Thursday, April 30, 2009

Holy Orders

This week I was busy making a BUNCH of cross-shaped cookies for a first Communion this coming weekend in New Jersey. Coincidentally, the class of student *I* teach is ALSO making their first Communion this weekend, AND our church is having a bake sale.

It was agreed that I would make 5 dozen cookies for the New Jersey affair, but I ultimately baked 75 cookies... allowing myself a decent margin should I have any mishaps. I figured any extra I made can be donated to the church for the bake sale... with that many first-time communicants on the loose, I figured the cross-cookie might be an easy sell.

Having learned from my own mistakes, I decided I would stick with a simple (and REPEATABLE) design. I was thinking all-white... with some texturization. given the sheer QUANTITY of cookies I was taking on, I knew my hands would be able to handle only so much piping. the idea of switching back and forth between colors would have probably broken me.

The crosses came out pretty simple looking, but those looks can be deceiving. I completed the cookies in about 5 stages. First I piped the 'outline' of each cross. Second came the flooding. that provided a plain white 'background' for each cookie. I let those sit over night so I'd be working on a nice firm surface the next day. (this would also be the best practice if I were thinking about using colors on top of the white. if the white is not completely dry, you will run a VERY high probability of the colors bleeding. I should know.)

Phase three had me doing the jacquard/scroll pattern on each cookie. I finally hit my 'groove' of this step around dozen number three or four. A VERY important reminder if you do something like this yourself is to go back over these cookies within a reasonable amount of time and 'trim' up the excess scrolling. This is particularly important for stage FOUR... where I once again piped the 'outline' of each cross.


without the 'trimming', the outlines ended up being either raised up or crooked, period. I also feared that with the raised up edges, they would be the first area of breakage when the cookies would be shipped. the textured cookies are adorable in all the various ways they can be done.. but cracko! first to go every time.

Also? Some may argue that the final 'outline' is not necessary, but personally i feel it lends a polished and profession touch to each cookie. Blame the engineer in me, but I like seeing definitive edges.

The final step for the cookies was to (after one more night of hardening/drying time) was to brush a luster dust over each cookie to give a pearlized sheen. (Note to self-- I NEED to get a bigger design brush.. using the little one took me FOREVER!)

During my 'down time' of waiting for the royal icing to dry.. I worked on the favor tags. I found some great pearlized green card stock that I used as the springboard for my design. (also why I chose to do the luster-dust on each cookie)

I printed the pertinent info on some heavy white card stock, then used one of those fancy-shmancy scissors to cut out and glue on to the green paper. Also? found a bucket of table confetti and glued a flower to each 'tag'. The flower confetti was also pearlized... so it was a perfect match.

Before I knew it, it was assembly time. Bag, tag, tie, pack. repeat 60 times.

I will also take a moment to note that the ribbon i used was squeezabley adorable. perfect color match, and just the right width. and who can resist a polka dot? AWESOME, I say!!

Finally, all 59 cookies were bagged and tagged. (yeah... one broke cause I'm clumsy and dropped it. I was bummed at first, but then I ate it. No sense mailing a broken cookie, and I was running low on energy, anyway. )

The most unsettling thing in this whole process for me is what came next... boxing up. Usually I shrink-wrap each cookie, but I opted for favor bags this time. I have no idea if they will 'behave' differently en route...but I definitely used about $20 worth of bubble wrap.

So that's it! the cookies have been mailed, and should arrive either tomorrow or Saturday. I toyed with the idea of driving them up myself, but my husband vetoed it on grounds of not being safe with the amount of time between MY class' mass and the one in New Jersey. I definitely put enough love in each cookie, so I'm sure the guest of honor will know how much we're missing her on her special day.

Love you, Laney-Bird! I hope you enjoy your cookies!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Citrus Inspiration

So in the springtime, I like to start thinking about lighter flavors. I use a lot more citrus fruits in my cooking, and consequently, the same holds true for my baking. I've recently become a big fan of these raspberry/lemon muffins, and plan on trying out the BLUEberry/lemon recipe very soon.

At any rate, with my thoughts on spring colors and lighter flavors, I thought it was time that I gave my Janes a fresh look for the season as well. During Lent I had plennnnty of time to think about what flavor combos I would try next, and while I still have 2 more up my sleeve, I wanted to share my two latest creations.

The first one stemmed from all those extra lemons I had kicking around. After whipping up a batch of buttercream filling, I added in some lemon extract and a heaping amount of lemon zest. After that filling sat over night, (I wanted the buttercream to REALLY absorb the lemony zing from the zest) I piped the filling on to some vanilla cookie rounds.

The rest came easy as pie. Lemon meringue pie, that is! Each treat got a dunk in white chocolate, then topped with a few of my 'home-made' lemon sprinkles. Sweet, tart, and refreshing... all in one little Jane!

I call this one "Dang Meringue"

My husband Troy is a big fan of orange, so the next Jane was kind of for him. I *like* oranges... but Troy? forget about it! Orange water, orange soda, sherbert, creamsicles, gatorade... BLEH! he likes all of that!

So I copied the lemon filling concept, but switched it out for orange extract and orange zest. After 'resting' over night... I also piped that filling on the vanilla cookie rounds.

Pretending to be a fan of creamsicles, I colored some white chocolate with some orange color gel, and gave the girls a dunk. A few (store-bought this time.. I got lazy!) sprinkles for garnish later, and another Jane was born.

I had a hard time coming up with a name for this creation. My 4 year old daughter tried one and upon finding out this particular combination was title-less, insisted that I name them "Orange Peels". It's not a bad name.. and for now that's what I'll call them. Feel free to make a name suggestion, though. you never know when I might take a liking to it and send you some of your own Happy Janes as a way of thanking you.

"Orange Peel" Happy Janes

I hope you're all enjoying your springs, as well as the fresh colors and flavors the season offers!

Stay tuned, cause I have some new things with key limes and raspberries on my list of fruit to make bad for you!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heart-Shaped Genius

Sometimes, when I'm in the zone of making and creating... I think I come across a stroke of genius. perhaps it's a throw back to the days when I used to work, and part of my job was to come up with engineered solutions to a myriad of things.

I'm really not one to boast... (ok, maybe a little!) but when I get these 'great ideas', I certainly like to share them. Then I blog about them! (ok.. so maybe I am a bit more than a little boastful!) but it's certainly validating to tell someone (or post about) my great idea or creation and get some positive feedback. Besides.. it's not like my kids are all that interested in what I'm doing. At least not process-wise. to them, it's all "show me the cupcakes!"

At any rate.. I HAVE to share my latest "ah-hah!" moment. Granted.. it's not a pretty sight. in fact... I SHOULD make the disclaimer that I swear I am not making any illegal drugs in these pictures.... despite the appearance otherwise.

Yesterday, I made sprinkles. Lemon-flavored, heart (and circle!) shaped SPRINKLES.

Originally, I was going to take some gumpaste, dye it yellow, add in some lemon extract, roll it out, and attempt to cut out some cute shapes so I could apply them to my newest Happy Jane flavor. but then it hit me..... STARBURSTS!!!

They were SO awesome to shape into veggies when I made Danny's birthday cake... why not melt them down and do the same thing here? So that's exactly what I did. Melted, coated with corn starch to reduce the stickiness... rolled them flat, then used my piping tips to cut out some circles...

and used a heart-shaped hole punch to get the heart sprinkles. GENIUS!

I was so happy with the results, I just HAD to blog about it. I mean.. the color was vibrant! the FLAVOR was perfect in this case... and the hole-punch was just too too easy. TOTALLY worth my $5 hunch I had when I bought the puncher. I can't wait to go and buy more shapes now. The cupcakes, janes, and cakes (as well as pancakes!! and ice cream!!) I imagine waiting to be sprinkled now are endless.

I'm sure I will eventually use the gumpaste with color and flavor to match my occasion.. but if starburst makes a color and flavor... you can bet I'll use them in a heart beat. (get it? HEART beat??)

I love it when a plan comes together!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Because "Intense Chocolate" Makes Me Happy

So thank GOODNESS Lent is over! I have missed baking!!!
Mind you, I have NOT missed EATING this week... I am certainly doing my share of indulging on all the things I fasted from the past few weeks.

This weekend, we had some friends over for dinner, and I wanted to try my hand at a recipe I had done a year ago or so.

It's called Intensely Chocolate Mousse Cake, and it's a recipe I found over on the Kraft website.

I had made this recipe before, as I said.. but this time around, I decided to change up the recipe just a little. For example... instead of just pouring the mousse mixture into my spring form pan... I decided to lay down a chocolate-cookie crust first.

I used some of my un-decorated chocolate butter cookies, but if you don't have those? chocolate graham crackers crushed up would work just as well. Just be sure to mix in some melted butter so it pats down nicely.

Another change I made was to use cocoa powder in preparing my spring form pan. Flour works just as well, but leaves a white residue on the finished product. Take it from me.. if you're making a chocolate cake... use the cocoa powder. it'll look THAT much nicer when you're finished.

I also used my favorite chocolate for baking.. the dark chocolate pound-plus bars from Trader Joe's. if you use YOUR favorite chocolate... stick with about 9 ounces.

I served it up with some nice cold whipped cream, and that was a good pairing, since the title is no lie.. it is a VERY intensely chocolate cake.

just.. don't judge me when I tell you that NEXT time I make this??? I'm totally gonna add chocolate CHUNKS to the mousse filling. huminuh huminuh.. now THAT'LL be intense!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Bunnies are Crumblin' to Town

Ok... I'll admit it. I enjoy eating rabbits on Easter. you name it.. chocolate ones (solid, hollow or filled!), cookie ones, heck.. I'd even take a Gummy Bunny after giving up sweets for all of Lent! I think it's the ears... the way they stick out? they're just BEGGING to be chomped right off!!!

This year I decided to indulge my affliction for the hoppers in cookie form. (ok.. truth be told, I made too much cookie dough for the going away party cookies, and since it was Easter weekend, I figured I might as well. Besides... I couldn't do carrots again. they're SO last year!)

So from my family to yours... the four of us wish you a "Hoppy" Easter.

Just, you know.. pay no mind to the slightly bug-eyed and buck-toothed rabbits. (that was an attempt at quirky-cute that started to border on creepy/possessed. note the style change with the others, yes?)

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Going, Going, Gone

A friend of ours recently moved to San Francisco. ASIDE from being ridiculously talented (I swear, ONE of these days I'll get the new and improved Stepford site up and running! (Annie came up with what will be my new logo and helped with the new layout design.)) again.. ASIDE from being super-amazing and talented.. she's just a great girl, period.

As a little send-off gift for her, I made some cookies for her going-away party.

As with any new design I do... I draw it out on paper before I attempt to pipe. if I can't draw it, there's no way I'd be able to PIPE it!

a progress shot. if you're wondering why the techno-bright colors, I was matching the ribbons I had purchased to wrap the favors with. they were white with multi-colored polka dots. Hey.. the party was a day before Easter.. there weren't too may options to choose from when i went looking for ribbons!

Finished shot of some of the cookie favors. looking back, I think I like the solid-color framed cookies the best. a little less "busy", shall I say?
Once I completed all the round cookie favors, I set off on creating a larger, central display cookie. for that cookie, I wanted to pipe the Golden Gate Bridge to remind the party-goers where our guest of honor was headed.
Although I was happy with how the bridge piping turned out....
I'm kinda mad at my wording efforts. I'll throw you for a loop and do my "LESSONS LEARNED" segment a little early. The "Goodbye and Good Luck" piping was a little uneven. and in my opinion there was too much 'dead space' on the large cookie. It doesn't look so bad when the round cookies were flanking it...
but I certainly feel like I could have done 'more' with the large cookie. At the very least a bigger center design?

Nonetheless, I think the guest of honor enjoyed her special cookies, and it was a pleasure to see her one more time before she left. She will be missed here in the neighborhood, and San Francisco is lucky to be getting her.
Good Luck, Ann! Love you much!