Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hot Chocolate Cookies

Difficult: No way, Jose.
Time consuming: Nah.  About 10 minutes to mix up the cookie dough, and 10 minutes per sheet pan to bake.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Here's a recipe that made it to my cookie trays this year, enjoy!!

These cookies are incredible.  They taste just like hot cocoa and even have the little mini 'mallows in them (they don't get baked out!).  The cookies have a soft and chewy texture and is loaded with awesome cocoa flavor.  They have made it into my limited selection of cookies to make every Christmas, and probably more often than that.  My husband does not love sweets the way I do but he's already requested a second batch of these cookies, so that's how I know they're good.

The recipe makes a lot, about 5 dozen or so cookies.  Which makes it great for a cookie exchange party (where I took them last week) or for an office party, or for anyone who really, really, loves hot chocolate.  The recipe halves nicely, too, in case you don't need that many cookies.

FYI: this recipe calls for Kraft "'Mallow Bits" which I found at Krogers near the hot chocolate and coffee.  If you can't find mallow bits, I'm sure regular ol' mini marshmallows will be equally as tasty.  Rumor has it that Target also carries Mallow Bits.

Yields: About 60 cookies

 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/4 cup flour
4 packs of hot chocolate mix (not sugar free) (around 1/4 cup cocoa mix, if you have a canister rather than packets)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips (milk or semisweet) (about 1 full 12-oz bag)
1 cup (half of the container) 'Mallow Bits


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, hot cocoa mix, salt, and baking soda.  Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (with paddle attachment), cream the butter and the sugars until light.

4.  Add eggs and vanilla to the butter/sugar mixture.  Mix to combine.

5.  Add the flour to the bowl of the stand mixer and mix until it seems evenly incorporated (I did mine about a cup or so at a time), (the dough will seem really thick).

6.  Add the chocolate chips and 'Mallow Bits.  Mix until evenly distributed.  My KitchenAid was clunking around but it managed, and yours will, too.

7.  Drop tablespoon fulls of dough (I used my dough scooper) onto the parchment and bake for 10 minutes.

**While the first batch was baking, I scooped the rest of my dough onto a wax paper lined cookie sheet and popped it into the fridge.  I don't know if you need to do this, but it does help the cookies from spreading too much during baking.

8.  The cookies may look underdone, but if you want a soft and chewy cookie, take them out now, let cool on the sheet pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Slightly adapted from Baked Bree.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Royal Icing

Difficult: No way.
Time consuming: A little, depends on how many colors you are doing.

Royal icing is the secret to beautiful iced cookies.  But anyone can make a royal icing.  It's how you manipulate the consistency to get cookies that are true works of art.  Or at least has everyone at holiday parties saying, "Hey, who made these really pretty cookies?"  My cookies aren't masterpieces, but every year they have gotten better and better.  I've finally found the royal icing recipe and technique that I will be sticking with from now until my grave, this is by far the easiest method, although it can be time consuming depending on how many colors you have to mix, how many bags/tips/couplers you have, and how many bottles for flooding you have.

Check out these recipes for cut out cookies as your canvas: you can go with a softer cookie that requires no chill time, or you can try out a more traditional, crisp, cut out cookie.  Either way, I completely recommend this royal icing recipe and technique.

The Adventures of Sweet Sugar Belle go into much further detail about all these steps, and I highly recommend hopping over there and checking her out.  Also, her cookies are just. so. pretty.

So to get started, here's the royal icing recipe (it was enough to cover two batches of soft sugar cookies):

1 bag (2 pounds) powdered sugar
3/8 cup meringue powder
3/4 cup water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk to combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder.  Then dump in the water.  Mix on low until it looks soupy.  Up the speed to medium for a few minutes until it reaches the consistency of pudding.  Then crank it to high and mix for several minutes until the icing holds stiff peaks.

Royal icing on my whisk.  It's so stiff it wouldn't move unless I whacked it against the bowl.

It looks just like the picture!
Before I even start icing my cookies, I line my work surface with anything!  This day I used newspapers.  If I was at my parent's house, I would've gotten the old orange table cloth (circa 1970's).  Royal icing hardens like glue, and I did NOT want to be scraping it off my table when all my cookies were done.  So line your table, you'll thank me later.

After these cookies were baked, I spent from 5-6 hours start to finish on about 6 dozen or so cookies.  I honestly spent a good hour just trying to make my red icing red.  I was getting so mad.  I used Wilton Food Gel coloring which comes in little pots.  It requires you to stick a toothpick in the coloring, swirl in your icing, get a new toothpick, dip in the color, swirl in the icing.  Repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  Do this for about an hour with red and you will still have pink.  I sat there thinking, Santa can have a pink hat, no one will notice, right?  But then it hit me, the icing is so thick and will need to be watered down anyways, so it's not a big deal if I use liquid food coloring.  So in goes half a bottle of liquid red.  And finally my red icing was red.  (and your teeth and tongue will be too when you eat the Santa's!)  I left a large chunk of my icing white.  And then quickly mixed up a batch of green.

This color chart shows you how to achieve really pretty shades of different colors using the 4 liquid tubes found at any super market.  The amounts listed are measured in drops, and they are to be mixed with 1 cup of icing.  So adjust accordingly.

From Anna and Blue Paperie

From Anna and Blue Paperie.

 So you've made your royal icing.  You've picked your color and mixed it.  It's beautiful.  But it's still way to thick too do anything with.  Now's the time to whip out a spray bottle.  Make sure it's clean and chemical free, and fill it with water.  Spritz the water a squirt or two (or three or four) at a time to your icing, and mix.  Repeat until it has the consistency of toothpaste, it should NOT be able to hold a stiff peak anymore.  This is what you need to pipe the edges of your soon-to-be gorgeous cookies.

At this time, I take out what I think I'll need to do the edges of whatever is supposed to be that color.  I plop it onto a piece of plastic wrap, fold two opposite corners over to each other, then grab the plastic and twirl it (this technique has been described as what you would do if you were going to pop someone with a towel).

 Now your icing is contained, drop it into you pastry bag (with coupler inserted).  Snip the plastic that is hanging out, add your tip, screw the coupler together and wah-la, you now don't have to wash a pastry bag.

I also like doing this because it makes refilling bags easier and less messy.  It also is helpful if you figure out you only have 3 bags left and only 2 tips that you want to use - it makes switching the colors around very easy.

Now that the bag and icing is ready to go, I pipe all the edges.  In this case, red.  If I run out before I've finished piping, I simply re-do the plastic wrap technique with the toothpaste-like consistency of red.  Once everything is piped red, I prepare the icing to a flood consistency to fill in my shapes.  Get out that handy dandy spray bottle and spritz and stir until the icing has reached a shower gel like consistency.  Pour this into your bottle for flooding (it helps if you started out in a pyrex liquid measuring cup because it has a spout) and you are good to go.

Make sure the piped edging has set at least a little, then just squoosh in a decent amount of flood icing.  Use a toothpick to help drag the icing to the edges, then set aside for at least 24 hours so the icing can harden before you do any details.

I like to do small details with the Wilton Food Writer markers.  It make getting the details done so easy and then I don't have to tint a million different colors of royal icing.

I saw a cute tutorial on pinterest on how to use a star tip to make a pretty, textured Christmas tree.  All you do is make little shells.  But I was a little to lazy for that and ended up making squiggles, like this:

Make the tip of the tree face you, then do a line of squiggles with a star tip.  Do another line, slightly overlapping with the first.  Repeat until the tree is covered.  Easy-peasy.  These are probably my favorite decorated cookies this year.

 I also used upside down hearts to make Santa faces, smaller hearts to make holly leaves, and stars to make Santa hats.

Then of course you have snowmen, snowman faces, snowflakes, and candy canes :)

So here's what I ended up with this year.  I messed around with using sanding sugar and royal icing, and for the most part and happy with how it turned out!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Softer Cut Out Sugar Cookie

Difficult: Not really
Time consuming: less so than other cut out cookies because the dough does not need to chill.

I have a go to sugar cookie recipe.  It's awesome.  The cookies cut out and bake up beautifully.  But they are a hard cookie.  And husband does not like hard cookies.  He likes soft cookies, so this holiday season I scoured the internet for a softer cut out sugar cookie.

I found a great recipe but it called for a lot of baking powder.  Baking powder = spreading cookies.  You might get something that looks like this:

Picture from Pinterest.  Source.
I tweaked the recipe and am very pleased with it.  The cookie is not as hard as the ones of Christmas' past, but is hard enough to hold its shape while baking and take royal icing like a champ.  Don't be confused, this won't make a bakery style cake cookie.  But you will get a great softer cut out sugar cookie that can be used for all cut-out cookie occasions.  I think the secret to this cookie being a softer cut-out is that it uses powdered sugar instead of white sugar.  Just a guess, though.

The Recipe:

2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
2-3 teaspoons extract (I used homemade vanilla)
2 1/2 - 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (you can reduce this or leave it out if your cookies have more complicated shapes)
1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper and set aside.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, set aside.

2.  Cream the butter and the sugar together until just combined (over beating will incorporate more air which will cause cookies to spread more when baking).

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and flavoring (mixing the egg now will ensure you don't over beat later).  Add to the butter/sugar and mix until just combined.

4.  Add the flour mixture to the butter/egg/etc in increments.  Stirring in between until the flour is moistened.  (Again we are trying to avoid over-beating the dough).  Once all the flour has been added, let the dough rest for a few minutes (I use this time to do a few dishes).

5.  Place a sheet of parchment out on your table, plop the dough onto it, flour the top, and roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick.  Cut out shapes and transfer to prepared baking pan.

6.  Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the bottoms just start to turn golden (the tops should not brown at all).

7.  Let cool for a few minutes on the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack.

8.  After the cookies have cooled, decorate however you wish.

I usually wait a day or so to decorate.  And I like to use royal icing, which I will post about very soon.

These cookies also freeze very well as long as they're stored in a airtight container.  I baked my cookies one weekend, then froze them for a week before I pulled them out to ice them.

Recipe adapted from The Adventures of Sweet Sugar Belle.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mini Chocolate Chip Scones

Difficult: No way.
Time consuming: About 30 minutes to make, a 30 minute rest, and 20 minutes to bake.

I saw these mini chocolate chip scones on Pinterest and knew they would be my next sweet for our special ed team meeting.  Honestly, I had never had a scone before - which is actually pretty terrible considered I spent 10 days in London on spring break for a study abroad my freshman year of college.  So I didn't really know what to expect but these were great!...especially with a cup of coffee!!  These were sweet with bursts of chocolate in every bite. They have a drier texture compared to a cookie (making it so dunkworthy) but I really love how they turned out.  And the glaze was super easy to apply and helps hold in some moisture so they can last a few days before going stale (but only if they last that long!)

Prebaked.  They can all get squished pretty close on a baking pan.
I've been doing a crazy amount of baking with the holiday's coming up...so many great treats to share on here (eventually). First I made cut out sugar cookies, then I made these scones, then hot chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow buttercream to share at school, then hot chocolate cookies for a cookie exchange, then all the rest of my regular holiday baking (which I'm toning down this year to a chocolate cookie, my cut out cookies, peppermint shortbread, and soft ginger cookies).  Phew.  It's getting exhausting but I am loving every minute of it :)
The Recipe:
yields 32-64 scones, depending on how you cut them
 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated, white sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pats
1-2 cups mini chocolate chips (I used 1 bag, which is two full cups)
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (but if you don't have it, you can up the vanilla to a full 2 teaspoons)
1/2 to 2/3 cup milk

Glaze: (honestly I had so much extra, you could probably reduce the quantities listed below but I haven't tried)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
7 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before you start, line a large (18"x13") baking pan with parchment paper, and set aside.

1. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder together.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or 2 forks.  The mixture will be unevenly crumbly and some large chunks of butter might remain, but that's ok.  Stir in your chocolate chips.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, and 1/2 cup of milk.

3.  Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until all the flour mixture has been moistened and the dough seems to stick together.  If it seems too dry, add a little more milk until it forms a nice dough.

4.  Well flour a work surface, and scrape the dough into a ball.  Roll it into an 8"x8" square, it should be about 3/4" thick.  Cut into 2" squares (so you have 16 squares), then cut each square diagonally into a triangle.  (I used a pizza cutter).  Transfer the triangles to the baking pan (I used an offset spatula to help with this) - you can keep them pretty close together because they don't spread a lot during baking.  All the triangles should fit onto one large baking pan.

5.  Pop the pan of scones into the freezer for 30 minutes.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

6.  After they chill, bake for 17-20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking.  They'll be golden brown when their done. (Note: at 19 minutes, the bottoms on mine were on the verge of being over done).

7.  If you want smaller scones, cut each triangle in half down the center as soon as they come out of the oven (if you do this, you'll have 64 small triangles).  I didn't cut mine again, but I wish I would've made some of them smaller, it's nice to have the option of a small snack or just a bite.

8.  Let them cool on the pan for 10 minutes.  Then pop into the freezer for 10 minutes to quickly cool them.

9.  Prepare the glaze by mixing the powdered sugar, water, and extract in a bowl with a whisk.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper, pour a little less than half the glaze into the pan.  Take the scones out of the freezer and place them into the glaze.  Pour the remaining glaze over the scones.  Using a pastry brush, schmear the glaze all of the tops and the sides of the scones.

10.  Transfer the scones to a cooling rack and let the excess glaze drip off (I put wax paper under my rack to catch drips).  Allow the glaze to set before serving.

Recipe slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour.  Head on over there for some great step-by-step pictures.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cut Out Sugar Cookies

Difficulty: Easy
Time consuming: yah.

Sugar cookies are great all year around.  Especially when you have the Wilton 100 piece cookie cutter set and have pretty much every cookie cutter you'll ever need.  But I especially love making cut out cookies for Christmas.  This recipe makes tasty sweet cookies.  The cookies themselves are a hard cookie, and the icing dries to a hard shell.  They're awesome and this has been my go-to recipe for the last 5 years or so.

The cookie recipe comes from and old girlfriend of my brother's and halves or doubles nicely.  I recommend turning this into a multiday process.  First making the dough (then chilling overnight).  Then cutting out and baking the cookies.  Then decorating.  Since the cookies are hard, they can stay out at room temperature without going stale.

 Sugar Cookies

2 cups AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup white/granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Cream butter and sugar until combined.  Don't over cream or you will incorporate too much air and your cookies may loose their shape when baked.

2.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Add flour and salt, and mix until fully incorporated.

3.  Split dough into two chunks.  Flatten each chunk into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour if not overnight.

4.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

5.  Roll out dough on a heavily floured surface about 1/4" thick.  Cut into shapes and transfer to prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 13-15 minutes until the bottoms become mottled and golden.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 


3 cups of powdered sugar
2 egg whites or prepared equivalent of egg white powder (aka meringue powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer until well blended and smooth.

2.  Separate and dye with gel (my preference) or liquid food coloring for as many colors as you want. 

The Adventures of Sweet Sugar Belle has some awesome tutorials about piping and flooding with royal icing.  I could reiterate it all here, but why reinvent the wheel?

I prefer to tint as few colors as possible.  In the batch of cookie pictured, I tinted some icing red and some green, while leaving the majority white.  I discovered and loooooved the Wilton FoodWriter markers last year for making super cute, detailed, and easy decorations on my cookies and can't imagine going back to tinting a million different colors of icing.