Sunday, October 30, 2011

What I've Learned About Cookies

Well, since I showed you what I look like pregnant and then posted those cookies a few days ago, we're basically best friends forever now, right? I mean, I can totally stay in my pajamas when you come over at 2 in the afternoon. And we can eat ice cream together for no reason at all. And I can tell you my secrets and you won't hate me or save it up inside until some day when I bug you and then you go and tell everyone, including my mom and that kid I had a crush on in 9th grade. You wouldn't do that to me now, would you? Because for the record, I don't think that kid cares anymore.

Seriously, though there is something I have been trying to decide if I should tell you for kind of a while now. In an effort to "keep it real" (because that is something COOL people do and I desperately want to feel cool one last time before my kids get old enough to tell me that I'm really, really not.) I've decided to tell you.

You may know that I started this blog in January of this year. But here is the lion under the rug-- (elephant in the room? How do you say that?) before that time, I had really only decorated maybe 10 sets of cookies. I never wanted to tell you this because I was afraid as soon as I said it that you would all go searching back through the archives of my cake making days to find those "special" sets of cookies and then stop coming round for visits. And I didn't want you to. I was ashamed of them. I wanted to delete them. And then I realized THOSE COOKIES ARE ME. I made them. They made me the cookie decorator that I am today. Well, probably not today because I have big plans to do nothing at all today. But definitely the cookie decorator that I am going to be tomorrow. And the one I was last Thursday as well. All those awful cookie photos are just chinks on my learning chain. And to save you the effort of searching back through the archives for them...I've decided to post them right here. And hopefully save you some of my own life cookie lessons

ON COLOR --



These are my very first royal icing cookies. Ever. Like, in my whole life. I learned something really important with these cookies. COLOR MATTERS. Don't be afraid to use a little more food coloring to get a shade of icing that is actually appetizing and/or appealing.

At the same time...don't do it one drop at a time. The more you mix your royal icing...the more air gets into it. I mixed and mixed and mixed this brown icing. It was so light and airy. It took a weirdly long time to dry. And after it was dry, if you tried to break the cookie in half, the icing came off all at once and shattered. (Not ideal.)

If you don't like the icing colors before you make your cookies -- you're not going to like the cookies after they are made. I have found that it is best to choose the shades of icing before I ever start mixing them. I use markers  but I know some people use paint samples or wedding planning websites for good color combinations.

Dark colors don't happen right away. They take time. When I make black or brown, I add cocoa powder to the royal icing first. It gives me a tasty base that is darker to begin with. For black, I add the food coloring until it is a dark gray and for brown, I also stop 2 shades lighter than I need. They get much darker over night. When I make a deep red... I start with red food coloring until it turns dark pink and won't go redder. Then I add some brown and a tiny bit of black. And in the morning....I have a beautiful deep, dark crimson red. (Here's a hint though. If you accidentally add too much brown...you can get it more red again by countering it with a bit of Wilton burgundy.) See these cookies? I should have stopped long before I did. They dried SO DARK! And let's not even talk about how NOT smooth they are.

ON ICING --


Okay, actually, maybe we should talk about that. Take the time to get the consistency right before you ever put your icing into a bag or bottle. Its worth it. If the icing is too thick you will have points on your edges and weirdy not smooth icing.

If your icing is too thin, it will run over the edge. And if your cookie is more than one color of icing, it will pull your designs right off the edge. And you will cry. And cookies are not for crying. (For the record, this cookie was made by my son. But I've done plenty like this. I just don't take pictures of them. You know, too much crying and all.)

ON PHOTOS -- 
  
Don't underestimate the beauty of photo editing -- I'm not talking about creating cookies entirely from pixels here. But some days...it rains all day long. For months. And I just can't get the light I want. So I edit.

Some cookies look better than others. Only photograph your favorite cookies. Pick out your very favoritest of all your favorites and put those on top. Hide the ones you don't like so much. I would never take a picture of myself pregnant and without make up and put it on the internet...oh wait, that was a bad analogy. What I'm saying is that people know you are choosing what you present to them. So, make a choice you are happy with.  (I hate that my dots all ran together on the egg cookies. So I hid them.)

There is NOTHING wrong with photographing your cookies on a plate every time. But if you want be different, take different pictures. Take photos of your cookies in the way that is most comfortable for you (like on the plate) and then try arranging them just one other way. You may be surprised at what you find.


IN GENERAL -- 

Don't be afraid to do something TOTALLY different once in a while. Also though...don't be afraid to not post those super weirdy cookies if they turn out to be something that really should never have happened. :)


Make cookies that taste good. Try not to burn them. And if you don't want to eat them, find a different recipe. I actually don't like regular sugar cookies. So I make chocolate ones. And that works for me. And it makes me happy.

Sometimes you hate your cookies. Take pictures anyway. Because sometimes you don't hate those cookies a week later. 

Sometimes though, cookies just don't turn out very well for all your planning and trying and mixing and piping. And you DO still hate them a week later. And you know what? It's just a cookie. 

And THIS my friends, is officially THE LONGEST post in the history of my entire cookie blogging life. I think I'll go have some ice cream now. In my pajamas. And...you may as well know it....there are still some dishes in the sink that need washing. Whew. There. It's all out. No more secrets.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Cookie Story

These cookies are the product of a story that I'm sure all of us know all too well. Glorious, wonderful, exciting and perfect cookie idea. It's basically brilliant and beautiful mixed together. You can't sleep because these cookies have to be made. You make the cookie dough with those little flutters of excitement in your stomach. (Well its that or you're hungry. So you eat some cookie dough just to be sure.) You roll out the cookie dough. Its so tempting to rush through cutting, but you take your time because these cookies have to be perfect. You mix up the icing. You eat some ice cream. (Because again, you have to make sure you keep up your strength.)

Then you start decorating the cookies. And slowly, slowly, you start to realize that something is a little wrong. And then a little more wrong. And then a lot wrong. And the cookies look NOTHING like that sparkly dancing vision in your head. And then you don't even want to finish the last of them because you hate them. And you just want to throw them in the garbage. But you don't because you are too upset to even touch them. (And because your husband would be super mad if he knew you threw away perfectly good tasting cookies for no reason other than the emotional turmoil they were causing inside you.)  And you cry yourself to sleep on the couch. And then in the morning, completely beyond your control, your hands take a picture of them and show them to dozens of unmet friends on the internet. Its an all too common tale, I'm afraid.

Right now I'm on book two of the series. It's where I vow to myself that I WILL make these cookies again and the next time they will look exactly like I imagined they would, except even better. Has anyone read this one? I'm anxious to know how it ends.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkins in Costumes

Okay, so Halloween is in just a couple of days. (Which means if you want to buy candy corn before it is gone again for 11 1/2 months -- you need to go NOW.) I have two children and still have exactly two costumes to make. I would feel all bad inside at this considering I make all sorts of decorated cookies on a daily basis and still haven't managed to set aside an hour or two to make costumes for my own children whom I love more than sugar and chocolate and the internet. But the truth is...in the last 12 days alone, my son has FINALLY, ULTIMATELY, this-is-the-last-time-I'm-changing-my-mind-I-swear decided on being a bat, a rocket, a monkey, and a car. So, really, I'm doing him a favor by waiting. The way I see it, if I can just hold out until Friday, he will probably still want the costume I make him. Probably.

My cookies on the other hand just love their costumes. They told me. They said that these are the best costumes they've ever, ever had. And they love me forever and want to give me large sums of money if they ever win the lottery. So, I'm guessing that's a good thing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Leaves...this time with dots

When I was a little girl (way back before I was even in my twenties,) I really wanted cool roller skates. Okay, let's just get this out there right at the beginning -- roller blades hadn't been invented yet. Go ahead and let that sink in, all you people that are much younger than me.

Anyway, there was this girl I knew that had purple and pink and silver sparkly roller skates. They were the kind that fit your feet. You take your shoes off, and put those skates on and lace them up so perfectly and they molded to your foot and ankle so that you could be the best little roller skater girl in the entire world. EVEN THE LACES WERE SPARKLY. I wanted them. I practically needed them. My parents instead got me some weirdy metal skates that you strap to the bottom of your shoes. And they adjust to all sorts of sizes with a wing-nut that doesn't always stay tight. (Much like the skates my son now owns....ahhh, the irony. Except his are totally cool.) As it turns out...they worked EXACTLY same as the sparkly skates. Who would have known?!

I loved roller skating. I would skate around my neighborhood forever. And then my favorite part was when I took my skates off and sat in a chair, my legs would be all wobbly and kind of buzzing from the uneven pavement and it would feel like I was still skating and I'd kind of have a hard time walking normal for another hour. Umm, I don't exactly know why I liked that. It would totally drive me crazy right now. But my point is that these cookies are like that. Not in a weirdy-metal-wing-nut way. But after making these cookies, I tried to go to sleep. And I felt like I was still putting little dots all over these leaves for hours. And it totally drove me crazy. But at least some of the dots were sparkly. So that probably makes me the best little dot putter-onner in the whole world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkins on Leaves

I'm going to give you some advice today. Free of charge. First, let me say that it has nothing to do with cookies or Halloween or anything at all that you probably care about. And second -- don't be offended. This is for my own good. And it comes with lots of love and candy. (Except not the candy part.)

Okay, so, sometimes a female person gets pregnant and she grows another living person inside her own body. Its not exactly the same thing as going to the spa for 9 months. And, I don't know about anyone else, but as of yet, I have not figured out how to do this without getting...well...much bigger in the midsection. Here comes your advice though... Do NOT say to a pregnant woman ANY of the following things --

"My goodness, that baby must be ready to come out any day now, huh?"  People started saying this to me around 28 weeks. Which, for the record is a solid 3 MONTHS before this baby was due. It doesn't make me feel good about myself. And it should be everyone's goal in life to make me feel good about myself.

"You just keep getting bigger every time I see you." Again, I haven't figured out how to grow a child inside of me without getting bigger. If I could stop getting bigger every time I saw you, I would. Maybe I should just stop seeing you. (But I mean this in the nicest way possible with loving in my heart and everything.)

"WHOA -- You're HUGE!" It may be true, okay, it's definitely true, but I don't want you to tell me that. Especially if I don't know you. And you are like 10 years younger than me. And look fantastic.  And we are at the grocery store and you have nothing but vegetables in your cart.

To be fair though, I mean, I do look like this. (Don't judge my ponytail.) Whoa. That kind of looks like a cookie I made one time. Except that I have a weirdy pony tail. And I don't wear nearly as stylish of clothes. (But someday I might.)

What I want to know is how you tricked me into showing you what I look like pregnant. You're totally taking advantage of the fact that I feel bad because someone called me huge. Great, now I'm going to have to go make some off-centered pumpkins on black leaf cookies to feel better about myself as a person. Oh wait, I already did that. Never mind. I'm good.

PS --  Don't forget to not be offended. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Little Leaf Faces

The last few days have been kind of rough around here. There has been way too much "scary" and "creepy" and "pumpkins eating other pumpkins." I'm afraid to go to bed at night because I will dream about being chased by pumpkins that want to eat me. And my legs never work. (WHY can I never run in my dreams?!) And then I stay awake all night doing internet research on "what to do when pumpkins attack." I've taken to eating inordinate amounts of ice cream right before bed, hoping desperately to fall into a sugar coma and not awaken until morning. Something had to change.

After I saw Meaghan's cookies at The Decorated Cookie, I knew these had to be made. I had no choice. I was running out of ice cream. Plus, how cute are these little guys? They are totally friends. Friends that don't eat each other. Ever. Not even for pretend.

And this little guy? Definitely my favorite. He's so cute. And happy. And kind of crooked in a way that makes me want to squish him and be friends with him forever. And also, judging solely on looks, he's not likely to want to eat me. (Which, for the record, is a definite PLUS on the plus/minus scale.)

And they are so easy to make. I could make myself a whole little army. Obviously, a NICE little leaf army that would only attack if threatened by pumpkins that eat other pumpkins.

Giveaway Extravaganza Winners!!!

I can't tell you how hard it has been for me to wait this long to find out who wins the GIVEAWAY EXTRAVAGANZA!!! Okay, maybe I can. It's been REAL hard. Not like running 100 miles hard, but maybe at least running 11 miles hard. Especially because I can't wait to find out if there is going to be a Facebook Showdown!

So...let's get on with it, shall we?

Winner #1 -- 

who said --

I would like box #3!

is Keri from Sweet Dreams! Congratulations winner #1!

Winner #2

who said --

I'd like to win box #2 please. That's my favorite #. I'd love to win the apron or the cookbook, but my husband would be much happier with the matchbox car (he's a nerd & collects toys)

is Heidi Tilton (Heidi Campbell)! Congratulations winner #2!

Winner #3

who said--

so can I say that it doesn't matter which box I want to win since I don't know what's in them?? ;)

If I have to absolutely pick one then I'll go with #2.

Thank you for being fabulous!!

is Kimberly Armstrong from Yo Mama's Bakery! Congratulations winner #3! (For the record, random.org really did pick her. I'm not playing favorites just because she thinks I'm fabulous. Although, maybe random.org really does take those things into account. You know, just something to think about for next time.)


Okay, so Keri picked box number 3. Let's tell her what she's won! It's...

..the purple group!! Congratulations Keri!

Heidi and Kimberly both picked box #2. What was in that box? 


Was it the green group? 

Or the blue group?






I'm not going to tell you -- YET.  Since they both picked the same box, we have to have our Facebook Showdown! Kimberly and Heidi -- are you paying attention? At 3pm Central Time on Friday, October 14th I will post one question on my Facebook wall. The first person with the correct answer gets to pick the remaining box of their choice. And then everyone gets to find out what they won! (PS -- Do you realize that I am totally going to get up at 5 IN THE MORNING for you all? That's real love and dedication right there.) 


UPDATE    ~~   UPDATE   ~~   UPDATE   ~~   UPDATE  

Kimberly and Heidi are now pretty much best friends forever. And they can't bare the thought of one of them "losing" on the showdown. They've spent endless hours coming up with possible win-win scenarios and they've finally found a solution that works for both of them. Heidi will take box #2 and Kimberly will take box #3. 

SO....WHAT IS IN BOX #2?!! Over HALF of you chose this one! (This may not be exactly true. I mean...I didn't count or anything. But I'm pretty sure if I did it would have been about half.) Heidi will be taking home...





...wait for it....


the BLUE group!! Apparently, many of you need a brand new car. 

And that means that Kimberly has won...

...the green prize package!


Don't forget to send me your addresses!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Scarier Jack-O-Lantern Cookies

Just LOOK at this. THIS is what I get for trying to compromise a little. I go COMPLETELY out of my comfort box and try to make something just a BIT more on the SLIGHTLY scarier side of Halloween...and I end up with my sweet little boy LIKING THEM. And asking me to make more.

I hope all of you are happy. Because I am fully prepared to blame everyone except me on this one.

In case you are wondering, this is his very favorite cookie of all. He laughed and laughed when he saw it. He said it was the funniest cookie he'd ever seen. He said it was funny because the pumpkin was eating another pumpkin. He thought THAT was funny. Next thing you know, he's going to start saying "insects" instead of "buggies" and riding motorcycles and growing a mustache and telling me that my jokes aren't funny and eating frozen meals instead of peanut butter and jam sandwiches and it's all because I made jack-o-lantern cookies for Halloween.

Clearly, I am going to need more ice cream for this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to Make Those Jack-O-Lantern Cookies

These cookies are the most perfect last minute Halloween cookies ever. Seriously, I think they are going to be in Wikipedia some day under "most perfect last minute Halloween cookies ever." Probably, you should give it a couple of days and then you  can look it up yourself. You won't have to take my word for it anymore. Okay, sure, the cats are slightly quicker, but I like these better. (Just promise me you won't tell the cats. It's not like we are really getting along that well right now anyway, and I certainly don't need one more reason for them to hate me.)

The key is to start with a black cookie dough. I used my chocolate cookie recipe and added a little big of black food coloring right before adding the flour. Roll out your cookie dough and cut out some pumpkins. Then use the same pumpkin cutter to add the curvy pumpkin lines to the cookie before baking it. (This is a HUGE reason why I love my chocolate cookie recipe.You can add details like this and they don't bake out because there is zero spread. And because it tastes good.)

Using orange icing, add eyes in whatever shape you feel is best for your Jack-O-Lantern. I usually go for the oh-so-traditional triangle eyes, but I thought I'd throw caution to the wind this time and go for a slightly more menacing shape.

You need to add the yellow "glow" to the eyes immediately. I'm kind of a toothpick gal. (As in, I use toothpicks for everything except making my bed in the morning.) I just dip a toothpick in some yellow icing and draw along the edge of the eye. But you could definitely pipe the yellow icing on there as well.

You can choose where you want the glow to be. On these eyes, I added the yellow to the bottom and outer edges. On the other faces, I added the glow to the top and outer edges. Do what you want.

Let me explain something -- I do NOT like washing icing bags. I avoid it at all costs. Clearly. For the eyes, I put a bit of black icing into a #1 tip, and pushed it out with my very clean and highly washed finger. You don't even have to add black eye dots. You can just skip this step and use that extra 4-5 seconds to contemplate life as we know it. I'll meet you on the mouth step.

Hey -- welcome back. It's the mouth step already. Pipe on some sort of vague mouth shape with your orange icing.

And then using that toothpick again, (or bag/bottle of icing) draw the yellow around the edges where you feel it is appropriate. I basically went for all outer-type edges on the mouth. (I'm sure that clears things RIGHT up.)

This last step is real, real important. You have to stand back after a good hard, 20 seconds of decorating and just admire your cookies. If you don't take this time to appreciate the good things in life (like these cookies) you're never going to find happiness. And that would be sad. And I don't like sad things. Or creepy things. Not that YOU are creepy. That's not what I'm trying to say. Unless you ARE creepy. And if you're cool with that, then that's totally fine with me. Don't change on my account. Just don't come round my house at night or anything like that. Because...see....there are these ninjas....

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