Butter Pecan Shortbread

How do you make shortbread even more delicious? Add some toasted pecans and butterscotch flavor and make it butter pecan shortbread.  I sent these tasty treats to North Carolina for my sister-in-law Kristin a few weeks back, and she sent me a photo of the container with a few crumbs remaining, proclaiming them the best I’d ever made.

So what makes this flavor combination so delicious? My money is on the toasted pecans, because toasted nuts taste far more delicious than raw ones. Toasting brings the oils to the nut’s surface, intensifying their flavor and adding crunch. Pecans are one of my favorite nuts for baking, and they’re a huge hit in these easy treats. If you don’t have butterscotch flavor, you can certainly leave it out and just add some vanilla instead. The flavor won’t be quite as intense, but it will still be delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon butterscotch flavor
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and butterscotch flavor. Add flour and beat to combine completely, then add pecans. You may need to knead the dough a bit with your hands to get the pecans to fully distribute.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottoms of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice each round into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to about 5 days.

Makes 32 wedges.

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Octopus Cut-Outs

A few summers ago, I made some adorable octopus cookies based on a treat I saw at Starbucks. They used an enormous octopus cutter, but I recently found a smaller one that reminded me very much of something my goddaughter Mo and her little sister Margaret would like. Since frosted cut-out cookies don’t ship so well, I decided to tint the dough purple (octopuses can be purple, right?) and add some candy eyes for some fun summer treats.

For a richer color like the purple I used in these treats, I recommend gel food coloring instead of liquid. Most craft stores have a variety of gel colors in the baking section, but you might be able to find it at Target or your regular grocery store. I tinted my dough with the mixer running to fully incorporate the color; you can also mix it in by hand, but this way is less messy.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor
  • Purple gel food coloring
  • Small candy eyeballs

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla, princess cake and cookie flavor, and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three cookie sheets with parchment or foil.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into octopus shapes. Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart and press candy eyeballs into each cookie.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are firm. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 2 dozen.

Patriotic Sugar Cut-Outs

Sugar cookies are easy to embellish, and this time I chose to add some princess cake and cookie flavor into my standard dough. The results were delicious; these cookies tasted more like bakery-style sugar cookies, with a rich vanilla flavor and just a hint of citrus. I think this is going to be my go-to sugar cookie flavor from now on.

To make these cookies patriotic, I whipped up a double batch of my grandma Zella’s icing and swapped out the almond extract for more princess cake and cookie flavor, then tinted one-third each blue and red. I’m not much of an artist when it comes to piping, so I went with some basic stars. Once your cookies are frosted, let them stand for a few hours so the icing can set before storing them between sheets of waxed paper. The designs might smudge a bit, but no one will remember once they take a bite.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor
  • Double batch Zella’s icing, with 1-2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor substituted for the almond extract
  • Red and blue food coloring

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla, princess cake and cookie flavor, and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into circles.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Make Zella’s icing and divide into thirds; keep one portion white, and tint the others red an blue. Frost and decorate as you like, then allow the icing to set before storing between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

Paw Print Cookies

Last week I sent my favorite little Maryland girls two stuffed bobcat toys, and what better to accompany them than some paw print cookies? Not having a paw print cookie cutter – and not wanting to send frosted cookies through the mail – I got a bit creative. I’d seen charming polar bear paw cupcakes on Pinterest a while back that used chocolate chips and miniature peppermint patties, so I adapted that concept and just used chocolate candy melts for the main part of the paw print instead.

Cake mix is a great option for these cookies; I might try a scratch-made cookie next time, but these were quick and easy to bake. I went with milk chocolate chips and candy melts, but you could use dark if you prefer, or even white if you went with a chocolate cookie.

Ingredients

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • Milk chocolate candy melts*

*I used Baker’s Dipping Chocolate, which is available at most grocery stores and Target

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, vegetable oil, eggs, and almond extract. Mix until completely combined and chill for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and place them, along with the candy melts, in a cool place nearby (not right next to your oven).

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough and roll into balls. Place about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until the edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately press 1 candy melt in the center of each cookie for the center paw pad, then press 4 chocolate chips above it for the toe pads. Move your baking sheet to a cooler place and allow cookies to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. The chocolate does take some time to set; you can pop the cookies in your fridge for a few minutes to speed the process if you like.

Once chocolate is set, store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Easter Chick Cookies

These cookies are really adorable…and I sincerely hope they make it to Maryland for Maureen and Margo’s Easter in one piece. Baked as two balls of dough baked side by side so they form one cookie, they’re at risk of separating, particularly in transit. To explain the potential carnage, I already alerted their mom to the potential that they might lose their cute little heads en route despite my careful packaging. Cross your fingers that I don’t scar my nieces for life, please.

Adapted from a recipe I found at The Gold Lining Girl, these treats feature cake mix as their base. While the original recipe called for lemon cake mix, I used Pillsbury Butter Yellow mix and added some vanilla and yellow food coloring to the batter along with the other ingredients. Full disclosure: I made them way too big, so next time I’ll scale back the portions. I’d also recommending making their beaks and feet a bit darker orange. You’ll have a lot of royal icing left over from the recipe below, so you can use it to decorate other Easter cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 box Pillsbury Butter Yellow cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Chocolate chips (for eyes)
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 cup plus 2 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
  • About 1 1/2 tablespoons warm water
  • Orange food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cake mix, eggs, shortening, and vanilla until combined; add yellow food coloring to your desired shade.

To form each cookie, scoop balls of dough for the head and body, making sure the body is bigger than the head. Place the dough balls next to each other on the baking sheet so they’re just touching, leaving space between each cookie so they have room to spread a bit.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are set and tops are just barely golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately press chocolate chips into the top ball for eyes; allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make royal icing for beaks and feet, place meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for about 7-10 minutes, until peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and pipe beaks in triangles, then add feet. Allow the icing to set before storing; royal icing will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Before re-using, beat the icing with a paddle attachment to soften it.

Makes 12 cookies.

Lemon Raspberry Macarons

Now that I’ve become a macaron-obsessed baker, I bake several batches of them at a time. It’s practical, actually, because you’ve got your food processor out already and you may as well get a few batches done at once.

It’s also practical for me because I’ve used store-bought egg whites, rather than fresh egg whites, for most of my batches. While store-bought egg whites aren’t recommended for macarons because they may not produce a meringue that’s as fluffy, I’ve found great success with them in terms of macaron texture. Store-bought egg whites last about 10 days in the fridge, so that’s another reason to bake more than one batch of macarons at a time – you can use up all your whites without any waste. These lemon raspberry macarons – one of my favorite flavor combinations of all time – turned out very well.

Ingredients

For the shells

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (from 3-4 large eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 40 grams superfine sugar, sifted (about 3 tablespoons)*
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
  • 100 grams almond flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • Yellow gel food coloring

For the filling

Preparation

Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar and almond flour and pulse for about 30-45 seconds. Sift into a large bowl, discarding any large bits, and set aside.

Place egg whites and salt in clean, dry, grease-free bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed, then increase to medium/medium-high speed and whip until egg whites are foamy and no longer translucent. Slowly add superfine sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until stiff peaks form. Add lemon extract and a few drops of your desired food coloring. Whip again to combine, but be careful not to over-whip; you still want stiff peaks but don’t want to take the meringue too far and have it become grainy.

Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients at a time and fold in with a spatula, turning the mixture about 15 times with each addition, being very careful not to over-mix. The batter is mixed enough when it is sticky and smooth, and you can make an unbroken figure 8 with the batter as it drips off your spatula.

Place batter into a large piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Holding the bag upright, pipe rounds of batter about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each circle. Gently tap or drop your baking sheets onto a counter top or table to release any air bubbles.

Let batter sit for about 30-60 minutes; the tops will form a skin that becomes dry to the touch.

To bake the macaron shells, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time, for about 17 minutes, checking halfway; the macarons should form “feet” on the bottoms, but have smooth tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and pipe or spread filling on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving.

Coconut Lime Macarons

What’s the difference between a macaroon and a macaron? In a few words, coconut and almonds…and also how you say it. Macaroons (mac-uh-ROONS) are coconut-based, either made by folding coconut into meringue or combining it with sweetened condensed milk. Macarons (mac-uh-RONNS) are almond-based, made by folding a combination of finely sifted powdered sugar and almond flour into a meringue.

I’ve made coconut lime macaroons before, so why not coconut lime macarons? These treats have a wonderful flavor profile, and were a big hit with Mike’s coworkers.

Ingredients

For the shells

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (from 3-4 large eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 40 grams superfine sugar, sifted (about 3 tablespoons)*
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
  • 100 grams almond flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • Green gel food coloring

For the lime curd filling

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons lime juice
  • zest of 2 limes
  • 6 tablespoons butter

Preparation

Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar and almond flour and pulse for about 30-45 seconds. Sift into a large bowl, discarding any large bits, and set aside.

Place egg whites and salt in clean, dry, grease-free bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed, then increase to medium/medium-high speed and whip until egg whites are foamy and no longer translucent. Slowly add superfine sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until stiff peaks form. Add coconut extract and a few drops of your desired food coloring. Whip again to combine, but be careful not to over-whip; you still want stiff peaks but don’t want to take the meringue too far and have it become grainy.

Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients at a time and fold in with a spatula, turning the mixture about 15 times with each addition, being very careful not to over-mix. The batter is mixed enough when it is sticky and smooth, and you can make an unbroken figure 8 with the batter as it drips off your spatula.

Place batter into a large piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Holding the bag upright, pipe rounds of batter about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each circle. Gently tap or drop your baking sheets onto a counter top or table to release any air bubbles.

Let batter sit for about 30-60 minutes; the tops will form a skin that becomes dry to the touch.

While your macarons are resting, make your lime curd. Lightly beat egg yolks and pass them through a fine sieve to remove the albumin. Set aside in a medium bowl close to the stove for easy access; thoroughly wash your sieve and place it nearby for a second straining once the curd has cooked.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, lime juice, and lime zest until completely combined. Add butter and cook on medium heat until thickened and bubbly.

Working quickly, pour about half of the hot lime mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper. Pour egg mixture back into the pan and cook and stir for 2 minutes more.

Pour mixture through your sieve to remove the zest. To cool the curd quickly, I pour mine onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread it out, then once it’s cool I place it in an airtight container.  According to various food safety websites and other food blogs, lemon curd should last in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

To bake the macaron shells, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time, for about 17 minutes, checking halfway; the macarons should form “feet” on the bottoms, but have smooth tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and pipe or spread filling on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving. You’ll have some filling left over, so you can save it for something else (or just spread it on graham crackers, which is what I usually do with leftover frostings/fillings).