Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summertime in North Carolina!

This should be me on this Saturday afternoon...
But it's not... Because everyone knows only bears swim in the rain!
That's right... It's another rainy weekend in North Carolina!
While today's forecast does not favor pool fun, it's been a long time
since our gardens have been this lush and green so close to August!
Moisture like this is terrific for the gardens; however, our creek has not been able
to handle heavy rains the way it did before a developer came in and altered the
landscape of this little valley we live in. Now, rain like this makes us very nervous!
Fortunately, the rain is slowing down now so things are calming down!
That wasn't the case earlier today...
As evidenced by this large log stuck in this tree!
When we lived in Monterey, I always wished our house was
closer to the ocean. For twenty years I longed for a water view...
However, now that our once babbling creek has turned into something
resembling Six Flags' roaring rapids and, there are waves breaking
so close to my tranquil little koi pond, I'm rethinking the whole thing!
Even my Chippy is struggling to stay high and dry!
I hope the sun is shining where you are this weekend!

When Martha by Mail Copper Cookie Cutters Find You!

I am always on the look-out for vintage Martha by Mail cookie cutters to
add to my collection. The list of reasons I love them is a very long, long list!
Each time Army dad and I walk into an antique shop, the last thing I do
before we wander off in different directions is remind him to scream if
he happens to notice any copper cookie cutters. Of course, I've yet to
hear him scream because I usually cover the entire inventory of the
shop before he finishes examining a handful of dusty old books!
Being unable to drive or stand since a tear in my Achilles was diagnosed, I
never dreamed I would find cookie cutters during my convalescence...
However, a note left with one of the guys at a local antique shop about my
interest in them caught the eye of one of the vendors last week... Someone
who happened to buy a storage locker containing a treasure trove of cutters!
When he called to ask if I would be interested in taking a look at them
before he put them out for sale, I couldn't say YES and PLEASE fast
enough. Of course, I gave him cookies to show my appreciation too!
Most of the cutters were vintage giant copper cutters!
Sadly, many of these cutters are duplicates for shapes I already own!
I picked out the cutters I intend to keep and create cookies with but
decided to share the rest with other collectors through e-Bay. I am
hoping this will help fund future cookie cutter expeditions I have
planned in my quest to complete my Martha by Mail collection!
Of the shapes I didn't have... I especially like this crescent moon. It's
different than my Martha by Mail moon since it features a star tip!
Oh! And, how about this giant Gnome? Dani Fiori of Sweet Dani B
brought gnome cookies back in the cutest way! Have you seen her
darling Gnome couple? You can see Dani decorate sweet Gnomi here!
Fortunately, Dani partnered with so they offer a
collection of her Sweet Dani B cutters; including Dani's Gnomes!
No, I don't think this chubby witch cutter resembles me, thank you very
much! But yes... There was icing on the cookie cutters that found me!
And, it came in the form of this fantastic, yet sadly incomplete set of
Martha by Mail Evergreen trees. You can see my complete set here!
These cutters were found loose, without box. But do have the decorating booklet!
After locating the Evergreen cookie cutters, I noticed these Martha by Mail
leaves cutters were in the box too! Again, the set is not complete but
did come with its decorating card. As you know from this post, I
already own this set so it will also be put up for sale!
What will not be for sale is this last set I found in the box!!
Yes!! At the very bottom of the box was a very perfect and a very
complete Martha by Mail Blooming Flower cutter set! I still cannot
get over the fact that it is finally part of my beloved collection. There
was no box and I still need the decorating card for it... But that's okay!
The final treat my wonderful treasure hunter delivered is
this set of 13 Martha by Mail copper wall hooks. I mean...
For as much as we collectors of vintage Martha by Mail cookie cutters
pay for them... We may as well display them to admire all the time!
Don't you just love it when treasures find you? To me,
all this copper goodness feels like pennies from heaven!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Martha's Martha by Mail Dog Cookies as Cake toppers and Party Favors!

As difficult as it was to let the dog cookies I created go...
Today was that day!
I've planned for weeks a cake to present to a very
special person on her very special birthday...
Sadly, before the day could come, I was side-lined by a
tear in my Achilles tendon and some other unpleasant
things confirmed by the MRI done of my right foot...
Nevertheless, this dog-themed party cake for the most terrific boss
and dog-lover I know was going to happen... One way or another!
Thankfully, my better half didn't mind being my runner! Not sure he
realized being my runner meant 5,000 trips between the kitchen and my
baking pantry. But somehow we made it through... Like we always do!
The cake I made for Ranger's homecoming a few weeks
was so good it qualified for this very special occasion too!
If you don't already follow Robyn's blog, allow me to introduce you
via her The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe Ever, which you'll find here!
As for the puppies that would decorate this best-ever chocolate
cake... The competition was stiff and the judging was RUFF!
However, these five contestants rose to the top to take their divisions!
With my boss's precious Sweetpea winning top honors and Best in Show!
Now to assemble and get this cake over to
the office in time... On one foot no less!
I couldn't resist using these dog-bone
sprinkles from!
Almost there...
Add a few of those marbled dog bone cookies I created using
David's recipe and drizzled with white chocolate this morning...
Take another quick look at Fifi the poodle...
And, this collection of canines is ready to celebrate!
Although I couldn't be there to help celebrate her special day, I
sincerely hope my boss and her amazing team enjoyed these treats!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

OuiSugar Royal Icing Recipe

When I need Oodles of Poodles or a Kennel of Collies, my go-to
cookie cutters is Dog Set #1 from my Martha by Mail collection!
There are still quite a few Martha by Mail cookie cutter sets I'm desperate
to find to complete my collection but every set I already own is cherished!
I released the pooches from the safety of my baking pantry to create cookies
for one of the most ardent dog lovers I know. In fact, since she often spends her
weekends giving goats mani-pedi's at a friend's farm, this person also qualifies
as the biggest animal-lover I know! Last year for her birthday, I attempted this
dog cake. But if you read that post, then you already know it was an epic fail!
So for my friend's birthday confection this year...
I'm sticking with something I know... Cookies!
There's a cake too but we'll get to that a little later. For now, I want to share
with you something I get asked about all the time... My royal icing recipe!
If you've ever tried to work with royal icing you may know that it can be a bit
fussy. And, you may also know that following some of the recipes out there
can lead to plenty of frustration and lots and lots of wasted ingredients...
So let's talk about how to achieve royal icing worthy of our cookies!
First of all, do not depend on a box or bag of powdered sugar to actually
be a pound (or two pounds) of sugar. I've found a two pound bag of sugar
can weigh almost a quarter pound more! Also, sifting powdered sugar is
not optional. To achieve smooth royal icing, sifting is absolutely essential!
My recipe does not depend on pound measurements at all... To
create perfect royal icing, I measure my powdered sugar in cups!
In my opinion, whether you use meringue powder or egg whites, royal icing
leaves a lot to be desired in terms of taste. Personally, I believe the culprit
to be the sugar. I used to add extracts to flavor my royal icing; however, I've
found that fresh lemon juice is the only way to achieve a truly delicious icing!
If you have your heart set on a vanilla or almond flavored royal icing you can still
add those extracts (as long as they are clear/colorless) but do yourself a favor and
keep the lemon juice! It adds a little zip and a clean-tasting finish to royal icing!
Make sure you use a press with strainer to ensure
no seeds or bits of pulp escape into your icing!
For my recipe, I use 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and 9 tablespoons
of warm/hot water and I never convert the tablespoons into cups!
I confess to being raw-egg phobic when it comes to using them in recipes that
require no cooking... Therefore, I rely on meringue powder for my royal icing!
Measure out seven tables spoons of meringue powder into
eight cups of sifted powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer...
Whisk the powdered sugar and meringue powder to incorporate and then
add 9 tablespoons of warm/hot water and 3 tablespoons of fresh-squeed
lemon juice. I use warm/hot water because I believe it helps to dissolve the
sugar better, for a creamier/smoother result. I also recommend you mix your
icing on medium speed and only until it comes together and begins to shine...
Those other recipes that instruct to mix on high speed for 10-12 minutes only
produce dry, brittle and broken royal icing. Trust me... 4-5 minutes is all you need!
After it is mixed, I immediately transfer my icing to quart-size
containers. These containers make it easier to keep my icing
air-tight because air is the enemy of royal icing before it's used!
My recipe yields 1.25 quarts of icing, which is plenty to ice two dozen
5-inch cookies. Remember this... It is always better to have too much
icing than too little. I find that when I'm worried about whether or
not I have enough icing, my decorating becomes less creative. When
there's plenty of icing to experiment with more colors/designs... I do!
After loading my icing into containers, I tap the bottom of them on the
counter to remove air pockets and settle the icing. Then, I press plastic
wrap directly onto the surface of the icing and seal it all up with a lid!
How you store your royal icing is just as important as the recipe you
use. I also do my best not to tint more icing than I need because after
it is tinted, royal icing is almost impossible to keep for more than a
few hours. To store not-tinted icing overnight, I first make sure it is
completely covered with plastic wrap, the lid is on tight and then I
turn the container up-side-down and place it into the refrigerator!
Refrigerated royal icing will keep up to two days. I don't find it
necessary to let my icing come to room temperature before using
it but I always give it a few stirs with a spoon to ensure there's no
separation of the sugar and liquid... And, to get it moving again!
Remember too that temperature and humidity play a big
part in how royal icing behaves. I find that as long as I am
comfortable playing in my kitchen my royal icing will be too!
Before I publish my royal icing recipe for
you I want to leave you with this tip...
Seriously though... When I need only a tiny bit of icing to
complete a cookie, I avoid messing up a clean bottle or
using another decorating bag by loading just the tip!
After the tip is filled, I attach it to one of my decorating bottles...
And, go to work to...
Finish my cookie! After I'm finished, all I have to clean is
the tip and bottle coupler. If a little icing gets on the rim of
the bottle, I just wipe it clean with a damp paper towel!
If you would like to give my royal icing a try to achieve
decorating results like the ones I'm about to share with you...
Grab a pen and write this down!
Measure 8 Cups of sifted Powdered Sugar
into the bowl of your stand mixer...
Add to the sugar, 7 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
Whisk the sugar and meringue powder gently to incorporate...
Add 9 Tablespoons of warm/hot water to this mixture...
Add 3 Tablespoons of fresh-squeezed Lemon Juice...
And, mix on medium speed, using the paddle attachment for your mixer...
Mix 4-5 minutes or just until your icing comes together and begins to shine!
You're looking for a pearly, glossy shine and...
The consistency of smooth peanut butter or toothpaste!
Transfer your icing to quart-sized containers
If you don't have them, a bowl is fine
Cover by pressing plastic wrap directly onto the surface of your icing...
Seal with a lid...
Or another piece of plastic wrap if covering a bowl
Until ready for use!
Remember, I've put together a comprehensive cookie decorating
kit that includes everything you need to decorate cookies like I do... The
first time and every time! Also, my recipes and all of my decorating tips
have been compiled into a 36-page, illustrated guide you can get here!