With Sweet Dreams and Even Sweeter Days

Friday, July 29, 2011

Color Your Own Cookies

It's not very often I get to post twice within one week, but I was just so excited about this project that I couldn't wait any longer to share it.

I am so blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life, many of these people being friends.  There are friends I am lucky enough to see every day, and those who I only get to see occasionally, but mean just as much.

Jen is a friend I made my freshman year at Temple (which seems like eons ago looking back now).  Jen transfered to live at home spring semester when she had her daughter Audrey that April.  For various different reasons including this and going far beyond, in the two and a half years that followed Jen has really been an inspiration, to me and I'm sure countless others.

(Jen and Audrey - taken with permission from Jen's facebook.  I don't know who took the original or I'd credit you if I did! :D)

Even though I don't get to see Jen as often as when we first became friends freshman year, I've really enjoyed reading Jen's witty blog about Audrey growing up and seeing all the adorable  pictures as she gets older. 

When Jen commented on my baking pictures I promised her I would send something special to her and Audrey, even though I couldn't deliver them in person.  My first thought was decorated Elmo cookies, since I've heard Audrey is a big fan these days (who isn't?), but then the answer came to me out of nowhere and I was so excited it was hard not to get started right that minute.

Color your own sugar cookies.

I had remembered Jen writing about how much Audrey loved to color, and sugar cookies decorated with royal icing (which hardens completely and is super smooth) would be the perfect little edible canvases for little hands.

I got to whip out my menagerie of cookie cutters and had an absolute blast making these.

Teddy bears, flowers, hearts, stars, circles, the number 2.

Butterflies, ducks, the letters A and J. 

The possibilities are endless where imagination runs high, and I know for a fact that with these girls mustering up some inspiration and imagination won't be hard.

Now of course for decorating these you need some special (but not hard to find!) tools.

These are available at any local craft store.  Jen and Audrey in your box of cookies you'll find a package of these as well, so you can get the party started immediately.

And of course I couldn't resist buying a second package for myself to try out one cookie for me.

What can I say?  I HAD to make sure the concept worked right?  Completely scientific data. No but really, I loved coloring this cookie, and I know it's something that kids of any age will be able to enjoy together.

Jen and Audrey, I had so much fun baking these for you girls.  I hope they make for something great to do together, and really the best part is, you get to eat your art. :)

I can't wait to see you soon!

Color Your Own Cookies

-1 batch of sugar cookies
-1 batch of royal icing (I linked to one of my favorite blogs Annie's Eats for a tutorial on this until I write my own)
- 1 box food coloring markers (bold tip)

Bake sugar cookies as directed, cutting into desired shapes.  Using only white royal icing, outline and flood letting dry at least 24 hr.  Color to heart's content with food markers, letting dry at least 5-10 minutes before eating.  Enjoy!

Sugar cookies and royal icing adapted from:  Annie's Eats

Monday, July 25, 2011

Banoffee Pie

One of my favorite things about baking is that, for the most part I have free reign over what I choose to make.  Occasionally when someone puts in a request for something special, I'm more than happy to oblige and whip something up for them, but usually I get to bake whatever it is I feel like.

And so far no one seems to be complaining so I take that as a good sign.

Anyway as soon as I saw Banoffee Pie floating around the internet, I knew it was something I would absolutely love.  It kept popping up all over the place with all the Harry Potter recipes for the premiere of the new movie last week.... because Banoffee Pie, I believe, is very popular in Britain.

Banana + Toffee = Banoffee

This pie is actually mentioned in the movie "Love Actually", which takes place in England.  If you haven't seen this movie I recommend going out immediately, renting it, and watching it.  Nevermind that it's a Christmas movie, it's just plain awesome.  It makes me believe in love, it makes me idolize airports, it makes me want to go live across the pond for awhile.  Perfect for romantics like myself.

When I watched this ages ago I myself had never heard of Banoffee Pie either, and truth be told, we as Americans are missing out.

While I sense (and I'm no authority on the matter) that Banoffee Pie can be made with a variety of different pie crusts, in my version I went with a homemade vanilla pie crust.  

This layered with homemade dulce de leche (which is so easy to do - a post on that coming soon!), ripe bananas, homemade lightly sweetened whipped cream, and chopped toffee bits just sent me into dessert overload bliss - in the best way possible of course.

This dessert fulfilled and rose above every expectation I had.  My grandmother and surrogate grandmother Connie were sitting in the room as I spread the whipped cream over the pie, and after the room went dead silent I looked up to see all eyes were watching me expectantly.

(As they were practically licking their plates later I think they agree.)

I just can't believe here in America we've been oblivious to Banoffee Pie for far too long.  So spread the Banoffe Pie love.  Make this, and then bring me some, because I need to experience the bliss that is Banoffee Pie again, sooner rather than later.


Banoffee Pie
Servings: 10-12 (1 9-inch pie)

For Crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbsp cold butter cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp very cold water
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For Pie:
1 15oz can dulce de leche (store bought or homemade)
2 bananas (ripe but firm)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
toffee bits for sprinkling

To make pie crust.  Combine flour salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix on medium low speed until the butter is the size of small peas.  Add vanilla extract and mix until well distributed.  Add cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together.  Pat into a a disk.  Flour a work surface and rolling pin and roll out pie crust to a 12 inch circle.  Place rolled out pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate and crimp edges if desired.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line the pie shell with foil and put in baking beads or pie weights (or rice works too!).  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until pie crust no longer looks wet.  Remove foil and beads and bake for an additional 10-13 minutes more, until golden brown.  Let cool on a wire cooling rack completely.

To make pie.  When crust is completely cool, pour the entire can of dulce de leche into the pie crust and smooth.  Cut up both bananas and place all around dulce de leche.  In the bowl of a clean electric mixer mix heavy cream and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  Spread whipped cream all over bananas.  Top pie with chopped toffee bits.  Refrigerate at least 1 hr before serving.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Adapted from many different sources.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Soft and Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is something to be said for a really awesome chocolate chip cookie.  They are such an American classic, yet churning out homemade chocolate chip cookies isn't as foolproof a task as it probably should be.  Too often the cookie's exterior gets too tough and the cookies can be subject to falling into the "blah" category.

For reasons such as these there are people in the world that don't think that they like chocolate chip cookies - i.e. my grandmother.  When I declared that this was what I making for the day, I could practically her hear her shudder across the room... Ok, well I actually did hear her shudder.  Gram isn't one to sugarcoat her feelings.

But i just kept quiet and smiled and popped on the kitchen aid mixer, because I knew.  I knew.

These cookies are phenomenal.  They are everything that a homemade chocolate chip cookie should be. Soft and cakey, with chocolate chips that melt and ooze out when you take a bite.  They are enough to make anyone a chocolate cookie convert.

My gram included.  After her 3-4th consecutive cookie she was ready to admit that they were fabulous and that she loved them.  And for people who already love chocolate chip cookies, watch out.  They will be all over these in a hot minute.

I actually had my next door neighbor yell across my lawn about how much he loved them.  So if you want to make other people happy, or just yourself, make these cookies.

You will not be disappointed.  Enjoy!

Soft and Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookies
Servings: About 3 dozen

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour and baking soda in a bowl and whisk to combine.  In the bowl of an electric mixer combine butter and both sugars and beat until creamy.  Add salt, vanilla, and eggs, and beat until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.  With the mixer on low speed add flour until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips by hand.  Line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or baking sheets.  Drop heaping tablespoons of batter onto sheets spacing 2 inches apart,  Bake cookies until set with golden edges 11-13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking.  Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart's Cookies

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Accidentally Vegan Coconut Cookies

Sometimes in life the best things can be borne through accidents.  In baking, for me at least, this is most certainly true.

"Oh I forgot to add that ingredient.  Guess we can just go on without"

"Wait was I supposed to do that first?"

As I learn more and get better in the kitchen, these slips come few and farther in-between, but still for me once and awhile they are inevitable.  (I blame it on my habit of occasionally dancing while baking) 

And sometimes these incidents yield even better results than the original would have.

Truth be told I didn't pay the most attention as I was making these, only glancing at the recipe occasionally.  (I can't remember for sure but dancing might have been a determining factor why)

It wasn't until after the fact, when I was happily munching on them with everyone else at my house, that I realized that they were vegan!  The recipe was only titled as "Coconut Biscuits" and was sneaky and unassuming and tried to pull on over on me.  They were accidentally vegan.

With no butter, milk, or eggs, they are good enough to satisfy anyone's restricted diet.  They are super easy to whip up, and they taste awesome too!

These are definitely a light summer cookie, with a texture similar to a coconut macaroon, but crunchier with a lighter feel to them.

So if you're vegan and can't normally enjoy a coconut macaroon, or you're not a vegan (me) and just enjoy easy and delicious cookies, give these a try!

Accidentally Vegan Coconut Cookies
Servings: 2-3 dozen

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
sanding sugar for decorating

Stir together all ingredients in a bowl (except for sanding sugar).  Stir in 4-5 Tbsp water (or enough to make a stuff dough).  Shape into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick.  Used circle cookie cutter (or glass) to cut into 2-inch circles.  To make heart shape, pinch one side of circle for bottom, and indent the other side to form heart.  Place cookies 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or baking mat.  Brush tops of cookies with water and sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Bake 11-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool and enjoy.  These cookies are best eaten on the day that they are made.

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewarts Cookies

Monday, July 4, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches

In my mind ice cream and summer go hand in hand.  As a kid you could always find me and my friends bolting out of my pool at lightning speed trying our best to chase down the ice cream truck before it got too far away.

Speaking of which, was ours the only town where the ice cream truck literally drove at 70mph and whose driver's life goal was to stop for as little of children as possible?

...That was just us?...

 Oh well.

Anyway, even though nowadays you can't find me chasing down the ice cream truck with a dollar in my hand, sitting outside by the pool with some ice cream in my hand is still one of my favorite places to be.

And these ice cream sandwiches are so amazing that they literally put all other ice cream sandwiches to shame.  AND they are so easy that you can be enjoying them in no time.

So basically you have no reason not to make them.  You're obligated now.  You've come this far.

To pull off the ultimate ice cream sandwiches this is all you need.  That.Is.It.

Now I know there are some ingredient purists out there who are looking at me like I'm crazy.  "She used store bought peanut butter cookies?! And didn't churn out her own ice cream??"

In response all I have to say is, I'm all about from-scratch baking, but when the occasion calls for it you just have to go with simple easy ingredients and relax and enjoy the ride.

And while you're out there, ingredient purists, harvesting your own cocoa beans for homemade chocolate, I'm already sipping a beer by the pool eating one of these.  

I'm the first to tell you when homemade ingredients are best.  And here, keep it simple, keep it easy, keep it real.  It's summer, a time for kicking back and going with the flow.  So take my word on this one and go with store bought in this scenario.

I promise they will still blow you away.

This was the moment.  The moment when I knew I was onto something unquestionably good.

These are literally some of the best things I have made all summer.  You can whip them up in a cinch and anyone you gift with one will be floored.  You'll be the hero of any Fourth of July barbeque. 

So make them today.  I promise you won't be disappointed.  

Happy Fourth! :)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches
Servings: 12

2 boxes (12 cookies each) soft bakery peanut butter cookies
1 carton chocolate peanut butter ice cream
1 jar natural creamy peanut butter
6-8 oz milk chocolate chips

Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.  Place 12 cookies face up on baking sheet.  Taking one cookie at a time, scoop 1 scoop of ice cream onto each cookie.  Immediately spread with a liberal dollop of natural peanut butter and top with second cookie, pressing down slightly.  Place in freezer for 30 min-1 hr.  Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring every 10-20 seconds until smooth.  Take sandwiches out of freezer and drizzle all with melted chocolate.  Replace in freezer for an additional 30 min and enjoy.  Keep in freezer until ready to be eaten.

Recipe adapted from: Bon Appetite Desserts