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Pretty Bakes Blog

Cake decorating basics for pretty cakes, cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats

Archive of ‘Cookies’ category

How to make Christmas sugar cookies with royal icing

Sugar cookies in chocolate and vanilla. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Sugar cookies in chocolate and vanilla.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Merry Christmas to you and yours! Why am I posting about Christmas cookies today, when it’s far too late to make these cookies in time for Christmas?

Because maybe you’ll be looking for some ideas on how to keep your favourite little kitchen helpers busy over the next week while school is out. And because, like you, I’ve fallen victim to the holiday rush and I’m sneaking in a Christmas post before this season passes.

Baking is the perfect activity for when you want to unplug from electronic devices and create something yummy. So pull out your favourite winter cookie cutters: May I suggest snowflakes, and snowmen? The Santa and ornament cookie cutters can take a break until next Christmas. 😉

What’s so great about sugar cookies?

Sugar cookies are awesome because they’re simply delicious, they’re so versatile for decorating and they keep well. Depending on your recipe, you can wrap and pack ’em up for two weeks or more and they’ll still have a nice, crunchy texture.

Preservative-free cookies with a long shelf life: It’s a beautiful thing!

White and gold Christmas cookies

Nothing beats homemade sugar cookies!  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Nothing beats homemade sugar cookies!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

I decided on a white and gold colour scheme and white icing on chocolate cookies. I had a lot of help from my friend John. His mini schnauzer Zoe, on the the other hand, wasn’t helpful at all but was an adorable onlooker.

Gimme some cookies! ~ Zoe, the mini schnauzer

Gimme some cookies! ~ Zoe, the mini schnauzer

I jokingly told friends that John made all the ugly cookies and I made all the pretty ones. Truth be told, he piped most of the prettiest ones.

In all, it took about two days to complete this baking project that yielded 75 cookies. Without help, I would’ve needed four days to finish it up. Thank you, John!

Sugar cookie and royal icing recipes

Here are the recipes I used for this year’s Christmas baking…

Something old:

Something new:

I’m happy to report that all three recipes turned out perfectly. Woop! Woop!

How to make and decorate sugar cookies

Step 1: Follow the aforementioned recipes to the letter. Yes, you must refrigerate the cookie doughs for their specified chill times. Yes, you must cover your royal icing with plastic wrap or it’ll dry out. Yes, you must achieve the right royal icing consistency or you’ll run into problems.

Step 2: Allow sufficient time for royal icing to dry. For the first layer of flood icing, drying overnight is best.

Step 3: With your royal icing at piping consistency, pipe designs onto your cookie. Allow that layer to dry for about an hour.

I highly recommend finding clip art or cookie patterns online for inspiration. You can stop here and be done or you can move on to the next step.

Unpainted sugar cookies are pretty too!  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Unpainted sugar cookies are pretty too!
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Step 4: Paint piped details/designs with a mixture of Wilton’s gold Pearl Dust™ and a few drops of vodka. Allow painted cookies to dry for an hour or more.

Painting a sugar cookie with gold pearl dust Photo by Jennifer Melo

John paints a sugar cookie with gold pearl dust
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Step. 5: Enjoy! Or if you’re sharing, wrap, pack and present.

Packing up sugar cookies Photo by Jennifer Melo

Packing up sugar cookies
Photo by Jennifer Melo

Merry Christmas Eve! Happy baking and may all your sugar cookies be pretty and tasty.

 

Peppermint candy-topped chocolate chip cookies for Christmas cookie baking

‘Tis the season for baking Christmas cookies. When I recently needed an easy cookie recipe for a company potluck, I chose a classic chocolate chip cookie and gave it a festive twist with crushed peppermint sticks as a topping.

Seeking the best chocolate chip cookie recipe

First things first, I needed a reliable cookie recipe. Baker’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies was on my must-bake list so I decided to give it a go. As the community manager at Kraft Canada’s what’s cooking, I knew this recipe was a fan-favourite and there’s nothing quite like homemade chocolate chip cookies, right? Right!

Choclolate chip cookie dough.  Photo by Jennifer Melo

Choclolate chip cookie dough.
Photo by Jennifer Melo

I’m happy to report that recipe reviewers were absolutely correct. This cookie tastes incredibly great. So delicious, in fact, that I had to immediately make another batch after my sister, her kids and I quickly polished off the first batch. Hooray for homemade chocolate chip cookies!

Peppermint candy topping

peppermint-chocolate-chip-cookies-overhead

In order to give these cookies a Christmas touch, I added crushed peppermint sticks for a sweet and minty topping. You could use candy canes if, unlike me, you can practise self control and don’t eat all the candy canes left in sight. I placed three peppermint sticks in a plastic zip-top bag, and then I used a rolling pin to smash and grind them.

To ensure the crushed candies stuck to the cookies, I brushed the baked cookies with simple syrup (boil equal parts sugar and water) and then I sprinkled the crushed candies on top.

That’s it, that’s all. Simple. Delicious. Addictive. I think Santa might approve.

chocolate chip cookies

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Pastel Easter sugar cookies, a new job and a pesky cold

In the past four months, I’ve been settling into my new role at Edelman as the community manager for their client, Kraft Canada. That means I get to further indulge my love affair with food, recipes and social media. Check out the Kraft what’s cooking Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean. Fun, exciting times!

But no matter what I bake, make and write, please know that all of my thoughts and opinions shared here at prettybakesblog.com are my own and not my employer’s or their clients’. Get it? Got it? Good.

Let’s chat Easter cookies, shall we?

Easter egg cookies

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Baking project

I wanted to make simple, pretty, customized cookies for my family this Easter and I really should’ve referred to my royal icing consistency problems post before starting this cookie-decorating project. But I was feeling rushed and sick, so, nope! I skipped the research and went straight to mixing, baking and decorating. Bad idea.

I didn’t take my own advice. I should’ve tested the royal icing’s consistency. Results?

My flooding consistency was too thick and my piping consistency was too thin. So I ended up with lumpy surfaces and only one or two smooth surfaces. Boo! Hiss. Some day I’ll learn. Regardless, something tells me I need lots more practice with royal icing.

Cutting corners = execution #fail

Instead of using a piping tip and bag, I used a zip-top bag with a tiny snip cut out of the corner. That worked well for outlining and it would’ve worked well for flooding if my icing had been thinner. But I found that the thin plastic didn’t shield the warmth from my hands enough so the icing melted too much. And that made things extra difficult for a piping-challenged girl like me to pipe borders and letters.

Easter egg cookie for Suzy

Photo by Jennifer Melo

 

A hurried, sick baker = doom

I must confess I was feeling rushed and quite sickly throughout this baking project. I’ve come down with a nasty cold so my heart wasn’t fully into it as my bed and the couch called out to me. I fought fatigue, sore throat and a runny nose, with enough hand-washing to leave my hands red, rough and raw. Way to kill my baking buzz, yucky germs! Pthttt 😛

Did I also mention I was babysitting two adorable nieces and had a meeting with an accountant?

Me: Where did I put those tax receipts?

Bed: Wouldn’t you feel better if you just lay down for a while?

Couch: No, pick me! I’ve got the better TV-viewing angles.

Cookies: Decorate me! Decorate me!

Germs: Paaartay! *shimmy, shimmy, shimmy*

In hindsight, I think bit off more than I could chew this long weekend. But on the plus side, the cookies are sooooo delicious. They’re crumbly, buttery sweet goodness. So I’ll happily chew on that.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Want the recipe? I decided to try some kraftcanada.com recipes and am delighted to report easy and tasty results.

I made:

Easy-Mix Cookies – Basic Batter recipe, with a variation: I added 1 tsp of vanilla extract and mixed it in with the butter right from the start.

Royal Icing – I’d definitely try this recipe again. The icing was fluffy and light. Next time, I’ll test the consistency and I’ll be sure to sift the icing sugar.

Next week: I’ll be baking and decorating a 2-tiered fondant cake for my niece Lauren’s 10th birthday. Now if only this cold would bugger off. The party’s over, germs, so get lost.

Whether you’re keeping close to — or keeping away from — your couch this weekend, I hope you have a fabulous time. Have a wonderful Easter!

How to make macarons: 10 tips and warnings

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I did it! I made pretty and yummy macarons. Yay, me! Now it’s your turn.

To avoid the same macaron-making errors I experienced, follow these 10 tips.

1. Master batter consistency

The single most important tip, in my opinion, is to get the right batter consistency for macarons.

When you’re done folding the mixture, thick ribbons should fall from your spatula. And when the batter drops back into the bowl, it should expand and move a bit.

Fold until everything is well-incorporated, flatten some air out by pushing the batter against the side of the bowl. When the batter is smooth and shiny (30-50 folds) stop folding.

Keep too much air in the batter and you’ll get hollow macarons. Over-mix and let all the air out of the batter and you’ll have flat macarons. Don’t overmix and don’t undermix.

2. Dry your macarons before baking

Some say you should never make macarons on a rainy day.  That’s because humidity can really make a difference. And during a humid summer day, I suggest using your air conditioner to make your environment drier.

Rather than rely on the drying time specified in the recipe, use your eyes and the touch test to determine when the macarons are ready to go into the oven. You should see a thin skin formed on the macarons. This could take 15 mins to one hour depending on humidity and your batter consistency.

Use the touch test to determine when you’re ready to put the macarons in the oven: When you lightly touch a macaron, your finger should show no signs of batter sticking to it.

3. Use food colour wisely

Macarons go pale when cooked. So when you’re folding your mixture, make the shade one or two drops/shades darker than your desired outcome.

4. Bake one sheet at a time

If you’ve figured out a way to bake macarons evenly with two sheets baking at a time, that’s great. I haven’t. So please share your secrets.

5. Sift your flour

Take the time to sift your almond flour and sugar. It’s key to getting a silky smooth cookie surface. Discard or reuse the lumpy almond bits in another recipe.

6. Use room-temperature eggs

Crack and separate your eggs about an hour before you plan to bake and you’ll have room temp egg whites ready when you need them. They’ll whip up and increase in volume faster than chilled egg whites. Save the yolks for tomorrow’s omelette.

7. Tap your trays

Release those air bubbles, prevent cracked macarons and help the batter settle into a smooth shape by tapping your trays on a counter, hard, a few times. Do that immediately after piping. Three to five taps per edge should do it.

8. Pipe it right

I found the best technique for me is to hold the piping bag at a 90-to 95-degree angle to the cookie sheet. Start with your tip in the middle of where you’d like to place a macaron, squeeze your piping bag until you’ve piped to the right size you’d like, gently release pressure and a make a little swirl to detach the tip from the batter and minimize a peaked top.

9. Watch it like a hawk

To encourage even cooking, avoid opening and closing the oven door. Remove the macarons just before they brown.

10. Research

Read several macaron recipes from various sources and pay close attention to common tips and techniques. Watch YouTube videos, like this one:

And pay close attention to piping technique, folding technique and batter consistency.

For me, the fifth’s time a charm. But with each failed attempt, I learned something new and was able to correct a few things. Ready to make your own macarons? You can do it! If you give ’em a try, please let me know how your they turned out. I’d love to hear how you fared.

Macaron success at last

macarons - pink and white

Photo by Jennifer Melo

I did it! I did it! I did it! Yah!

I finally mastered macarons. I suspect the magic was in the macaronnage (that’s the fancy term for batter-folding.) I stuck to Martha’s French macaron recipe and paid close attention to how I mixed the batter.

It’s all in the macaronnage

The technique that worked well for me was to actually count to about 45 passes. That’s how many times I scraped the bowl around the sides and pushed the spatula down the middle to flatten out excess air in the batter.

You go all the way around the bowl and then scrape down the center to press the batter against the side of the bowl. Got it?

When to stop folding

Now stop folding when the batter gets shiny and oozes out to the sides when you pick up a blob of it with your spatula and plop it back into the bowl. You like those technical terms, don’t ya?  😉

Here’s a wee video clip to show you my macaron success tips.

Macaron-making lessons in every failed batch

Even though I was mad as a wet hen frustrated, each of my failed attempts at making macarons taught me valuable lessons about the sweet little almond cookies. They’re tasty and temperamental. They’re so tasty, in fact, that I’m bound to make them again and again.

It just so happened that my youngest niece had a baptism party so I brought my pretty pink and white macarons to the party. They didn’t last very long, though.

Here’s what they looked like inside.

cooked macaron

Photo by Jennifer Melo

This song pretty much sums up how I feel about this accomplishment.

 


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