Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Last year, I hosted a cookie decorating party for my friends and family to decorate Christmas-themed sugar cookies for the holidays. It was so much fun, I decided to do another one this year. Like last year, I used Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe because it is hands down the yummiest sugar cookie EVER - light and buttery with a great crumb texture, it's also perfect for cutout cookies since it keeps it's shape really well. I can go on and on about how literally everybody tells me they looooove these cookies (unless they're all lying to me to be kind) and how fondant is the perfect sweet complement to this cookie but just take my word for it, m'kay?

I had to bake 140 5-inch cookies for the party which roughly translates into 7 double-batches of cookie dough. That's a whole lotta cutting and rolling folks! There never seems to be enough hours in a day so I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient, especially with processes. And as much as I love Alton Brown (he's my culinary hero), there was no way I was making his recipe exactly the way it is printed. Since the dough is too soft to be rolled and cut immediately after mixing, AB recommends that we refrigerate the dough for 2 hours before rolling it out with powdered sugar. I got to thinking, if the end product is a chilled rolled piece of dough, why not find a way to roll it out before you chill it? That way, it'll be ready for cutting immediately afterwards. So I forgo the powdered sugar and roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper (so it doesn't stick to your rolling pin) and shove it in the freezer for about 10 minutes....yup, you heard me....the freezer....10 minutes. I've made these cookies using both methods and I'm happy to report that there is absolutely NO difference in taste =D. And the bonus: not rolling with powdered sugar means that the leftover dough pieces you re-roll have the same consistency as the original batches.

Tip: Cookies with uniform thickness look better and bake more evenly. I've used baking height strips on either sides of the dough to ensure a consistent height but you can use just about anything (two strips of wood, cardboard, notebooks, etc.) to guide your rolling pin as long as they're the same height on both sides.

Alright, enough about rolling dough, let's see the final results. Since a lot of these were made to be gifted, we made stockings and ornaments that were customizable with names. There were 5 children under 12 at the party and they were each given a few cookies to decorate. Here are some of their creations - not bad, right?
Some cookies my girlfriends decorated, very impressive :D.
And some cookies decorated by me :-)
I didn't post them all here so you can check out the rest here.
Decorating is one thing but cookies aren't giftable until they are packaged with a bow.Looking at these photos make my mouth water - they are seriously that yummy.
Lien Sanchez

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Marshmallow Popcorn Balls

The previous weekend, I made 100 of these colorful marshmallow popcorn balls to give away to friends and coworkers. Similar to rice krispy treats, they are easy to make and just as yummy. Since these were for Christmas, I made mine red and green but I can just as easily see these popcorn balls in tiffany blue or lavendar as wedding favors.

You can find the original recipe here on but I found it a little too sweet and gooey so I've altered it a bit.
12 cups of popped popcorn
1/3 cup of butter + extra to grease your hands
10 oz marshmallows (large or small)
4 tablespoons of flavored gelatin
cooking oil (for popping corn)

* Makes 15 - 3 inch popcorn balls

Step 1: Place 3 1/2 tbspn oil in a pot with 1/2 cup of popcorn kernals (just enough to coat the kernals) and wait for the pot to heat up. When the corn starts popping, shake the pot so that the heavier kernals settle to the bottom - this will get the unpopped kernals closer to the heat and prevent the already popped ones from burning. Also, remember to occassionally open the lid to let some of the steam escape - nobody likes soggy popcorn.
Step 2: Place 12 cups of your popped corn in a large mixing bowl and set aside

Step 3: Melt the marshmallows with the butter. The original recipe used a saucepan for this step but I hate washing pots so I melted mine in the microwave instead. Just place the marshmallow and butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. Remove and stir 'til all the marshmallows are melted.

Step 4: Stir the flavored gelatin into the marshmallow mixture. To get the red and green color, I used cherry and lime. Below is a picture of the slime, I mean lime mixture. The gelatin won't dissolve completely so don't freak if you can't get rid of all the gelatin granules.
Step 5: Pour your marshmallow mixture over your popped corn and stir to combine. A butter knife works nicely for this. Conversely, you can pour the popped corn into your marshmallow mixture instead but this will require more work to get an even coating on your popcorn.
Step 6: Grease your hands with some butter and shape your popcorn balls. I placed a chunk of butter between my bowl and my finished tray of popcorn balls and just made a quick swipe before shaping each one.
Step 7: Place popcorn balls in bags and wrap with a bow (saran wrap will also work :-)
These really are super easy and so much fun to make. I dare say it took more time to package and tie the bows than it did to actually make the popcorn balls, lol. There's still 9 days before Christmas, I just might make another batch :-P

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Cute Phallus?

A friend recently contacted me about a bachelorette cake for her FSIL (future sister-in-law for those of you who are wedding lingo challenged). She’d kill me if I mentioned her real name so let’s just call my friend "Sophia" (which happens to be the most popular girl's name for 2007). I had two main things to consider when designing this cake: 1) Sophia wanted something naughty but not too explicit and 2) she was picking up the cake en route to the party in San Francisco which means I had to stick to designs that could be easily transported by a petite woman in 3" party heels. In other words, no tall/narrow/heavy cakes that might possibly tip over. And seeing that Sophia is rather shy, I suggested some mildly risqué designs: you know, women’s lingerie, a Victoria Secret’s box with a functional lid, adult toy replicas, etc. And in jest, I ended my list of suggestions with, “or we can make the traditional penis cake.” Boy was I ever shocked when she said she wanted a penis cake! I guess I shouldn't have been though, after all, they say it's the shy quiet ones we all need to watch out for, lol ;-) ..........However, she did ask if I can make a cute one.

A cute penis (cake)? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Turns out not necessarily so. I've only seen a few before (I'm referring to cute penis cakes - get your mind out the gutter, sheesh!) but they do exist and Debbie from Debbie Does Cakes makes the cutest ones I've ever seen (This one's my favorite). As a professional courtesy, I emailed Debbie to make sure she was ok with me using her cake design as inspiration for mine. And being the darling that she is, she was totally cool with it :-).

Sophia's FSIL is a nature buff so after sorting through various design ideas, it struck me: What's more natural than Adam & Eve in "nature" in the "buff" (get it - "nature buff"? - hehe, I warned you that my jokes were cheesy). Now, if you would allow me a little poetic freedom, I'd like to explain how the below cake design fully captures the "original sin" - a very appropriate theme for a bachelorette party, no? Adam is represented in the overall phallic shape of the cake while Eve comes through in the face and dress. The apple is the literal representation of the forbidden fruit and the snake.....uh, the snake...........the snake was represented by the worms in the many tequila shots that were taken later that evening :-D. No, not buying it? The snake bit was too much, huh? Darn, I knew it! Alright, alright, I just thought it was a cute design, okay?

Top view: Side view:
Closeup of the face and apple:
Closeup of
I had a ton of fun making this cake. It was my first phallic cake and I have to admit that I did feel a tiny bit naughty when I was smoothing the fondant over the carved shape *blush*. Good thing my husband wasn’t around, heehee.

The cake itself was a delicious hazelnut chocolate cake with hazelnut buttercream but Sophia, FSIL, and the rest of the bachelorette party never got a chance to taste it. Why not, you ask? Apparently, during the alchohol-laden festivities, FSIL caressed the cake a bit too roughly and smushed it!!! I was literally ROTFL when I heard this. So much for my tip-over design precautions, lol. Sounds like the bachelorette had an awesome time though, and that's all that really matters........even if she doesn't remember any of it.