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!

Firecracker Cupcakes

Baking date: June 30, 2016

I had seen a firecracker cupcake on Pinterest, and immediately saved it.

Inspiration Firecracker cupcakes

Inspiration cupcakes

I knew I’d have an event to make them for and sure enough, the end-of-season baseball gathering was just the event, since we were having it on the Friday kicking off the long July 4th weekend.

I used a yellow box cake mix for the cupcake. I made buttercream frosting for the cupcakes.

Creating the firecrackers was the fun part. I used marshmallows and red candy melts. At first I pushed the toothpick pretty far into the marshmallow, but that made it difficult to pull out after dipping it in the candy melts. The pre-cut strands of licorice went in just fine. Baker’s note: definitely pre-cut these before you begin dipping. Once the candy melt starts to harden, you won’t be able to insert it. Also, try and keep your bag of marshmallows from getting smooshed – the more cylindrical they are, the easier it is to have them stand and dry.

You also have to be patient to let the excess drip off or scrape the bottom with a spoon (which is what I did).

I wasn’t able to find black licorice string anywhere, so I had purchased red/white/blue pull and peel Twizzlers. But then on a final trip to AC Moore, I found a bag of black licorice laces and ended up using those.

Licorice

Here are my “firecrackers”, freshly dipped and waiting to dry on wax paper. As you can see, there is excess candy melt. I used one of my kitchen knives to carve off the extra once they had set.

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I used a special 4th of July-themed cupcake liner. I used a bit of the buttercream frosting to cover the cupcake and then placed the dried “firecracker” in the middle. I used a 1M tip, piping on more buttercream around the “firecracker”. Finally, I topped the buttercream with red/white/blue sprinkles.

Here are the trays of cupcakes:

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And here are some close-ups of individual cupcakes:

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For those that don’t care for the flavor of black licorice, you can remove the “wick” and munch away, or use the patriotic Twizzlers instead.

I didn’t have a single cupcake left and was able to give the bag of leftover black licorice to one of the moms who I know loves that stuff (me? not a fan!).

Hope you had a sweet 4th of July weekend!

Christmas Cookies for the Office

Baking date: December 20, 2015

My holiday gift to my staff each year is always home made goodies. Not only do I include cookies and other sweets, I also give them a gift card to a local coffee house.

This year, the goodie boxes included shortbread cut out rounds, decorated with royal frosting to look like snowflakes.  I tinted the royal frosting light blue, added on the snowflake designs in white. I topped them with white and light blue sugar pearls, as well as mini white sugar pearls and silver sugar sprinkles.

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They also received reindeer cookies. This time, I added some red sugar sprinkles to the red-tinted royal frosting noses.

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The package also include Bailey’s Irish Creme Cheesecake Balls. I substituted regular Oreos for the Tim Tam cookies. They were topped with red, green, and silver sugar sparkles after being dipped in the Godiva white melting chocolate.

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For the rest of the co-workers in my division, I included quite a spread! It was three containers full of cookies that made the trip in on the Metro with me:

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The spread of goodies included sugar cookies decorated like snowflakes. I used white royal frosting to outline and flood. The snowflakes were created using royal frosting tinted light blue. Each cookie had a different snowflake design, enhanced with light blue, white, or gold sugar pearls, silver or gold sugar sprinkles, and a few different candy decorations like snowmen, holly, Christmas tree, and the occasional blue M&M.

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It also included Bailey’s Irish Creme cheesecake balls. These were dipped in red and green, topped with more Christmas-inspired sprinkles.

Here’s the full spread of goodies, which included many of the left over decorated cookies from my cookie exchange, as well as ROLO turtle fudge, the snowflake sugar cookies, and the Bailey’s Irish Creme Cheesecake Balls:

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And here’s a look at everything up close and labeled.

It only takes a little sugar to bring smiles to the faces of your co-workers during the holiday season.

 

Turkey Cupcakes

Baking date: November 17 & 18, 2015

This year, our larger work group decided to have a Thanksgiving pot luck lunch. People signed up to bring entrees, sides, and desserts. I was on dessert detail — no surprise there, right?

I had seen a cupcake decorated like a turkey that I wanted to try and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Here’s the inspiration design:

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I made a chocolate cupcake because I thought that would taste best with the Reese’s Pieces. The frosting I used was a milk chocolate.

A couple of notes about this recipe and modifications I made:

  • The inspiration cupcake called for 8 brown Reese’s Pieces around the outer edge. When I did the math — Sister Frances Miriam would be so proud! — that was 192 brown Reese’s Pieces. When I emptied the bag, it was clear I wouldn’t have that many. So I started with six around the outer edge, five in the middle, and four on the inside. As I got toward the last turkeys, I modified the outer edge to be the orange colored Reese’s Pieces because I had the most of those. I actually had to use brown M&Ms for the last turkey because I ran out of brown Reese’s Pieces.IMG_0595
  • If you are making these for a party where you may not know everyone, remember there may be people with peanut allergies (I checked ahead of time). To be safe, use M&Ms for the turkey feathers to avoid problems with peanut allergies if you aren’t familiar with the guests on the list.
  • I found the mini-red M&M didn’t stick well like in the inspiration recipe, so even though I had purchased mini M&Ms, I didn’t add that element at all. I don’t think it took anything away from the final product.
  • I didn’t use candy melts for the beak — I used left over royal icing from pumpkin cookies and dipped them three times to get the “beak” portion fully covered.IMG_0582
  • I used white frosting as the background for the mini M&M eyeballs because it was one less step in the process (no melting of candy).
  • I added some multi-colored jimmies for additional visual interest.

These were the full trays of cupcakes:

And here’s the cupcake up close:

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The pot luck was great. So many wonderful foods, shared with wonderful colleagues. Very thankful I work with so many amazing people.

 

Cake and Candy Fail

Baking date: May 16, 2015

I was commissioned to make cupcakes for the daughter of a friend. It was for her bridal shower and I was thrilled to make something girly (I have boys, so I rarely get to make girly things!).

In addition to the cupcakes, I wanted to make her family a snickerdoodle cake with brown sugar buttercream frosting. I was trying out a new cake pan (giant cupcake) and had found a recipe for sea glass candy. I planned to decorate the base of the cake with sea glass candy, which would complement the beach theme of her bridal shower/wedding.

Everything worked fine with the cake pan. Until I got to the frosting part. I was using my cake frosting turntable, and was almost done. And then I accidentally hit the tilt button. This is what happens when you accidentally hit the tilt button:

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And then this happens when you have two dogs who will eat anything. Mocha and Jake gave this baking fail two paws up.

IMG_3332 IMG_3333In addition to the cake fail, the sea glass candy never set. I’m guessing I didn’t get the sugar/corn syrup/water mixture to the required 300 degrees (note to self: purchase a candy thermometer!). Even after being in the frig overnight to set, this is what happened when I tested it.

Just a reminder…not all my good intentions turn out the way I hope!

Random Acts of Kindness Week Goodies

February 9-15, 2015 was Random Acts of Kindness Week. I decided to participate in flooding social media with good news by sharing goodies throughout the week with others. Here’s how my #RAKWeek2015 took shape:

Monday:  On Sunday evening, I baked Rolo-stuffed snickerdoodle cookies. I was mailing them to a friend’s daughter who had just moved to the University of Maryland to continue her undergraduate education. For two years, I’ve been baking goodies for friends’ kids when they move to college for the first semester. On Monday, I shipped them out via priority mail. First random act of kindness done!

Tuesday: Over the weekend prior to Random Acts of Kindness Week, one of the local moms had asked if I could make lion paw cookies for an event at the high school. I was on business travel and wouldn’t have time to bake and decorate cookies by Tuesday — let alone find a lion paw cookie cutter! However, I do have lion paw candy molds (in small, pops, and large size) because our local grade, middle, high school, and recreation league sports are all blue and gold Lions.

I made about 36 candies of varying shapes using royal blue and yellow candy melts. My friend asked me how much and I said “it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week, so consider this my gift.” She was thrilled and here’s how the candies turned out:

Random sizes of lion paw candies

Random sizes of lion paw candies

She posted this collage of pictures to Facebook with a thank you to me. The candies ended up looking great with her other decorations.

Lion paw candies incorporated into the party decorations

Lion paw candies incorporated into the party decorations

Wednesday: On Wednesday, my colleagues and I had an all-day event taking place. It was a big event, bringing together teams from our department, as well as IT, communications, and an outside vendor. Since it was an all day event, I made gingerbread and pumpkin mini-breads for our “war room” so people had goodies to munch on.  I topped them with Sugar in the Raw before baking, to give them a sweet crunch on top.

Because I had made the breads on a week night, I used box mixes. On weekends, I’ll make breads from scratch, but during the week with limited time, I use box mixes.  The breads were gone by lunch.

Thursday: I telework on Fridays, so Thursday was my last day in the office at work for the week. I decided to make Valentine candy hearts. I have two molds for this, one is more rounded mini-hearts, and the other is a flat, larger heart mold. With the mini-heart mold, I made red, purple (discontinued – now available in lavender), and pink (discontinued – now available in bright pink) vanilla candies. I also made milk chocolate candies with the mini-heart mold:

Mini-heart candies

Mini-heart candies

I also made milk chocolate and peanut butter candies in the flat, larger heart mold:

Milk chocolate and peanut butter candy melt hearts

Milk chocolate and peanut butter candy melt hearts

I then created an image that I shared on social media with the hashtag #RAKWeek2015:

Heart my colleagues

Heart my colleagues

Friday: On Friday, I received this text from my friend’s daughter. Unfortunately, the mailroom hadn’t delivered her packages until Friday, even though they arrived on Tuesday.

Nice way to end the week.

Nice way to end the week.

It was a nice way to end a week of Random Acts of Kindness through baking.

Thanksgiving Goodies for My Colleagues

Baking date: November 23, 2014

Each year, I bring treats to my colleagues at Thanksgiving to let them know how thankful I am to work with them. There are more than 600 employees in my organization, so I focus on the immediate groups I work with, which includes about 40+ folks. I look for recipes that make a large batch of whatever.

I used shortbread as the base. Here’s the recipe:

2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 2 sticks softened butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cream brown sugar and butter. Mix dry ingredients together; add to creamed butter/sugar until well incorporated. Roll out batter and cut cookies to desired shape. Bake for 25 minutes at 250 degrees.

First I made turkey cookies. I used a drinking glass as the cookie cutter to get the round shape. I then frosted them with chocolate icing, added 4 candy corns per cookie, sprinkled multi-colored jimmies just under the candy corns, added M&Ms for eyes with frosting piped on for the eyeballs, and piped on a beak and feet using vanilla icing dyed golden yellow. Here’s how they turned out:

Baker’s note: you have to go through the candy corns, and pick out the good ones as not all of them have the yellow/white/orange color.  Also, make sure you turn the m on the M&M face down.

The next cookie I made used the same base recipe, but I added 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice to the dry mix. I sifted it twice to make sure the pumpkin pie spice was well incorporated.

I was inspired by this picture:

Inspiration Cookie

Inspiration Cookie

So, here are my observations about this cookie as I made it myself:

  • pumpkin pies are not that smooth, and my icing would not accurately mimic the inspiration cookie
  • mixing that right pumpkin color is not as easy as it seems. It took me modifying copper icing color with black, which still didn’t give me the pumpkin orange I was looking for
  • The “crust” works great with vanilla dyed with ivory icing color

So, with all of this, here is how my cookies turned out:

I packed my goodies for the trip to the office:

Ultimately, it’s about taste. My colleagues were grateful for the treats, and thought they tasted (and looked) awesome. And in the end, I was thankful for that!

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