College Freshman Care Packages

Editor’s note: It’s been awhile since I have posted. The Fall is always super busy with football for my kids, work projects and the start of the holiday season. Thanks for your patience as I try and catch up on sharing a bunch of baking I’ve been doing since September.

Baking date: September 4, 2017

Every year for the past 4 or so, I have been making cookies to send off to my friends’ kids as they leave for college. This year was no different. There were 5 kids who got care packages this year. They were big brothers of some of my oldest son’s friends, and others are my community friends’ kids.

Packages went to Frostburg University (MD), McDaniel College (MD), Shepherd University (WV), and Wake Forest University (NC). The inserts were simple enough – loaves of Snickerdoodle bread and pumpkin bread, as well as chocolate chip cookies. I sent them via 2-day delivery — please don’t tell the USPS I check the box that affirms there are no perishables in the package!

I had no bubble wrap this year, so to secure the baked goods in place, I added crumpled up plastic grocery bags. Oh yes, and I included this picture…

Clark Griswold

with this handwritten message…

Handwritten note

The best part is seeing the reaction/getting the thank yous…

Like this email, from one of the kids (a big brother of my son’s friend Nick) who shared his package with his roommate:

Joe TY

And this Facebook post (from the big brother of my son’s friends Matt and James):

Josh TY

And this text I got from my friend Kelley (recipient is the big brother of yet another of my son’s friends, Owen):

Ethan TY

And then there was the kid who returned home for a varsity football game and  delivered these to me in the stands while I was watching my kid play:

Noah TY

There’s nothing better than the feeling of community. And making the good young people you know feel loved and happy.

So, what are the ways you could pay it forward for others?

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Get Well Soon Eyeball Cake

Baking date: August 6, 2017

My friend Rebecca’s fiance had cataract surgery recently. Since I’ve been itching to get back into my baking rhythm after Achilles surgery, I jumped on the opportunity to make him a get well cake.

It was a simple enough recipe of one bowl chocolate cake and a dark chocolate canned frosting. The not so simple part? Adding eyeballs to the cake.

I used a technique I had seen for a Halloween cake. You twist/separate (carefully!) Oreo cookies so that the cream filling is all on one side. It’s not as easy as you would think. Then, place a Junior Mint in the center of the white cream.

I added eyebrows with some buttercream icing. With the remaining dark chocolate frosting, I added bursts along the border. In the center of the bursts, I added a white sugar pearls.

Here’s a side view…

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And here’s the top view:

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You can also make the eyeballs with mini-Oreos and M&M’s, if you’d like to add more pairs of eyes or have the eyes be smaller in size. I did that for the Monster eyeball cake I made for a friend who was going through some tough medical issues one year around Halloween.

Here’s to a quick recovery, Gary!

Get Well Soon Chocolate Lasagna

Baking date: April 29, 2017

Friends we met through baseball years ago have a daughter who I made Sweet Sixteen cupcakes for last year, a son the same age as our oldest who hit the first grand slam on the travel baseball team, and a youngest son who played baseball with our youngest, before our youngest moved on to lacrosse.

The youngest had to have emergency surgery in April, so a get well treat was in order. After checking with his mom to make sure their were no doctor-ordered dietary restrictions, I opted for a chocolate lasagna.

I used some of the leftover chocolate buttercream frosting from a peanut butter cake I had made the previous week to pipe on the get well message and a border around the top edge.

Here’s the finished product:

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And here’s the sweet note I received from him after dropping the dessert off and sending his mom some pictures of him from the basketball team this season to help cheer him up.

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Get well soon, Andrew!

LAX Celebration Sugar Cookies

Baking date: April 8, 2017

After her brother received a hat trick cake for his exploits during a lacrosse game, I felt like Sami needed some sweet props of her own. She had started her lacrosse season in fine style – with the first goal of the season (3-26-17) and first goal of the second game (4-2-17).

I used some of the leftover chocolate frosting from her brother’s cake to pipe her accomplishments onto round sugar cookies with a #2 tip. I would love to show you a photo of Sami with her cookies, but she ate them before we could memorialize her with the cookies. These are her cookies:

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But don’t any of you fret for Sami. On April 23, her mom posted this to Facebook:

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So, I’m working on a hat trick cake for her this coming weekend. Because… #ACakeOfHerOwn

SamiCM

 

 

Christmas Cookies for Co-workers

Baking date: December 18, 2016

Each year, I bake goodies for my co-workers during the Christmas holidays. This year, I focused on cut-out cookies in a variety of shapes – snowmen, Christmas lights, mittens, stars and snowflakes.

The cookies were chocolate sugar cookies and regular sugar cookies. These cookies take some extra time to set in the frig (the regular sugar cookies are refrigerated twice), so make sure you have planned out your day of baking to include time for it.

I used colored sugars and sugar pearls to decorate the cookies rather than royal icing (don’t worry, I will post about another batch of Christmas cookies where I did use royal icing). Here are the cookies, which my co-workers were grateful to snack on throughout the day.

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You can see a missing star cookie from this sheet – my son always offers to taste-test cookies for me.

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As you can see, not every cookie will accept sprinkles

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