Recipe: Earl Grey Shortbread

September 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

I recently made a thank-you package of cookies to send to the gracious couple who hosted us in Atlanta during Dragon*Con (thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Davis!) and while I was at it I thought I’d post the recipes for the cookies that I made! I made three types of cookie, and I’ll do a post for each recipe, starting with….

Earl Grey Shortbread

Many people believe that nothing is more pleasant than a cup of tea and a good book, but I have to confess that it’s difficult to feel enthusiastic about hot tea when it’s 100F+ every day for months! Fortunately these little cookies make an excellent alternative. They melt in your mouth and they’re easy to make–the dough comes together in minutes. Just be careful not to get crumbs on the pages…

This is an adaptation of a Claire Robinson recipe from the Food Network. The original recipe calls for loose tea leaves and a food processor—I eliminated both by using the contents of tea bags, and I don’t think it hurt the recipe at all. I still got a delicious cookie with a light tea flavor.  The original recipe also calls for rolling the dough into a log and slicing off cookies, but I scooped out cookies with a teaspoon, rolled them into balls, and then pressed them between my palms.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 Tablespoons or the contents of 2 to 3 bags of Earl Grey tea (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

sugar (if desired)

Using a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour, tea, and salt, until the tea is just spotted throughout the flour. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and butter. Mix together at medium speed, just until a dough is formed. Use a teaspoon to scoop up dough and roll each scoop into a ball, then press it flat between your palms OR roll the dough into a log in plastic wrap, chill for half an hour, and then slice off cookies about 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart, and sprinkle with sugar (if desired). Bake until the edges are just barely brown–about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks (just slide the entire piece of parchment paper off of the cookie sheet and onto the wire rack) and cool to room temperature.

Makes about four dozen.

Store in an airtight container–these cookies keep very well! Not that they’ll last long, unless you hide them…

Serve with a cup of tea, a sunny corner, a comfortable chair, and a good book.

Keep Calm and Carry On: A Bag

September 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

I keep promising myself that I’ll do more crafts, and take more pictures, and then post more, and maybe even get caught up on that craft project that I was doing….

….but I don’t. Because I am a bad blogger. On other hand, this blog is an exercise in vanity to a certain extent–it’s not like I have an audience depending on me for inspiration. So I try not to worry too much. And I’ve been working so many hours that it’s a miracle whenever I do any crafts at all, so. It’s an even bigger miracle when I take some pictures of my crafts, especially since I habitually make things in the middle of the night, when the lighting is terrible.

Oh well. I will just post bad pictures! Because I can, and I want to show you what I made. I made it at 2am, the night before I left to drive to Atlanta for Dragon*Con (I got an hour and a half of sleep–thank goodness that I didn’t have to drive at all! I had fourteen hours to sleep in the car on the way), because I was determined to have an appropriate bag to carry over the weekend.

And here it is:

If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog…well, 1) why are you here instead of watching it? and 2) you don’t get this bag. But in short, it’s a quote from Dr. Horrible, styled to reference the famous Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

Which, by the way, is a thing that I love. In fact I loved it before it was cool (/hipster).  Not only do I love the original poster, I love the many variation on it, as you can see by the poster hanging over my bed, behind the bag (it says ‘Keep Calm and Don’t Blink’, a reference to a Doctor Who Episode). There are three more in my room (the original, ‘Now Panic and Freak Out’, and ‘Keep Calm and Carry Yarn’). So when I saw this t-shirt I had to have it. Unfortunately it looked awful on me! It was designed to be displayed on a flat surface, which is something that I am…not. I have too much curvature to be a good display surface, so of course I had to find another use for my awesome shirt.

I actually have a whole stack of t-shirts that I want to make into bags, so I’ll try to make a tutorial next time–it was surprisingly simple! Except that I couldn’t find the cutting mat, and it was 2am, and I was using a cardboard box (which was just not the same), so it was actually difficult and frustrating, but it didn’t have to be. And it turned out okay!

It's 3am, I have my bag, my suitcase, and my real-clothes-that-feel-like-pajamas road trip outfit on...I wonder what I should do next?

And it coordinates with the patch on my bag! After much searching I found the perfect suitcase for me–almost. I wanted it to have a splash of color, something that would make it distinctive and easy to spot, and after glancing around my room, I knew what would be perfect.

It’s a Keep Calm and Carry On patch on a carry-on suitcase. It’s so brilliant that I will be laughing at my own joke forever.

The awesome patch came from the wonderful SteamPatchCompany, where the quality is high and the service excellent. Thank you so much, SteamPatchCompany!

A Little Firefly Shindig – with cake!

August 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

So, if you know me from anywhere else on the internet then you already know, but last week we celebrated my friend Angela’s birthday with a little Firefly-themed shindig! And it was awesome! In fact, it was shiny.

If you have no idea what Firefly is, then go forth and watch it. All of it. Then come back. We’ll wait.

…awesome, isn’t it?

It was very much a laid-back, small scale event for us—Chinese take-out, fresh fruit (strawberries!), cake, and party games while Firefly played on the TV.

My big project, which was a surprise for Angela, was a doll cake based on the fluffy ball dress that Kaylee wears in the episode ‘Shindig’!

Jewel Staite as Kaylee in the Firefly episode 'Shindig'

Ta-da!

She’s a vanilla sponge cake, carved into shape and then filled and covered with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The doll came from the dollar store, and once upon a time she was a mermaid with really terrible hair–she came with a ponytail, so other than a ring of hair around the top of her head she was bald! I colored the bald spot with a brown marker, then used a hot glue gun to glue her hair into place (carefully covering her scalp). Then I trimmed her hair, cutting off the ugly matted fresh-from-the-box curls and making it the right length for Kaylee.

While I was gluing things I also glued all of the doll’s joints, and forced one of her arms to one side and glued it in place so that she could have a pose that didn’t look like a stiff-armed zombie! In fact I was so busy gluing and icing things that I didn’t take a single progress picture, but you’d rather look at more pictures of the finished cake, right? I thought so!

I didn’t time my cake decorating, but I estimate that I spent about an hour and a half piping the ruffles onto her skirt, then another hour and a half altering the doll and decorating her bodice (the single most time consuming part of the doll? getting icing onto her torso and making it smooth!). I know that I worked on the cake from about 4pm until 8pm, and I watched all of Wall-E while I did the bodice. My favorite part was making the ruffles–they were so fun! I could have piped ruffles for hours.

My hand was definitely hurting the next day, but it was worth it!

Birthday girl & cake!

There were also chocolate cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese icing, complete with parasols (another reference to the Firefly character Kaylee)…

Angela made a gorgeous Inara in her sari!

So elegant!

 I decided to portray a character who doesn’t actually appear in the show–“Ma Cobb”. In the Firefly episode ‘The Message’, Jayne Cobb, the rough-around-the-edges-and-he-is-entirely-made-of-edges tough guy, gets a package from his mother containing a very cunning hat:

"Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything."

Imagining the tough old salt-of-the-earth woman who would raise a son like Jayne and send him a hat like that tickles my funny bone, and that is the truth. It was also easy! I just filled my apron pockets with orange yarn (and yes, I have this yarn specifically for the Jayne hats that I will get around to knitting sometime) and wore a ratty straw hat. I also borrowed a toy rifle. And I got to take pictures with llamas! A win all around.

Fact: If you take pictures with llamas, the llama will steal the show.

And Jenn came as Jayne! …Mostly because it meant she got to carry around a big knife.

The party games were excellent–we played a game that I think some people call ‘Who am I?’, but which we call the ‘pieces of paper with names on the forehead game’.  Most people play it as a mixer, with everyone milling around, but I prefer our version–everyone wrote a name, then gave it to the person next to them, who put it on their forehead without looking at it. Then everyone got three questions (‘either or’ questions, like ‘am I male or female?’, or ‘yes and no’ questions, like ‘am I from an awesome TV show about cowboys in space that was cruelly canceled after one perfect season?’) and a chance to guess their identity, and we went around the table like that. When someone figured out who they were, the person on the other side of them would give them a new identity and we just kept going. Most people figured out who they were within two or three rounds…in fact, most people had figured out two identities before I managed to guess my first! (I was Bambi. Thanks, Z!)

Melody figured out that she was 'Nathan Fillion' almost immediately!

It took Angela a little while longer to figure out that she was Moya from Farscape, but she got it eventually!

We also played ‘the sentence game’, which we sometimes explain to people as ‘Pictionary Telephone’–it involves each player having a stack of paper, writing a sentence, then passing the stack to the left, where the next person reads the sentence, draws a picture illustrating it, then passes to the left again, where the next person looks at the picture and writes down what they think the sentence might be. At the end everyone goes through their stack and hilarity never fails to ensue, especially when people add their own special interpretations…

Llamas are knitting while they plan the deaths of their enemies!

Best party ever?

Best party ever.

I’m not dead!

August 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

I know that this comes as a shock, but I’m still alive! I’ve been very busy and working some overtime, though, so my craft projects and baking have been on the back burner. Just to prove that I’m still here, though, I wanted to show you my last two baking projects! I don’t have any in-progress pictures for you, but I still want to tell you all about them and give you links to the recipes I used, because they are delicious.

These are chocolate cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which I made for lunch at my parents’ church this weekend. They are (I’m going to do it!) divine. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is my new favorite thing in the world–light and fluffy and smooth and delicious without being kick-you-in-the-face, I-feel-a-tooth-ache-coming-on super-sweet. I’m looking forward to doing a whole cake with this frosting! I bet it goes on like a dream.

To make the SMB (Swiss Meringue Buttercream) I followed the recipe for Salted Caramel Swiss Buttercream that’s used as the filling for this amazing cake from Sweetapolita (probably the prettiest baking blog that I follow!). The recipe calls for caramel sauce. I had never made caramel before, and I was completely terrified, but it went perfectly. Actually it probably helped that I was terrified and paranoid, because I didn’t leave my cooking sugar alone for a minute and I watched it like a hawk (I did do things like put ingredients away, rinse bowls, wipe the counter, and so on, but I always had one eye on the stove and I was back to swirl it gently every thirty seconds or so, as per instructions).  With the caramel left to cool I moved on to the rest of the recipe (note: it really look a long time to cool, because I left it in the pan and didn’t think to move it to another bowl until later. I ended up putting it in the fridge to help the cooling process along before adding it to the frosting).

I continued following Sweetapolita’s instructions for the SMB, referring not only to the recipe for the Caramel SMB but also to her awesome post Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified and to DyannBakes’ tutorial video on 1:2:3 Swiss Meringue Buttercream–between all three I felt really confident that I knew what I was doing! And everything went smoothly and perfectly until I thoughtlessly put my finishing buttercream in the fridge before icing the cupcakes and left it there long enough to harden. Oops. I had to wait for it to come back to room temperature and whip it again (using the whisk on the stand mixer–with just the paddle it was separating a little and not coming back to full fluffiness).

Guys, the buttercream is stupendous.

Unfortunately, eating frosting with a spoon is generally frowned upon and I needed a socially acceptable vehicle for my buttercream. I made chocolate cupcakes, using the recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I have several chocolate cake recipes bookmarked and saved in my recipe folder, and I keep promising to try them out soon…but when it comes down to it I always seem to make this one. It’s chocolatey, moist, quick, easy, and I have a system for making it with minimal dirtying-of-dishes-or-utensils (one bowl, one 1.5 tsp measuring spoon, one 3/4c measuring cup, one 4c measuring cup, and the beaters for the handheld mixer–that’s it).

Mmmm.

Aren’t they pretty? This is one of my favorite ways to ice a cupcake, and because it has a low profile it’s perfect for my cupcake carrier (which isn’t tall enough for lofty swirls of frosting, my other favorite style).  You’ve probably seen tutorials for this elsewhere on the internet (once I discovered it I realized that I was seeing it everywhere!), but in case you haven’t it’s really easy–just use an Open Star (Wilton 1M) icing tip, start in the center of your cupcake, and make a swirl. It’s that simple. And if you’re a visual learner like I am, then you can watch this video over at Glorious Treats!

My other recent baking experiment was an Oreo cake for my mom’s birthday–she loves Oreos, so I crammed 2.5 packages of Oreos into this cake. No joke. It was intense.

It was a chocolate cake full of Oreos–an entire package of Oreos, chopped into fourths (alternatively, you could hit the package with a rolling pin a few times before you open it!) and split between two 9in cake pans. Then I poured the batter over the cookies. Guess what chocolate cake recipe it was? It was Hershey’s. Surprise!

I baked the cake in advance and froze it, something that I’m doing more and more frequently–I love to bake cakes, and I love to ice cakes, but once I bake a cake I’m kind of done for the day, I don’t want to come back after the cake has chilled and do more things. It’s a lot more fun when it’s split over more than one day!  So later I made this Oreo buttercream from My Baking Addiction, and this Oreo filling from Beantown Baker, except that I didn’t have all of the ingredients and I may have, ahem, ad libbed a bit.

It was all delicious, but all of it at once was…well…completely and totally overwhelming. My family loves sugar and loves chocolate and we have a special talent for clearing our dessert plates, but no one was able to finish an entire piece of this cake! It actually lasted almost two days–remarkable, in this house!

I loved the Oreos in the chocolate cake, though, and honestly I think that would have been enough–next time I’ll just make Oreo-filled chocolate cake, layer it with fresh whipped cream, dust it with crumbled Oreo, and call it a day!

Wonderland Tutorials: Paper Crafts

July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

This post will be two tutorials in one. Because that’s how much I love you.

White Rabbits

To have a good Mad Tea Party, you have to get into Wonderland, right?

And how do you get into Wonderland?

You follow a white rabbit. Of course.

Last year when we threw a Mad Tea for my sister’s graduation party we held it at a picnic area behind our church, out of sight of the parking lot, so I made white rabbits to lead the guests across the field to show everyone where to go. Making them couldn’t be simpler:

You will need white cardstock, a printer, scissors, glue, and skewers like these–look for them in the grilling section or with the kitchen utensils at your grocery store.

Download a rabbit silhouette. I used these–click on each image to download the full size!

Download one or both of the silhouettes, size them to fit on a single sheet of paper, then print them out on heavy white cardstock. Print two sheets for each rabbit that you want to make. Then just cut out your rabbits, sandwich a skewer in between the two sides, and glue.

Then stick your white rabbits in the grass leading to your tea party, and wait for the guests to arrive!

Chessboard Sandwich Skewers

One of my favorite touches at my Mad Tea Party was the chessboard of tea sandwiches–it looks awesome, and it was so simple to do!

I used ordinary white bread and a dark rye bread–you can use any bread as long as you have two colors!  I cut each piece into quarters–in retrospect I wish that I’d also trimmed off the crusts, but I was in a hurry.

You’ll also need a large, square tray–if you want to make a full chessboard like mine you’ll need a tray large enough to hold an 8 by 8 square. We didn’t have a square tray large enough and I was just going to set my sandwiches out on a smaller tray that was 5 by 5 sandwiches, and put my extra chesspeople on the side like cocktail skewers. Then my dad went into his magic workshop (the garage) and returned with a beautiful custom tray, just for me, cut to just the right size. Is he the best, or is he the best? I think both are correct.

But the important thing for this project is, of course, the chesspeople skewers. You’ll need toothpicks, white cardstock, glue or double-sided tape (I used glue, but tape might be less messy!), a printer, and this downloadable papercraft chess set, created by T. John Peacock, inspired by the classic Tenniel illustrations:

click on the image to go to the download

Print out the chess set on white cardstock, then cut out each piece and fold it over the end of a toothpick, gluing (or taping) it in place.

Now you’re ready to play with your food!

Wonderland Tutorials: Playing Card Garland

July 18, 2011 § 4 Comments

Remember how I was going to write tutorials for some of the things I did for my Mad Tea Party?

Remember how I did…one?

*cough*

Well, I have more!

I knew that I’d get around to them eventually.

This will be a tutorial for the playing card garland that I made. To make your own, you will need:

-Playing cards (this is a great use for that incomplete deck of cards that we all have in the bottom of the games cupboard! You know, the deck with only 51 cards?)

-‘Invisible’ nylon thread

-a sewing machine

It’s a pretty straightforward project–thread your sewing machine with the invisible thread, pulling out a long tail of thread before you start sewing (this is so that you’ll have something to hang your garland from!).

Pop a playing card into the machine, sewing down the middle….or, y’know. Mostly down the middle.

As you near the end of the first card, line up a second card with the bottom edge of the first, and just keep sewing!

When you get to the end of the second card, line up a third card, and keep sewing. Repeat until your garland is as long as you want, or until you run out of cards!

Happy Independence Day!

July 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

More Wonderland tutorials will be coming up (as soon as I have time to put two thoughts together) but in the meantime I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July!

I know that I did!