. As a bonus, I decided to use a round/sports ball cake pan to make a field hockey ball.

Prior to placing the cake on the cake board, I cut off part of one side so that the base would be flat and more stable. I covered the cake in the buttercream frosting, and added the “grass” at the base of the cake. On top of the grass, I added alternating blue and golden yellow bursts.  Finally, I added the same style of field hockey sticks on top of the ball that I had put on the top of the other cake, again with a white sugar pearl in the curve of the stick.

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I’d say the cakes were a big success!

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And as a reminder, it takes a village to honor kids and make things special for them. Cake was only one element of the celebration.

My pricing philosophy:

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Freshman Care Packages

Baking date: a couple of weekends in August in September

I can’t remember when I started doing this, but a few years back I began sending homemade cookie care packages to friends’ kids who were heading off to college, with a note of encouragement. I remember when I started college, my mom sent me a care package of cookies and a note. It made whatever was happening during that transition to life away from home just a little bit sweeter.

As my own boys get older, there are more and more people I know who have kids heading off to college. Even though I send the packages via USPS priority mail second day delivery (yes, I lie when they ask me if there is anything perishable in the package – don’t rat me out!) for only $6.80, this year I spent over $60 on mailing out the packages.

Maybe I need to transition to a big bag of cookies they can pack in the car when they head off to college…

This year’s list of recipients included kids who were first born, youngest, and middle children. For many of the kids, I feel like the moms need the treats more to cope with a first born leaving or dealing with the now empty nest.

Most of the kids had attended the local high school. I made chocolate chip cookies (I use milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet) and also royal blue and yellow lion paw candy melts.

The first batch went to destinations in TN, SC, and TN:

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One of the students got my cell # from his mom and called me to personally thank me. One student sent me a message via Facebook:

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And a mom gave me a shout out on Facebook:

 

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The second batch of goodies went out to TN and WV: second-batch-of-cookies

 

These included the same chocolate chip cookies and “paws” candies. For Lana – it was blue/gold paws for her high school team the Lions, and orange/black paws for her new college team, the Bobcats.

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I got tagged in this post on Facebook:

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For my niece Madison, it was green/black paws, which were the colors of her high school team, the Panthers. I also included some quarters since she was going to need them for laundry:

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She send me this note:

The final packages went out a bit later to DE, my alma mater Towson in MD, and VA:

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I got a thank you from my college roommate whose daughter is now going to our alma mater:

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And for two of them, the cookies came when they were needed most:

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All in all, $60 well spent. Best of luck to all the students!

 

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Baking date: August 14, 2016

In the local sports association football program my boys have played in, they have weight limits for age groups. If you are over the designated top weight for your age group prior to the first game, you must either sit out games (and be re-weighed a few weeks later), or play up in the next age division.

Our oldest son was always close to the top of the weight each year. And his second-to-the-last year of playing, he was over and had to work real hard to make weight to play with his friends, rather than sit out or play up with older kids. Helping growing boys make weight – it’s awful. I even blogged about the experience.

When one of the young kids was faced with a similar battle this year, his mom asked for ways to help Jonny drop the weight in advance of the official weigh in. Many people chimed in with advice; parents and his teammates offered to run extra laps and work out with him more.

I offered inspiration as well – sharing some of the things we had Alex do that week before weigh-ins. I also offered this:

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I know it seems counter-intuitive to offer someone baked goods for losing weight. But so what – motivation comes in many forms!

After a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and self-discipline, Jonny made weight. His mom let me know he liked red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.

I used a box cake for red velvet – I haven’t found a scratch recipe I like yet. For the icing, I used a classic cream cheese frosting recipe.  The recipe made plenty of frosting and I used the leftovers to frost some banana bread later.

To make the cake extra special, I added the letters WEIGH TO GO JONNY using royal blue candy melts. I included chocolate candy melt footballs, with some of the extra cream cheese frosting piped on for the laces. I also included royal and yellow Lion paw candy melts. Here is a view of the cake from the top:

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And from the side, because I piped bursts along the lower edge, and added in alternating blue and gold sugar pearls:img_1737

Let’s just say that Jonny thought all the work was worth the weight:

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Retirement Shortbread Cookies

Baking date: July 31, 2016

One of my co-workers who happened to have the office next to mine retired last week after 27 years with the organization. We had a lovely party for him at work. He’s always been a terrific taste-tester for my creations that I bring into work, so I wanted to create something special for him.

I had red, white, black, and golden yellow royal icing left over from another baking project. After googling “retirement cookies”, I saw one in the shape of a yield sign that said ‘No Work Zone’. Using that as inspiration, I went about creating the treats.

I like the recipe I’ve used for shortbread, but they never had tasted as “shortbready” as I thought they should. I googled shortbread cookie and Ina Garten’s version came up. It’s hard to go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe! While this recipe is a bit more labor intensive than the recipe I’ve used for shortbread, I found that it tastes more like shortbread.

I cut out an octagon shape and a square shape. The square shape was flooded in golden yellow royal icing. Using the black royal icing, I outlined the shape and wrote ‘NO WORK ZONE’ in black royal icing on top of the semi-dry golden yellow:

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Because the royal icing was a little too runny, I had to go back and cover up some of the black that ran and made the letters hard to read.

For the octagon, I flooded it in red, and added STOP WORKING in white royal icing, along with a white border. Just as I finished piping the letters on, I dropped the bag/tip, leaving a few imperfections in the red and letter in WORKING:

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I placed each cookie in a treat box, removing the inserts to fit the oversize cookies.

Thanks Al, for all your wisdom in the three years we worked together. May each day of your retirement be more fulfilling than the last!