10 February 2020

TUTORIAL: Hershey's Kisses Cookies

In elementary school, one of my favourite things to receive in my little Valentine's Day "mailbox" was a Hershey's Kisses chocolate. I did not care for cinnamon hearts or conversation hearts. All I wanted was one the iconic flat-bottom teardrop-shaped chocolate in its signature metal foil wrapping attached to my Valentine's Day card. I preferred the ones in the pink foil of course, but would not complain if I received a silver one. For this Valentine's Day I am not only gifting Hershey Kisses chocolates, but also Hershey Kisses-shaped sugar cookies. These cookies are extremely easy to make and they do not require a deft hand for the decorating component. The cookies are iced and then dipped in metallic sanding sugar to give the cookies the signature foil look. A Hershey's Kisses is not truly a Kiss unless it has its KISSES tag attached so I used the paper tags from the actual chocolates, which also meant I got to snack on a few while making these cookies.

What you will need:
Your favourite sugar cookie or shortbread cookie recipe (I like to use this one!)
Heart-shaped cookie cutter
Piping bag
Piping tip
Royal icing
Sanding sugar (preferably metallic)
Hershey's Kisses tags

Make the cookie dough according to the instructions of your recipe and chill the dough for at least an hour. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the chilled dough to 1/4-inch in thickness. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, press the bottom end of the heart cutter into the dough without pressing down the end with the two rounded halves. Using a small knife, connect the two ends to form the bottom of the Hershey's Kisses. Repeat. Transfer the cutouts to a large lined baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet with the cutouts to the freezer for 15 minutes to help the dough firm up. A thoroughly chilled dough will ensure that the cookies will retain their shape when baking.

Bake the cookies according to the instructions of your recipe. Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round piping tip with royal icing. Draw an outline on each Hershey's Kisses cookie and then fill in the cookie with royal icing. Before the icing dries, dip the cookie into the coloured sanding sugar. Take a Hershey's Kisses tag and tuck it into one side of the cookie.

Allow cookies to dry completely before stacking.

Happy baking!

9 February 2020

TUTORIAL: Valentine's Mixtape Cookies

I have always loved making mixtapes and playlists, both for myself and as gifts. In high school, these playlists were full of songs that my parents hated (a good mix of Alexisonfire, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, and Underoath). The songs were burned onto a plain silver CD, with the name of the playlist scribbled on with a black sharpie. I kept most of these early playlists for myself and only exchanged them with friends I knew were into the same genre. In university, the songs were mostly indie and the process was a bit more elaborate — burn the songs onto a CD, come up with some poetic title for the album, make my own album cover, and give the album away as a special gift. The album cover would mostly likely be a mixed medium painting or collage featuring words I cut out from a poetry book. How cute.

I would like to think that this is part of the evolution of my playlist making, an edible playlist of sorts. I would still put together a Spotify playlist, but I would then also make cassette tape cookies that reflect some of the artists featured on the playlist. Cassette tape cookies are extremely easy to make — any sugar cookie or shortbread cookie recipe will do. The hardest part about cassette tape cookies is finding the cassette boxes. I was quite lucky because my parents kept all the cassette tapes from 20+ years ago. Of course, you can find clear cassette tape boxes online.

What you will need:
Your favourite sugar cookie or shortbread cookie recipe (I like to use this one!)
Piping tips (to pipe the words and to cut out the circles of the cassette tape)
Piping bag
Royal icing
Cassette tape boxes
Microplane, optional

Make the cookie dough according to the instructions of your recipe and chill the dough for at least an hour. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the chilled dough to 1/4-inch in thickness. Cut out rectangles that are 4 inches by 2.5 inches. Transfer the cutouts to a large lined baking sheet. Using the back of a piping tip (the larger round end), cut out two circles for the tape reels at almost the half-way mark of the short edge of the tape. If you have a cassette tape handy, hover it over your cutout to make sure the everything lines up. Transfer the baking sheet with the cutouts to the freezer for 15 minutes to help the dough firm up. A thoroughly chilled dough will ensure that the cookies will retain their shape when baking.

Bake the cookies according to the instructions of your recipe. Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating. If any of the edges are not straight, use a microplane to gently even out the sides.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round piping tip with royal icing. Decorate the cookies with the details of a real cassette tape. Allow the icing to dry completely before placing into cassette tape box.

Place cookies in cassette tape boxes and gift to your Valentine or favourite concert buddy!

Happy baking!

23 January 2020

Chinese New Year Cookies

Happy almost Chinese new year! I celebrate all the other holidays of the year by baking elaborate cookie boxes and shaker cookies but I have never really done anything too big or extravagant for Chinese new year. I made these nian gao-stuffed cookies last year (they were so much fun!) but not much else beyond that. I promised myself that this year will be the year I do more for this special holiday because it is one of my favourite Chinese (and in general) holidays of the year. As I mentioned in the previous year, Chinese new year is celebrated with lots and lots of food — from sticky nian gao rice cake, to savoury taro and daikon cakes, and to trays of assorted sweets called Trays of Togetherness. This year I decided to make my own version of this tray of treats, but in a cookie box form (of course). This year, my tray is filled with classic stamped shortbread, shaker cookies, window cookies to represent fai chun, Chinese almond cookies, and chewy sesame cookies. 

I have shared a tutorial on my shaker cookies before but I have updated it with even greater detail this time around to make sure you end up with the shaker cookies of your dreams. Of course these Chinese new year shaker cookies are filled with gold sprinkles and topped with edible gold leaf — you cannot celebrate Chinese new year without any gold. All the shaker cookies and fai chun cookies are made with the same shortbread dough as the stamped cookies and they are adorn with lucky Chinese characters or sayings — 年年有餘 (you will have surplus every year), 心想事成 (may all your wishes come true), and 笑口常開 (may you always have laughter and happiness), just to name a few. All the writing was done with royal icing, the same way you would decorate regular sugar cookies. I loved the way the royal icing writing turned out on the shiny isomalt.

Lastly, we have one chewy cookie in the mix. I made a chewy sesame cookie inspired by crispy sesame balls you often find in Trays of Togetherness and at dim sum restaurants or Chinese bakeries. They are like a chewy sugar cookie but the addition of brown sugar and sesame seeds gives these cookies a great nuttiness. These would be just as great with black sesame seeds. All the treats are arranged in an old tin cookie box my mom saved for me (she loves saving old tins for me to use as future cookie boxes). I will keep this blog post short because I have so many recipes to share below. PS. White Rabbit candies are often found in Trays of Togetherness and these White Rabbit cupcakes would be so much fun for the new year celebrations as well. 

Blank Canvas Shortbread 
Yields approximately 2 dozen (depends on size and shape of cookie cutters)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla 
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on low speed until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Mix on low speed until well creamy and smooth. Add the flour and mix on low speed until just uniform in texture. 

Gather the dough into a ball, divide the ball into two, and flatten each portion into a disc. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. If you are running low on time, throw it in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Once the dough is chilled, take on of the discs and transfer it to a piece of parchment paper, cover with a second piece of parchment and flatten to form a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the dough with cookie cutters of choice and place them on the lined baking sheet. These won’t spread too much, if at all. Repeat with second portion of dough. If cookie cut outs are starting to get soft by the time you have finished cutting out all the shapes, pop the baking sheet in the freezer for 10 - 15 minutes to allow the cut outs to firm up. A chilled dough will retain its shape better when baking.

Bake until golden around the edges, approximately 10 - 12 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chinese New Year Shaker Cookies
*1/2 recipe of Blank Canvas Shortbread above
Two square cookie cutters of different sizes (I have this set!)
1/2 cup isomalt crystals
1 tablespoon water
Royal icing, for decorating
Sprinkles of choice, for filling the cookies

For the cookie squares
Make the shortbread dough recipe as listed above.  When rolling out the chilled shortbread dough, roll the dough to just a bit thinner than 1/4-inch thickness. With the larger square cookie cutter, cut out as many large squares as you can and transfer the square cut outs to a lined baking sheet. With the smaller square cookie cutter, punch out a square in the centre of each larger square. It is important that you make the smaller square cut out once the larger square has been transferred to the cookie sheet, or else the cookie will lose its shape when you try to transfer it. Gather the smaller square cut outs that you have removed from the larger square. Re-roll that dough and repeat the previous steps until all the cookie dough has been used up. If the dough starts to get soft, chill the dough again before cutting out the shapes.

Bake the squares for 6 - 7 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are golden. Keep a close eye on the cookies at the 5 minute mark because the cookies are thin and will start browning really quickly. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool completely on the baking sheet before handling. They will be very delicate. Transfer the cookies onto another baking sheet lined with a clean piece of parchment. We will be pouring the isomalt on this surface.

Keep in mind that you will need three squares per shaker cookie:
1. top cookie which will be filled with isomalt and decorated
2. middle cookie to 'raise' the cookie so the sprinkles can move freely inside the cookie
3. bottom cookie which will be filled with isomalt 

For the isomalt
Preheat oven to 265F.

Place the isomalt crystals in a small pot over medium heat and allow the isomalt crystals to melt without stirring them. Once the isomalt is boiling, remove the small pot from heat. Isomalt will be very bubbly. Hold the small pot off of the heat until the bubbles settle down. 

Once the bubbles have settled down, place the pot back down on the burner and stir in the water, a little at a time. Steam will aggressively come off of the sugar as the water is now cooling it down. Isomalt will still be very bubbly.

Reduce the amount of air bubbles in the hot isomalt by placing it in the oven at 265F for 10 minutes. If you skip this step, the bubbles will stay in the isomalt and will harden with the bubbles still visible.  After 10 minutes, carefully remove pot of isomalt from oven and use the isomalt while it is still hot. Carefully pour the hot isomalt into the centres of each cookie cut out and spread the isomalt to the edges and corners of each cookie with a small spoon. If the isomalt starts to thicken, place it back in the oven for 2 - 3 minutes until it liquefies again. Allow the isomalt to cool completely before moving the cookies, at least 10 minutes

Once the isomalt has set, take a piece of paper towel and dab it in a small dish of oil (I use vegetable oil). Gently polish the back side of the isomalt (the side that was on the sheet tray). This will make the isomalt extra clear and see through.

To assemble
Place one isomalt-filled cookie down. Apply royal icing to the edges of the cookie, being cautious to not get any icing on the 'glass.' Stack the hollow cookie before the royal icing dries. Fill your cookie with sprinkles of choice. Attach last isomalt-filled cookie with royal icing to 'seal' the cookie. Decorate the top of each cookie.

Chewy Sesame Cookies
Yields 14 - 16 cookies
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg, yolk and white separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, as needed

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars until creamy and smooth. Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the dry ingredients in two increments and mix until just combined. Chill the dough, covered, for at least one hour.

When dough has been chilled, portion dough into 14 equally-sized dough balls. Dip each ball into egg white before rolling in sesame seeds to cover the entire ball. Transfer covered dough balls to a lined baking sheet, placed 2 inches apart.

Bake dough balls at 325F for 12 - 15 minutes until the edges are a light golden brown and the centres are just set. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for ten minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Happy Lunar New Year!

7 January 2020

A Cookbook Celebration!

I am writing a cookbook. I am writing a cookbook! I am writing a... cookbook! No matter how many times I say it, it will forever feel surreal. I have always intended to share the news sooner, perhaps when I wrote the first recipe or took the first few photos for the book, but fear held me back. This fear almost led me to say no to this cookbook opportunity. It was a fear of inadequacy and a fear of failing but I also wholeheartedly believe it is this same fear that leads to the creation of some of the best work.

I started this book over a year and a half ago and have been working tirelessly on it since. Every moment I was not at my full-time day job, I was working on the book, whether it was recipe developing, photographing, or writing. I would be working on it on a Thursday evening at 1am as well as a Sunday afternoon at 4pm. The book has kept me plenty busy for the past 18 months. I would be lying if I said I did not get frustrated or cried due to exhaustion throughout this process. I would also be lying if I said it did not lead to some of my best work.

I am going to share more details about the book leading up to its release in late April 2020. For now, know that the book is a combination of everything I know and love. I will never forget how this blog began and this book is going to pay homage to that. I have always said that every recipe and story shared on this blog is like a love letter dedicated to all things sweet, and this book is no exception. It is collection of love letters that are sweet to read even sweeter to eat.

To celebrate this news, I created a little party scene with a three-layer cake and a dozen or so of cupcakes. There is an under the sea mermaid party on the layer cake and a group of party animals each with their own handmade party hat on the cupcakes. Originally, I wanted to share these cakes and cupcakes with a decorating tutorial but everything seemed too simple to warrant a dedicated tutorial. The little party hats are made with assorted scrapbook paper with sparkly pom poms attached to the top before they are added to the heads of the farm animal figurines. The layer cake is decorated with porcelain mermaid candles as well as macarons that have a large pearl sprinkle placed in the buttercream layer to resemble an oyster. Let these little party scenes serve as some inspiration but your next celebration that calls for cake.

Lastly, and also most importantly, I want to thank you for following along on this baking journey. Without each of you, this blog would not exist and this upcoming book definitely would not exist. This book is as much mine as it is yours. For that, I am forever grateful.

Happy baking!


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