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:

img_2118

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”.

img_2119

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.

img_2124

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…

img_2127

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.

img_2125

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

img_2126img_2121

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

img_2128

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

img_2122img_2123

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

img_2132

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:

img_0068

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:

inspiration-cookie

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:

img_1935img_1936

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:

img_1937img_1938

The coaches’ cookies had their names:

img_1939

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.

img_1940

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:

img_1941img_1942

And last (but certainly not least!), I hand shaped a large football cookie for the team mom:

img_1944

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!

img_8461a

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:

IMG_1668

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:

IMG_1669

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:

IMG_1701

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.

IMG_1636

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:

MD flag

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

IMG_1652

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:

IMG_1649

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:

IMG_1645

And close up:

IMG_1648IMG_1647

IMG_1646

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.

IMG_1651

Meaty crab backfin – delish!

IMG_1657

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

IMG_1654

My Uncle Bill feeding his oldest grandson Jack freshly picked crab

Basketball Shortbread Cookies

Baking date: March 12, 2016

When you live in a small town, you get to know the families pretty well. Especially if you spend much of your free time with those families cheering on your kids who play on the same sports teams.

One of those families has a son who has played basketball and baseball with our oldest son. Their daughter Lana is a great basketball player, having led our high school team to the state semi-finals in 2014. She now plays on a local community college team — the Hagerstown Community College Hawks — that won the Region XX Division II Tournament Championship.

421_1130472830307950_4065955692001762659_n

Winners! That’s Lana with the cut down net on her head.

The team qualified for and was headed to the NJCAA Championship Tournament in Overland Park, KS. So I decided to make the girls and their coaches a special treat for the plane ride to Kansas. A few of the girls had never flown before, so this was going to be quite an adventure.

I decided to make shortbread cutout cookies, just in case there were any egg allergies among the players and coaches. But then, in one of my less brilliant moves, I made royal icing with meringue powder (instead of corn syrup), so I made sure I gave the ingredient list to Lana to share with her teammates. Luckily, there were no allergies!

Before making the cookies, I made basketball-shaped candy melts in orange to use as decoration on the cookies. For the seams, I piped on black candy melts.

For the royal icing, I dyed the majority of it in moss green (school colors are green, white, and black). I left a small portion of the icing white for piping on names, numbers, and GO HAWKS.

I outlined the cookies in the moss green, and then thinned the green for flooding. When I was done flooding the cookie, I placed the basketball candy in the middle of the cookie. Once the basketball was placed, I piped on GO HAWKS across the top, the player name across the bottom, and the player number on one side. For the coaches, the cookie said HAWKS COACH, with the coach’s last name across the bottom.

Here is Lana’s cookie, up close:IMG_1015

Here are all the decorated cookies. But do you see my mistake?

IMG_1016

Yep – I made two cookies that had the #32 on them. Whoops! Daysha’s number is actually 33. And I had already thrown out the leftover icing. To fix it, I carved out the 32 on Daysha’s cookie and flipped over the icing (not nearly as neat and easy as it sounds). Using white candy melt, I piped on the number 33. Here’s the ‘fixed’ cookie:

IMG_1020

Lana’s parents, brother, and grandmother were also making the trip to Kansas, only they were driving. I made them a bag of gooey butter cookies for the trip, but also made them special cookies:

IMG_1017

Each cookie for the players and coaches was placed in its own small treat box, for ease of travel.

So how did they do in the tournament? Well, the girls were eliminated from the tournament after two games. Even though that was tough, take a look at what Lana posted on Facebook about the experience:

LL FB Post

What a winning attitude, in spite of what the final scoreboard said.

Valentine Cookies for Co-Workers

Baking date: February 15, 2016

I usually make goodies for my colleagues at the office during holidays. Valentine’s Day is no exception.

Using the chocolate sugar cookie recipe that is now a go-to fav, I made mini-heart-shaped cookies. There were a bunch that were decorated to be like conversation hearts, and the rest were decorated with sprinkles. I made royal icing (I always substitute a tablespoon of water with a tablespoon of almond extract – it makes the icing taste better), separated it and colored it leaf green, violet, golden yellow, and rose. I used the colors sparingly so that they would be more pastel. I outlined the hearts in the colors and used the remaining icing to flood them.

For the conversation hearts, I colored a bit of the royal icing red for writing on the letters. The conversation hearts had the name of the many services my Association offers (we love our acronyms!). Here’s a look at them:

IMG_0947

Here’s the rest of the heart cookies. The base icing was royal icing and I either added sprinkles or a different color royal frosting to decorate each one.

With the last of the dough, I made a big hand-shaped heart, using each color to outline the shape inward with a big red center. I gave that to the Chief of our division, because we certainly do ❤ her!

IMG_0939

It was a way to sweeten up the week for the amazing colleagues I have!

Heart-shaped Basketball Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Baking date: February 13, 2016

My oldest son’s basketball team had a game on Valentine’s Day this year, so I decided to make cookies for the team and the fans (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) who attended the game. I made heart-shaped cookies designed like basketballs.

I used two sizes of hearts. For the larger size heart, I decorated them like basketballs with each players’ number on the cookie. The smaller hearts were decorated like basketballs with no specific player information.

The cookie was a new go-to favorite recipe — chocolate sugar cookies. I used royal icing dyed in orange, royal blue (one of the team colors), and black to create the basketball design. For my royal icing recipe, I replace one of the tablespoons of water with 1 tablespoon of almond extract to give the icing some flavor (and the almond goes well with the chocolate cookies).

First I outlined all the cookies in orange so I could flood them. For the larger cookies, I made one for each player and the two coaches. Once I flooded the cookies with orange, and before they set, I piped on the black seams with a #2 tip. I piped on each players number in royal blue with a #1 tip. The last step was sprinkling orange colored sugar on top of the cookies. Here are the finished cookies for the players and coaches:

IMG_0921

There were tons of the smaller heart-shaped cookies. Each was decorated the same way as the larger cookies, but without the number or Lion paw. Here’s an up close photo of the smaller cookies and the full container:

When I got to the end of the cookie dough, I took the last outline of a cutout cookie and made that into a reverse out heart with orange icing and dots of royal blue around the edge.

IMG_0925

The cookies were a big hit. As I mentioned, the almond extract with the chocolate cookie flavor was a nice complement. It was a fun way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with teenage boys who love sports.