Simple 17th Birthday Cake

Baking date: February 20, 2019

My oldest turned 17 in February and his request was super simple. He wanted a chocolate cake with white frosting. That was a good thing, because his birthday fell on a weekday – and on a particular day that I had an all day event for work, followed by an exhibit set up and overnight stay at a hotel in D.C., for another event.

I made him a one-bowl chocolate cake and cheated by buying canned white frosting, because homemade butter cream never turns out white.  Baker’s note: this recipe is great for cake.  I have tried it twice to make cupcakes, and each time it was a huge fail. Cakes only!

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While it looks like a charred mess, it’s actually goopy and slimey — both times I tried to make cupcakes with this recipe.

I melted some chocolate chips in heavy cream to make a chocolate icing to pipe on the number 17.

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Happy Birthday, Big Al!

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Photo with Big Al in December 2018, when I purposefully wore antlers on my head during a special event supporting the high school athletic boosters at a local tavern.

Football Jersey, Football Player Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Baking date: January 5, 2019

Each year for my son’s football team, I have been baking for the annual banquet. The year they were the State 2A Champs, I went crazy. The following year, we were conference champs, and I baked a bunch for that banquet as well.

This past year, after losing 25 seniors, our team was in re-building mode. We had a tough season and we weren’t the same powerhouse. In addition, we lost a number of key starters to injuries. So, while we didn’t make the playoffs, we still celebrated the boys and their coaches who worked hard through a tough season.

I made personalized jersey chocolate sugar cookies for the Seniors. The cookie cutter is large, so keep that in mind for the amount of cookie batter you will need. This recipe makes a ton of roll out cookies, but the year we had 25 Seniors on the team, I ended up making two batches.

What you see here is the first batch. Because our naughty dog Jake at3 about 4 of the cookies off the table and I had to make more. Luckily, I had not used all the cookie dough at this point.IMG_2401

For the non-Senior varsity players, I made personalized gingerbread men football players. For the JV team, I made cupcakes.

Here is my kitchen table, with the cookies in various states of decoration. I used Betty Crocker cookie icing in royal blue, white, and white dyed golden yellow, so that everything would be in the school colors.

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You can see my list at the bottom of the picture. Getting a complete roster with the correct numbers is very important. I cross them off as I decorate them!

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The coaches and the team mom get football cookies

Here are the Senior cookies:

Player Jerseys

 

Here are the remainder of the varsity player cookies:

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And an assortment of the rest, including a cookie for the team mom/photographer:

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Here is the dessert table, that included the JV cupcakes (chocolate with vanilla frosting, topped with gold and royal blue colored chocolates, and yellow and royal blue sugar sprinkles), as well as some store-bought cupcakes and cookies.

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I know their job as teenagers is to try and act cool, but we did manage to catch a number of them showing off their personalized treats. Even my kid posed (he’s #63) with a few of his linemen buddies.

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I donate my time and the cost of materials for this effort. This banquet is one of the ways I pay-it-forward for the kids in my community — many of whom I have watched play football for 10+ years.

#WalkersvilleProud

#ILoveWHSLions

Christmas Ornament Cookies

Baking date: December 8; Decorating dates: December 22 & 23

For a number of years now, I have baked cookies and decorated them for my oldest son’s baseball teammates and their families. 2018 was no exception…but it was a bit different. After 10 years, it was the year my son played his final organized baseball game. I think he handled it better than his parents, and I blogged about the experience of his last baseball game at our home field after 10 years.

I had purchased new cookie cutters in ornament shapes from Crate & Barrel that I planned to use for the 2018 Christmas goody bags. Here’s a photo, as I was unable to find a link to them currently on the C&B site – perhaps because they are seasonal.  Baker’s note: The top two shapes — especially that one on the top left — are more fragile than the others because of narrowing areas of the cut out. This is true for cutting them out, getting them out of the shape and onto the cookie sheet and after they bake. Those shapes are prone to breaking.  Overall, these shapes are large, so keep that in mind for quantity of cookies.

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I made gingerbread cookies — my mom sent me her favorite version of a gingerbread cut out recipe. It makes a ton of cookies, even with large cookie cutters. I actually called my mom after she emailed me the recipe because I thought vinegar was a mistake.

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I also made sugar cookies.  I had made them weeks earlier, and froze them until I was ready to start decorating, December 22 and 23. Here they are in the storage containers, ready to be decorated.

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And here’s my personal “workshop”, ready for the cookie decorating.  In addition to the ornament cut outs, I also had candy canes and stars. You can see some of the ornament cookies that I had started, in the bottom right corner. Each ornament cookie had a unique decoration. I made one cookie for every member of each family – close to 125 cookies:

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So big bummer here – the pictures I took of all the decorated cookies got deleted from my phone. The only one that saved was this one:IMG_2372

And a few friends who received the cookies posted photos (presented in slide show format):

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Here are links to some of the previous years’ cookies:

In addition to cookies, I also make mini-breads:  banana, snickerdoodle, and pumpkin (a Pillsbury mix topped with chocolate chips). Here you see my big mini-bread pan filled with pumpkin, before being topped with chocolate chips. In the background are the very ripe bananas I got at the store, that would soon be turned into banana bread.

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So, while I don’t have photos of all the cookies, I do have this photo of my delivery “elf” along with my new “sleigh” filled with the goody bags. My elf has gone out with me  on Christmas Eve each year to drop off the bags of cookies, homemade breads and candies to all the baseball families we have spent our Summers with over the years.

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I look forward to continuing this tradition as long as possible, even when high school is over.

Star Gingerbread Cookie Tree

Baking date: December 9, Assembly date: December 16, 2018

I had seen this video tutorial on YouTube and immediately purchased the Wilton Star Christmas Tree cookie cutter set because I wanted to try it. It took me a year, but in 2018 I finally got around it.

Baker’s note: I followed the instructions in the video of cutting out the center for the larger stars. But a note of caution – I thought all the stars with centers cut out were the largest and should be stacked in reverse size order. Turns out, one of the full size cut outs is actually bigger than the cutouts with hollow centers. You need to stack the cookies in size order prior to using the royal icing to build your tree.

I used pre-made white cookie icing instead of making royal icing from scratch. The cookie icing was a bit runny for this task. I would recommend making a royal icing from scratch that is a bit thick. It will still drip over the edges and will be less messy. My arm was covered in icing once I was done.

I made the cookies out of gingerbread, from a family recipe. Here’s the tree completely assembled and with white, blue and silver decorations.

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I let the cake “set” overnight. I took this with me to the office to share with co-workers. It was my co-pilot on the hour and a half drive in. It traveled just fine in the top of my turkey roasting pan, because it was too tall for my normal cake holder.

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People were wow’d. At first, no one wanted to break off a piece. But once they started, it was quickly gobbled up.

It was pretty and it tasted great – the perfect combo!

Christmas Cookie Decorating Party

Baking date: December 8; decorating date: December 15

Each year, I invite my sisters, mom, aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins to my house for a cookie exchange/decorating party. Each family who comes brings cookies to exchange, and I make roll-out/cut-out cookies for people to decorate. We decorate the cookies and while they are drying, I serve a buffet lunch to everyone who comes. It is a great way to spend a Saturday during the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday.

Here is a sampling of the cookies from this year, including a sassy little gingerbread man that my cousin’s daughter created:

Here’s the table full of cookies, waiting for the icing to dry:

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And here’s the buffet table:

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And here’s my mom, aunts, cousin, niece and nephew during the decorating.

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I hope you find a way to make the holidays special with your family!

 

 

Royal Icing Lace Technique

Baking date: December 8, 2019

The unit in my organization decided to have a gingerbread house decorating contest during the lunch hour during December. Teams of four were given a pre-fab gingerbread house kit. In addition to the decorations the kit came with, additional icings, sprinkles, decorations and candies were provided.

Unfortunately, the contest took place on a day that I was teleworking, so I couldn’t participate. I decided I would submit a single gingerbread cookie, decorated with royal icing on the day prior to the contest.

I searched YouTube for ideas on how to decorate the cookie, and found a tutorial on making holly lace.

I decided to make a Christmas ornament with some new cookie cutters I found from Crate & Barrel (seasonal availability):

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I also found an inspiration cookie for other decorations around the lace, since I was only going to make the lace in the middle of the ornament:

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Here’s my final cookie, in the shape of a bell ornament. I added a red sugar pearl in the center of the holly for a little more color. I piped on the inspiration border around the lace. For both the lace and the inspiration border, I used a #1 tip.

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It is time-consuming, so I’m glad I was only submitting one cookie for the contest!

Thanksgiving & Turkey Sugar Cookies

Baking date: November 12 & 18, 2018

Given that November was over 6 months ago (!),  and that was the last time I posted an update, I guess you could say things have been busy. And yes, I’ve been busy, but I haven’t stopped baking, so be prepared for a flurry of postings — I hope to get up-to-date this weekend.

For Thanksgiving at work, I made my traditional turkey cookies for my co-workers. More accurately, sugar cookies decorated like turkeys. I use a sugar cookie recipe from Food Network. I baked them a week early and stored them in the freezer until the following weekend, when I was ready to decorate them.

Baker’s note: if I’m working on sugar cookies that I’m going to cover in royal icing and don’t have a ton of time to make cookies from scratch, I find that our local Walmart sells sugar cookies by the dozen for under $2. The surface is not smooth, so I only use them if I am going to cover the cookies completely with icing. 

I decided to change up the eyes for the turkeys this time. Instead of an M&M with a dot of black icing, I went with pre-made candy eyeballs secured on top of the M&Ms with some of the cookie icing. I liked how they turned out much better that just a dot of black icing because the white background makes them stand out, even on the darker red and brown M&Ms. Here are all the eyeballs, ready to go on after I iced the cookies.

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I iced the cookies with white and chocolate pre-made cookie icing. I added candy corns around the top edge — 3 or 4 candy corns depending on how big the cookie is. I typically make a few cookies in a large size, and those get 5 candy corns. I placed M&Ms with the candy eyeballs just under the candy corns. I sprinkled multi-colored jimmies between the candy corns and the eyeballs.

Once the chocolate and white icing had set, I used yellow cookie icing (similar to the Betty Crocker brand, but it may have been Walmart’s Great Value brand), I piped on the triangular shape of the beaks, as well as the “feet”.

Here’s the final product:

I also used the icing, M&Ms, and candy corns to create some non-turkey cookies. Here’s the entire batch:

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Of course, I always have to protect my work from our canine counter surfing labs as it dries. Here’s my clever way to do that: IMG_2195

Baker’s note: A few months later, the taller of our two labs showed me just how ineffective this protection method is. 

Making cookies and sharing them with co-workers is just one way to give thanks for all their hard work all year.