Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers September 2010: Decorated Sugar Cookies

Oh my! I actually almost forgot about this post! Luckily I remembered early on in the day, otherwise I might not have been able to get this post up on time. Phew...anyway, time for another round of the challenges presented by the Daring Bakers! This month I was super excited when I found out what we'd be doing. It was almost as if Mandy from What the Fruitcake?! was reading my mind! I had been looking at intricate, decorated sugar cookies using royal icing on other blogs and had really been wanting to try it out myself, and then boom. I look at the Daring Baker challenge for September, and that's exactly what it is! For those who don't know, royal icing is a type of icing made from egg whites, powdered sugar, and then sometimes lemon or lime juice. It dries hard and shiny and creates the perfect finish for professional-looking decorated sugar cookies. You generally pipe fine lines using a small round piping tip to outline the shape you've created and then use a technique called "flooding" where you water down the royal icing and then use it to fill in the cookie where you've outlined. Then you go back after it's dried with the small piping tip and pipe on details. You can make it as intricate or simple as you like, but the finish product always is impressive.
For the challenge this month, Mandy wanted us to make cookies that were September-themed. She said we could do anything that September meant to us. To me, September means my birthday and the start of fall, my favorite season. The problem is, I only have winter/Christmas themed cookie cutters. So instead of going out and buying more or even making my own, I just free handed them with a knife. It actually wasn't too hard, and of course, if you don't like the shape you've cut, you can always roll it back out and try again. For my birthday, I made birthday cakes, a party hat, and circles with the number 20, the age I turned this month. (Admittedly, I just used a round glass to cut out the way can I free hand circles that well!) For the fall, I made pumpkins and red/orange/yellow leaves. I actually ended up pretty proud of my cookies. They're not as pretty as other decorated cookies I've seen, but they were pretty good for my first try. I definitely look forward to trying out more in the future! I encourage you to try making's fun, and they taste good too!

Basic Sugar Cookies (adapted from Peggy Porschen)
Makes approximately 36 4" cookies

  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup caster/superfine sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavorings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture. (Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.)
  2. Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non-sticky dough forms.
  3. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/5 inch. Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  4. Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30 minutes to an hour. (It's very important to chill the cut-out shapes before baking so they do not lose their shape and spread in the oven.)
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15 minutes depending on the size of the cookies. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.
Royal Icing (adapted from the Joy of Baking)

  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  1. Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. Beat on low until combined and smooth. Add almond extract, if using, and mix until combined. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
For decorating tips and all that jazz, please check the printable pdf of this month's challenge here: The Daring Bakers September 2010 challenge.
The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chinese Marble Cookies

Here on the east coast, we have a chain supermarket called Wegmans. It's an absolutely fantastic store to just walk in and look around. They have a regular grocery store part, but then they have another section of the store that is filled with pre-made food stations. They have an Asian bar, Indian cuisine bar, pizza, sandwiches, bread bakery, sushi bar, even a little coffee bar that also sells gelato! I love going in there, but unfortunately, their prices run pretty high and so I usually don't end up buying things there. (I pretty much just go for the Asian bar for lunch, and that's the only thing I buy there.) The first time I went to Wegmans, they had a cookie bar, and I got a couple cookies. But they were ridiculously expensive...about 9 or 10 bucks per pound!! But one of the cookies I got was called a Chinese marble. It was very good, with a nice almond extract flavor and swirled with chocolate. I mentioned before about the time that I first discovered almond extract, and realized that it was the flavor in these cookies. Right after that moment, I went on a frantic internet search to find a copy cat recipe. My search led me to this forum thread, where I found a recipe that seemed very close. I did a little tweaking, and voila! I found the perfect Chinese marble clone.

Well...I say I did some tweaking...but more like minimal. One of the things I noticed was that the recipe didn't call for almond extract. I absolutely knew that these cookies had almond extract in them, so I added it myself. The only other change I made was to use butter instead of shortening, because that's just my thing (although feel free to use shortening...I won't judge!). The result was a cookie that tasted EXACTLY like how I remembered them, and a heck of a lot cheaper too! It produces a nice crispy edge, and a chewy middle. When I first made them, I was a little skeptical, as the chocolate that is swirled in is unsweetened. I've had a bite of unsweetened chocolate before out of curiosity and it was quite unpleasant...very bitter!! However, the sweetness of the cookies kind of blend into the unsweetened chocolate, and you don't get any bites of bitterness at all. The unsweetened chocolate was actually a great compliment, in my opinion! I took some to work with me, and they seemed to be pretty well received. If you've had the Chinese marble cookies at Wegmans, definitely try this recipe, as it tastes exactly like them and at much less of a won't disappoint! And if you haven't, try this recipe anyway, because it's a good one!

Chinese Marble Cookies (adapted from this recipe here)
Makes at least 2 dozen

  • 1 cup unsalted butter or shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Beat the butter or shortening with sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients and beat until well combined. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Add chocolate a little at a time, cutting in with a knife. Do not stir.
  3. (I, as I've stated many times, always refrigerate my dough before this step, and ALWAYS recommend doing so as well.) Form dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until lightly golden. Enjoy!