Friday, July 29, 2011

Decorated Sugar Cookies

You most likely saw these cookies in my last post. And by the way, aren't they the coolest cookies in the galaxy? (More on my Star Wars affection later. It will be worth it, I promise.) So this time out I'm going to show you how to decorate sugar cookies. It's really not that hard. There are a lot of steps though, so I'm going to dispense with the chit chat and get right too it.

This is my preferred method to decorate sugar cookies for lots of reasons. You can add detail with royal icing right away because you don't have to wait for the background to dry. The colors don't bleed into the background. The covering is firm enough to stack or wrap the cookies but is still soft when you bite into it. It's cheaper than using fondant and it tastes good, like marshmallow. Yum!

To start you'll need some sugar cookie dough for rolled out cookies. Use your favorite recipe, one that doesn't spread when baked. You could also use this recipe from the William Sonoma web site, it's the one the comes in the package with the Star Wars cookie cutters. I've also heard good things about Martha Stewart's recipe found here, but I've never actually used it. You'll also need a batch of marshmallow dough and some royal icing.

On a weird side note I don't share my rolled out cookie recipes. I share ALL my other recipes. I know, it's kind of weird. The reason is two-fold. First it's taken me a lot of time and effort to develop recipes that are both flavorful and sturdy enough to hold up to decorating, packaging etc. Second I have a cockeyed dream that one day I'll run my own custom cookie business and to that end I'd like to keep the recipe a secret.
I know, it's weird, I hope you understand.

Here is some of the essential equipment. A sturdy rolling pin. This one is just a long straight one, no handles, no tapered ends (that's a French Rolling Pin) and it's my favorite. I also like to use these "spacers". Two pieces of wood approximately 24 inches long, 1-1/2 inches wide and exactly 1/4 inch thick. The nice man in the lumber section of Home Depot cut these for me (Make sure the wood is non-toxic, I choose maple, and that it hasn't been "treated" with any chemicals. Ask lots of questions and let them know what you are using it for!) After getting the wood cut, I sanded them lightly with fine sandpaper then gave them a good rubbing all over with vegetable oil to help preserve the wood. They wash and dry great, just like a rolling pin. Whew. . .lots to go over here. I also like this small strainer for sprinkling the flour. Lastly I'm using a Corian cutting board as a rolling surface but you can use your counter top if it's suitable or the back of a sturdy sheet pan. 

Set the spacers about 8-10 inches apart on your rolling surface and sprinkle the surface generously with flour.

Lay out the cookie dough and give it a good dusting of flour as well. Pre-form the dough so when you roll it out you get a oblong piece of dough rather than a big circle.

Roll out the dough resting the rolling pin over the wood spacers and applying pressure to the rolling pin over the spacers, not over the dough. Your done when the rolling pin is resting completely on the spacers and the dough no longer expands as you roll. Now you have a perfectly even sheet of 1/4-inch thick dough. It's magic! Just don't forget to flour as you go to prevent the dough from sticking.

Now cut out whatever shape you like. Generally I only "re-roll" scraps once. Beyond that the dough tends to get overworked and tough. Use your judgement.

Note: I'm showing one cookie design for the cookies and another for decorating. Sorry, I took the pictures during two different baking/decorating sessions. Neither group of pictures showed the complete process so I used a combination. I'm sure you'll get it.

Transfer the cookies to a rimmed, silpat lined cookie sheet using a spatula if necessary to keep the cookies in shape.

Bake according to your recipe and cool on a wire rack. Cookies are usually done when the edges just start to color.

Now on to decorating. To color the marshmallow dough use gel or paste food color, not liquid. Adding a small amount and kneading it in. Keep the board, and your hands, well dusted with confectioners sugar or corn starch.

Keep kneading (adding more food color if needed.) until the color is uniform and is just a shade lighter than you want. It will darken as it cures.

Note that most likely your hands will get stained, especially if you are using dark colors. I've tried using gloves but they are just too cumbersome. Since I work in a bakery, as a cake decorator, my hands are usually stained with one color or another, it's just an occupational hazard. It usually wears off within a day or two. Good luck!

Next roll the dough out to approximately 1/8-inch thick. Cut your shapes using the same cutter that you did for your cookies. These cookie cutters had an embossing feature so I used that as well to add in some of the details. Make sure there is a light dusting of powdered sugar on the dough so it won't stick to the cutter. 

To "glue" to marshmallow dough to the cookie use a pastry brush and some corn syrup. Brushing a light coating on the cookies and then laying the dough on, in position, and applying a light bit of pressure.

For dark pieces you can remove the "white" bits (sugar) by lightly brushing with a barely damp pastry brush or wipe gently with a lightly damp paper towel.

Add details with royal icing. You can do this right away as the marshmallow dough is "dry". Once the royal icing has set up, a good couple of hours or more, you can stack or wrap the cookies without damaging the design. Have fun with it!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Basics: Marshmallow Dough

I've got a quickie for you this week. And here I am, just under the wire. Again. Another busy busy week. I keep waiting for "things" to slow down but I'm slowly coming to the realization that that may never happen. This is it, the pace of our life. Soon enough I'll be complaining that my children are all grown up so I guess I'll just shut it and enjoy the ride. Wheeeeee!

This week, I've got a super simple. I mean SUPER SIMPLE recipe for you. Two ingredients simple. Some may call it Marshmallow Fondant but I've seen recipes for that and it involves melting marshmallow, adding stuff, mixing, greasing, bla bla bla. Way too much work. I call this "Marshmallow Dough", or "Poor Woman's Fondant". I've used it in place of traditional (i.e. EXPENSIVE) fondant and it works like a dream. I've covered cakes, decorated cookies and sculpted roses. The only difference I've seen between this handy concoction and fondant is the cost (way cheaper) and flavor (way better, tastes like marshmallows). So mix some up and get to experimenting. I'll post later on how to cover cookies so stay tuned.

Here's all you need: 1 jar marshmallow creme (7oz.-ish) and powdered sugar (3-1/2 cups to start and more for kneading and dusting.)

Just dump it in a bowl and start stirring. Takes a bit of elbow grease but keep working it until all the sugar is incorporated. Half way through you'll be convinced that you have too much sugar but KEEP GOING. It will get there. You may have to get your hands in there (dust them with powdered sugar) and knead it, do what ever you have to do, just get all the sugar worked in.

Alternately you can use the dough hook on your mixer. BUT. . .make sure you have a pretty powerful mixer; only use the dough hook, NOT the beater or whip; and watch your mixer close to make sure it's not stressing the motor. If it starts sounding or smelling funny, turn it off IMMEDIATELY! Do not use a hand mixer, you'll burn it out. OK, fair warning.

Half way through it will look crummy, like this. But keep going.

Eventually it will look like this. If you aren't using it right away wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then in a zipper bag, squeezing out all the air.

I really like this for covering cookies because it's firm enough that you can stack or wrap the cookies but it isn't completely hard when you bite into it. I used it on these cookies adding the detail with royal icing.

And these cookies, possibly the coolest cookies in the universe. I'll show you how I did it later next week. For now, mix up a batch of marshmallow dough and play around.

Marshmallow Dough
1 jar marshmallow cream (7oz.)
3-1/2 C. powdered sugar.

Combine marshmallow cream and sugar in a large bowl stirring until most of the sugar is incorporated. Finish working the sugar in by kneading. Wrap tightly until ready to use.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Banana Pudding

Well I'm getting a post in this week just under the wire. When I started this blog I set a goal to post a new recipe at least once a week. So far I've stuck to it, some weeks it hasn't been easy. But I'm committed, so here I am on Saturday, the last day of "this week" and I'm just getting this posted. Better late than never, right? I do have a good excuse, I was on vacation. And although I took a computer on vacation and uploaded all the pictures and my notes for this post. And although I had the best intentions to complete the post in my "free time", we were just having too much fun and I didn't get to it. Please forgive me.

Banana Pudding is one of my all time favorite things. Comfort food. Deliciousness. Perfection. Simplicity. Over a year ago a Facebook friend mentioned enjoying the most divine Banana Pudding. That simple comment set off a craving for Banana Pudding that needed to be satisfied. I scoured the web for a good recipe. A from scratch recipe. Boxed pudding mix would just not do! Link after link after link was filled with recipes using boxed pudding mix. YUCK! My perseverance finally paid off and I came across this recipe. It exceeded all my expectations. It's so good my son requested it for his birthday instead of cake and my friend Roger (somewhat of a banana pudding/banana cream pie expert) has declared it a favorite. Really, it's that good. So if you are using boxed pudding mix for your banana pudding I implore you to cease immediately and make this recipe.

My printed copy of the original recipe was posted at My Wooden Spoon in May of 2008 but it looks as though it's been reposted here. I've adapted it a bit for our tastes and added a whipped cream topping. I hope you like it as much as we do.

Here is what you'll need: flour, sugar, milk (I like whole milk for this recipe but 2% or skim will work.), eggs, butter, vanilla, vanilla wafers and bananas. For the topping you'll need heavy whipping cream, more sugar and powdered gelatin (not pictured).

Start by lining a 8x8 (or similar sized) dish with vanilla wafers.

Next add sliced bananas. Thick or thin slices, it doesn't really matter, it's up to you and the level of banana flavor you want. I slice them a bit less than 1/4-inch thick. If you are fussy about your bananas getting dark (I'm not) then you can leave the slices soaking in a bowl of 2/3 water - 1/3 lemon juice until it's time to add the pudding.

In a medium saucepan mix together the flour and sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the milk slowly, whisking until the mixture is smooth, no lumps of flour. Set it over medium heat and whisk constantly until it's thick and just starts to bubble.

Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla.

Pour half the hot pudding mixture over the bananas and wafers.

Add another layer of vanilla wafers and more banana slices.

Top with the remaining pudding mixture and refrigerate until completely cool.

For the whipped cream. Stir together the gelatin and water and let sit for 5 minutes. Then microwave on high for 30 seconds (or less, watch it close, it easily boils over). Let it cool to room temperature (5 to 7 minutes). Meanwhile, using a hand held electric mixer, beat together the whipping cream and sugar just until it starts to stiffen and you can see the beater marks in the cream. With the beaters going add the gelatin mixture in a steady stream, then add vanilla and beat until it forms stiff peaks. Spread evenly over the top of the cooled pudding. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Delicious! I usually make it the night before because I like it really cold, all the flavors blend together and the cookies are soft like cake. Chill it at least a couple of hours before you serve it. If you don't want to take the time to layer the bananas and vanilla wafers you can just dump them all in a big bowl and then pour the pudding over the top. What ever floats your boat. Enjoy!

Banana Pudding
posted by A Cowboys Wife on May 16, 2008

2 T. flour
1/2 C. sugar
2 eggs
2 C. whole milk
12 oz. box vanilla wafers
2-3 medium sized bananas
1 T. butter
1/4 t. vanilla

Whipped Cream:
1t. gelatin
4t. water
1C. heavy cream
1T. sugar
1/2t. teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8x8-inch dish (or similar 2 qt. dish) with vanilla wafers. Top with sliced bananas.

In a medium saucepan, mix flour and sugar together. Add eggs and mix well. Slowly add milk and whisk until smooth. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and just starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla, whisking until smooth and incorporated.

Pour half of the pudding mixture over the vanilla wafers and bananas, smoothing it out in an even layer. Add another layer of vanilla wafers and banana slices and top with remaining pudding, covering all bananas. Refrigerate until completely cool.

For the whipped cream. In a small microwave safe bowl, stir together the gelatin and water. Let sit 5 minutes. Microwave on high approximately 30 seconds until gelatin is dissolved. Watch closely and do not let it boil over. Let cool to room temperature, about 5 - 7 minutes. Meanwhile, beat whipping cream and sugar just until it starts to thicken and beater marks can be seen. With mixer on, add cooled gelatin in a steady stream beating well. Add vanilla and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Immediately smooth over the top of the cooled pudding and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. 

Makes 8-10 servings.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chili Frito Pie

It's been one busy week. One busy, busy, busy week. Seriously, I don't know how I'm still standing. I worked 7 days straight through, on a holiday weekend no less. I made 150 mini cupcakes for a friend's sister's wedding. All the while attempting to entertain two kids, two mini dachshunds and a husband. Whew, it's been a busy, busy week, I don't know how I'm still standing.

This crazy, easy, gross, awesome, delicious, "I can't believe I ate that!" recipe is so fitting for the kind of week I've had. It has just 3 ingredients if you want to keep it simple but the possibilities for variation are endless. It takes all of 2 minutes to throw together and the leftovers are even better. It's the world famous Chili Frito Pie. 

Chili Frito Pie exists in the same realm as Tuna Casserole, Hot Dish, Funeral Potatoes and Tater Tot Casserole. That strange niche in the culinary world of oddities that tend to show up a Pot Luck dinners.  You put a little on your plate, just to be polite. Then you sneak a taste and despite all your pre-conceived notions, it's delicious. Just DON'T ASK WHAT'S IN IT! You don't really want to know, do you? But seriously, try this if you dare.

Here are the 3 basic ingredients: Frito's or corn chips - I'm attempting, feebly, to somehow make this less unhealthy by going organic and natural. I'm not deluded into thinking it actually has any healthy merits, but secretly I do feel better., Chili - canned, homemade, whatever., Cheese - I like cheddar, use whatever you like and have on hand. There aren't really any proportions for this, you just have to "go for it" and adjust to your hearts content.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and then grab an 8x8 pyrex dish or something similar. Crush up a handful or two of corn chips and cover the bottom.

Next add a hearty layer of chili. This was a whole can.

Now shred some cheese on top of that. I like A LOT of cheese. This is about 4 oz.

Repeat with another layer of crushed chips, another can of chili and about 4 more ounces of cheese.

Pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes. Until it is heated through and all the cheese is melted. You should see the chili bubbling a bit. Then let it set for about 10 minutes before serving.

I like mine with a simple dollop of sour cream. Gross. . .oops, I mean delicious. Seriously, it is strangely good. You can up the ante with some sautéed onions or jalapeños before cooking. After it's cooked you can top with sour cream, scallions, chopped fresh tomato or shredded lettuce. Try it, I dare ya!

Chili Frito Pie
1 10oz. bag corn chips
2 15 oz. cans chili
8 oz. shredded cheese

Layer all ingredients in an 8x8 casserole dish, starting with crushed chips and ending with the shredded cheese. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. Allow to set for 10 minutes. Garnish and serve.