Sparkling Sugar Hearts

sparkingsugarheartFor some, Valentine’s Day brings the opportunity to go all out with romantic gestures and elaborate plans, while others grumble that it’s a made-up holiday meant to sell cards, candy, and flowers. For me, Valentine’s Day usually means baking something heart-themed, and this time it was a simple batch of sugar cut-out cookies coated in sparkling red sugar for my favorite Maryland girls, Maureen and Margaret.

Sugar cookies are one of my favorite things to bake, though they didn’t used to be. I found them a challenge until I came across a good recipe, the one below, and have adapted them for many a holiday using a range of decorations. I usually top sugar cookies that will ship somewhere in sugar, instead of frosting, for durability. I also find that pressing the cookie into the sugar, rather than sprinkling the sugar on top, provides a more even coating and allows the sugar to stick better.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons water
  • Red sanding sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. If necessary, add 1-2 teaspoons of water for a less crumbly dough; you’ll need a more pliable dough to roll and cut later.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, then place red sanding sugar on a plate or in a shallow dish.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into heart shapes, then press the tops of each cookie into the sugar to coat. Place on baking sheets about 1-2 inches apart – they don’t spread much when baking, but you don’t want to crowd your baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before carefully transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days; if shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper. Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies.

Lemon Poppy Seed Sandwich Cookies

lemonpoppycookiesFlavor pairings always interest me, and lemon and poppy seed is probably one of my favorites. Today’s lemon poppy seed sandwich cookies are inspired by the fact that I had some lemons in my fridge I needed to use and that I wanted to make something vaguely black and gold, in honor of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and their miraculous presence in the playoffs. I’ll be waving my Terrible Towel this evening against Kansas City, for sure.

Black and gold baking can present a challenge if you’re not interested in using black food coloring, which I tend to shy away from for its propensity for staining one’s lips and tongue a rather ghastly color. While these are much more black and yellow (cue the Wiz Khalifa song!) than black and gold, they are absolutely delicious. Next time, I’d bake my cookies for a minute or so less so they’re just slightly softer and the filling won’t squish out quite as much when you take a bite. In any case, here we go Steelers!

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

For the filling

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (or use more zest to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Preparation

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Scrape down your bowl and add the salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour and mix on low to combine completely. Stir in poppy seeds.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 9-10 minutes, until edges are set and tops no longer look shiny. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for about 1 minute, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make filling, combine butter and powdered sugar in a mixer and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add lemon zest, lemon extract, and milk and beat to fully combine. Place filling in a piping bag for easier cookie assembly.

To assemble, flip cookies over and pipe a dollop of filling into the center of half of the cookies, then top with a second cookie and press gently to spread the filling. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 17.

Super Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

honeyoatmealraisinMy cousin Barb and her family gave me a lovely baker’s gift set from Penzeys, including vanilla sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and a lovely surprise called baking spice, for Christmas this year. Baking spice is a combination of two types of cinnamon, anise, allspice, mace, and cardamom – it is a delicate flavor that I now know can be used a bit more generously in various baked goods, and I plan to mix it into various muffins, quick breads, and cakes in the future.

These treats are adapted from a “make-it-mine” recipe base in the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book, where you choose your ingredients and flavorings to create whatever you like. The honey in this recipe definitely gives it the ultra-soft, super-chewy texture, so if you’re looking for a crispier cookie I’d recommend using brown sugar or a combination of brown and white instead. Also, I used a combination of rolled and quick-cooking oats because that’s what I had on hand, but you could go with just one or the other if you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 cups old-fashioned/rolled oats
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • Optional: 1 cup golden raisins

Preparation

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

In a mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, honey, baking soda, baking spice, and salt until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl well. Add flour and mix on low to combine, then stir in oats.  If using, stir in raisins – alternatively, you can make a few batches of plain cookies, then add the raisins later, which is what I did.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, drop generous scoops of dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until edges are just golden but centers still look puffy and slightly. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes about four dozen.

Danish Butter Cookies

buttercookieMy grandma Zella, an excellent cook and baker, taught me most of the foundational aspects of baking when I was growing up. But she also appreciated the convenience of certain store-bought treats, including Little Debbie snack cakes and that iconic blue tin of Royal Dansk butter cookies. You know them well – your grandma had them, too. The cookies were a lovely mix of shapes; swirled like a wreath, round, rectangular, and my personal favorite, the pretzel. 

There are several copycat recipes out there; some use cake flour, while others use all-purpose. I went the all-purpose route and appreciated how simple they were to prepare. A note about the dough: nearly every recipe I found claimed that you could pipe this dough through a star tip, but I’m here to tell you that unless you’re a power lifter, you’re unlikely to be able to do so. I tried, and I failed…so I decided to go the easy route and just scoop out dough, roll it into balls, flatten them, and sprinkle them with sugar. They are absolutely, positively one of the best cookies I’ve ever made. Now if only I had a blue tin around here somewhere…

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • Coarse sugar, for topping

Preparation

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

In a mixer, beat butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add salt, egg, and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Add flour a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well, scraping the bowl often. Once all the flour is added, stir with your spatula a few times to ensure that the flour is fully incorporated into the dough.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough and roll into balls; place on the baking sheets and flatten with your hand. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes, until edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week. Makes 26.

Molasses Oat Drops

molassesoatdropsIf I had to choose a flavor profile for any treat, molasses and spices would make my top five for sure. Called black treacle in Britain, molasses results from the sugarcane or sugar beet refining process. The good folks at Southern Living have a great explanation of the molasses-making process, as well as the different types of this dark syrup, in this article.

This recipe came from Ambitious Kitchen and was originally made as a sandwich cookie called gingerbread oatmeal cream pies. But once I baked them, I realized that they would be perfectly delicious without a filling of any kind. While I certainly plan to make a sandwich version at some point, these treats stand perfectly on their own; a delicious blend of spices and rich flavor from the blackstrap molasses along with a soft, chewy texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light, but you can also use dark)
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, oats, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until smooth – the mixture may look slightly curdled, but that’s fine. With the mixer running on low, slowly add flour mixture and beat until dough is just combined. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment. Remove dough from the fridge and scoop using a 2-inch cookie scoop, placing about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until edges are set and tops are puffy. remove from the oven and allow to cool for several minutes on the baking sheets, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature; makes about 30 cookies.

Pumpkin Patch Sugar Cut-Outs

IMG_9069To some people, frosting dozens of cut-out cookies might be stressful. But for me, it’s Zen time; this endeavor allows me to be completely focused on one task. And that task, when complete, will bring joy to others. It’s a win-win for my mental health, I’d say.

Yesterday I baked a batch of pumpkin-shaped cut-outs for Halloween and decided to frost them with various shades of orange, along with green and white. They turned out really well, and Mike will take them to work tomorrow for his colleagues to enjoy. Granted, I’m keeping a few back for us – I think the green ones are my favorites.

For the cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons water

For the frosting

  • 3 egg whites*
  • 9 tablespoons shortening
  • Dash of salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Orange, yellow, red, moss green, and brown gel food coloring

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. If necessary, add 1-2 teaspoons of water for a less crumbly dough; you’ll need a more pliable dough to roll and cut later.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I used large, medium, and small pumpkin-shaped cutters. Be sure to bake like-sized shapes on one sheet – otherwise you’ll have an uneven bake. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before carefully transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

For the frosting, combine egg whites, shortening, salt, and 2 cups powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute. Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, you can add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

Tint to your desired shades; I used a very light orange with just one drop of orange coloring, then darker shades that blended yellow, red, and brown into the already-orange frosting. For the stem colors, use brown for some and moss green for others; the green pumpkins are tinted with a generous amount of moss green coloring. 

Frost to look like pumpkins, using your knife to make the ridges. Allow icing to set before storing cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container. Makes about 5 dozen, depending on the size of your cutters. 

French Toast Cookies

french toast cookiesOur kitchen remodel is three weeks away, and I’m trying to use up as many of my baking ingredients as possible so there will be less to pack away and store during construction. This week’s effort included maple sugar, so I scoured the internet for recipes and came up with a maple snickerdoodle, which tastes uncannily like French toast. Hence, French toast cookies.

This recipe comes from a place where they really know maple: the State of Vermont. While I chose to just bake my cookies without flattening them with the bottom of a glass as the original recipe stated, I can definitely see why you should – I felt like my cookies looked a bit like tiny potatoes. In any case, these were a big hit in Mike’s office today.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 cups maple sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the coating: 

  • 1/3 cup maple sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preparation

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups maple sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat; add flour mixture and beat to form a smooth dough. Chill for about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir together 1/3 cup maple sugar and cinnamon for coating.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions of dough and roll into balls, then roll in coating. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 dozen, depending on how generous you are with your scoops of dough. 

 

Under the Sea Cookies

under the sea cookiesAquarium-inspired baking continues with these under the sea treats. Mike’s coworkers actually asked if there would be treats this week, and indeed, there will. A variety of whales, octopuses, crabs, sand dollars, starfish, and sea life motifs that feature kelp, anemones, and jellyfish will join Mike in the office tomorrow.

These cookies took me forever to ice, but it was nice Zen time, which I greatly needed. Although my whales look a bit crusty (I suppose whales actually are a bit crusty?) and my sand dollars (not pictured here) left a bit to be desired, I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I hope Mike’s coworkers enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • Triple batch Zella’s icing
  • Royal blue, pale blue, teal, copper, brown, and moss green food coloring
  • Miniature chocolate chips (for eyes)

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 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.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I used a crab, whale, star, octopus, and two round cutters (small to make sand dollars, large to make the sea life motifs). Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart; for the starfish, gently bend the tips of the star to make them more like a starfish.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden brown at the edges. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To ice, divide the icing into six portions: royal blue, pale blue, copper, green, and brown. You’ll need two small plain tips for the white and brown icings, a small open star tip for the green, and a small closed star tip and plain tip for the copper.

For the crabs, use royal blue icing and add miniature chocolate chips for eyes. For the whales, use a base coating of pale blue, then add royal blue and swirl – don’t wait to long to add your coating of royal blue or your whales will turn out crusty like mine! Add a circle of white and a miniature chocolate chip for the whale’s eye. Combine the blue icing portions and add some teal for the octopuses, then pipe on suction cups with white and use miniature chocolate chips for the eyes. For the starfish, use copper and pipe on white details. For sand dollars, use white, then pipe on pale brown details (mine didn’t turn out as well, so I didn’t include a photo of them). For the large round cookies, frost the base with the remaining blue/teal icing, then pipe on kelp using a small star tip and the green frosting, add anemones using a closed star tip and the copper frosting, and add jellyfish or other sea life with a plain tip with the copper frosting. I realize now that I should have made my jellyfish white, but that’s okay. I can always make these again.

Allow icing to set before storing in between sheets of waxed paper. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Orange Crisps

Some treats happen by accident, like these orange crisps. I meant to make an orange cream version of my vanilla bean sandwich cookies, but I slightly over-baked the cookies themselves. They turned out too thin and crispy to sandwich, but that’s actually okay – they taste delicious, so they can stand on their own.

Very crispy on the edges, but also slightly chewy on the inside, these cookies have a great texture and wonderful orange flavor. Mike decided he’s keeping them for himself, rather than taking them to work. Don’t feel bad for his coworkers, though – I’m going to bake something else this afternoon for them. Likely something else involving orange zest, now that I have a semi-bald orange in my refrigerator.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • About 1 teaspoon orange zest (1/3 of the orange)

Preparation

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

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and kosher salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add egg, vanilla extract, orange extract, and orange zest and beat on medium speed until smooth.

With the mixer running on low, gradually add flour mixture.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart – they spread quite a bit.

Bake for 8-12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until tops are very light golden and just set.

Cool on baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Makes 40.

Wookies

Whenever people tell me they’ve never seen Star Wars, I’m shocked. This iconic cultural phenomenon was a staple in my childhood, and I simply can’t imagine living a life without knowledge of its details. I assume nearly everyone is aware of it from pop culture, but if you haven’t actually seen it, you really are missing out.

Tomorrow is May 4th, also known as Star Wars Day, and to celebrate I’ve baked some wookie cookies. While I don’t think they look much like Chewbacca and I already have plenty of ideas about how to improve them for next time, the cookies themselves are delicious. The gingerbread recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction, though I chose to go with dark brown sugar in my dough, and the decoration is a combination of chocolate chips, royal icing, and a very thick glaze icing. Stay tuned for more wookie recipes in the future, and may the force be with you.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • Miniature chocolate chips, for eyes

For the royal icing

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • Black food coloring

For the white icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Water

Preparation

To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, dark brown sugar, and molasses on medium speed until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. With the mixer running on low, slowly beat in the flour mixture. Dough will be very thick and sticky. Divide into two portions and flatten into discs; wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one disc of dough and place it on a floured surface; this dough is very sticky, so you need plenty of flour for your work surface, rolling pin, and hands. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut using a gingerbread man cutter. Place cookies on baking sheets and use a fork to make the impressions for the fur, then add miniature chocolate chips for eyes.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the royal icing, combine meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at medium, then high speed, for 7-10 minutes until the mixture is glossy. Add black food coloring to your desired shade.

Fit a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on noses (I also did some black mouths, but didn’t like those as much), then swap out your tip for a flat or fluted tip and pipe on the sashes.

To make the white icing, combine powdered sugar with enough water to make a thick icing that you can still pipe. Place in a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on mouths, then add the white decorations to the sashes.

Allow icing to harden before storing between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container; store cookies for up to 2-3 days. Makes about 40 cookies.