Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Sugar Cookies (September 2010)

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Sugar cookies are a long-standing tradition in our family. I have fond memories of the sweet treats from my childhood. In fact, we have a “secret family recipe” that has been passed on throughout the years (nope, I’m not sharing that one on the internet!). When I saw that the challenge this month was sugar cookies, I was happy (knowing it wouldn’t be much of a challenge) but also a bit disappointed (knowing I wouldn’t learn a whole lot).

The good news is that a friend asked me to bake and decorate sugar cookies as baby shower favors for her sister. Her sister is having twins soon so the theme was Noah’s Ark. I thought I would try something new and order pressed sugar decorations from SugarCraft to use on a standard cookie shape. This was I could make a bunch of them quickly and still have them be adorable. She also asked me to make and decorate a sheet cake with the design of the invitation on the cake (and there was my challenge for the month!).

I used my family recipe for the cookies and a royal icing recipe I knew and trusted (since that’s what my friend had tasted and wanted). The whole process is fairly straight forward. My best tip is to use multiple pans for baking. I use two with Silpats, and can basically be baking from start to finish with no breaks since they only take about 8-10 minutes per batch. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to roll, cut and get the next batch ready.

So…the pressed sugar decorations arrived (amazingly intact) and were super cute (I thought!). Here’s a glamor shot of the cookies and then how I wrapped them to be favors.

Here are a few other cookies that I’ve done over the years…I think I’m getting better! What do you think:
Oh, and for those that are wondering…here’s how the sheet cake turned out.

It turned into a major undertaking, but was worth it in the end. I’m told the mom-to-be was quite happy with both the cake and the cookies. I’m so glad to be a very small part of this important event in her growing family’s life. 

To see how the other Daring Bakers did with this challenge, head over here. They made some amazing cookies!!

And one last thing…if you want to order cookies, a cake or other dessert from me, just let me know!

The Daring Bakers Recipe (Because I can’t give away the family recipe!)
Basic Sugar Cookies
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies
200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

  • Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture.
  • Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
  • Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.
  • Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch).
  • Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
  • Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
  • Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.
  • Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour.
  • Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
  • Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.
  • Leave to cool on cooling racks.
  • Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.

Royal Icing
You can find the Royal Icing Recipe I use by clicking here. Just add a bit more water to the recipe for flooding.

Daring Baker’s Royal Icing
315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ - 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional
  • Tip: 2 amounts of icing suga are listed, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
  • Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
  • Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
  • Add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
  • Beat on low until combined and smooth.
  • Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
  • Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap or moist paper towel while not in use.
Decorating Your Cookies: Flooding
"Flooding” a cookie is a technique used when covering a cookie with Royal Icing.

1. You outline the area you want to flood which helps create a dam.
2. Then fill or flood inside the area you’ve outlined.

Decorating Your Cookies: What You'll Need
  • Piping bags / Parchment Cones / Ziplock Bags
  • Elastic bands
  • Piping tips (between sizes 1 & 5)
  • Couplers
  • Glasses (handy for standing your piping bags in)
  • Clean clothes, dry & damp
  • Toothpicks
  • Gel or paste food colouring 
Decorating your cookies: Royal Icing
The most important thing when it comes to decorating with Royal Icing is the consistency.

There are two ways of flooding your cookies. Some like to do the outline with a thicker icing and then flood with a thinner icing. Some like to use the same icing to do both which saves time and you don’t have to have two different piping bags for each colour you’re using.

The Same Consistency Method:
  • Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions.
  • Drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing and count to 10.
  • If the surface becomes smooth between 5 & 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
  • Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, do the 10 second test, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
  • Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.
Two Different Consistencies Method:
  • Mix your royal icing according to the recipe/instructions.
  • Separate into 2 different bowls, one lot of icing for outlining, the other for flooding.
  • For the outlining icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing.
  • If the surface becomes smooth at around 10 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency.
  • Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 10 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
  • Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 10 second test.
  • For the flooding/filling icing, drag a knife through the surface of the Royal Icing. 
  • If the surface becomes smooth at around 3-4 seconds, the icing is at the correct consistency. 
  • Tip: If your icing is too thick, thin it by adding a few drops of water. Mix, count to 3-4 seconds, then if it’s still too thick, add a few more drops of water, repeat, etc.
  • Tip: To thicken your icing, add small amounts of icing sugar until thick enough for the 3-4 second test. 
  • Separate Royal Icing into separate bowls for each colour you plan on using.
  • Tip: Make sure to cover the bowls with cling film or a damp cloth to prevent the top from setting and then making lumps. 
  • Using a toothpick, add gel or paste colouring to each bowl and mix thoroughly until desired colour is reached. 
  • Tip: You can use liquid food colouring but you might not be able to get the desired strength of colour, liquid colouring will also thin out the icing so you’ll need to add more icing sugar to thicken it again.
Prepping and filling your piping bags:
  • Attach your icing tips to the piping bags using couplers.
  • Tip: You don’t need to use a coupler but it makes it easier if you want to change tip sizes
  • Tip: A size 1 tip is best for doing intricate details. A size 2 tip is good for some details and outlining. Fill or flood with sizes 2 – 5.
  • Tip: You don’t need a piping bag, you can use a ziplock bag with a tiny bit snipped off the corner. I would however recommend getting a piping set if you don’t have one as it will be much easier and more precise.
  • Stand the piping bags in glasses with the tops of the bags folded over the top of the glass.
  • Fill your icing bags with each coloured icing.
  • Tie the ends of the piping bags with elastic bands.
Decorating: Outlining
  • Fit the piping bag with a size 2 or 3 tip.
  • Tip: Or snip a very small bit of the corner off of a Ziploc bag
  • Hold the piping bag at a 45 degree angle above the cookie where you want to start the outline.
  • Gently squeeze the piping bag and start moving in the direction you want to outline the cookie.
  • Start lifting the piping bag away from the cookie so that the flow of icing falls onto the cookie, making it an even and neater outline.
  • As you start to reach the beginning of the outline, bring the piping tip closer to the surface of the cookie to meet the start of the icing outline.
  • Tip: If you’re doing an intricate cookie, like a snow flake, you won’t be able to lift the tip as far away from the cookie.
  • If you’re doing a different colour border, eg. a black border, let the outline dry before flooding. If using the same colour for the outline as you are flooding with, begin flooding after doing the outline.
Decorating: Flooding
  • Fit the piping bag with a size 2-5 tip, the bigger the area being filled, the bigger the tip.
  • Tip: Or cut slightly more off the corner of a Ziploc bag to create a slightly larger opening.
  • Quickly zigzag back and forth over the area you want to fill.
  • Tip: You need to be quick when flooding the cookie so don’t worry too much if it’s not filled in neatly.
  • Using a toothpick or clean paintbrush, push the icing around into the gaps that are still remaining.
  • Either pick up the cookie and tip it from side to side to even out the filling, or lightly bang the cookie down on your kitchen counter.  
Decorating: Melding colours
  • If you would like to add lines or dots to the base colour that you flooded the cookie with so that they meld and dry as a smooth surface, you need to add the lines/dots/patterns as quickly as possible after flooding and smoothing the surface of the cookie.
  • Tip: Make sure to have all the colours you’re planning on using ready and close by so that you can switch between colours quickly 
  • Simply pipe other colours onto the flooded surface in patterns or lines which you can either leave as that or then drag a toothpick through to make marbling patterns. 
Decorating: On top of flooding
  • If you’d like to do other patterns/outlines or writing on top of the flooded surface so that they are raised above the flooded background, simply allow the icing to dry, preferably over night.
  • Fit the piping bag with tip sizes 1-3. 
  • Pipe patterns or write on top of the dry icing.
  • Tip: For writing, the consistency of your icing should be thicker rather than thinner, drag a knife through your icing and when the surface smoothes around 12-15 seconds, the consistency is correct. 
Packaging and Storing:
  • Once fully decorated, allow cookies to dry for 24 hours in a cool and dry area.  
  • Stack cookies in an airtight container, from largest cookies at the bottom, to smallest and more intricate at the top, with parchment or wax free paper in between the layers.
  • Store in a cool and dry area with the container’s lid firmly sealed.
  • Will last for about a month if stored this way.
Enjoy With Love,

Exciting News!!

The gals at The Daring Kitchen asked for some of us Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks to contribute towards the weekly Food Talk article. I stepped up to the plate and....

This is my week!

Go check it out! The article is titled: Cooking Together With Aphrodisiacs!

Thanks for the opportunity ladies!

Enjoy With Love,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Daring Cooks: Food Preservation (September 2010)

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

When I first opened this challenge, I was excited to have a reason to try my hand at something that I was exposed too when I was a young child. My grandma, mom and I used to spend hours in the kitchen canning peaches and tomatoes during the summer. My job during the canning process, especially with peaches, was to make sure that the pretty side of the fruit was facing out. I was such an eager helper, and I'm sure that this job was given to me because my smaller hands fit in the jars easier! Of course, there was always those few peaches that needed to be "tested" (read that as eaten!) for quality control. The funny part is I don't remember ever using the canned results later in the year, though I'm sure they were.

Since apples aren't quite in season yet here (give them a few more weeks!), I decided to try my hand at the bruschetta in a jar. I'm a huge fan of bruschetta and the whole process was going to be fairly quick and easy.

I had to go purchase some of the items needed for canning. I already had the jars, lids and tops because of the apples that mom and I canned last season (and I used to make pies mid-winter! Yum!). What I didn't have were the jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter and the headspace measurer. Granted, the lid lifter and the measurer were luxury items, but I found an entire "kit" for canning at Bed, Bath and Beyond for only $10. (Psst...I couldn't find the kit on the BBB site, so that link goes to the Ball canning site where you can purchase it. That site also has some great recipes.) I used my big stock pot with the pasta strainer insert as my "shock protector." It worked great!

Once I had all of the equipment and ingredients assembled, I was ready to get going. Since it was only me, I decided to half the recipe. You'll see I still came up with 5 jars of preserved goodness. I used about 10 plum tomatoes and then one "regular" tomato because I had a bit of room left in the last jar. The texture difference was pretty amazing. I'm glad I used mostly plum tomatoes.

Since I was only using half the tomatoes, I also halved the liquid recipe. For some reason, this did NOT work out. I think it may have been because I didn't pack my tomatoes in tight enough (therefore needed more liquid). BUT, the good news is that the liquid was a quick and easy thing to whip up so I just made a full recipe and had plenty (with a bit leftover in the end). You may want to make extra just to be sure you don't run out mid-canning like I did. (Advice when packing the jars: Don't be afraid to really pack the tomatoes in there...I think it worked better in the end. The liquid was a bit more tricky to get down in there, but the end product was prettier (in my opinion).)

The "cooking" process was simply to just let them boil away for 20 easy is that! Once they were done and had rested in the hot water for 5 minutes I removed them to the counter (on a pot holder!) and waited for then signature "ping" of a good seal. I was rewarded with 5 solid "pings" before I knew it!

I've not yet tasted the bruschetta...but I'm hoping to break into a jar later this week to give it a try. I'll do my best to come back and update you on how it tasted....but honestly, it smelled wonderful going in, so I can't imagine it'll be bad. :-) Here's a glamour shot of the jars after they were done:

For other recipes and to see the wonderful results of other Daring Cooks, visit The Daring Kitchen.

The Recipe:
Bruschetta in a Jar

Plum/Roma Tomatoes* - 3 1/2 lbs
Fresh Garlic - 5 Cloves, Minced
Dry White Wine - 1 Cup (Reminder: Use something you'd drink!)
White Wine Vinegar - 1 Cup
Balsamic Vinegar - 2 Tbl
Sugar, Granulated - 2 Tbl
Dried Basil - 2 Tbl
Dried Oregano - 2 Tbl

* Note: Although other tomato varieties may be used, firm plum tomatoes yield the best results. If using round garden-variety tomatoes, seed tomatoes and drain in colander for 30 minutes then chop.

Headspace: 1/2 “ (1.27 cm)

Processing Time:
20 minutes for altitude of 0 ft (0 m) to 1,000 ft (305 m)
25 minutes for altitude of 1,001 ft (305.1 m) to 3,000 ft (915 m)
30 minutes for altitude of 3,001 ft (916 m) to 6,000 ft (1,830 m)
35 minutes altitudes above 6,000 ft (1,831 m) to 8,000 ft (2,440 m)

1) Place 7 clean half-pint (250 ml) mason jars on a rack in a boiling water canner; cover jars with water and heat to a simmer (180°F/82°C). Set screw bands aside. Heat lids in hot water, not boiling (180°F/82°C). Keep jars and sealing discs hot until ready to use.

2) Wash, seed and chop tomatoes into 1/2 inch (1cm) pieces; measure 9 cups (2250 ml), set aside.

3) Combine garlic, white wine, wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, water, sugar, basil and oregano in a deep stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a full boil; reduce heat. Stirring occasionally, boil gently, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

4) Pack tomatoes into a hot jar to within 3/4 inch (2 cm) of top rim. Add hot liquid to cover tomatoes to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of top rim (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if required, by adding more tomatoes and hot liquid. Wipe jar rim removing any food residue. Centre hot sealing disc on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in canner. Repeat for remaining tomatoes and hot liquid.

5) When canner is filled, ensure that all jars are covered by at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water. Cover canner and bring water to full rolling boil before starting to count processing time. At altitudes up to 1000 ft (305 m), process –boil filled jars – 20 minutes.

6) When processing time is complete, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars without tilting and place them upright on a protected work surface. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours; DO NOT RETIGHTEN screw bands.

7) After cooling check jar seals. Sealed discs curve downward and do not move when pressed. Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place. For best quality, use home canned foods within one year.

Serving Suggestions:
With boiling water canning, very little oil is used since the oils can weaken the seals on the jar.

For the Bruschetta, olive oil and fresh herbs can be added before serving on top of toasted bread or as a condiment to a dish.

Enjoy with Love,

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Braised Hoisin Beer Short Ribs

I've taken to reading a lot of other food blogs. There are some really great ones out there that inspire me all the time. One that I came across this past summer is The Bitten Word. It's written by two guys that live in DC. I love their writing, photography and willingness to be creative in the kitchen.

I was stalking their blog one afternoon when I came across this recipe for braised ribs. I've been fondly remembering the braised short ribs that I had at Ulah Bistro for my birthday. I took this recipe as a sign that I had to try to make them...see if I could make them as fall-apart-yummy as the restaurant and the guys at The Bitten Word did.

I made my way to the store, got all the ingredients and then waited until this weekend, and an extra day off from work, to make this recipe. Though not difficult by any means, this recipe is a bit time consuming...but it's all just simmer time...not active cooking. It was perfect for the day I had planned.

Seriously, the whole house filled with the delicious smells of these ribs cooking. The end result is fall-apart-no-knife-needed meat. The sauce is sweet and yet you get a nice tang from the beer and ginger. The garlic melts into the sauce and adds such a beautiful layer of flavor. I served with garlic mashed potatoes and a salad (something green!). SO, SO GOOD!!! Go, get what you need to make these this weekend...what are you waiting for!

Seriously, I don't know why a knife is shown!
Photo Credit: The Food Network

Braised Hoisin Beer Short Ribs

Found on The Bitten Word who got it from Dave Lieberman via Food Network
4 to 6 servings
Prep: 25 min
Cook: 3 hr 20 min
Total: 3 hr 45 min

3 pounds beef short ribs, about 10 ribs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 to 12 garlic cloves smashed
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
12 ounces good ale (recommended: Bass)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 cup hoisin sauce

Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy pot with a lid (Dutch oven) over high heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove the ribs and pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the rendered fat.

Return the pot to the stove, lower the heat to medium and saute the garlic and ginger for about 3 minutes. Add the ribs back to the pot. Add the beer and the vinegar. Stir and then cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Pour the hoisin sauce over the ribs, move the pot to the oven, and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Remove ribs and ginger from sauce. Strain fat from the top of the pot so that you're left with just the good stuff.

Enjoy With Love,