Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

Get Ready for Valentine’s Day with Pretty Easy Cookies! February 11, 2009

tray-of-valentines-cookiesBy Julia Pantoga

Someday, the domestic goddess will have a staff and her days of making roll-out cookies for holidays will end. Until then, the dg will don her Valentine’s Day tiara, open a bottle of beer, take out her rolling pin and make cookies at her kitchen table the same way that she tells you to do it.

essential-valentines-day-cookie-making-suppliesI went through all the details of these cookies with you before the winter holidays, so I’ll refer you to my previous columns: Holiday Prep: The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever, Parts 1, 2 and 3 and tell you what to do differently for Valentine’s Day. The first difference is that you will use heart-shaped cookie cutters. Wilton has a great set of six different sizes of the exact same heart . Having the same shape in different sizes will give you more creative opportunities when you get to decorating.

Make the same frosting, but this time you need only three colors: light pink, white and dark red. White, you will have; light pink is made by putting a small amount of red dye in white frosting, and dark red is made with several drops of red dye and one drop of blue dye (be careful with the blue, or your frosting will turn out black).

more-valentines-day-cookie-making-suppliesThe technique for decorating heart cookies is the same one I used for my Christmas trees in December. Frost each heart with light pink frosting. Paint a few strokes of dark red on each heart. Paint a few of the small hearts plain white or dark red. While the frosting is still wet, decorate the large heart cookies with the small ones.

Remember, on Sunday or Monday, go to your local craft sale and stock up on 75% off Valentines Day merchandise for next year. Keep in mind that anything you find in a solid color (red, white, silver, gold) can be used for other holidays.

 

Start Your V-Day Cookie Dough Now February 8, 2009

heart1Domestic Goddess Reminder: Next Saturday is Valentines Day. I’ll have a cookie-making post on Tuesday. If you are going to make heart-shaped cutout sugar cookies (as I am in this column), use the recipe from my column, “The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part One,” to make your dough and freeze it this weekend.

 

Holiday Prep: Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever, Part 3 December 19, 2008

holiday-cookies1

By Julia Pantoga, resident domestic goddess

Finally! We are in the last phase of our holiday cookie project: Decorating the Cookies (For reference, the first two steps were making the dough and rolling and baking cookies).

Don’t call the kids in yet. There’s still some set up you’ll want to do before you have young ones underfoot.

The first step to decorating cookies is to make frosting:  a lot of it. I make 4 cups of it for 4 dozen cookies,
(which is my yield from the recipe I gave you back in October in Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever – Part 1)  Cookie frosting has only two ingredients:  confectioner’s sugar and milk. The ratio is 1 ½ teaspoons of milk for every cup of confectioners sugar.  Be careful working with the confectioner’s sugar—it can really be a mess. Wear your apron and whenever you pour it from one container to another, try not to spill (good luck with that, I’ve been handling the stuff for decades and I still make a mess with it).

Divide your frosting into several small bowls and color each using the deluxe food coloring that I recommended that you buy in Easiest Holiday Cookies – Part 1. Don’t forget to set at least a cup of your frosting aside to use whenever you need white frosting. You can see from the photo below that I forgot to do that and had to go back later to make more frosting.

several-colors-of-frosting

Once you have your frosting made and the confectioner’s sugar is put away, call the kids! Remember, the thickest cookies and the ones with the fewest appendages will be the easiest to handle. To the extent that you can control which cookies little ones select to work on, direct them towards the thickest cookies.

Another thing you should have picked up at the decorating store back in October was a small, angled and tapered spatula and paintbrushes for icing your cookies. As you may recall, I’m not crazy about decorating cookies—so instead of painstakingly applying detail to each one, I try to get the entire job done as quickly as possible. Here’s what I do (I’m using my Christmas tree cookies for this example):

1.     Pour about one teaspoon of base color frosting to each cookie. You may need to thin the frosting a little bit for this step—use milk, added ¼ teaspoon at a time. For my Christmas tree project, the base color was medium green.
2.    Use your spatula to spread the frosting over the entire cookie.
3.    While the frosting is still wet, decorate the edges with small candies.
4.    Choose a darker color and apply light brush strokes to the top of each cookie. For my Christmas trees, I used dark blue-green.
lots-of-christmas-trees(You’ll see this whole process again when I post my Valentine’s Day column, except the cookies will be shaped like hearts and the frosting colors will be pink and dark red.)

I decorate all of my cookies either painting solid colors or using this “gesso” painting process.  The only other technique I use is to sometimes put a smaller cookie of the same shape on a larger cookie.  If you insist on using other decorating materials on your cookies, make sure that everything dries eventually.  Gel decorating products are beautiful, but the if the gel doesn’t dry, you end up with ridiculously fragile smeared cookies.

The cookies at the top of this essay were decorated by a professional artist friend of mine and the cookies below were decorated entirely by yours truly.

finished-cookies

 

Holiday Prep: The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part Two December 17, 2008

holiday-cookies
By Julia Pantoga

Do you remember that I recommended that you break your holiday cutout cookie baking into three steps?

1.    Making the dough
2.    Rolling and baking
3.    Decorating

This is Step Two: Rolling and Baking. I assume you have three packages of cookie dough in your freezer, as I advised you back in October in The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part One.

I’m a flour-flying-all-over-the-kitchen kind of baker, so this very neat, no-flour-mess method of rolling out cookie dough was counter-intuitive to me. But it works—really well.  And it’s really neat. I did it wearing dress clothes and no apron.

Before I give you the step-by-step, there’s two important notes:
•    Many recipes for rolled dough assume that flour will be added to the dough during the rolling process, so this method won’t necessarily for sugar cookie dough recipes other than the one I gave you.
•    The proper height for a rolling surface is slightly below your hips. That means that if you are on the short side a table, not a counter, will work best for you. You need the leverage of being able to bend over your project easily.

dough-rolling-setupHere’s the step-by-step for my no-mess method of rolling cookie dough (The parchment paper and tape industries ought to be sending me kickbacks for this!):

1.    Put a cookie sheet in the refrigerator.
2.    Tape a piece of parchment paper to the rolling surface.
3.    Put a small disk of dough on the parchment paper (about ½ of one of the bags you made in October, or, if you didn’t do that, about 1/6 of the recipe I gave you, or, if you’re using a different recipe, about 1/3 pound).
4.    Tape a larger piece of parchment paper over the top of the dough.
5.    Roll the dough slowly to 1/8” thick.  Eliminate any creases in the parchment paper as you go along, as creases in your final dough will cause your cookies to crack and break. I don’t recommend rolling any thinner that 1/8”, because thinner cookies break easily when you decorate them.
6.    Carefully lift off the top layer of parchment paper, leaving it taped to the rolling surface for the next rolling.
7.    Remove the bottom layer of parchment paper with the rolled dough on it and place it on the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for at least ½ hour.
8.    Repeat steps 2-7 until all the dough is rolled.  When you have finished, put the top piece of parchment paper on top of all the layers.

rolled-dough-in-the-refrigerator Well, I sure wish I had learned that trick of refrigerating the rolled dough years ago!

While your rolled dough is chilling, set up for cutting and baking your cookies. Put the cookie cutters and cookie sheets that you want to use right next to where you will be working with the dough. Your cold dough will make it infinitely easier to move raw cookies around, but you still want to minimize how far you move them.  The best tool for picking up and moving cookie dough (even cold dough) is and angled (not tapered) spatula used for frosting cakes.

After baking, you want to handle and move the cookies as little as possible before you decorate them (minimize opportunities for breaking cookies), so you may want to set up the area where you will have your cookies cool as well.

cutting-setupTake your rolled dough out of the refrigerator, one piece at a time and work quickly, as cold dough is much, much easier to work with than room temperature dough! Leave the cold cookie sheet in the refrigerator, as you will have enough dough scraps to make a second (maybe even a third, but no more—by then your dough will be terribly worn out) batch of cookies.

After cutting, bake your cookies for 5 minutes at 400°. While they are baking, gather and roll the scraps of dough, using the parchment paper and tape routine I described above. It is at this point that I begin to become irritated with the entire holiday cookie project and mutter to myself, “How on earth could anyone think this is a fun project?” Thrifty as I am, I use the parchment paper over that I used before and tape only the bottom piece down.

OK, in a few days, I’ll show you how to decorate these bad boys.

Why so many Christmas trees?  Tune in in a few days and find out!

Why so many Christmas trees? Tune in in a few days and find out!

 

The Easiest Holiday Cookies Ever! Part One October 18, 2008

By Julia Pantoga

I don’t get what people love so much about decorating holiday cookies; everyone but me seems to think it’s fun. The benefit to you of my disdain for decorating holiday cookies is that I’ve thought about how to make every step simpler and less excruciating. (By the way, I did not decorate the cookies in the photo above; an artist friend of mine did.)

Okay, there are three parts to making decorated holiday cookies:
1.    Making the dough
2.    Rolling out and baking the cookies
3.    Decorating the cookies.

I like the first two steps; it’s the third step that gets me.


Make the dough now and freeze it.  When it comes time to make cookies in December, you will be really pleased you have that done.  Wait to roll and bake the cookies; however, because baked cookies are very delicate and likely to break before you have a chance to decorate them. (Although broken cookies are magnificent crumbled up and served over fruit.) Here’s the recipe I use. It works when you freeze it and roll it out later, and it tastes great. I divide it into three batches that I freeze.

Sugar Cookie Dough
1 cup butter (I like salted butter for this recipe)
½ cup sugar
1 egg (don’t forget to bring it to room temperature by putting it in a bowl of hot water)
3 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder

1.    Cream butter and sugar.
2.    Add egg and vanilla, beat well.
3.    Measure and mix in flour and baking powder. (I mix the two together before putting them in the dough).
4.    Divide dough in three batches, label and freeze.

If you must know…  For 1/8” cookies, bake 5 min. @ 400 degrees.

You should begin shopping for decorating supplies now.  Go to a store that specializes in cake/cookie decorating.  There, you will find exactly you need.  The store will have the most interesting assortment of cookie cutters, colors of food dye and specialty icing spatulas.  The sales clerks will be knowledgeable and helpful about cookie decorating
The easiest cookie cutters to use are those with the fewest “appendages”.  For example, a bell shaped cookie cutter will make cookies that are much easier to handle than a fussy angel-shaped cookie cutter.  If you have young children, or if any of you are easily frustrated, easy cookie cutters are a must.
While you are at the decorating store, buy:  a small angled and tapered spatula that is designed especially for icing cookies, fantastic green, red, yellow and blue food dyes (they will be so much better and more complex than what you can buy at the grocery store), decorating paintbrushes (I’ve tried dime store paintbrushes, but the bristles fall out, which is unacceptable when you are making food.). Don’t buy anything that won’t “dry”.  “Gel” decorating products look great; but the next day, the cookies are still sticky. Make sure that everything you buy for decorating will eventually harden.  At a decorating store, the clerk will know what hardens and what doesn’t.

I’ll tell you what I know about rolling and baking cookies in Part 2 of this series and give you some ideas for decorating in Part 3.  Keep in mind though, that I don’t like decorating; so my decorating tips will be along the lines of easy-and-quick (but fabulous).