Bobbette & Belle’s Decorative Sugar Cookies: Valentine’s Cookies from the Heart (puns!!!)

I know everyone thinks that their mom is great, but mine really is.

For example, she made my lunch for school every day until the day I graduated Grade 12. From time to time, she would surprise me with a decorated cookie in my lunch box (store bought – my mom is an exquisite cook, but a reluctant baker).

After high school, I moved across the country – and for special occasions, my mom would ship me holiday-themed decorated sugar cookies in the mail. She’d often include one for whatever roommate I had at the time, too. And sometimes, I even managed to save the extra one for the roommate and not eat it myself!

A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, I received a parcel in the mail with a couple of these beauties:

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Frankly, it made my day – and it inspired me to try my hand at baking my own special cookies for a few of my beloved Galetines.

I have long admired people who pipe and flood beautiful cookies, but I have never really given it a try myself. One of my goals for 2018 (besides measuring my ingredients by weight, not by volume) is to work at making my baking more “pretty”. [Note – yes, I wrote this blog post LAST YEAR for Valentine’s Day…] My baked goods usually taste wonderful (which is the top priority, I would argue), but they are sometimes lackluster from an aesthetic point of view. Prettily piped cookies seemed them to be a good exercise for flexing my beautiful baking muscles.

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I was surprised to find that my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – a book devoted entirely to cookies – didn’t have a simple sugar cookie recipe. Too simple for Dorie, maybe. Luckily, my Bobbette & Belle cookbook has a recipe for Decorative Sugar Cookies. Theirs includes piped flowers, those little silver balls, and some edible gold paint. Mine would be simpler, but still pretty (I hoped).

All too often, sugar cookies are more about the decorations than the taste, but this is actually a wonderful, flavourful recipe. And it’s easy to whip together, too.

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First, you cream butter and sugar together until it is nice and fluffy. You add an egg and some vanilla, then mix in some flour/baking powder/salt.

That’s it! Those are all the ingredients! Easy peasy.

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The dough looks really crumbly, but if you pour it out onto some plastic wrap and smush it together, it comes together just fine.

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It has to chill in the fridge (literally and figuratively) for at least an hour before you can play with it, but one it has had a chance to rest, it is pretty easy to work with.

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I kept my shapes simple: two sizes of cookie cutter hearts.

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The cookies were baked until just barely golden (well… some of them were more golden than others), and while they cooled, I started working on the icing.

Making the icing was easy. Getting it to the right flooding consistency was HARD!

I kept it relatively simple by sticking to just two colours: white and pink. I filled a piping bag with each, only to discover that it was way too thick for proper flooding.

No problem – it’s easier to thin out icing than it is to thicken it, so I just squeezed out the bags and added some water. That should do it…

Not. The icing was still too thick to achieve the flood consistency. Impatience prevailed (the probable cause of my inability to make pretty baked things), and I started piping anyways. I decided to go for a minimalist approach and just outline the cookies. They looked nice, but plain.

I had heaps of leftover icing, so I started playing around with a few, and guess what? They kind of flooded! Only because I’d already outlined all of them (and the outlines were setting), it was impossible to achieve the perfect flood.

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Don’t mind old bite marks in the top right…

So I decided to just have fun with it – after all, that’s how you learn, right? I doodled on my cookies for at least an hour, then realized that my day was wasting away rather quickly and I still had a large to do list to accomplish. I ended up tossing quite a bit of icing, which was disappointing and wasteful.

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Next time, I’ll devote more time to piping. I haven’t given up hope and the cookies are so simple to make that I’m sure I’ll get the chance to give it another go soon.

Luckily, my Valentines aren’t too critical – they loved the cookies, so all’s well ends well.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mom!

Game On: Bread Illustrated’s Ultimate Cinnamon Buns

When a recipe uses a superlative like “Ultimate” in its title, I tend to be a little skeptical.

But in this case, I found the Ultimate Cinnamon Bun recipe claim to be intriguing. That’s because I’ve been on an unofficial quest of sorts to find the best cinnamon buns in the Sea to Sky.

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My search has ranged from disappointing (I once got a cinnamon bun that didn’t have any cinnamon in it) to satisfactory, but few have really WOWED me. The cinnamon bun from Hot Buns that I was served at the finish line of the Comfortably Numb Trail Run is the exception – it was extremely delicious and the best I’ve had, thus far, in the region. The best I’ve found in Squamish thus far is from Zephyr Cafe – somewhat surprising, as they’re known more from their healthy veggie stuff than their sweets.

While I am no cinnamon bun newbie, I’ll admit to being somewhat of an amateur when it comes to baking my own buns. I can only recall making cinnamon buns once before at a friend’s house. We couldn’t believe how long the dang recipe took to put together. In fact, the Bread Illustrated one took even longer – two days – but that seems about par for course with most of the breads in the book. I am no longer phased by multiday recipes – is there a badge for that?

(Note – it is possible to bake this recipe all in one long day, but I’ll explain why I opted for the two-day method later in this post.)

I’ve wanted to try the ultimate cinnamon buns for quite some time now, but based on that first baking experience, I knew that if I baked eight cinnamon buns, there was a good chance I would eat all eight in a single day (seven, maybe, if Cedric could intercept). Even I have my limits, so I waited patiently until a day where we had a total of six people staying over at our house.

The recipe makes a great big ball of enriched dough – meaning it’s got the usual flour, yeast, and salt, but also some whole milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and even some cornstarch (that’s a first!). After rising, you stretch out the heaping yellow ball of dough into an 18″ x 18″ square. You coat it with soft butter (I did this with my hands – oddly satisfying), then sprinkle on a hefty dusting of the filling, which is comprised of brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Then you roll, cut, and rise.

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A note on this part: I trimmed the doughy ends of the rolled log of pastry. They didn’t have any filling (i.e., good stuff) and this allowed them to sit flush in the baking pan.

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You can see the neglected ends cast off to the side…

At the second rising stage, when the buns have been rolled and sliced, you have two options: let it rise an hour, then bake, or let it rise in the fridge between 16 and 24 hours, then bake. Since nothing beats freshly baked cinnamon buns, I opted for the latter. This required me to get up a little early, since the buns have to be taken out an hour before baking. I timed the thawing with the oven pre-heating process, then baked the buns for 37 minutes (a happy medium between the suggested 35 to 40 minutes).

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I had pre-made the cream cheese glaze the day before, and I was planning on following the directions, which say to pour half of the glaze onto the just-out-of-the-oven cinnamon buns, then wait half an hour and spread on the rest – but the cinnamon buns smelled SO GOOD and we were all ready to eat. We all iced our own cinnamon buns to taste, and I didn’t have any issues with the icing melting in. Maybe that’s because we ate them rather quickly – if you’re making these ahead of time, you’ll probably want to let them sit before the final frost.

However, if that’s the route you chose, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re making a terrible mistake – there are few things in life as decadent as a fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon bun. In this particular case, some of the filling melts and pools around the base of the bun, acting as a slightly chewy caramel sauce that undoubtedly would not be as satisfying after cooling. If you think that sounds like a mess to clean, not to worry – the recipe calls for a clever sling of foil over the pan, making clean up easy peasy.

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I know what you’re wondering: are these really the ULTIMATE cinnamon buns? Yes. Yes they are. The dough is light and fluffy and perfect. The filling is perfection and the ratio of bun to filling is just so. The icing is excellent, the portion sizes are generous, and all is right in the world. I received many compliments and zero complaints from my fellow cinnamon bun testers.

I have had very few recipes fall short of fantastic from the Bread Illustrated cookbook – and when that is the case, it’s usually something I did on my end. It is nice to be able to rely on a recipe – you don’t have to test it out before serving it to guests, because it’s probably going to turn out very well. Keep up the good work, Bread Illustrated!

Bobbette & Belle’s Classic Hummingbird Cupcakes with Sour Cream Frosting

There was a time I considered myself a Cupcake Queen. No matter the occasion, I brought cupcakes – the more decadent, the better (think chocolate peanut butter cupcakes with peanut butter cups both hidden within the cake and perched atop the icing).

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These days, I identify more as a Bread Baroness, if you will. Though my sweet tooth has not disappeared altogether, it has moved towards the back of my mouth to make room for various iterations of salt, water, yeast, and flour.

But on occasion – a friend’s birthday, usually – I dig deep into that drawer under the oven to unearth my cupcake tin to see if she still has another dozen cakes in her. And she always does.

The last time I made cupcakes was in February, when I whipped up Bobbette & Belle’s Piped Rose Lemon Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes (not the aforementioned diabetes-inducing one). This time, I decided to try my hand at another B&B recipe: the Classic Hummingbird Cupcakes.

This recipe is most curious – it is the only one in the cupcake chapter NOT to have a photo demonstrating the final product. I wonder why: last minute book addition? Disastrous hard drive crash? Dropped the final product on the floor? While it’s a little unsettling to not know what your bake is supposed to look like, it also allows a little freedom, which is a nice thing.

I think the idea of spirit animals is kind of dumb, but if I had to choose a spirit animal for myself, it would be the hummingbird, largely because they thrive on sugar. Luckily, the hummingbird cupcakes don’t contain any birds – they traditionally contain an apparently hummingbirdly combination of banana and pineapple. The Bobbette & Belle version also throws in coconut and pecans, and promises the recipe acts “as a nice alternative to carrot cake”.

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Making the cake is very simple; in addition to the ‘bird ingredients, the usual suspects apply: all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, sugar, an egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla. After all the bread I’ve been baking, it felt so modest to use just one cup of flour in a recipe.

I’m sure there’s a reason that this recipe uses vegetable oil and not butter, but I don’t know what it is. It felt kind of weird to “cream” sugar with the oil (and egg and vanilla right away). The directions are a little vague (“beat on medium-low speed until creamy”) – I beat it for about three minutes, but it wasn’t sufficiently creamy for my tastes, so I boosted the power level and kept going for another couple of minutes. The flour is added in stages, then the hummingbirds are added (crushed pineapple with juice, mashed ripe banana, finely chopped pecans, and flaked coconut). Bake for 20 minutes, and ta-da: hummingbird cupcakes.

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The icing was a point of contention: it called for sour cream frosting.

Really? Sour cream? For icing?

When it comes to icing, I prefer cream cheese to buttercream every time. People think they like buttercream more, but I believe that in a blind taste test, they would choose cream cheese. The name throws people off – and I was hoping the same thing was happening to me with the whole sour cream thing.

I’m not a fan of sour cream. When a recipe calls for it, I almost always sub in plain Greek yogurt instead. But when it comes to baking, I like to stay loyal to the ingredient list – and B&B said that “the addictive sour cream frosting [is] our twist on the traditional cream cheese frosting”.

I had to trust that they were leading me down the right path. In the recipe description for the sour cream frosting, they promised “it’s sure to become a favourite”. So I took a leap of faith.

Though I was trusting them blindly, I probably should have opened an eye to read through the recipe carefully ahead of time. The first step: drain the sour cream in a sieve with cheesecloth in the fridge overnight. Not only did I not have time for this, but I also didn’t have cheesecloth. I compromised by draining the sour cream for an hour in a few layers of paper towel.

The temperature directions are a little finicky, too: for the sour cream, you are to “bring almost to room temperature”, and the butter is meant to be “cool room temperature”. Other ingredients include lemon juice, vanilla, salt, and icing sugar.

Things looked good as I creamed the butter and the sour cream, but when I added the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt, the mix started to look a little curdled. This has happened to me before when making icing, and I’ve learned that you just need to keep mixing through the curdledness. I persevered until things were a little better, though still not 100% smooth. Luckily, everything worked itself out when I added in the icing sugar. As a bonus, I threw in an extra teaspoon of pineapple juice – YOLO.

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Without visual aids to guide my icing, I had free reign. I chose to colour the icing yellow (kind of banana/pineapple/lemony, right?) and I consulted YouTube for ideas on how to decorate the cupcakes. I didn’t want to pick something overly labour intensive, so I settled on this pretty – but very easy – flower, which is piped using a simple round tip.

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Now, the fun part: taste testing the creation.

Scrumptious. Absolutely delicious. The cake is moist and not too sweet; the chopped pecans are the key to texture perfection. Lo and behold, the icing was really, really good. It pairs wonderfully with the cake and it certainly leans more towards cream cheese than sugar sweet buttercream.

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At times like this, I wonder why I don’t make cupcakes more often!

Bobbette & Belle’s Lemon Tea Cakes

The verdict is in: Bobbette & Belle’s Lemon Tea Cakes are amazing. They’re so good, I made them twice. Sort of.

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After the pretty lemon cupcakes, I was reminded at just how delicious lemony baked goods are, so I decided to continue on this theme of deliciousness.

Before I continue, I’d like to give a shout out to the three most delicious lemon things I’ve ever eaten:

  1. My old roommate Casey’s mom’s lemon squares.
  2. The lemon squares from The Lemon Square – worth every penny, remortgage your home if you have to.
  3. The lemon cupcakes at my friend Jessica’s wedding, which I have already written about.

The Lemon Tea Cakes recipe has a picture of five lovely lemon loaves, and the recipe says “Makes 8 to 10 small loaves or 14 to 16 mini loaves”. I was only intending on feeding my book club group and to provide some snacks for myself and Cedric – 8 to 16 loaves seemed slightly excessive. So I decided to halve the recipe.

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The result: it produced enough batter for a single loaf in an 8 x 4 pan. So I made it again. Apparently, I don’t know what a small loaf is. I also learned that 14 to 16 mini loaves = 2 regular loaves. The more you know!

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This is what half the recipe produces.

Luckily, I didn’t mind making the recipe twice since it was quite easy. A few tips:

  • You have to grease and lightly flour the pan. I can’t remember where I read this little trick, but if you unwrap a stick of butter, the foil wrapper is perfect for greasing a pan.
  • Try to remember to take out the buttermilk, butter, and eggs ahead of time, as they need to be room temperature. I always forget to do this!

The key to making this recipe delicious is, without a doubt, the use of 1/4 cup FRESH lemon juice and 1/3 cup lemon zest – they claim you need 6 to 8 lemons to produce this amount of zest, but I guess I used mammoth lemons because I only needed 2 to 3. Don’t even think about using that pre-squeezed lemon juice stuff! Just don’t do it. Lemons can seem expensive, but if you buy them in the bigger bulk bags, they’re not so bad. Plus, if you’re going to the effort of baking lemon loaves, it’s worth springing on real lemons.

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Get it? Lemons in the background because it’s lemon loaf!

I baked the loaves for about 45 minutes, which is more than the 20-25 minutes for mini loaves and 30-35 minutes from the small loaves – but by now, I already knew that my loaf pan was giant and would require more cooking time.

The lemon glaze is the hardest part. It’s not the making it part that’s hard – that’s actually very easy – it’s waiting for the loaves to cool COMPLETELY and then letting the glaze set for an extra 30 minutes. It’s agonizing, but it’s totally worth it.

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I love baking loaves, and I can say with certainty that I will absolutely be making these lemon tea cakes again. Five stars!

Bobbette & Belle’s Piped Rose Lemon Cupcakes

Not long ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for my dear friend Charlotte. Charlotte is a special friend for many reasons, one of which is that she was my partner in crime for the Quarter Life Crisis Euro Trip of 2012.

(And by partner in crime I mean we went to bed by 10 PM most nights. But we had so much fun! And so much inexpensive rosé!)

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Magnifique!

I assumed the role of cupcake provider for the party. I hadn’t yet cracked the cupcake chapter of the Bobbette & Belle cookbookBobbette & Belle cookbook (which I’ve been working my way throughworking my way through for several weeks now), and this seemed like to perfect occasion to try a few recipes. I settled on two different types. Today, I present the Piped Rose Lemon Cupcakes. I’ll cover the second type in another post.

I love lemon cupcakes. A few years ago, I was maid of honour in my friend Jessica’s wedding. My #1 favourite task as maid of honour was partaking in the cupcake tasting. This is when I fell in love with lemon cupcakes (thankfully, they made the cut and I got to eat another one at the wedding). Despite them being my favourite cupcake flavour, I have never tried to bake them until now.

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The Bobbette & Belle recipe calls for 24 mini cupcakes, but I opted to make 12 full sizers instead. The baking time (20 minutes) was still suitable.

Making the cupcakes was easy enough. This recipe is a little more involved than your typical cupcake recipe because you have to separate the eggs, whisk the egg whites into a meringue, then fold the whole she-bang together. It’s a few extra steps, but it’s not particularly difficult. The result is a thick, almost mousse-like batter.

The lemon taste – from 1.5 tsp of lemon zest and 2 tbsp of lemon juice – is definitely present, but it’s not over the top. In short, the cake was delicious. Everything went as it was supposed to.

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The icing was not quite so straightforward.

I had two areas of concern going into the icing portion of this recipe:

  1. The recipe called for the same Swiss meringue buttercream base as the icing I used when baking the macarons. That had turned out disastrously.
  2. The picture in the recipe showed adorable piped roses. I wanted Charlotte’s cupcakes to be pretty flowers, too, but I’d never attempted this before.

Let’s begin with the first challenge. I made a few adjustments from my last attempt:

  1. I purchased a new candy thermometer. In hindsight, the one I got was a little big, but it did the job.
  2. I bought the most expensive butter at Craig’s, which was presumably the best quality (my aunt had warned me that cheaper butter may not do the trick).
  3. I let the icing cool for extra long during the whisking phase.

This did appear to help – to some degree. Upon finishing the Classic Vanilla Buttercream recipe, I did, indeed, have some fine looking vanilla buttercream before me. But I wasn’t done yet.

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Returning to the Piped Rose Lemon Cupcakes recipe, I now was at the stage where I was to hand-whisk half a cup of fresh lemon juice into the icing. I squeezed the right amount of lemon juice out and got to whisking. The lemon juice absolutely refused to incorporate with the icing, similarly to how the raspberry puree had behaved with the macarons. It was like oil and water. I was left with somewhat uglier buttercream that appeared to be sweating lemon juice, with a pool of lemon juice at the bottom of the bowl.

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WHYYYYY! I tried incorporating my KitchenAid mixer and even it could not salvage this sloppy mess.

Now, onto the roses. The book includes a pretty simplistic overview of how to pipe lovely roses, but I knew this was a job better suited for YouTube. I watched a few videos and got the general idea behind the technique. I pulled out my piping tips (which are apparently called nozzles) and looked for the appropriate one.

Since I’d never actually piped roses before, I had never realized that I didn’t HAVE the right tip (nozzle) to do it! The closest thing I had was a mini bitty plastic tip that was way too small to produce large rose petals. No problem – I’d just make some other, rose-like type of flower.

Now, the mini tip was too small to be used with my usual piping bag. The only one I had that could fit it was a flimsy bag that I’d only used once or twice. I filled it with some buttercream, let some lemon juice drip out of the nozzle, then got to work.

What seemed relatively simple in the YouTube videos was actually much trickier in real life. I found myself spinning the cupcakes rather than spinning my wrist – somehow, that felt easier. Petal after petal, my hand started to cramp. Worse, tiny holes appeared to be forming in my piping bag. Lemon juice dripped down my hand, and icing strings as narrow as angel hair pasta began to ooze out of the sides of the bag.

Halfway through the 12th and final cupcake, a large hole formed on the side of the bag. More icing poured out of this hole than came out of the tip. That was perfectly fine – after all, we needed a tester cupcake to sample the goods.

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I stepped back and surveyed my work. For my first attempt, I thought I’d done a pretty good job. You could definitely tell they were supposed to be flowers, so that was positive. They certainly weren’t as lovely as the flowers in the picture, but I trusted that the people at the party wouldn’t critique me too harshly.

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Sneak peek of the other cupcakes in the background of this one…

Final verdict:

  • The cake was great. The meringue technique felt advanced but was actually easy, and the texture of the cupcake was perfection.
  • The icing was a gong show to make, but it all worked out okay. If I did it again, I’d probably use a different icing recipe.
  • I’m definitely going to work on my flower piping. First step: buy the appropriate nozzle.