Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hand Decorated Sugar Cookies - Part Two- The Icings

Have you ever bitten into one of those beautifully decorated cookies and had the icing disintegrate in your mouth into a puddle of sugar crystals?  That is royal icing and it is used for all those cookies because it dries fast and like a brick.  Pretty to look at but horrid to eat.

The icing that I use for my sugar cookies is called a "Glace Icing" and it also comes from Toba Garrett's class that I took in NYC.  There are two parts to this icing method; the outline and the inside or the "flooding" icing.  The royal icing is for the dam (or the outline) and the Glace icing is the "flooding" icing.  The royal icing should be used immediately - the glace icing can be kept for two weeks in the refrigerator.  

Royal Outline Icing
3 ounces egg whites
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Whip egg whites until they have gotten to a soft peak. (left photo below) When they have gotten to that stage add one cup of sugar at a time and then add the lemon juice.  Beat for eight minutes or until icing is very stiff.  (right photo below) This is the icing that you will use to outline the cookies so it must be stiff so that it can hold the glace icing.  You can tint it any color.   Store in an air tight container to avoid a crust developing.  When you are ready to use put  some icing into a pastry bag with a number 3 tip and outline the cookie.  This icing dries almost immediately.

Glace Icing
4.5 ounces whole milk
4.5 ounces light corn syrup
4 cups confectioner sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix milk and confectioner's sugar until smooth.  Add corn syrup and mix until glossy and add vanilla.  (there is a clear vanilla that is available at baking supply stores which is great to use)

Tightly cover the icing if you are not planning to use it immediately and put it in the refrigerator.    If you are planning on using it immediately divide the icing into a number of bowls and color as you want.  I use plastic squeeze bottles (available online or bakery supply store)  with various tips to flood the cookies.  This makes application easier.  This icing takes 24 hours to dry so some planning is needed for the decorated cookies!


In order to ice the cookies properly I outline all the cookies that I am going to decorate at once.  That way by the time I finish the outlining the first cookie is ready to ice.   My pastry bags are all filled with outline icing.  The easiest way to fill a piping bag with outline icing is to place it open, in a glass with the collar open - this means that you don't have to juggle the bag while trying to get the icing in - I cannot tell you how much icing ended up on my hands before I figured this trick out.  After I fill the pastry bag I twist it tight and close it with a clothes pin.  This prevents the icing from coming out.    I also put a piece of damp paper towel in the bottom of the glass which prevents the icing from drying out.

When you have outlined the cookies you are ready to ice.  Fill the cookie from the center out  with the icing allowing the icing to flood the cookie - do not overfill the cookie; use a toothpick to push the icing to the edge.    I place all the cookies that I am going to decorate on a cookie sheet so I do not have to move them after they are iced.  As I said it takes 24 hours for the glace icing to dry but it will start to set after one hour.   After the icing has hardened (when the icing loses it sheen it is dry) I start to decorate the cookies.  You can see the various methods that I use in the photos below. I put colored sugar on the cookies after the icing has set, draw decorations, write names and add dragees.   The egg cookie with the purple lines is done in the following manner:  ice the cookie with the base color, after one hour run lines of different color icing on the cookie; take a toothpick and drag it alternatively from top to bottom, bottom to top.  That will result in the wavy pattern that you see. 

Making and decorating these cookies is a wonderful time to gather round with friends and children.  During the holidays - all of them - my house is full of friends and their children sitting around the dining room table laughing and creating wonderful memories, both edible and in their hearts.  Make a batch of cookies, icing and watch the magic begin!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hand Decorated Sugar Cookies - Part One

My love of hand decorated sugar cookies started when I took a cookie decorating class with Toba Garrett at the International Center for Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC fourteen years ago.  Toba is the  Master Chef- Instructor of Cake Decorating and Design at ICE and she has written three books dedicated to the art of cookie and cake decorating.  I was fortunate to take 5 series of classes with her.  She is an exacting task master but once you have done the cookies this way you will never use any other technique.

These are the cookies that I sold at Dean and DeLuca, Balducci's and Fresh Direct in NYC.  I taught the cookie decorating class at Williams-Sonoma on 86th and Madison for several years using these recipes.   The classes were always sold out.

Toba's book is " Creative Cookies" and this is the recipe that I use:

Sugar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour

Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Sift the dry ingredients.  In a stand mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using paddle attachment.  This should take about two minutes - scrape the bowl and beat for an additional two minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until incorporated.  Lower the speed on the mixer to the lowest speed possible and add the flour mixture slowly.  The dough will be very stiff.  Do not over beat.

Divide the dough into two discs and wrap in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours and for up to two weeks.   (I doubled the recipe so I divided it into four discs.)

When you are ready to use the dough divide each of the discs in half and roll out.  I do not use flour when I roll cookies out as this adds to the dryness of the dough - I place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin with a washable cheese cloth sleeve.  By not using additional flour you can re-roll the scraps of dough and make many more cookies.  At this point I have all my cookie cutters ready and after I cut the cookies out I put the dough back into the fridge to get cold again.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place cookies on the sheets and put in oven for 6 to 8 minutes.  They are ready when the edges of the cookies just start to turn brown.  Do not overbake as they will continue to bake on the cookie sheet  when they come out of the oven.  When cool remove to a cookie rack and rest until ready to decorate.  If you are not ready to immediately decorate you can leave them on the cookie rack covered with a linen kitchen towel for 24 hours.

Cookies baked waiting for decorating

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Best Oatmeal Cookie Ever

I  know everyone claims that they have the best oatmeal cookie recipe but I promise this is it!  This recipe was handed down through the family of one of my dearest friends, Andrea.  It was after much begging and pleading she shared it with me.  I personally like cookies that are slightly crisp on the outside but soft on the inside - I am not a fan of "crunchy" cookies so these suit my taste perfectly.  When I make this recipe I triple it and divide it into six logs and put it into the freezer.   The rolls of dough are no bigger than the inside of a paper towel roll and I roll them in plastic wrap, aluminum foil and then in a Ziploc bag.  This prevents any freezer burn.  These cookies will last in the freezer for up to six months without any loss of flavor.    I can take a roll out of the freezer, cut a few slices and then re-wrap it and put it back.  I have freshly baked cookies in a snap.  You can also make the dough and use it right away by dropping a tablespoon of dough on a prepared cookie sheet and baking.

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate

1 cup of butter
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups oats (not instant)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate (either chips or chopped chocolate)

Wisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together.  Cream the butter and the sugars until they are light and fluffy - around 4 minutes.   Add the eggs one at a time mixing well.  Add the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture all at once, on low speed until just mixed  (do not over mix as  this will toughen the dough).   Fold in the oats, cranberries and white chocolate.  The dough will be very stiff.  At this point you can either roll the dough for the freezer or bake.

If you are going to bake the dough preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Drop dough into mounds and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Do not over bake.  One of the things that I have learned in my baking trials is that cookies and brownies continue to bake even when they come out of the oven so under bake slightly so they do not dry out.  They will stay fresh in a cookie jar for three days - if they last that long.

These cookies make great ice cream sandwiches.  Soften vanilla or maple ice cream,  put a scoop of ice cream on one of the cookies and place another on top.  Place in the freezer on a cookies sheet until ice cream firms again.   You can freeze them for future consumption or eat them right away.  These make an elegant desert with hot chocolate sauce drizzled over the top!  They are also perfect fresh out of the oven with afternoon tea!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chocolate toffee brownies

This is Spring??  Montreal is notorious for spring snow and today does not disappoint.   On a grey snowy blustery day I can think of nothing better to do than turning on the stove and trying a new concoction for the Something Moore Sweet Boutique.   I thought that I might take my basic brownie recipe and make it a bit more elegant.    So I am marrying the brownie and the toffee.

 I have been making this toffee recipe for the last 20 years when I decided that I had had enough of the commercialism of the Christmas holidays.   I made Christmas baskets filled with home made goodies to give to my friends.   My friend Margie and I would spend an entire weekend baking breads and cakes,  making cookies and candy.    A good glass of red wine was our reward at the end of each long day.  

 The toffee was one of the most anticipated goodies in the baskets - husbands, wives and children would fight over it when the basket arrived.  The Christmas toffee was layered with dark melted chocolate and ground toasted almonds - if you are thinking this sounds similar to a Score Bar with almonds you are right - only mine is better!  I found this recipe in a small book called "Christmas Candy" (edited by Glorya Hale) which is now out of print.  There are used copies available on the Barnes and Noble  website.

This is a classic version of toffee - slowly boiled butter, corn syrup, sugar and water until it gets golden brown.  It takes patience but it is worth it


2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 light corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water

Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with Pam and wipe off excess spray.  Take a large heavy saucepan and grease the sides with a bit of butter.  In the pan combine all the ingredients.  Cook over moderate heat stirring constantly until all the sugar is melted and the sugar comes to a boil.  Insert candy thermometer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 300F.   Immediately remove from heat and pour into prepared pan.  Let set.

Pic. 1 (toffee after 10 minutes)                                                                    Pic. 2 (toffee after 20 minutes)                                                                                              

Pic 3.  Toffee ready to pour                                                                        Pc. 4   Toffee cooling in pan

While the toffee is cooling (it takes about 10 minutes to cool and set hard enough to break into bits) get your favorite brownie recipe prepared.   Break up the toffee into bits and stir them into the brownie mixture.  Bake the brownie according to the recipe.

Cool the brownie for at least two hours.  This allows the toffee to reset (it will liquify when it is cooking with the brownie) and become hard.   Put a large piece of toffee on the top and serve alone or with vanilla ice cream, hot cocoa or a cappuccino.

My friend Sam said that this was one of the best brownies that he had ever had - although I needed to add more toffee (noted Sam!) and Alfee said that she and Geoff wouldn't change a thing.

** If you want to make this into Almond Toffee simply add chocolate chips to the toffee after it has set for about 3 minutes in the pan.  The toffee will still be warm and the chocolate will melt.  Spread the chocolate to cover and sprinkle ground almonds (or any other nut) on top of the chocolate.  Put into the fridge for at least two hours to fully cool and set.  You can also mix white chocolate and dark chocolate chips and make a swirl design.  Break the toffee into medium size pieces and put it into a clear bag as a great hostess gift!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Looks can be deceiving

These are beautiful lemon meringue lemon bars. However, they failed in the test kitchen for a variety of reasons. Let's start with the bottom crust. I decided to try a shortbread crust rather than the traditional graham cracker crust. The lemon filling was good but I would have preferred more lemon taste and the meringue topping was just too much. After about an hour the bars (or as we are calling them - The Lemon Meringue Brownie!) started to weep - which means that moisture from the meringue started to puddle in the pan.

Here are the recipes that we used - courtesy of two Martha Stewart recipes (we mixed and matched)
Martha Stewart Creamy Lemon Squares
Lemon Meringue Bars 

We used the crust and lemon filling from the first recipe and the meringue from the second one.  When we baked the crust we found that it was fine.  But after we added the filling and baked it again it dried out.  We noticed this when we cut the brownies and found the crust hard to cut through - although the taste was fine it made for a crumbling bottom.  The recipe calls for baking the crust 15-20 minutes which we did.   When we redo this recipe we will put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to allow it to rest and bake the bottom for only 12 minutes and see if that allows for a more tender base.   For the lemon  custard part of the recipe we used three lemons and the zest of two of those lemons.  The custard was very smooth and the bits of zest added to the texture.  However, the custard was not as bright in flavor as it should be to hold up to the crust and the meringue.  I will add the juice of another lemon the next time around.  The thing that I liked about this custard is that it set really well and that is important when you are using a meringue topping.

The meringue part of the second recipe call for 4 egg whites - I will use half of that the next time.  That will be more than enough for the lemon brownies.  I will also rotate the pain in the oven halfway through the browning of the meringue.  The batch that I made was more brown in the back than in the front.

Why you might ask did I use two recipes instead of either one of the recipes.  The answer is simple - research.  Part of the development process is trying different things. 

Finished Lemon meringue bars

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It all starts with research.

My formal education and my education at the dinner table was in economics and politics. With that background came a foundation that in order to understand anything you had to fully research the subject of your interest. When I decided I wanted to become more proficient in the kitchen I embarked on years of culinary school in both cooking and pastry and bought and read untold numbers of books and magazines. One closet in my house is dedicated to all the cookbooks and magazines that I have amassed over the years. The books above are my "go to" books. There are books of baking chemistry, technical instructions, theory and recipes.

"The Professional Pastry Chef" by Bo Friburg is an encyclopedia for pastry chefs. The technique instructions are easy to understand for the home baker and the last 180 pages has all the answer to those pesky questions including conversion ratios (metric to US equivalents), proper equipment and definition of terms. "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee is a chemistry book for cooking. Chapter 12 is excellent for a description of the properties of 'Sugars, Chocolate and other Confections'. "Cookwise" by Shirley O. Corriher is another book that deals with the chemical properties of food. The chapter on sweets in enlightening - every wonder why your caramel has crystals in it? This chapter will teach you how to avoid the most common problems in using chocolate and sugar in your confections. "Kitchen - the best of the best" by Michael Cranston has a wonderful chapter on 'Afternoon Tea' which gives some simple recipes with great photos of the finished products.

Maida Heatter's books on cakes and cookies are fail proof as are the many Rose Levy Beranbaum's books. Of course there is Martha - Stewart as if there was another one - all of her books are an excellent resource for recipes. There are many cookbooks dedicated to cookies, cupcakes and brownies. In addition to the "textbooks" there are so many magazines, internet sites and blogs that I could spend all my time reading and never make it into the test kitchen. So, while I will continue to research I will also be "testing".

But it all starts with the research.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Triple chocolate brownie with chile and fleur de sel

This is one of the first test brownies to come out of my kitchen.

It is a very dense, rich and moist brownie. It has unsweetened chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate bits and dutch processed cocoa powder. In order to give the brownie a more complex flavor I added cinnamon and cayenne pepper. The cinnamon gives it a bit of depth and the cayenne pepper adds a back note of heat that enhances the chocolate flavor.

The fleur de sel was sprinkled on the brownie immediately upon taking it out of the oven. The salt balances the sweetness of the chocolates. This is a brownie which you will need to hide from yourself because you can't eat just one!. A cold glass of milk, a hot cup of tea or a glass of wine rounds out the experience.

Chile triple chocolate brownie with fleur de sel
 makes 16 large brownies
5 oz semi-sweet chocolate (you can use chips)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 tbls dutch processed cocoa powder
8 tbls unsalted butter cut into pieces
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup of sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8X8 pan with either parchement paper or aluminum foil leaving an inch over the top for easy removal of brownies.

Melt both chocolates and butter in a heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water.    Stir as the butter melts to incorporate all the chocolate.  Sift the cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper into the melted chocolate and stir (the sifting will prevent the cocoa from clumping)  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In another bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt with a whisk.  I vigorously whisk for a minute until the eggs are fully combined and light and fluffy.   Add the chocolate mixture (make sure that it is not hot or the egg mixture will curdle) and whisk until combined.   I sift the flour right into the bowl and then gently fold.  
Pour into prepared pan, put into the center rack in the oven and bake for 16 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle fleur de sel on the top of the brownie.  Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes.   (as I do with all my recipes - I under bake slightly because they continue to cook as they cool).  Place on a rack and allow to cool for at least an hour.  

Remove brownie from the pan and cut into 16 squares.  

Serve with Vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce or raspberry sauce.