Halloween Cookies Collage

Res Ipsa Ghost and Pumpkin Cookies: They Speak for Themselves

I am so excited to share a guest post from my friend Vicki. I know her to be an outstanding human being, but what I didn’t know is that she’s also a pretty fantastic cookie decorator. You know I can’t make cute stuff to save my life, so I’m so glad Vickie agreed to share her skills with you all. Her Halloween cookies are awesome, and she makes it seem so easy, maybe I’ll even give it a shot. Here’s Vicki to tell you how it’s done.

Halloween Cookies Collage

Res Ipsa Cookies (speak for themselves):

By Vicki Werneke, Esq. 

Several years ago, I noticed a recipe on the bag of a Pillsbury flour bag for rolled sugar cookies.  I have always enjoyed baking, but never really tried rolled sugar cookies.  The recipe was simple enough: 

1 cup of softened butter

1 ½ cup of powdered sugar

 

Cream these two ingredients together in a stand up mixer with a paddle attachment.

 

Add one egg and 1 tsp of vanilla, ½ tsp almond extract and mix well.

 

Add 2 1/3 cup of all purpose flour and ½ tsp baking soda and mix well.     

 

(I have doubled the recipe quite easily.) 

After making these cookies for awhile, I have experimented with the ingredients.  Instead of 1 cup of butter, I use ½ cup of butter and ½ cup of cream cheese.  I also use unsalted butter.  Because of that, I have discovered that the dough needs a small amount of salt. I add about 1/4 tsp of salt.  I also have tried different flavors – all vanilla (no almond), or vanilla and orange instead of the almond.  I also have used clear vanilla as the pure vanilla tends to make the dough dingy looking. I have added 1/4 cup of cocoa powder with the flour to make the dough chocolatey. 

Once the dough is mixed, remove from the mixing bowl onto plastic wrap.  I then put it in a large zipper bag.  Chill for at least 4 hours.  The dough is good for a week in the fridge, but I usually make the dough one night, and then make the cookies the next day. 

Halloween Cookies

Take about half of the dough and roll out onto a floured surface to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch and cut into shapes using cookie cutters.  Keep the other half of the dough in the fridge until ready to roll it out.   Place the cut cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Baked at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes, depending on how thick and large the cookies.  Let cool, then decorate.  (Save the parchment paper for storage of the cookies.) 

The texture of the cookies are softer with the cream cheese, but they are sturdy enough for decorating.  If you like a crispier sugar cookie, then use all butter. 

I now find myself making and decorating cookies as a way to relax. It is so different than my regular job.  I really enjoy trying different techniques in both the shapes and the icing.  And the reaction I receive for the cookies I share is very rewarding. 

Decorating:

I really enjoy watching the Food Network.  One Saturday morning, I was watching several shows and one of them was an episode about how professionals decorate sugar cookies.  I discovered some very useful techniques from that one show.  

I use a traditional royal icing as it holds color well, is easily transformed, hardens well, and is tasty.  Here’s the recipe I use: 

4 cups of powdered sugar

1 heaping tablespoon of meringue powder (this is what hardens the icing when set)

1 tsp clear vanilla (so that it is a vibrant white color)

6-10 tablespoons of water (depending on the humidity) 

Royal Icing

Combine all of the ingredients (but the water about a tablespoon at a time) in stand up mixer with a whipping attachment on low until blended, then whip on high speed.  The icing will become very bright white and shining.  

With this basic recipe, I divide the recipe into as many bowls as colors that I want to use.  One recipe makes about 3-4 cups of icing. For these Halloween cookies, I used orange, black, and white.  

I found that the Wilton color pastes are the best to use as they do not dilute the icing and can be either muted or bright, depending on how much color I add.  I use a toothpick to extract the paste from the little jar.  For a bright color, I add about 1/4 to ½ tsp of color to 1 cup of icing and mix thoroughly.   

Orange and Black Icing

I prepare a decorating bag with a coupler and tip.  I use the #3 tip.  I check the icing to make sure it is the correct consistency for piping.  This is something I have learned from practice as to how thin to make it. If it is too thick, then it does not pipe well, but if it is too thin, then the icing comes out of the bag too quickly.  I do not put all of the colored icing in the piping bag, as I need to save some for the next step in the decorating process. 

I like to get each of the piping bags ready before I start decorating. 

I have a large full sheet cake pan that I use when decorating the cookies. It has a place for me to keep the cookies while they dry, but enough room for decorating the cookies one at a time. 

Outline

The main color that you want the cookie to be should be the color you start with. For example, for the Jack-O-Lantern cookies I used orange.   Take the piping bag and outline the cookie, making sure to have a closed outline.  I do this for all of the cookies I am decorating that day.  The outlining of the cookies need to dry before the next step.  

Orange Icing

The next step is to fill in the outlined area.  To do this, I add water to the bowl of the colored icing until it is thinner and falls like ribbons from a spoon (as shown in the picture).  

If the area to fill in is large, take a spoonful of icing and pour onto the cookie.  With an artist brush, move the icing around to the edges of the outline.  I then take another color to add details to the cookie, such as a face on the Jack-O-Lantern.  

Fill

The cookies need to be allowed to dry for several hours. Once dry, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container. I separate layers of cookies with the parchment paper I used to bake the cookies. 

The process of rolling the dough, baking the cookies, and decorating takes a good 2 -3 hours, depending on how many cookies and how intricate the decorating of each cookie. One recipe makes about 2 dozen medium-large sized cookies, depending on how thin you roll the dough out. 

Pumpkin Cookies

Hope these instructions are easy to understand.  It does get easier the more often you make the cookies and decorate.

 

 

 

 

 

Thrifty Halloween Costumes: Margo and Richie Tenenbaum

I am not that into dressing up for Halloween, but my husband seems to love it. I guess costume parties are a regular thing in England, even though Halloween doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. But the spectacle of Halloween in Waikiki is something not to be missed. We also got free tickets to a benefit party for the Make a Wish Foundation. It’s called Crazy, Sexy Ghoul, and it was definitely crazy. We went as Margo and Richie Tenenbaum from The Royal Tenenbaums. A few people even managed to figure it out.

Margo and RichieTenenbaum

So I had no choice. I had to have a costume this year. Luckily, we were a bit more prepared than last year when we ended up at Floradec the day of our party, spending a fortune on premade costumes. This year, we had a much better strategy.

Step 1: Decide ahead of time what you want to dress as, rather than waiting until that morning. Duh!

Step 2: Choose a character that’s basically an actual human, real or fictional. This will make it much easier to find costume elements than if you wanted to go as, say, a unicorn or Iron Man.

Step 3: Hit the thrift stores, and give yourself plenty of time to look around.

Step 4: Be flexible on the details. Everything doesn’t have to be 100% perfect. Especially if you choose something from an obscure indie film that almost nobody has seen. If you can’t find a “fur” coat in Hawaii, just make sure you’re wearing plenty of eye liner. Everything will be fine.

Richie Tenenbaum costume

For Geoff’s costume, he wore his own khaki pants and trainers, his Blackburn Rovers shirt, an $8 tan blazer from Goodwill, and a $3 headband he ordered from Ebay. Oh, and he’s been growing his beard for weeks.

For my costume, I managed to find some size 8 loafers at Savers for $9, a blue Ralph Lauren polo dress at Goodwill for $3 (it was half off red tag day), and a cheap blond bob wig for $8, also at Savers.

Margo Tenenbaum costume

 

My favorite detail is the 39¢ piece of brown felt I bought at the craft store and then turned into a “wooden finger.” I cut a rectangle long enough to go around my finger with a skinny tab on the top to fold over. Then I whip stitched it along the long seam, then used masking tape to hold it in place. It worked like a charm.

There may or may not be a fur coat on it’s way to me in the mail, thanks to Kaleigh of A Rambling Fancy. But it’s really all about the eye liner. I put on more eyeliner than I’ve ever worn in my life, and I still don’t think it was enough.

I felt a lot better about my costume this year since I put a little effort and commitment into it. It’s also totally comfortable.

I can’t wait to check out the utter mayhem and impressive creativity in Waikiki next week. I hope your Halloween is totally awesome!

Devil Cupcakes

Devil Cupcakes1

Okay, first we can all have a good laugh and talk about all the ways that these cupcakes are a total fail, then we can talk about why everything’s still awesome.

The cookalong photo contest on Nigella’s website this month is for her devil’s food cake recipe, which I’ve made before. It’s one of the most tender chocolate cakes I’ve ever had. I saw that today was national chocolate cupcake day, so I decided that would be the perfect opportunity to make and photograph this recipe in the hopes of winning a signed copy of How To Be a Domestic Goddess, which I would cherish in an unhealthy way.

I also thought maybe I should make them cute and Halloweeny. Lots of food bloggers make cute stuff. I never have because I suck at it. I should listen to myself. Red sprinkles, devil horns. What could go wrong? It all sounded perfectly logical in my head.

Devil Cupcakes2

Saturday I woke up feeling like a bomb made of viruses had gone off in my chest. Cupcakes didn’t get made until Tuesday night. Already off to a bad start. I thought I’d save some money and calories by making only half the batch. But that wasn’t actually enough batter for a dozen cupcakes, even though the recipe is for two 9 inch layers, which usually makes 24 cupcakes. Who knows? They were petite. That’s fine.

Then Wednesday afternoon I remembered why I swore I’d never make fudge frosting again. I live in a tropical country. A frosting made of melted chocolate and butter that is then supposed to be brought to “room temperature” is never ever going to work in the tropics.

Then I tried to save it all somehow and get cute, but it just didn’t happen for me. I can’t do cute.

So why am I even sharing this with you? Food bloggers are only supposed to share things that look impossibly perfect, right?

I started this blog because I wanted to read a blog about people like me with real lives and real problems. I looked and never found one. So, I decided I’d just have to write it myself. I’ve always wanted this blog to be about real life. And in real life, not every recipe works the way you want it to. It doesn’t always come out looking like it does in your dreams.

Here’s the awesome part. I still have tiny chocolate cupcakes in my fridge. They’re kinda ugly, but they still taste chocolaty and wonderful. I tried something new, and it failed. That’s life, kids. Cooking, and especially baking, involves a lot of science. Every time you make something, it’s an experiment. 

I will not let my lust for Nigella Lawson possibly touching something that I could own lure me into trying to make cute cakes with melty temperamental frosting again. I mean, there’s no way my love for Nigella will ever die. This is an amazing recipe, and I’ve made it before with great success. It just didn’t go like I’d hoped this time.

Devil Cupcakes3

I’m going to give you the link to the original recipe. Give it a try. Let me know how the frosting works in a kitchen that’s not 85 degrees. And send me your tips for foolproof cute desserts. I’m a major lame-o. 

Don’t forget to be awesome.

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