Starry Night

Stars may be one of my favorite shapes to use for cookies.  They always have nice crisp edges and a fun holiday flair.  They also have followed me around for some reason between the twin stars of Kappa Alpha Theta, one of my favorite paintings is Starry Night, and one of my favorite memories as a child is taking a hay wagon out into the middle of the Alisal Ranch and seeing the night sky with very little if any light pollution.

Normally, when I pull out the cookie cutters I am pretty traditional and LOVE my Betty Crocker sugar cookie recipe.  Hands down it is a no fail recipe.  It will end up on here at some point in the next few months particularly with Valentines Day around the corner (I love my heart shaped cookie cutters almost as much as my stars).

Due to my recent obsession with the peppermint frosting, I decided to opt for a chocolate cookie.  After searching a little bit, I chose a recipe out of Fine Cooking’s Holiday Cookies issue from 2010.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Materials

Hand mixer with the paddle not whisk attachments

Whisk

Spatula

Saran wrap

Rolling pin

Pastry Cloth or silicon mat (Trust me on this! It made a huge difference the first time I used the pastry cloth my grandmother sent me instead of taping wax paper to my counter….)

Baking sheet

2 sizes of star cookie cutters

Parchment paper

Cooling rack (I used to just use a few paper towels if that helps)

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter softened

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

6 tbsp light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 2/3 cups flour

1/4 cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa (to be honest, I used Hershey’s because its what I had and they were delicious)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

Peppermint Frosting

Your favorite jam

Now How do I do This?

I always start with wet ingredients.  I am a firm believer that its better to start with the wet so if your butter wasn’t soft enough to begin with it has a few extra minutes to soften while it sits mingling with the sugar.  Cream the butter and sugars together in a large bowl with the hand mixer and once soft and fluffy add the egg and the vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.

While the original recipe did not call for this, I sifted all my dry ingredients into a larger bowl because I’ve found that to be effective with my sugar cookies.  Once sifted, whisk them together to make sure its all mixed up.

Slowly, I like to use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to add the flour mixture to your wet ingredients and mix each time.  Use your whisk each time to scrape down the edges of your bowl to make sure your are getting all the dry mixed in.

Once everything is together, split the dough in half and wrap it in Saran Wrap.  If you are going to do this a day in advance like I did (which I have never been organized enough to do before) you can put them in the fridge to store until you are ready.  If you plan on doing this a LONG time in advance put them in the freezer and then put in the fridge the day before you use them.  Take the dough out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to use it so it can soften enough to roll.  If you are going to roll the same day, put the dough in the freezer for 20-30 minutes until it feels firmer.

Grab your pastry cloth or mat and sprinkle with flour and ditto to your rolling pin.  Roll out your dough until it is a little less than a 1/4 inch thick.  Cut parchment paper to fit your baking sheet.  Preheat your oven to 350.

Cutting out the stars

I used a few different techniques to cut out the star outlines and found that the best technique varied with the temperature of the dough at a given point.  If the dough was cooler and harder, you could cut out the big star, place it on the baking sheet, and use the smaller star and cut right out of it.  If it was warmer I would leave the larger cookie cutter on the star, cut the smaller one inside and slowly lift the smaller star out by tilting the small cookie cutter back ensuring that the dough stayed inside.  If this didn’t work, I used the aid of a hard spatula underneath both stars to push the little one out until I could lift it out easily.  ***Do not under any circumstances try to transfer the star outline from your rolling surface to the baking sheet.  You need to cut it out on the baking sheet.***

Bake for exactly 6 minutes.  My cookies came out perfectly at 6 minutes.  I didn’t need to rotate the baking sheets or anything.   Wait a couple of minutes and transfer your cookies to a cooling rack (or paper towel).  If you are using 2 baking sheets, this is a perfect amount of time to be cutting out new cookies placing them on the other sheet etc.  You’ll figure out a routine that works well for you.

Now for the frosting!  I used a modified version of the peppermint frosting from last week.  Essentially I worked harder to crush the peppermint pieces more finely and then (I’m crazy I know) by hand picked out the bigger pieces.  It made the much easier to piece together and then I used the big pieces to decorate the center of the cookies.  I frosted one side of the whole star cookie, placed the cutout on top and then sprinkled excess peppermint chunks in the center!  I then used all the tiny stars and filled them with a raspberry, peach, champagne jelly but you can use your favorite.

Finished and ready to send!

Put them on a plate to take to a party or put them in a tiny box and send them to friends!

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Everything Tastes Better With Peppermint Frosting

After my adventure making macaron shells, the next obvious step was to fill them with frosting.  As you saw before, I was inspired to make those pink peppermint filled delights.  As this was my first time, I’m going to say : I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out.  They look no where even close to what they should but isn’t that the point of starting somewhere?!

If nothing else, I hope this blog shows you through my successes and my failures (to be seen shortly…) that baking has a learning curve and that almost everything can be fixed with some delicious frosting.  That is except for cake that is too dry.  That cannot be solved.

Success number one.  This unbelievable frosting.  It will change your life whether it is on a good or great macaron or a graham cracker (a great way to use your excess frosting as my frosting filler helper LS and I found out).

White Chocolate Peppermint Frosting

Materials:

Hand Mixer (with the two beater attachments not the whisk)

Spatula

A Hammer (seriously)

Glad heavy duty plastic bag (maybe 2)

Knife for spreading

Ingredients

6 oz. white chocolate (I really really strongly suggest Ghiradelli’s)

1/2 cup butter softened to room temperature (1 stick)

1 tbsp heavy cream

1.5 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup crushed peppermint candy

Now how do I do this?

First, crush your peppermint candies.  My chosen method was to throw them in a plastic baggy (I would probably double bag the next time for extra precaution), put them on top of a heavy duty cutting board (not one of those thin bendable ones with a picture of a cow or chicken on them).  Then pick up your hammer and go at it.  I suggest doing this when you are having “one of those days” because I found it to be INCREDIBLY cathartic after one of those days.

Next, white chocolate can be temperamental.  I thought putting it in my tiny Le Creuset pot on low on the stove top would be fine… yeah that was a fail.  It burned before it even started to melt.  Do this one the easy American way – break up your 6 squares of white chocolate into tiny pieces, throw them into a pyrex dish of some form.  I used one of these.  (Seriously, if you don’t have one, get one.  Now. I use it at least once a day.  The more I think about it, I really should own more than one.)  I put it in on 30% heat/strength/whatever your microwave calls it and did it for about 1 minute 30.  Take it out and stir to see if it will just melt the rest of the way through stirring or needs a few more seconds.

Let that sit for a minute while you put the sugar, vanilla, cream, and softened butter into a large bowl. (If you are just pulling this out of the fridge, shame on you but we can fix it.  Cut it into smaller pieces and put it in a large glass bowl that you plan to use to make the frosting (or a small one of you are going to mix in a non microwavable bowl).  Microwave at a low heat setting for about 30 seconds at a time until its soft.)

Now pour in the chocolate and set your hand mixer to a low speed.  Slowly mix all the ingredients except the peppermint together slowing increasing the speed to medium.  Scrap the sides a few time with your spatula to make sure everything is getting mixed in.  Add your crushed peppermint, mix again, and you are ready to frost!

Frosting, extra candy, and pink macarons!

Now you are ready to frost those macarons you made yesterday!  Or whatever other delicious delight you would like to use the world’s best frosting on.  In my opinion, a dark chocolate cupcake would be delicious.

Completed Pink Peppermint Macarons

As you can tell they are not perfect but that’s okay.  They taste pretty great and for a first try I’m pretty proud!  You will be too.

The chocolate ones… all I can say is everything tastes better with peppermint frosting.

Macarons & More!

Ever since I first tasted a macaron my semester studying in France, I have long wanted to try my hand at them myself.  In fact, I even purchased a cute little how to make macarons cookbook in French thinking it would inspire me to not only make them but to continue practicing my French.  Well over 5 years later, I’ve continued to practice my French but yet tried my hand at real macarons.

A few weeks ago, I made a similar almond type cookie (without the ganache) and it gave me the confidence to just go for it.   Having recently joined the Pinterest world (not sure why I avoided it for so long…) I was exposed to this lovely recipe!  If you happen to stumble on this blog and don’t know me this is pretty much my perfect cookie.  Pink, peppermint, french?  Its me in a cookie.

The recipe, however, called for some serious prep time, and as a fourth year grad student, soon to be lawyer, I aim for maximum taste minimum prep.  My good friend AR had passed me another lovely recipe and between the two I have created an easy, prep-friendly, lack of fancy-equipment friendly method!

Materials:

Hand-mixer (this is a must if you don’t already have one)

Food processor (not as necessary but recommended)

Large flat spatula

Gallon sized freezer bag (I do not own a pastry bag, I find that filling the plastic bag with the batter and cutting off a corner does the trick well enough)

Parchment paper (unless you have the fancy french silicon baking mats which would be preferable)

You will either need something like this that can measure things in terms of weight (my host mom gave me one when I left France and I take VERY good care not to break it) or a kitchen scale.  Precise measurements are vital to this process.

Ingredients:

90 g egg whites (I left mine out on the counter for about 8 hours, they could and probably should have been left out for longer.  It is about 3 large eggs or 3/8 of a cup.  I tried to measure as close to 3/8 of a cup as possible without having the scale.)

110 g almond flour

200 g powdered (confectioners) sugar

25 grams (slightly less than a quarter cup) white refined sugar

2 tsp Vanilla extract

Food Coloring

1 teaspoons Cocoa Powder

Now how do I do this?

First you want to combine the almond flour and powdered sugar in the food processor.  This ensures it gets really  mixed up and the clumps come out.  If you can’t do this (and if I didn’t have a food processor I would use a whisk or a fork and just go for it).   If you are going to make the chocolate shell add the cocoa powder and either process or whisk it together.

Almond Flour & Sugar

Second add the egg whites to a large mixing bowl.  Grab your hand mixer with whisk attachment and set it to medium speed and beat them until they are fairly bubbly.  One blogger described it as a bubble bath and that is pretty accurate.  Next add the sugar and turn it on again.

Now, here is where I differed GREATLY from other recipes and mine turned out alright.  Not perfect yet in form, but they taste delicious.  I do not live somewhere that enables me to find things easily like powdered food coloring and frankly I find buying 1 vanilla bean in a glass jar a huge waste of a glass jar.  Therefore, I used regular food coloring and vanilla extract.  I added probably 8-10 drops red food coloring to get the pink coloring and 2 tsp vanilla extract.  (1 is not enough).

I then continued beating the egg white mixture until it had stiff peaks.  If you do not know what that means, you should beat it until you notice the liquid becoming very fluffy and slowly begin to get dense.  Turn off your mixer and lift the whisk out of the bowl.  If little peaks form in the fluffy mixture and they stand upright (a little may flip at the top) and don’t bend over immediately you’ve got stiff peaks.  If not mix again and test again until you’ve gotten it down.

Pink Egg White Mixture

Now, I have seen this described in 2 ways.  Add the dry to the wet or the wet to the dry.  Normal convention is add wet to dry and after doing this recipe a few times and trying both,  I suggest you add the wet to the dry.  Now you do this through a process called folding.  Take a spatula and literally fold the ingredients together very slowly.

Once folded completely, add the batter to your plastic bag if you’re like me (or pastry bag if you’re better equipped).  Smooth the batter toward one of the corners while still leaving the tip empty so you can cut off a small portion.

Place your parchment paper or mats onto the trays and slowly pipe small circles onto the trays evenly spaced apart.  Leave enough room to account for some spreading.  You will want to do two things now: 1) bang the trays heavily against a table or the sink or something (be careful not to let the parchment slide off or stick your finger in a circle of dough) and 2) let them sit for at least 30 minutes before even considering putting them in the oven.  When you think its time to put them in the oven, start heating the oven to 280 degrees F and then let them sit a few extra minutes while it heats up and position them in the very center of the oven.

Pre-oven!

I suggest 18-20 minutes but the first time you do it, watch them.  You want to take them out as it gets closer, try and gently lift the edge of one up.  It it sticks try a few more.  If none of them are coming up, let them cook for another 2-3 minutes and try again.  You will know when it starts to lift up.  Be careful not to let them start burning though.  You will notice this more easily with the vanilla or pink version so try those before chocolate to get the hang of it!

Let them sit on the trays for at least 10 minutes before removing them to a plate/storage container/wherever you want to put them prior to frosting!

Post-oven, pre-frosting!

 

***Note – the chocolate ones are flatter than the pink.  After a day, it turns out that they had become hard and were no longer chewy.  They still tasted okay with quite a bit of frosting but that’s most likely because the frosting was amazing.  I think that they failed because I may have added too much cocoa powder (I adjusted above) and was not careful about my egg white measurements.  I may be investing in a scale soon….