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:

sugar-cookies-12

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…]┬áMy 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.

sugar-cookies-1

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.

sugar-cookies-2

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.

sugar-cookies-3

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

sugar-cookies-4

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.

sugar-cookies-9

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

sugar-cookies-7

 

sugar-cookies-10

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.

sugar-cookies-11

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.

sugar-cookies-5

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!

A Very Valentine’s Recipe: Bobbette & Belle’s Macarons

Have you ever wondered why macarons are so expensive?

I no longer wonder this. In fact, after making a few variation’s of Bobbette & Belle’s French macarons, I wonder why they aren’t more expensive.

macarons-1

I thought that baking macarons would be a nice Valentine’s treat, but I didn’t expect these little morsels to be so demanding.

I opted to make two types of macarons. The raspberry and double chocolate variations seemed easy enough (ha ha ha ha hahahah), so that’s what I went for. In reality, I ended up making five recipes from Bobbette & Belle’s cookbook. Yes, little macarons are a wee bit labour intensive. I set up my audiobook (Elizabeth Smart’s My Story – captivating, but her narration is abysmal) and went to work.

1. French Macaron Shells

The first step of macaron-making is to prepare the shells. I thought this would be the hardest part, but it was actually the easiest – aside from shelling out $14.99 for a teeny tiny bag of almond flour, which was a little tough to swallow. As per the instructions, I traced 2 inch circles on a parchment sheet and lay them out pencil-side down. I ended up using this template to make sure my circles were as close to perfection as possible.

macaron-2

Some of these circles are not perfect.

The instructions were straightforward and I’d had the foresight to pre-read the directions a few pages later for the raspberry and double chocolate varieties. Since the double chocolate version had me adding cocoa powder mid-way through the original shell recipe, I ended up veering slightly off course around step 4, splitting the recipe in half and dying one set pink while adding cocoa powder to the other.

macaron-3

PIPING TIP: I learned eons ago that the easiest way to fill the bag is to fold the tip over (so that the filling doesn’t spill out) and place the bag in a glass. Fold the top of the bag over and fill your heart out (well, don’t overdo it). Then unfold the bag, remove it, twist the top, and you’re good to go.

Despite my perfect little circles, I was a little inconsistent in my piping. I started off very conservatively and ended up having a fair bit of extra batter. Tip: don’t try “topping up” your smaller shells after you’ve already piped them. You’ll end up with something that looks like the poo emoticon.

SMOOTH TOP TIP: If your piped shells have a Hershey’s kiss cowlick, dip your fingers in water and pat it down softly.

The true test of macaron shells is the presence of a little crust at the bottom – or, as the book says, “the much-desired lacy foot”. I was pleased as punch when I removed my shells from the oven and saw that I had achieved this.

macaron-7

My only real snafu at this stage – aside from irregular piping – was that I forgot the last part of step 5: “Once all the shells are piped, gently tap the bottom of each baking sheet against the counter to knock out any air bubbles and to smooth out the tops”. A few shells were ruined by air bubbles, but that’s okay – those are the shells meant for the bottom.

macaron-8

2. Double Chocolate Macarons

The double chocolate macaron recipe required incorporating cocoa powder in the main shell recipe and filling the shells with a simple chocolate ganache recipe: chocolate and cream. Making the ganache is a one-step recipe and, frankly, it’s hard to screw up.

And yet.

I was supposed to allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (check), then fill a piping bag and “pipe a teaspoon-size dollop of chocolate ganache onto each bottom”. Looking at the consistency of the ganache, I knew there was NO WAY I could put it in the piping bag – it was way too liquidy, even after an hour in the fridge. It would have poured out the end, making a large (and wasteful) mess. Instead, I used a little spoon to scoop a bit on each macaron. It was still quite liquidy. What am I missing?

macaron-14

Why so liquidy?

EXTRA GANACHE TIP: Mix leftover ganache with frothed milk and hot water for a delectable hot chocolate. Bliss.

3. Raspberry Macarons

The raspberry macaron recipe required following the original shell recipe to a tee, adding in a bit of pink food colouring along the way. Easy peasy. Then, it calls for making a raspberry filling using a mix of two recipes: one for buttercream, and one for a puree.

3A. Classic Vanilla Buttercream

Ughhhh, I knew I was going to hate this buttercream recipe because it called for a candy thermometer (it’s a Swiss meringue buttercream). Mine is broken and I haven’t picked up a new one yet. This recipe sort of makes the candy thermometer step seem optional (“… whisk gently until very hot to the touch or a candy thermometer reads 140F”). Okay, we can work with this.

I decided to use a meat thermometer, and when it hit 140F, I did a back up test and touched the egg white sugar mixture to see if it felt “very hot to the touch”. It did. I proceeded to the 10 minute whisking stage. This is supposed to allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, but I think I should have let mine stand a little while longer. (Foreshadowing).

I added the butter, cube by cube, and tossed in the vanilla. But things were not looking good…

3B. Raspberry Puree

Meanwhile, I whipped up a batch of raspberry puree. The recipe is pretty straightforward: buy a large bag of frozen raspberries (because that’s all that is available) and use only 1/2 a cup for the recipe (because you’re only making half a batch). Use raspberries in your morning smoothies for weeks to come.

macaron-6

Alternate use for raspberry puree: Halloween decor

In all seriousness, the recipe is easy, but it seems like you end up with such a pitiful little amount of puree at the end! I had to really rake my hands along the bottom of my sieve to get the juice out.

(Back to the main recipe)

Here we are: buttercream made (but looking dicey), raspberries pureed. Now, we add the raspberries to the buttercream.

macaron-9

It looked… not right. How does one describe this texture? Curdled? Lumpy?

macaron-11

Nonetheless, I filled the piping bag and began to pipe. The curdled buttercream tried to jam out, while the raspberry juice oozed out of the sides, making a liquidy mess.

macaron-12

: (

I ditched the piping bag and spooned on the buttercream. The result was not smooth and pretty like the pictures.

macaron-13

Verdict

My shells were good.

My fillings had some challenges.

My macarons looked okay.

But they tasted AMAZING!!!!!!

macaron-17

Not just any macarons – SQUAMISH macarons!

If I close my eyes, I can almost pretend I bought them at a market in Provence. Even Cedric – who at first resisted the macarons, saying they looked “too sweet” – was converted after popping back a few chocolate ones.

macaron-15

Please note how I tried to display these like they did in the B&B cookbook photo

Will I make them again? Well, I do have half a tiny bag of almond flour left. I’ll probably make them again in several months when I forget how much work they are. I can try some of the trickier variations, like the Earl Grey macarons and the Pistachio Cream macarons (praytell – where does on obtain “pure pistachio paste” in Squamish?)

macaron-16