Christmas Cookies and Other Goodies

Baking date: December 22 & 23, 2016

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update. I was dealing with a bulging disc, sciatica and terrible pain. I’ve been in PT to right my back issue, as well as on medication for pain. Thanks for your patience as I had to keep focused on work, family, and recovery.

I’m much better now and happy to share some of the baking a did before and after this bout with back issues. This Christmas I did the baking while hopped up on some serious pain medications, so if you see any errors, I’m going to blame it on that!

Each year I bake for the kids on my oldest son Alex’s baseball team. This includes kids he plays with now, and those we played with for many years, but have moved on to more competitive teams that pull from a larger talent pool.

I make goody bags for each family that include candies (bite size things like Snickers, KitKats, Kisses, etc.) and mini-breads (pumpkin, snickerdoodle, gingerbread, and banana). I also made sugar cookies with royal frosting, chocolate sugar cookies, and gingerbread cut out cookies. Bakers note: I substitute 1 tablespoon of almond extract for one of the tablespoons of water when making my royal icing. I think it gives the icing a much better taste.

This is a big effort, so I take vacation days to do this. The recipe I use for the sugar cookies and chocolate sugar cookies both involve extra steps/time of refrigerating the dough before rolling out (sugar), rolling out and refrigerating (chocolate sugar) and refrigerating again once cookies have been cut (sugar), before baking.

This was my kitchen island before everything got underway. My supplies include my favorite apron from a job years ago, the mega mini-bread pan, recipes, and cookie cutters:

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This year, I decided to personal Santa cap cookies. In a previous years, I used the stocking shape when personalizing.

There’s lots of prep work that goes into getting decorating ready. You can see the mini breads in the bucket and more cut out cookies in the containers with red tops. As I captioned this when I posted it to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: “Santa has his workshop, I have mine”.

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I used red (no taste) and leaf green to color a portion of the royal icing. I also had a wide variety of sugar pearls, sugar sprinkles, and other edible decorations. Each Santa cap had a unique design. And I started with a #1 Wilton tip to pipe on the names, but I found that the royal icing would clog this very narrow tip.

So I moved to a #2 tip, but found that it was too wide. I had to move from full first names to initials. Baker’s note: I asked Wilton via their Facebook page about how to make the icing more “pipeable” and clog less. They suggested I sift the powdered sugar before mixing with meringue powder and water. I did that the next time — in addition to adding a tad more water when using a #1 tip — and it worked much better for the next personalization project I did. Also, holding the piping bag straight up was an improvement, so recipe tweaks plus technique tweaks helped do the trick.

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You can see the first few I piped on names using the #1 tip. I quickly moved to the #2 tip, but the names were too runny to continue with that…

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So, on to initials it was. For some families with multiple same initials, I added a number at the end. The JK family are big Ravens fans, so I put purple and black jimmies on their hats. The one pink hat is for a friend who is a breast cancer survivor.

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Here’s where I moved from full names with the #2 tip to initials

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Of course, there was a special hat for my friend Brian, who is the biggest fan of the movie Christmas Vacation that I know.

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There were also some extra generic Santa hats and lots of star cut out cookies.

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And finally, there was a Fireball fudge that I put in the goody bags of my closest baseball mom pals!

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I cut it into small pieces so no one would over indulge.

On Christmas Eve, I take my son Alex with me and we make deliveries of the goody bags to everyone. We have plastic bags to put the red or gold paper bags in (should have taken a picture of the goody bags, shouldn’t I?!) for folks who may not be home.

He asked me recently, “mom, why is this such a big deal to you.”  So I shared a story with him and decided I would put a note with the story in each of the bags:

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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

 

 

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!

Cousins ‘n Crabs Shortbread Cookies

Baking date: August 29, 2016

Each year, the cousins on my mom’s side of the family get together in the Summer for something we call Cousins ‘n Crabs. There are 13 of us cousins, and we are far-flung. A few of us live in Maryland, and the largest contingent (4) are in California – divided between San Diego and San Francisco. Florida (Port Orange), Illinois (Chicago), Arlington (Virginia), Richmond Hill (Toronto), and Italy are also represented.

While we all aren’t able to be at the event each year, we try to get as many as possible together. The event is hosted at my sister’s house, where we steam crabs and cook hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. Folks bring side dishes and desserts to round out the meal.

Of course, I’m on dessert duty. This year, I made outrageous brownies (sorry, no picture was taken before they were all gobbled up!). I also made shortbread cookies because my mom’s brother is allergic to eggs. Whenever we gather, I always make an eggless dessert to he can have something sweet.

Here’s the recipe I used for the cookies:

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Because this is a mini-reunion of sorts, I went with a Maryland-inspired color theme for the decorations. I made royal icing in white, red, black, and golden yellow.

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The cookies were in star shapes along with COUSINS N CRABS spelled out using alphabet cookie cutters.

I tried to make Maryland flag-inspired designs on the letters:

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 But I made the royal icing a bit too runny. This is how COUSINS N CRABS turned out:

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The cookie in the middle is the family name Fenwick. Again, you see that the icing was a bit runny and didn’t hold its shape too well:

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All the cookies tasted great in spite of the icing not turning out exactly as I had hoped!

I used the remaining icing to decorate the stars. There was so much left over that I got to use it for special retirement goodies I made the following day for a co-worker.

Here are the stars:

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And close up:

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Every year, I look forward to Cousins ‘n Crabs. It brings those of us who can attend back to our roots. And we get to spend time with family, which is the best reason of all to get together.

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Meaty crab backfin – delish!

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My Uncle Bill feeding his grandson Max freshly picked crab while my sister Diane holds him

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My Uncle Bill feeding his oldest grandson Jack freshly picked crab

Mother’s Day Baseball Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Baking date: May 7, 2016

For the past 5 years – with the exception of last year — I have spent my Mother’s Day at the baseball field watching my oldest son play on a travel team. While most moms might be disappointed at sharing “their” day with other families at the ball field, I consider it part of being a mom, and a true reflection of what being a mom is all about – supporting your kid in their pursuits.

It’s also brought some amazing memories — like the year we got a picture with the players and moms. It is still one of my favorite memories of being a sports mom.

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2012 10U Walkersville Lions on Mother’s Day

Since I bake goodies for every weekend game, I made special cookies for the moms on this Mothers Day. I started by using the recipe for chocolate sugar cookies. I used a recently purchased plaque cookie cutter (the one on the right in the photo).

I decorated the cookies using royal icing. I flooded the main part of the cookies in white. I then dyed some of the icing red (no taste), and some royal blue. I used the red to pipe the baseball stitching on each end of the cookie, into the white base. I also piped the each players number and the word MOM into the white base. Finally, I outlined the white base in royal blue. Here’s what the decorated cookies looked like:

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I made one special cookie for the head coach. He lost his mother this past Fall, so I made him this cookie because his family called her “Mom Mom”.

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And thankfully, I had made a generic Mom cookie, because we had one kid who played with us that day as a fill in.

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With the remaining cookie dough, I made round cut outs and using the three colors of royal icing, made a check pattern on top of the cookies. With the last of the dough, I had shaped it into an oval cookie and decorated it with red, white, and blue, and little red hearts. I gave that to one of the grandmothers at the game.

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The one downside to these cookies was transporting them and waiting for the end of the game to hand them out. I had placed each cookie in a sandwich bag, and this is what they looked like (even though it wasn’t particularly hot that day, and I had placed the container in the shade):

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I had decorated them that morning, so it’s possible if I had done it the evening before, the icing would have had more time to set. Even so, according to the moms, they tasted good!

There’s still time to perfect this, as we have baseball games on Fathers Day!

Chocolate Shortbread Easter Cookies

Baking date: March 26, 2016

For Easter this year, we were invited to my mom and dad’s house for dinner. I was on dessert detail, of course.

I have an uncle who can not eat eggs, so desserts are always made with an eye toward something he can enjoy. I usually go with shortbread cookies, but wanted something a bit different this year.

I had found a recipe on Pinterest for chocolate shortbread cookies and wanted to decorate them with royal icing. But the problem with royal icing is the egg whites or meringue powder. So I found a recipe on Pinterest for non-egg white/meringue powder royal icing — I was set!  (Baker’s note: This version of royal icing takes a bit longer to set than if you use egg whites or meringue powder).

I used the Wilton Peeps cookie cutters to make the bunny cookies. They were topped with tinted royal icing (pink and violet). Once they were iced, I dipped the cookies in purple or pink sugar sprinkles. I added the eyes/noses with royal icing tinted black. Here are the bunnies:

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This is what happens when you don’t know where the eyes and nose go at first (that pink bunny — oops!):

Bad bunny Good bunny

And here are the chicks, topped with royal icing tinted golden yellow and then dipped in yellow sugar sprinkles, with a dot of black tinted royal icing for the eye:

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I used an egg-shaped cookie cutter for the Easter egg cookies, and decorated each one with a unique design using royal icing, sugar pearls, and sprinkles. I left some of the royal icing white, used the pink, purple, and yellow from the chicks and added neon green.

Here are all the decorated Easter egg cookies (royal icing is messy!):

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Here are the decorated cookies up close:

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Everyone liked that the sweetness of the royal icing was a great compliment to the chocolate shortbread.

So that leaves us with only one question left unanswered…which came first?

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