2017 Ladies Luncheon Cake and Cupcakes

Baking date: December 21 (and, unfortunately, 22), 2017

Each year, the women in my husband’s family gather to celebrate the holidays on one Saturday in December. It is a lovely afternoon of lunch and laughter, followed by desserts. I always offer to bring the host a dessert.

This year I planned on making a tri-colored (red velvet and white cake, halved, with one half dyed moss green) Christmas bundt cake. The recipe is super easy – with the cake coming from two box mixes and the frosting from one can that you separate and color. You also get 6 cupcakes out of the deal since you can’t include all the batter in the bundt pan. In fact, I’ve made this cake in white, light blue and royal blue (winter-themed), black, orange and purple (Halloween), and pastel pink, yellow and purple (Easter).

I had made the cake on Thursday evening. My husband and I were going Christmas shopping Friday morning, and when we returned in the evening I was going to add the frosting and turn the cupcakes into Santa hats.

And then our son Nick called us while we were out and said “so…um…that cake you had on the island? Well, Jake took a bite out of it. A big bite.” He texted us this picture:


So, on our way home, we stopped and picked up two more boxes of cake mix so I could start all over again. To make it easier on myself, I also picked up some pre-dyed red icing.

Here is how I “saved” the canine-sampled cake … and fed it to my husband and boys. The offending section was cut out and thrown away:


Here the two cakes are side by side:


Here’s the party-worthy, non-canine sampled version. On top, I sprinkled holiday pearls.


And the Santa hat cupcakes turned out just fine. I piped on the red hat portion first, and added ruby red pearlized sugar sprinkles. Once that had set, I piped on the base of the hat and the pom on top in white, and added white sparkling sugar sprinkles on that.


Even though it was double the effort, the time spent with family was worth it!

All the Ladies

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:


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”.


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.


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…


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.


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


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


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


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


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:


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.



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



As you can see, not every cookie will accept sprinkles

Christmas Eve Deliveries to My Other Family Members

Baking date: December 23, 2015

When my three sisters and I were little, mom and dad would pile us in the VW bus (the original minivan) with packages of homemade treats my mom had whipped up. The day after Christmas, we would visit all my mom’s aunts and uncles to deliver the goods and a little Christmas cheer to her elderly aunts and uncles – she had 6 aunts and uncles on her mom’s side alone!

We would end the visits by stopping by two family friends’ homes, who had children our age we could play with. It was our reward for being well-behaved at the homes of the family elders.

My husband and I live about 2.5 hours away from my parents. While some of my husband’s immediate family (two uncles) are close by, the closest family member to me is my uncle who is just over an hour away.

A few years ago, I decided to start my own Christmas tradition of making homemade goodie deliveries to family. In my case, the “family” is the group of people we spend the majority of our spring and summer with at baseball fields — some of them we see on the football field and basketball court as well. While not all the families still are part of the baseball team my son Alex plays on, I consider them family.

I bake lots of cookies to decorate and I make mini-breads. I stuff enough into each container for the family members, as well as chocolates (holiday themed stuff like Snickers, Kisses, KitKats, etc.).

This year’s cookies included sugar cookies with decorations baked in, and gingerbread cut out candy canes and stars decorated with royal frosting. Some stars were had yellow tinted royal frosting with gold sugar pearls and gold sugar sprinkles. The other stars had white royal frosting and a variety of Christmas-themed sprinkles on top. The candy canes were all outlined and had white stripes. Every other stripe was flooded with the white royal icing. Sprinkles in red, green, gold, or silver were then added on the icing and the excess was shaken off.

The mini-breads were Snickerdoodle, pumpkin with chocolate chips on top, and banana.

Here’s the whole batch, ready for packaging:


And a few up close photos of the cookies:

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No matter how you celebrate the holidays, it’s always important to include your family members. Even those that don’t share your DNA.

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.


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


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:


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:


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.


Annual Family Christmas Cookie Exchange

Baking date: December 18, 2015

Each year — as long as a snow storm doesn’t ruin it (some of my family lives 2.5 hours away) — I invite my mom, sisters, aunts and cousins to my house for a cookie decorating party. It started out as a cookie bake, but that seemed crazy with one oven, 5 or 6 different cookies to bake, and everyone’s travel time factored in.

So I modified the event. Now, attendees bring a selection of baked cookies and I make cut out cookies. We decorate the cookies, then have lunch, and everyone shares the cookies they brought and takes home some of the decorated cookies.

This year, I made gingerbread cut outs, sugar cookie cut outs, and shortbread cut outs. My uncle is allergic to eggs, so that’s the reason for the shortbread cookies.

I provide the icing and decorations. Once we finish decorating the cookies, we have lunch – typically deli meats, cheeses, and the fixings for sandwiches, along with potato salad, pasta salad, and fresh fruit.

After lunch, we divvy up and package the cookies everyone brought so each person can take some home. By that time, the decorated cookies are dry enough.

This year, the cut out cookie shapes were Christmas trees, stockings, rounds, candy canes, bells, snowmen, and gingerbread men.

Here are the cookies up close, as well as a shot of the whole table full.

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My friend Rebecca’s daughter Sami has joined the fun the past few years. She had a basketball game and arrived after lunch. She hung out with me after everyone left and we decorated cookies in the early to mid-afternoon. I was taking her home around 4:00pm, as she, her brothers and her dad were going to see the new Star Wars movie that evening. Her designs included a homage to some of her favorite things:


…like the Pittsburgh Steelers…


…a beautiful wreath — channeling her designer parents’ talent…


…a salute to the new Star Wars movie…


…and this clever creation – she even broke off the leg. Oh Snap! indeed.

Sami and I decorated a bunch of cookies, although I did the most decorating. She focused on a few cookies, but spent a good deal of the time eating the decorations right out of the containers. I was able to send her back to her dad all sugared up!

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Sami had a great time.


That green smile is from eating all the decorations!

And so did I. Every year, it’s a tradition that means a great deal to me.

Annual Ladies Luncheon Cookies

Baking date: December 11, 2015

Each year, the women in my husband’s family get together for a lunch during the holiday season. Now that families are flung far and wide, it’s an opportunity to gather as many people who have time for a nice lunch without all the hassle of preparing it, serving it, and cleaning up.

After the lunch, the host invites everyone back to her home for desserts and coffee and/or wine. It’s a wonderful way to chat and catch up with one another.

I always offer to bring desserts for the post-luncheon gathering, and this year was no exception. I made three different kinds of cookies: chewy ginger molasses cookies, gingerbread reindeer, and sugar cookies with royal frosting snowflakes.

The chewy ginger molasses cookie recipe I found on Pinterest. The only change to the recipe was I rolled them in Sugar in the Raw instead of regular sugar.

The gingerbread reindeer were made from a box mix. I used a gingerbread man cookie cutter. I then turned the cookies upside down to decorate them to look like reindeer. The first time I did it two years ago, I hadn’t discovered royal frosting, and I didn’t really ‘nail it’…


Nailed It!

Now that I use royal frosting to outline and flood, the cookies look much better. Here are the trays of reindeer cookies decorated:

And this is the tray of reindeer and chewy ginger molasses cookies at the party. Baker’s note: try to lay the reindeer cookies flat or they may break at the base of the antlers (look close in the photo and you may see one that it happened to — this dish had a very angled side edge):


I also made sugar cookie recipe snowflakes with royal frosting. I tried a new recipe for royal frosting that doesn’t call for meringue power or egg whites. Instead you use almond extract (to improve the taste) and corn syrup. I found that this frosting took a little longer to set fully, but the taste was much improved over regular royal frosting. I now use almond extract in the regular royal frosting recipe that calls for meringue power: 1 lb. [3.75 cups] powdered sugar, 2 tbs meringue powder, 3 tbs water [substitute 1 tbs almond extract for 1 tbs water] or more to get decorating consistency.

I decorated each cookie with a unique snowflake design. I outlined the cookies in white, flooded them with light blue royal frosting and then piped on the snowflakes in white. I used small white sugar pearls, blue sugar sprinkles, and light blue sugar pearls:

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But the true hit of the party were the cupcakes with Grinch buttercream transfers hand-piped by my husband’s cousin’s daughter Kelsie who is a senior in high school. How amazing are these?!:


Whatever your year-end holiday traditions are with family, I hope they always have the capacity to sweeten your day and warm your heart.