5 steps to perfect royal icing sugar cookies



5 tips for perfect royal icing sugar cookies



I always get suckered into those point-of-purchase-displayed royal icing sugar cookies. You know, the ones at Starbucks, decorated in the theme of the nearest popular holiday? That hard, sugary icing gets me EVERY. TIME.

Upon investigation a few years back, I discovered that recreating these diabetic-coma-inducing treats seemed like way too much work, so I abstained from homemade in favor of the overpriced coffee-shop variety. But after my macaron-baking adventure, I gained some newfound patience in the baking department and decided to give it a whirl. Just like the macarons, royal icing sugar cookies are an art and a science—and almost every recipe out there completely oversimplified things, especially when it came to the decorating. Wing it without the fine-print instructions and you’ve got a surefire Pinterest Fail on your hands.

So before you flit off to AllRecipes.com for the highest-rated generic sugar cookie recipe, keep these tips on hand.

1 ) Use a good sugar cookie recipe. I like this recipe from Sweetopia.

2) Learn how to make cookies that hold their shape. The aforementioned recipe includes instructions on making cookies that hold their shape. Here they are, plus more from Sweetopia:

    • Roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper and then chill in the fridge for an hour. If you’re like me and always look for a shortcut (freezer!!) be careful—there’s a fine line between perfectly chilled and frozen to the point that the dough cracks when you cut it. Cut the chilled dough into shapes immediately and then re-chill the cut cookies for at least 10 minutes. Re-roll the excess dough and repeat.
    • Don’t over-mix the butter and sugar. Over-mixing can cause excess air, which will cause fluffier cookies that spread easier.
    • No baking powder.
    • Use the correct amount of sugar and higher quality or European-style butter. Too much sugar and low-quality butter can both cause spreading because the sugar becomes liquid when it heats up and cheaper butter has higher water content.
    • Use thicker cookie sheets and parchment paper.
    • Thinner cookies spread less (Sweetopia recommends 3/4 to 1 cm-thick cookies)



royal icing easter bunny cookies 9



3) Start with thick icing. Many of the icing recipes I found were too runny for outlining or detail work. My advice is, start with less water and add more as needed. I went with:

4 tablespoons egg white powder

1 lb confectioner’s sugar

1/4 – 1/2  cup water

Mix all ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup water and adding more veeeeerrrry slowly as needed (one tip I saw recommended adding water via spray bottle—genius!). Mix on low in a stand mixer for several minutes. The icing you use for outlining should be about the consistency of toothpaste. Here’s where the next step comes in …



royal icing rainbow



4) When it comes to decorating, plan ahead. Once you’ve got your big batch of royal icing (which should be the proper consistency for outlining at this point) partition it out in bowls. This is where you’ll have to make some decisions and (gasp!) commit to a color scheme. For example, if you’re making Christmas trees, you’ll want a lot of green icing for the tree, a little brown for the trunk and an even smaller amount of a few other colors for the tree decorations. You’ll likely need an outlining icing and a flood icing (the icing that fills the cookie in) for each color, EXCEPT the colors you plan to use only for detailing (the buttons, nose, eyes, etc. on a snowman, for instance). For those detail colors, you’ll only need icing of an outlining consistency.

Here’s where some people make the rookie mistake of dividing the uncolored icing into separate bowls for outlining and flood, diluting the flood icing appropriately and then trying to match the colors to each other after the fact. Nope. Start with one bowl for each color, mix in your food coloring as appropriate (for extra-saturated colors, use powdered dye so as not to dilute the icing too much) and THEN divide it into two bowls and dilute one for flood icing. Add water slowly to one bowl of each color to create the flood icing (which should be about the consistency of hot fudge sauce).

5) Have the proper tools. Don’t panic—there’s no need for expensive baking tools. I use gallon ziplock bags for the icing (although, you can purchase these or these if you want to get fancy.) and toothpicks to spread the flood icing. Put the bags in a cup/glass and pull the bag over the edge of the cup (as if you were lining a trash bin … lovely!), then fill it with the icing and cinch the bag closed with a rubber band. Snip the corner of the bag when you’re ready to begin icing. To decorate your cookies, outline each one with the outlining icing, then fill the cookies in with the flood icing. Use a toothpick to gently push the flood icing around to fill in any holes. I let my outline icing harden before flooding, but it’s become clear to me, thank to this Sweetopia tutorial, that you’ll get a smoother, more seamless result if you flood immediately.



bear hug cookie 2



I made the bear cookies you see above using a bear cookie cutter and then folding the arms around cinnamon-sugar almonds before baking.

Now all I need to do is find a way to use all 101 of the cookie cutters in the massive kit I impulsively bought on Amazon …

Happy icing!

Gourmet game day



Super bowl food ideas



The best thing about game-day parties is the excuse to stuff your face and guzzle beer with zero guilt. Don’t show up to your Super Bowl party empty-handed. Seriously, don’t be that guy/gal.

I’ve even taken you half of the way there, with this handy-dandy Super Bowl recipe list:

You can thank me in free game-day betting squares.

Dips

Jalapeno popper dip

Greek 7-layer dip

Loaded bake potato dip

Hot spinach dip

White queso dip

Sliders and sammies

Spicy whiskey BBQ sliders

Out-of-this-world veggie burgers

Cheeseburger sliders

Fried pizza sandwiches

Philly cheesesteak with garlic aioli

Crock Pot faves

Slow-cooker carnitas

Crock Pot picante chicken

Crock Pot chicken, rice and green chile casserole

Crock Pot chicken taco chili

Slow cooker buffalo chicken sandwiches

Party staples

Italian deviled eggs

Potato salad

Tomatillo salsa

Guacamole

Bacon mini quiche

Mexican munchies

Chicken tostadas

Double-decker taco cupcakes

Won ton tacos

Mac ‘n’ cheese tacos

Mini fish tacos

Pizzas

Greek pizza

Prosciutto, arugula and parmesan pizza

Red pepper and goat cheese flatbread

Buffalo chicken pizza

BLT pizza

Taters

Sweet potato cakes with BBQ brisket

Bacon wrapped potatoes

Potato rings with ranch

Bacon and blue cheese french fries

Mac ‘n’ cheese french fries

Miscellaneous bites

CB&J crostini

Bacon cheddar hush puppies

BBQ chicken cornbread pie

Corn dog tots

Sweet potato chorizo hand tarts

Cocktails

Guava orange margaritas

Bourbon bomber

Dark and stormy

His and her whiskey cocktails

Lights-out punch

Super Bowl sweets

Brown butter and bourbon blondies

Football cookies

Salted caramel cheesecake shooters

Bacon apple pie

Dessert nachos

 

A little nutty



paleo nut clusters



This diet that is. And how I begin to feel after a day of forcing down handfuls of baby carrots, hard-boiled eggs, oranges and boatloads of bacon. OK, so that last one isn’t so bad.

Still, it’s nice to come home and grab for a handful of these sweet little nut clusters. It seems to put a band-aid on almost every Paleo-induced side effect. Carb cravings. Candy cravings. That unpleasant, heartburn-y, “queasy from eating too many raw, undressed vegetables” pit-in-my-stomach feeling (am I the only one that gets this, by the way?)

Best of all, it’s super easy and arguably pretty healthy. Cavemen (and women)—forage your nuts!

(Told you this diet was getting to me …)



paleo nuts 2



Paleo honey nut clusters

You’ll need:

1 cup almonds

1 cup walnuts

1 cup cashews

1 tbsp flax seeds

1/3 cup honey

1/2 tsp vanilla

Crush (or blend) almonds, walnuts and cashews, leaving some larger chunks and whole nuts. Set aside.

Heat honey and vanilla on medium heat until melted.

Toss in nuts and flax, coat well and spread (about an inch thick) into a baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until nuts start to brown.

Allow to cool and store in fridge or in a cool, dry place.



paleo granola bars



A bracket I can get behind







When it comes to sweet sixteen brackets, I don’t have the best of luck. For me, March Madness begins with as much naive excitement as the locker room of your favorite Cinderella team … and ends with crushed dreams and a $50 deficit in my bank account. Here’s to hoping that the Solo Foods Sweetest 16 recipe contest—the focus of this post—brings happier results. Fortunately (I think), my fate rests in the hands of you, my FANTASTIC readers …

As one of 16 (duh) bloggers chosen to participate in the contest, I was tasked with creating a dessert with at least one Solo Foods ingredient. Armed with pie fillings galore, I set out in search of glory. Many grueling practice sessions and several recipes later, I had my MVP: Dessert chimichangas, filled with a sweet, flavorful mix of apricot, cinnamon, almond and vanilla; fried to crisp golden perfection; doused in cinnamon sugar; and topped with a healthy dollop of mascarpone whipped cream. She shoots, she SCORES.







C’mon BWB readers—send me home with the championship. Vote for my recipe here (scroll down to vote for me!).

Apricot almond dessert chimichangas with cinnamon mascarpone cream

(6 servings)

You’ll need:

Chimichangas:

1 can Solo Foods apricot pie filling

6 small (taco-sized) flour tortillas

1/3 cup sliced almonds

 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

 1/8 teaspoon vanilla 

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Canola oil for frying

Cinnamon sugar coating:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Mascarpone cream:

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 cup sugar

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all chimichanga ingredients (minus oil and tortillas). Spoon 2-3 heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto the middle of each tortilla. Fold up tortillas, burrito-style, so the ends of the “burrito” are tucked into the rolled tortilla. Secure each chimi with several toothpicks. Refrigerate for a couple hours–this will help ensure the chimis maintain their form during frying.

Meanwhile, make the mascarpone cream. Whip the whipping cream and sugar in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Beat in marscarpone cream and whip until the mixture is stiff again. Cover and refrigerate.

Mix cinnamon and sugar and set aside. You’ll use this to coat the chimis immediately after frying.

When ready to fry the chimis, heat several inches of oil (enough to cover the chimis completely) in a large pot over medium-high heat to between 360 and 375 degrees. Lower chimis in (two or three at a time) with a slotted spoon (toothpicks still inside) and fry until golden brown (about 3 minutes). Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Carefully remove toothpicks and immediately coat chimis in cinnamon sugar mixture.

Serve immediately with a side of mascarpone cream cheese.

A haunting in Roscoe Village







I like horror—maybe a little too much, judging by my Netflix queue. Many a night, Dave flings the bedroom door open to find me in the glow of some weird B-grade horror movie.

What can I say, I love things that are a little sick and twisted. Which is why I say, screw the cutesy Halloween decor—give me fake bugs and terrifying zombie props. Scouring Pinterest, I found some equally spooky Halloween bites:







Spider web dip

Refried beans, covered in a layer of guacamole, surrounded by a ring of salsa and shredded cheese, decorated with a “spider web” of sour cream. I put the sour cream in a plastic bag, cut the tip and piped circles onto the guac, then took a toothpick and dragged it from the innermost circle to the outside. Worked like a charm.







Rice Krispies treat vampire skull

Just follow the good-old-fashioned Rice Krispies treat recipe. To form the skull, I scraped the mixture out of the bowl and onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I sprayed a sheet of plastic wrap with a little Pam, placed it over the mound, and started forming the skull with my hands.

My new GIR Spatula arrived just in time (thanks for the preview GIR folks!) to do the heavy lifting. When tasked with testing/reviewing the strength and functionality of a spatula, the ever-challenging Rice Krispies Treat Stir test is about as tough as it gets. The GIR Spatula passed with flying colors.







Anyway, back to the spooky stuff:

Mummified treats: Mummy hand baked brie and mummy cocktail weenies







For the mummy hand, simply cover a wheel of brie with a full sheet of puff pastry or crescent roll dough (I used the pre-made full sheets of crescent roll dough you find in the same area as the pre-made pie crusts). You’ll need another sheet of the dough to cut up in strips and wrap around the wheel to make it look “mummified”. To form the fingers, roll a strip in a sort of spiral around itself. For the longer fingers, you can stretch it out a bit. Push each finger onto the palm part of the hand and blend the dough together. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. Make things really spooky by drizzling “blood” (i.e., fruit jam) on top. Serve with crackers.

For the cocktail weenies. cut thin strips of pie crust dough (again, go with the pre-made stuff if you want to maintain your sanity) and wrap them around the weenies. Cover the top of each weenie with a little pie dough “cap.” Bake at 375 until golden brown.

Maggots ‘n’ cheese (mac ‘n’ cheese in a bread “coffin”)







This was one of my favorites. Cut off the very top of a loaf of bread (we used ciabatta), so it’s still “hinged” onto the bottom portion. Hollow out the bottom half of the bread and fill it with mac ‘n’ cheese (I maintain that Alton Brown’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe is the best ever, but my sister and I usually doctor it up with about double the cheese). Sprinkle the top with more cheese and panko crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until the bread is looking a little toasty and the top layer of the mac ‘n’ cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Top with a little plastic skeleton.

Finally, the least scary, but possibly most addicting of the Halloween foods …

Pumpkin Better Than … Cake

This stuff is like crack, so consider yourself warned. I assume no responsibility if, after eating this, you wake up with a sugar-induced hangover, covered in cool whip and clutching an empty, caramel-streaked baking dish.







Cupcakes made for easier party eating, but I think the cake is the way to go in terms of maximum deliciousness.

Mix all of the above with ridiculously awesome Pinterest-scavenged DIY halloween decorations, fun people in costumes and lots of liquor, and scary things are bound to happen.

Happy Halloween … MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

 

Macaron mania







When it comes to baking, I can get a little obsessed. Exhibit A. So when I decided to make notoriously tempermental macarons, I had the sneaking suspicion that it wouldn’t be a one-and-done deal.

Still, I had NO IDEA what an art—and a science—it actually was. I dove in naively at first, using what I now know to be a laughably imprecise recipe that does beginning macaron makers NO favors. Thanks a lot, Martha.

Regardless, my first batch of lavender-lemon macarons came out half decent, considering I used totally inexact measurements, unsifted almond meal and under-mixed batter. More on that later.







Anyway, I chalk the fact that my macarons had any “feet” at all (that cute little bubbly ridge under the smoother, shiny top) to beginners luck. Tasty they were—pretty they were not. So I tried again. And this round that drove me over the edge.







They were flat as pancakes. Beyond flustered, I spent hours scouring the Internet for the best recipes, tips and troubleshooting information. Let me tell you: There are entire forum threads dedicated to the topic of this little French cookie; 3,000-word blog posts on botched attempts at perfecting it; and endless lists of things you’re most certainly doing ALL WRONG.

Do me a favor—if this is your first time baking macarons, MOUSE AWAY from the Google search bar. You’ll only be completely and utterly overwhelmed, as I was (Italian meringue or French? Parchment or silicone baking mats?? Oven door open or closed???). Lucky for you, I’m persistent, and I’ve culled all of the tips you’ll need. Start with these, and if something disastrous happens and you can’t figure out why, only then may you dive into the dark depths of online macaron horror stories.

  • Start with a good recipe. I liked this one, which also happened to be where I got many of my tips. For filling, I went traditional. And here, Martha actually pulled through for me.
  • Measurements count. The weight of an egg white can vary, so get a cheap baking scale and weigh your ingredients.
  • Age your egg whites (it helps the meringue hold better) the fast way—stick them in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.
  • Add “insurance” in the form of egg white powder (this is in the recipe above).
  • Use almonds without the skin. Some people like the brown specs, but I found it impossible to get a smooth macaron with them.






Great feet, bumpy tops

  • Sift your almonds very well (same reason as above).
  • Add the dry ingredients to the meringue in thirds, and don’t be afraid to mix enough to get a smooth, shiny batter. Watch this video for a great visual. If you’re not sure if you mixed enough, see if the batter settles and smooths out when you plop a bit on a piece of parchment paper. If the peaks don’t settle with a slight tap, you haven’t mixed enough, or you have too much dry ingredient. The SECOND your batter starts to look smooth and glossy, stop folding.
  • Wait as LONG as it takes for the macarons to set before baking them—it could be an hour or more depending on humidity.
  • Use powdered food coloring for a really saturated look so you don’t throw off the liquid ratio of the batter
  • Bake macarons until they come off the parchment paper easily
  • Let your macarons (with the filling) “mature” for a day or two in the fridge. This lets the insides fill in and gives macarons their trademark crunchy-on-the-outside, gooey-and-chewy-on-the-inside taste.

Thanks to these tips, I finally got my beautiful, delicious macarons. I have a long way to go to perfect my technique, but at least I can stop obsessing.







 

Orange overload







Orange is not my favorite color. Not by a long shot. Unfortunately, I now have no choice but to embrace it—as my company’s new branding revolves around a wildly intense shade of it. My vehement protest against the change was to no avail, so I’ve adopted the if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em mentality. A turning point in this acceptance came after baking this little beauty for the agency rebranding celebration:







Not only did it turn out beautifully, but I won the party’s orange food contest (a small consolation for having to stare at the orange, agency-branded coffee mugs, drinking glasses and other tchotchkes that have recently infiltrated my workplace). This post isn’t a recipe, so much as a collection of tips on making ombre cakes. Just use your favorite white cake and frosting recipe (I’m partial to a simple buttercream) and choose a color, then follow these tips.

  • Add some flavor. Since my cake was orange, I substituted half of the liquid in the cake batter recipe for triple sec. Depending on the flavor you want, you can add flavored liquor like I did, or extracts, herbs (lavender, for example, would be divine for a purple ombre cake with lemon flavored icing), zests, etc.
  • Add some color. For ombre cakes, I highly recommend powdered food coloring. Not only would you need a ton of liquid coloring to get the deeper, more saturated shades, but it could throw off the consistency of the batter because you’d have to add a fair amount of extra liquid.




  • Flour and grease the pans like there’s no tomorrow. ‘Nuff said.
  • Little by little … Make enough batter for five or six thin layers (I used 8-inch round pans, filled about halfway with batter). Then slowly start to add the food coloring until you get the lightest shade you want. Pour a little of the batter into the first pan. Continue to add food coloring to the big batch of batter until you get the second lightest shade. Pour a little more of the batter into the second pan. Continue this process, gradually darkening the batter with more food coloring for each pan.
  • Take a little off the top. If you’ve never made a layer cake before, you might not know that you need to shave off the top of each layer, which rises unevenly in the oven, to create a flat surface upon which to set the next layer. A sharp chef’s knife should do the trick. Wait until the layers have completely cooled to do this—you may even want to chill them if you have time.
  • Don’t fret the frosting. In my opinion, frosting a cake without making a total mess of it is the hardest part. I’m no expert by any means, so take my advice on this topic with a grain of salt: I heated the frosting a bit and put it into a piping bag; then I squirted the soft frosting onto each layer and *gently* spread it with a knife. The outside of the cake was much trickier, so I ended up using a fancy tip and piping little flowers to cover up my messy frosting job.
  • Dark on the top, light on the bottom. Personal preference I guess, but I just think it looks better. 
  • Have fun with the embellishments. To go with my orange theme, I sprinkled homemade candied orange peels on the top of the cake. This definitely took it up a notch.

Ombre away! And in the meantime, here’s a little more orange to help this post live up to its title:







 

‘Tis the season …

… for lots and lots of butter. That’s right. Even more than usual. I’m talking pounds of it. Restaurant-size vats. Because it’s time for my famous saltine cracker toffee. A quartet of the most nutritionally devoid—yet dangerously irresistible—ingredients on the planet: chocolate, refined carbs, sugar and BUTTAH.

This is a combination more addictive than crack, and as a holiday present, it beats the hell out of scented shower gel and Christmas-shaped loofas.

You’ll need:

A couple sleeves of saltine crackers

1 cup of butter

1 cup of brown sugar

2 cups of chocolate chips (your choice of white, milk or dark chocolate)

Nuts, sprinkles or other toppings of your choice

Set your oven to 375 degrees. Place a layer of tin foil over a cookie sheet (with sides, otherwise the toffee will drip off the sides when you pour it over the crackers). Grease the foil and place a single layer of saltines, salt side up, as close as possible without overlapping them, on the cookie sheet. Set aside. In sauce pan, melt the butter over medium high heat and add the brown sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, let it cook for another 3 minutes. Slowly drizzle the toffee over the crackers—it can take practice to get the toffee evenly distributed, but don’t stress it too much. Stick it in the oven for about 5-8 minutes, or until the toffee looks very bubbly. You’ll know if it starts to burn—the color begins to turn dark quickly and you can see the crackers getting a little charred.

Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crackers and toffee.

Allow them to melt for a few minutes, and then spread the chocolate around with a silicone spatula. Top with any other ingredients (nuts, dried fruit, sprinkles). I’m thinking I might venture even further into cardiac-blockage territory this year and top a batch or two with bacon …

Allow to cool, then chill in the freezer or refrigerator. Once fully chilled, peel off the tinfoil and break into pieces.

A warning—one pan of this stuff will never suffice.

The one day a year when bingeing is socially acceptable …

… is nearly upon us!! Hip-hip-hooray!!!







As far as food goes, holidays don’t get much better than Thanksgiving. Last year’s Thanksgiving post pretty much covers things so I’m posting the link again (hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). There’s also my Southwest Thanksgiving post and the Paula Deen post to give you a little turkey-day inspiration. Also keep an eye out for a special Thanksgiving Day post. Happy gorging!

Chocolate babka … just like Nana used to make (or buy at Publix)

For some reason, lots of my childhood memories with my Nana revolve around food—the good, the bad and the Jewish. The good: delicious, sweet and savory meatballs. The bad: Rice Dream (sorry Nana, but that stuff is just awful). The Jewish: Chocolate babka. Mmmmmm, delicious babka. Come to find out, its origins are debatable (some say it’s Polish, some Eastern European, but from what I can tell it is largely a favorite of Jewish New Yorkers), but that doesn’t change the fact that it is AMAZING.

I fondly remember this delectable treat (and chocolate rugelach … mmmm) as something enjoyed exclusively in our yearly visits to the Jewish retirement capital of the world: South Florida.

Anyway, the babka was a pretty distant memory until a dinner club a few months back. The theme was Polish food, and for some reason it popped into my head that babka might be Polish. Sure enough, I found enough online evidence to be satisfied that it could pass. Because at that point, I just really, really wanted to make it.

And the recipe from Smitten Kitchen did not disappoint. It was light, airy and buttery—like a croissant—with sweet, chocaltey, cinnamony goodness. And it got rave reviews at dinner club. Don’t let the seemingly complex recipe scare you away—it’s totally worth it. Or for those of you in Fort Lauderdale, Margate or Boca Raton, a quick Publix run might give you your fix.

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