Chicago dyes their river green, NYC hosts a parade, and me…I bake up some Irish soda bread to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Head over to my post at babycenter.com for my Irish mother-in-law’s delectable recipe.
With the exception of small prizes (bubbles, lollipops, whistles), you probably already have almost everything you need to get your games on…classic kids’ party games that is.
There will always be a solid argument for outsourcing the entertainment portion of your child’s birthday party. (Is there anything more panic-inducing than overestimating how long they’ll spend on the craft project, then realizing that you have 30 excruciating minutes to kill before the pizza arrives?)
But here’s the thing: Since everyone else in your son’s class is having a Super Mario, superhero, or super-something party, it’s never been easier to differentiate a birthday by booking (and spending) next to nothing. If your kids are old enough to sit in a circle, they’re old enough to be entertained by the same classic party games you grew up loving. Check out my post over at babycenter.com for game details and ideas.
Last night my 10-year-old daughter Camilla separated 33 eggs, washed 6 pans 3 times each, and and wrapped up 15 mini pink angel food cakes—one for each of her classmates. Like me, she loves sweet holiday celebrations and, for better or worse, spends uncountable hours attending to small details…why clean the basement when we can hand-cut cupcake wrappers?
Several weeks ago Camilla spied a clever cake pan in the King Arthur catalog that produced mini angel food cakes and knew right then she just had to make these for her 2013 Valentines (last year she bagged up homemade pink popcorn for her comrades). She alerted me as to her plan and asked if I’d buy her the pan and a bag of gluten-free flour because she didn’t want Sam, her gluten-free classmate, to feel left out. I was proud of her thoughtfulness and told her I’d split the cost of the pan and pay for the flour.
The splitting part inspired her to do some comparison shopping. Camilla diligently searched online and found several options, including Wilton’s individual pans with removable bottoms, just like those of large tube pans. She seemed to think those would work better than the King Arthur pan, and I heartily agreed. Angel food tends to be a little sticky.
Using the Heavenly Angel Food Cake recipe from the Sweet Home cookbook, Camilla doubled the recipe for her first batch. And to make them Valentine-y, she added pink food coloring at the same time she folded the flour into the egg whites.
She used one cup of batter for each 4-1/2–inch mini pan and baked them for about 20 minutes. For the third batch she replaced the one cup cake flour with 3/4 cup King Arthur’s Gluten-Free flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch. The cakes turned out just as beautifully using GF flour—and tasty too.
I, not having the perseverance of my daughter yesterday (she definitely got the patience gene from Dad), decided to opt for a simpler Valentine’s treat. I wanted to experiment with the newly-purchased King Arthur flour. Having used Bob’s Red Mill GF flour in the past, this blend seemed less gritty. It also had a milder taste (I swear I can taste a garbanzo flavor in Bob’s blend).
These kid-friendly, vegan and gluten-free heart cookies take just a few minutes to mix up. The cutting out takes a bit longer, but nothing compared to separating 33 eggs! The small little sweets are crispy with a slight crunch, sweet with an ever-so-slight hint of nuttiness—delectable.
GF Heart Cookies
Note: This recipe uses a combination of ingredients not typical for all pantries. If you do not have a gluten sensitivity, you may replace the GF flour with whole wheat pastry flour or even all-purpose flour. You may also make almond flour by pulsing blanched slivered almonds in the bowl of a food processor. And never fear, if you don’t have coconut oil, you may use canola, safflower or vegetable oil. This recipe is very forgiving. Lastly, if you want to cut the process time down, forget the cookie cutter and just roll the dough in walnut-sized balls between your palms, make an indent with your finger and you’ll have thumbprint cookies!
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup almond flour
1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour, such as King Arthur brand
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup coconut oil, liquefied
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ to 1 cup fruit preserves such as raspberry or strawberry
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put the oats in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
2. Add the almond and GF flours and salt and pulse until thoroughly combined.
3. Pour in the maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla. Pulse until just combined.
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface. The dough will feel somewhat wet and oily but should not stick to your hands or a counter surface. Divide the dough in half and using a rolling pin, roll the first piece out to an 1/8-inch thickness. Use a heart-shape cookie cutter to make as many cookies as possible.
5. Once you’ve transferred the cookies, use your forefinger to create a small heart-shape indentation in each cookie, mimicking the shape of the cookie
6. Gently spoon a small amount of jam into the indent of each cookie (I used a ¼ teaspoon of jam for each 2-inch cookie).
7. Bake cookies for approximately 15 minutes of until just golden around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing to a rack. Repeat the procedure with the second half of the dough.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
One of the very best things about writing a cookbook is the people you encounter along the way. At the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Book & Blog festival last spring I had the fortunate experience of meeting Priscilla Martel, co-author of the award-winning culinary textbooks On Baking: A Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals and On Cooking: A Textbooks of Culinary Fundamentals.
Having just completed my modest 160-page first book, I was in awe of Priscilla, who had co-authored not one, but two 800-page cooking compendiums.
We were stationed next to each other exhibiting our books and Priscilla was offering samples of the most incredibly delectable sweet and spicy almonds. I learned that in addition to being a chef, educator, food writer and former restaurant owner, Priscilla also serves as culinary director of the American Almond Products Company—and gives herself the charming title of Almond Ambassador.
When the festival exhibit was over, Priscilla left behind a half-full Ziploc of the almonds. Still packing up, I kept eyeing those irresistible nuts. Hmmm, was there something wrong with them? Had someone put their dirty mitts in the bag? Did she sneeze on them? I’m telling you, they were so good I couldn’t think that way. I figured she left them for a willing recipient—me?
A friend described the nuts “as addictive and crack,” and perhaps that’s how I can justify my throwing caution to the wind and snatching up those fiery little morsels. The nuts lasted no longer than a few days. Thank goodness Priscilla was willing to share her recipe when I contacted her afterward or I’m not sure to what lengths I would have gone to get my fix.
Not only has she given us our Holiday aresenal no. 3: spiced almonds—a handful of these babies will satisfy any guest—but she’s also kindly imparted her sage wisdom for holiday preparations in our Q&A below. To learn more about Priscilla, listen to her recent interview on Conversation Crossroad.
RMF: Can you suggest any pre-holiday strategies for home cooks preparing to host large meals?
PM: Make a list and think about the time you have and what you want to accomplish. I am not talking about something required at Downton Abby. Just plot out the meal(s). A list helps me see what is feasible because I am congenitally overambitious.
Make friends with your freezer. See what you can make ahead. Desserts freeze easily. Make your cookie dough now and stash it in the freezer.
Also try Jacques Pépin’s food processor crust. He told me that when he had a restaurant, they would make the dough, roll it out on parchment paper and stack several of the rolled sheets of dough in the freezer.
Stews freeze well. Planning for the houseguests that are coming this month we decided to make a lamb navarin and freeze it. That step will make it feasible for us to invite other friends one evening during their visit.
Cheese spreads like pimento cheese or homemade Boursin are easy to make ahead and freeze well. I use them as a appetizers. Then they get a second life as a sandwich spread. You can make paninni and cut them into small triangles for an appetizer too.
Keep some frozen peas and corn on hand for quick soups.
Many foods can be prepped ahead and refrigerated. Cranberry relish or sauce lasts a week in a good cold fridge. Stuffing, mashed potatoes and other vegetable purées can be made two days ahead. Just be sure to chill them thoroughly and quickly before refrigerating them. (A stainless steel bowl set into a larger bowl of ice and water will chill down mashed potatoes.)
Peel the potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots ahead if you’re feeding a real crowd.
Precook bacon a day ahead or longer and freeze it. You’ll eliminate a big step and the mess for a group breakfast or use it to crumble in salads.
If you have the time and inclination, make your own salad dressing and make it ahead. In a blender or in an old mustard jar, making salad dressing really is child’s play, saves money and adds your personal signature to a meal.
The day of the big meal, remember that carryover cooking is your friend. When a turkey or casserole are removed from the oven, residual heat will continue to cook and warm the food. To retain this heat, remove the stuffing if you put it into the bird. Then cover the turkey with a tight layer of foil and a clean bath towel or blanket. Depending on its size, the turkey will stay hot for an hour or more.
RMF: Residual heat does work like a charm. When I lived in Norway, I knew someone who kept potatoes warm by nestling them in bed covered with a duvet.
RMF: Does your family heritage influence any of the dishes you serve at holiday meals?
PM: Just thinking about family traditions conjures the smell of my Grandmère’s meat-stuffed turkey she served at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And no one ever refused Grandma Mary’s cream puffs when I make them. But over the years we have evolved our own food traditions.
For the Thanksgiving turkey, chestnut and sausage stuffing made from a Pullman loaf my husband bakes for the occasion. We always start light—salad with bitter greens, toasted nuts and a lightly salty cheese whets the appetite without overwhelming. (RMF: Stay tuned next week for Priscilla’s salad recipe.) Pumpkin or wild mushroom ravioli in light broth works well too. There has to be some sort of squash, roasted or puréed. And I love roasted Brussels sprouts.
It’s crazy but we still use the tablecloth, placecards and china my Mom used when I was a kid. And never a buffet, always three or four courses, polished silver and the “good” glasses. But the most important thing is good conversation and being with family and friends.
RMF: I couldn’t agree more!
RMF: You are also known as the “Almond Expert.” What are some ways to incorporate almonds into everyday cooking?
PM: Dry roasted almonds are a go-to snack. Coarsely chop them on salads. And garnish vegetables with them too. I like the textural contrast of toasted almonds on cauliflower purée.
For a quick hors d’oeuvres when company is coming, heat a cup of almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat for three or four minutes until they become fragrant. Shake the pan so they brown evenly. Then add a little olive oil and some flaked salt such as Maldon and a little seasoning. Cumin, smoked paprika, curry power, black pepper or a favorite spice blend
Almonds are filling so I have a handful at breakfast. And I have a couple little tins of them to stash in my purse for a snack.
RMF: You’ve worked in the food industry for over 35 years now. You’ve owned a restaurant, cooked for Jacques Pépin, and written tomes on food. How do you continue to stay inspired in the kitchen?
PM: “Io sono una mangiona!” as the Italian would say. I am a good eater and there are so many place to go and things to eat. It would take a cat’s nine lives for me to have my fill.
Note from Rebecca: Keep a batch or two of these nuts on hand to tide over unexpected guests. They’re perfect paired with a cold lager or complex wine, nothing too subtle. Try a spicy Zinfandel. Don’t double the recipe though, it won’t work. You’ll have to repeat the procedure twice. But it’s worth it!
Adapted from a recipe from Hors d’Oeuvres: Simple, Stylish, Seasonal by Gillian Duffy, William Morrow 1999
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup black and white sesame seeds
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons grapeseed or other vegetable oil
3 cups whole blanched almonds
1. Mix the salt, cumin, ginger, red pepper flakes and sesame seeds together with ¼ cup of the sugar in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or lightly oiled parchment paper.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, 12-inch wide sauté pan over medium heat. Add the almonds and stir continuously until they start to smell fragrant, taking care not to burn them. This may take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. Be patient.
3. Sprinkle in the remaining ½ cup of sugar and shake the pan occasionally to keep the almonds from burning. Start to stir when the sugar starts to melt. Again, be patient and stir occasionally to make sure that all of the sugar melts and caramelizes. This may take 10 minutes or more.
4. Once the sugar is golden brown and the almonds are evenly coated and a rich, brown color, work quickly. Remove the sauté pan from the heat. Add the almonds to the spice mixture and toss them quickly to coat well.
5. Spread them out on a nonstick baking sheet. Using two forks, separate the almonds from one another while still hot. When cool enough to handle, finish separating them by hand. This must be done quickly; once the nuts become cool and the caramel sets, they are difficult to separate.
6. When they are cool, store in a Ziploc bag or an airtight container. They will keep for a few weeks.
Disclaimer: This post contains no alcohol. While I have many preferred liquor-infused party drinks, I also have some solid standbys sans. For me, offering up a tasty, thirst-quenching non-alcoholic beverage option when entertaining is key. Facing a table of unopened soda bottles on a drinks table is very uninviting, and as they stay uncapped, they lose their carbonation and who really wants that sweet, sugary stuff anyway.
My all-time favorite go-to party refreshment is fresh-brewed iced tea—powdered mixes are not an option, ever! Nearly twenty years ago I interviewed master tea blender and buyer Michael Harney for a short 500-word article and he sent me charming tins of his glorious teas. From that time on, I was hooked on the high-quality leaves. Harney & Sons tea, now based in Millerton, NY, was not widely available then. I’m thrilled that my local market now carries the brand, and you can find it nationwide at Barnes & Noble and of course, the Harney & Sons site.
For parties I boil up big pots of tea, let them cool to room temp, and store them in gallon-size jugs (recycled water or milk jugs). Harney makes large sachets specifically for iced tea—the raspberry herbal brews up very nicely.
The organic green with citrus and gingko is to die for. It’s light, refreshing and the flavors just dance in your mouth. Honestly, if I had to pick one tea to drink for the rest of my life, this just may be it (sorry Earl Grey, you’d be a close second).
Because I can barely keep a pitcher in the fridge (my daughters and their friends easily drink three quarts in less than half an hour) I do run out often. My second, more affordable option is plain old Lipton ice tea. It brews up clean and smooth. Sometimes I blend it with a few bags of Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger a little added flavor.
When brewing, I boil one quart of water and steep 6 tea bags (three each of Lipton and Celestial Seasonings when blending) for 8 to 10 minutes (slightly less for green teas). I allow to cool, add two more quarts of water and serve in a large glass dispenser. I brew strong tea so I can add up to 1/4 container of ice without fear of diluting the tea’s flavor. I also put some fruit slices in the dispenser for garnish.
While you may regret past entertaining supplies purchases (like those long, skinny ceramic olive dishes), a glass dispenser is certainly an acquisition you’ll cherish. They look good and enable guests, especially little ones, to serve themselves (we love that!).
With summer coming to an end, you’ll find these beverage containers on sale at places like Target and Pottery Barn. My favorite is a simple glass dispenser like this one for only 20.29 from Target.
If you can invest in several, even better. I fill one with lemonade (see my babycenter.com post for the tips on the tastiest lemonade ever), another with iced tea and the third with plain water infused with lemon or cucumber slices for a colorful touch and fresh flavor. Another thoughtful addition is to place a small pitcher of simple syrup (dissolve two parts sugar in one part water by boiling just until the sugar is dissolved and allow to cool) on the table next to the iced tea.
Without sounding too Bloombergish, banish sodas from your beverage table at your next party and replace them with antioxidant-boosting tea. Your guests will be thrilled!
I’m not one for perfectly decorated cakes. While a cleverly-designed fondant-covered creation may look very tempting, the taste and texture often disappoint. I much rather prefer dense (or light, I’m not picky), moist layer cakes with big, fluffy uneven swirls of frosting—that’s perfection to me. I find them so inviting I have to keep myself from taking a fork and digging right in. My goal is always to bake the tastiest cake possible—decoration becomes an afterthought.
My daughter posed a challenge when she asked if we could make “a totally cool cake with marshmallow frosting” for her tie-dye party. I’m sure many of you have seen those rainbow layer cakes all over the Web. Martha featured one on her show. The Better Homes & Gardens May cover featured a sweet lemonade cake with variegated pink layers. I’ve been looking for an excuse to make one of these and thought this was my chance.
Camilla found an image that was even more interesting though. Instead of uniform, stacked layers, the cake she wanted combined colors in one layer like real tie-dye. “So totally cool,” she said. And it was.
For more on Tie-dye parties, click over to my post at Babycenter.com.
Totally Cool Tie-Dye Cake
This recipe makes a dense, moist golden cake. I did use a standard seven-minute frosting because Camilla wanted something marshmallow-like. However, for ease of decorating, I would recommend a heavier butter cream, for which I have given the recipe.
2-1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch pans.
2. Stir together the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream for 3 minutes on high until light and fluffy, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vinegar and mix until full incorporated. Next add the milk and flour mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition, for about 20 seconds, making sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined, again stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Divide the batter into 6 different bowls using the following amounts: 2 cups batter (purple), 1-1/2 cups batter (blue,) 1 cup batter (green), 3/4 cup batter (yellow), 1/2 cup batter (orange), 1/2 cup batter (red). Add food coloring to each bowl, stirring and adding until desired color is reached.
NOTE: You may substitute any colors. If using the amounts/colors above, the 2-cup purple batter becomes the outermost layer, with the other colors working their way in to the center of the cake, which will be red.
I did not give number of drops of food coloring as the amount depends on if you use gels, liquid, etc.
Begin by dividing the 2 cups of batter (purple in this case) between the two prepared pans.
Continue to divide the individual batters between the two pans leaving a one- to two-inch circle of each color showing (see below). This is actually easier than it may seem. The batter is very agreeable to this method, it doesn’t run or spread.
Continue spreading the batter in this manner until all the batters/colors are used.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Don’t be alarmed if the color of your cake looks brown or deep, deep purple. I promise it’ll be gorgeous when you cut it. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.
7. Frost when fully cool with Buttercream frosting and decorate with gel colors for a tie-dye effect.
Culinary Institute of America Buttercream Frosting
This standard buttercream recipe comes from the CIA in Hyde Park, NY.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
8 large egg whites
4 cups unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1. Combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar with the water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking without stirring to the soft ball stage (240°F).
2. Meanwhile, place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment.
3. When the sugar syrup has reached approximately 230°F, whip the egg whites on medium speed to soft peak consistency. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until the egg whites hold to medium peaks.
4. When the sugar syrup reaches 240°F, immediately pour it into a heatproof glass measuring cup with a pouring spout. This will allow better control of the flow of the hot syrup into the egg whites. You can also stream the hot syrup into the egg whites directly from the pot, if desired. Pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running on medium speed. As soon as all of the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and continue to whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature.
5. Add the cubed butter gradually, mixing after each addition until fully incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Blend in the vanilla. The buttercream is ready for use or may be tightly covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE;
1. Place 1 layer, flat side up, in the middle of a plate or cake stand. Using a knife or offset spatula, spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer. Carefully set the other layer on top, flat side up, and repeat. Cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
2. Using small tubes of gel decorating colors, make 6 concentric circles, as shown below.
3. Using a pastry brush (or a flat, unused paint brush), start at the center gently pull the brush outward through each colored ring until you reach the outer edge.
Clean the brush, make sure it’s fully dry, and repeat the process next to the area you just pulled. Continue until the entire cake has been “tie-dyed.”
It’s just like opening a present when you cut into this cake…oohs and ahhs will abound. Even better if you can keep a secret until the cake is cut (not so easy in my case unfortunately!). Have fun.
For those who read yesterday’s post, you know that I recently baked up some graduation goodies for the Better Show using two of my favorite Sweet Home go-to recipes: Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes and Super-Easy Sugar Cookies.
What the segment below didn’t show was a close-up of the finished graduation gown and mortar board cookies (of course those were the ones I’d labored over for hours, thinking they’d get their moment in the spotlight). Instead, they missed their cue and were quickly gobbled up by the show’s staff.
In hopes of reclaiming their well-deserved fifteen minutes…ahem, probably more like fifteen seconds…of fame, I’m giving them center stage today.
Ease rules in this recipe, which yields a not-too-sweet, not-too-thick, classic crisp-on-the-edges sugar cookie. I used to think cut-out cookies were a complete chore. I disliked the struggle of rolling out a hard, refrigerated lump of dough.
Then Robin Chess, who teaches kids’ cooking classes at our local elementary school, showed me how she effortlessly makes hundreds of cut-out cookies every holiday season with her students, ages five to eight. Straight from the mixing bowl, she places small handfuls of dough between two sheets of wax paper and has the kids roll it out, no sticking, no struggle.
When she makes these cookies, they go right into the oven—no chilling necessary—to avoid waiting time. For a slightly crisper cookie, I refrigerate them for 20 minutes on the baking sheets after they’ve been cut. If you’re in a rush, though, this step is not essential to a tasty cookie.
This dependable dough should not be reserved for holiday cookies, but used year round with celebration-specific cookie cutters.
As their name implies, the cookies are super simple to make. I will not lie though about the ease of the decorating process. Unlike the Secret-Ingredient Cupcakes, which can be frosted with a quick squeeze of the decorating bag, icing these babies takes a little more time and effort, okay, A LOT more time and effort.
Yesterday I bragged that the Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes cost less than half of what bakery-made ones would. I can’t, however, say the same for these cookies. While the ingredients cost very little, your decorating time may add up—and you just may say screw it, it’s worth paying three bucks a cookie. There’s undoubtedly something extremely satisfying about creating your own Eleni-like creation though.
I’ve been obsessed with Eleni Gianopulos’ cookies since she opened her shop in New York’s Chelsea Market some 15 years ago. Her business, Eleni’s New York, was one of the originator’s of the custom-decorated cookie. Their charming and whimsical hand-iced confections may be special-ordered for any occasion.
By following the steps below, you too, can learn to make playful cookies.
These are both from FancyFlours. I also have a Wilton Mortar Board cookie cutter that I like a lot too.
Super-Easy Sugar Cookies
Forty 3-inch cookies
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
2. Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat on medium another 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3. Add the egg and the vanilla extract to the bowl and continue to beat on medium for another 30 seconds. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and beat on low to medium for 11/2 to 2 minutes or until the dough comes together to form a ball.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two even parts. Working with one section at a time, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut the dough using cookie cutters and gently lift the shapes with a spatula and place on the prepared cookie sheet.
5. Refrigerate the cut cookies on the sheets for 20 minutes.
6. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired with Royal Icing.
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 large egg whites (or the prepared powdered egg white equivalent, meaning mixed with water)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Food coloring (optional)
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl. Beat for another minute or two. The icing should be somewhat stiff (spreadable but not so thin it will run off the edges of the cookie). Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon juice.
3. If desired, divide the icing among several bowls and color as desired using food coloring. Cover the top of the icing with a damp paper towel to prevent it from drying out until using.
4. Decorate the cooled cookies with the royal icing, colored sugars, sprinkles, and/or dragees.
Cookie decorating primer
To achieve a professional look when decorating cookies, use a Wilton #2 or #3 tip and disposable decorating bag. Place the tip in the point of the bag. Trim the plastic so the tip protrudes from the bag at least a ½ inch.
To fill the bag with icing, fold down the upper sides of the bag to create a cuff. Using a spatula, spoon 1 to 2 cups icing in the bag. Pull up the sides of the bag and twist the top to force the icing down into the tip, eliminating any air bubbles. Secure the top of the bag with rubber band or binder clip. See Part 1: Sweet Graduation Celebration for photos.
Squeezing from the top of the bag, outline each cookie.
There is no need to make one continuous outline around the cookie. For example, looking at the cookie above, outline the top of the sleeve, outline the bottom of the sleeve, below. Then connect the two. It’ll keep your outline from falling off the cookie.
Continue to outline all your cookies and let them dry for one hour.
After your outlines are completely dry, go back and fill in the outlines with “flooding” method. To flood the cookies, add a few tablespoons water to the unused icing to thin it out. Put the thinned icing in a new decorating bag with a Wilton #3 tip. Squeeze enough icing into the outline to partially fill the cookie. (You can use a #2 tip but it will take longer.) The dry outline will act as a dam to the thinned icing, preventing it from running off the cookie.
Use a small knife or spatula to spread the icing over the entire cookie, filling in the outline you created.
Again, flood all the cookies one at a time and let that icing dry. (If you try to flood several then spread them you’ll end up with icing that is slightly set and hard to spread. Just work one cookie at a time.)
Lastly, using other colors, decorate the cookie as desired.
Hats are flying, diplomas are being dispersed, and graduates are partying. It’s commencement time and last week the folks at the nationally syndicated Better Show asked me to share some ideas for making a sweet graduation celebration. The segment airs today, Tuesday, May 29. For your local listing, please go to Better TV or watch the segment here.
Since grads can be five or fifty (let’s not forget preschool moving-up ceremonies), I decided to bake up some student-inspired sweets from my new cookbook with universal appeal: Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes and Super-Easy Sugar Cookies.
The recipes may sound boring, vanilla and vanilla, but they’re anything but. The beauty is in the simplicity.
The cupcakes take all of ten minutes to whip up, ten more minutes to frost, and they look like they’re straight from a bakery (at less than half the cost).
To give them a graduation spin, I baked them in colorful baking cups (one of may favorite sources is fancyflours) and added diploma and mortar board cupcake toppers.
Of course these cupcakes may also be decorated with paper printables for Father’s Day (click here for free download from paperglitter), flags for the Fourth, or theme-appropriate toppers for any occasion—make them yours!
The secret to these cupcakes is coconut milk. While there is no distinct coconut flavor (as I know many dislike coconut), the milk gives the cupcakes a particularly moist and pleasing crumb.
Following is the cupcake recipe with a frosting primer. Look for the Super-Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe in Part 2 of the Sweet Graduation Celebration tomorrow.
Secret-Ingredient Vanilla Cupcakes from the Sweet Home Cookbook (Kyle Books, 2012)
Makes 24 standard cupcakes
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.
3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream for 3 minutes on high until light and fluffy, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the coconut milk and flour mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition, for about 20 seconds, making sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined, again stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cupcake liner with about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of batter. Bake for 15 or 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. The edges of the cupcakes will begin to turn a pale golden but the tops of the cupcakes will be pale. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.
6. Frost with Secret Ingredient Frosting.
Secret Ingredient Frosting from the Sweet Home Cookbook (Kyle Books, 2012)
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Place the softened butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 2 minutes. Add the confectioner’s sugar and continue to mix until thoroughly combined. Next pour in the coconut milk and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy.
Frosting Primer: Using a tip and decorator bag to frost cupcakes
Decorating bags can be intimidating if you’ve never used them. I promise though, once you try, you’ll never go back to the knife again. The gorgeous finish is worth the extra step or two, and really, once the bag is filled, it’s much easier to use than a knife or spatula.
Purchase 16-inch diposable decoratoring bags (about $5.50 for 12) available from craft stores or online at Amazon and a large tip (Wilton 2A round tip, shown above top; Ateco 845 closed star, shown above bottom). If you’d like, purchase a coupler (a two-part threaded device that allows you to change tips without changing the bag) too, but it is not necessary if you’ll only be using one tip. However, they’re very inexpensive so worth their price.
Push the tip down into the bag.
Once you have the tip pushed in as far as it’ll go, trim the excess plastic bag overhanging the tip with scissors to about a 1/4- to 1/2-inch space above the tip’s opening.
To fill the bag, stand it in a large glass or pitcher, pulling the sides of the bag down around the outside of the glass or pitcher.
Using a spatula, scoop the frosting into the bag.
Once the bag is filled, use your hand to squeeze from the top, pushing the frosting down into the tip.
Next, twist the top of the bag and secure with a rubber band.
Now begin frosting. keeping the bag at a slight angle and working from the outside of the cupcake toward the center.
For more tips, refer to this very helpful video from Glorious Treats.
Top frosted cupcakes with miniature diplomas made from store-bought cookies tied with silk cord.
Purchase rolled wafer cookies from your local market or specialty grocer. There are many French and Belgian brands. Pepperidge Farm’s Pirouette cookies work well too.
Using a serrated knife, trim the cookies to the desired length and tie with colored cord or, for a completely edible topper, use thin shoelace licorice.
Molded mortar board decorations
Another option is to top cupcakes with homemade molded chocolate graduation caps or diplomas, chocolate lollipops make adorable decorations too.
To make the chocolates you will need:
One 8-oz block good quality chocolate (white, milk, or dark)
Graduation lollipop or chocolate molds, such as CK graduation caps and diplomas mold from Amazon
1. If making lollipops, place the lollipop sticks into the molds.
2. Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Melt half of it in a double boiler over very gently simmering, not boiling, water. Stir constantly while the chocolate melts. Be careful to not let one drop of water touch the chocolate. Using a candy thermometer, check the temperature, which should be between 110 and 115°F. Do not let the chocolate exceed 115°F.
3. Remove the chocolate from the heat, again being careful to not let any moisture into the chocolate. Add the remaining half of chocolate, a little at a time, into the melted chocolate,stirring vigorously. This will help make the chocolate shine. The goal is to cool the chocolate to 90°F. It may take up to 15 minutes.
4. When the chocolate has cooled to 90°F, test it by spreading a small amount on a piece of wax paper and putting it in the refrigerator. If, after a few minutes, the chocolate is shiny, you’re good to go. If it’s streaky or dull, you may want to start over with new chocolate. (Perhaps the chocolate was overheated or came in contact with water.) While this chocolate can’t be re-tempered, you can use it for baking.
5. There are many ways to fill the molds: 1) Simply use a spoon to fill the molds, 2) Place the tempered chocolate in a sealable plastic baggie, cut off a corner, and squeeze it out into the mold, or 3) Place the chocolate in a plastic squeeze bottle and use it to fill the molds (a great option for young children).
6. Tap the mold gently on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Place the molds in the refrigerator to harden. Chill until firm, about 10 minutes.
7. Remove the molds from the refrigerator and gently unmold (if the chocolate sticks, place the mold in the freezer for 1 hour and try to unmold again).
Looking for an alternative to bakery-bought cupcakes for kids’ birthday parties? Head over to my post at Babycenter.com for some simple how-to inspiration. What shapes have you created with cakes? Please comment, I’d love to hear.
What could be more appropriate than a heavenly cake for your mother the angel? (“Yeah, right,” says my teenage daughter as she rolls her eyes!)
Well, like my daughter, I may not have always thought my mother was an angel, but after I made it through those awkward years and realized the strength of unconditional love (oh Mom, thanks for not giving up on me) I could think nothing less of my mother. Angel? How about saint?
This ethereally light cake, which is my mother’s favorite, is the perfect Mom dessert. It’s essentially fat free (the cake that is, not the cream!), is even better with loads of berries, and takes just a few minutes to make—separating the eggs consumes the most time.
Two important things to remember when making angel food are 1) don’t grease the pan
2) invert the pan while allowing the cake to cool (you can place the center of the tube pan on a long-neck bottle). Turning the pan upside down during the cooling process helps maintain the cake’s delicate structure, ensuring the cake doesn’t collapse or compress.
The cake can be served plain, but I like to spread thick cream over the entire cake (I whip up about a pint and add several tablespoons of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract) and top with strawberries.
I also cut up about a quart of strawberries, gently mash up half of them, add in a few teaspoons dark brown sugar dissolved in several teaspoons lemon juice, add back in the berries that weren’t mashed, and allow them to sit for an hour or so before serving. The berry-cake-cream combo is divine.
I hope you find this recipe from my great-grandmother just heavenly.
Heavenly angel food cake
1 cup cake flour
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-1/2 cup egg whites (about 12 large eggs), at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Sift together the cake flour and the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl.
3. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high for 1 minute until slightly foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt. Continue beating on high until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar and beat another 30 seconds until stiff peaks form. Then using a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the flour-confectioners’ sugar mixture 1 cup at a time. Add the vanilla extract and continue to fold the batter ensuring that all the dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
4. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake for 40 minutes.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and invert it upside down onto a bottle to cool, about 1 hour. When completely cool, loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a knife and unmold. Serve with berries and whipped cream.