Tag Archives: vanilla

Cookie Day is Coming!

4 Dec

Every year, my very best girlfriends, whom I have known since I was five, get together along with our families and decorate Christmas cookies.  My friends are four sisters who have adopted me into their “sisterhood” since I have no sisters of my own (boo hoo).

Sadly, they all live about two hours away and every year my family drives up to one of their houses and we don’t get home until after midnight.  So this year, they are all coming to my house for a “Cookie Day Slumber Party”!

It’s going to be so fun!  It’s a good thing I got the house in order for Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, all of their kids are getting older now, because one year I hosted cookie day and had colored frosting from one end of my newly carpeted house to the other.  I forgave them, because all five of my kids have grown-up with this tradition and have, undoubtedly done the same.

I remember my Sarah last year just sitting at the decorating table eating a mound of frosting.  It wasn’t pretty.  In fact, I think she had more green sprinkles than frosting.  It makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it.

Each family brings a load of sugar cookies that we have already baked and then we can all just chose any of the cookies on the table to decorate.  It’s fun that way because every gets a greater variety of shapes.

We used to try to bake the cookies the same day, but I always seemed to burn mine because I would get distracted chatting.  So now I just burn my own at home:)

I’ve been thinking about how to get prepared for cookie day and remembered the most amazing cookie blog ever, Bake at 350.  I found it last year and suggested to my friends that we take our cookie decorating to the next level.  I even emailed a link to the blog to them and none of them even looked at it.

So, it was tubs of nasty frosting with food coloring and powdered sugar and milk with food coloring for the 30th year.

Well, this year, it’s at MY house!  We are going to kick it up a notch!

Take a look at these babies:

Did I mention that my friends and I get pretty “into” our decorating.  I won’t call us competitive, but…ok, we can get a bit competitive.  Unfortunately, I am definitely not the best cookie decorator.  I think that honor probably goes to one our daughters.

I love these trees, too!  Aren’t the dots so cute?

The trick, according to Bridget at Bake at 350, is to outline, then fill, then flood with frosting.  We will be expanding our frosting repertoire this year to include outlining, filling, and flooding.  I can’t wait!

Are feeling inspired?  Are you getting hungry?

Here are some tips from Bake at 350 to help you get organized and will make your cookie baking more enjoyable:

First…take a look at your supplies.  You’re going to need:

If you are planning on mailing your cookies or giving as gifts, you will need:

OK….next.  Start early.  Cookie decorating is really more fun if you break it up into chunks.   
Do one of the following to make life easier:

  • make the dough ahead and freeze (thaw in the fridge overnight)
  • bake the cookies and freeze (thaw at room temperature for a few hours)
  • bake the cookies the day before decorating
  • make the icing a day (or so) before decorating (if you are doing fine detail work, you’ll want to make this the same day you are using)

I think I’ll be baking the cookies a few days in advance so I can use my time to get ready for company.

Here is the recipe that I used last year and the cookies were awesome.  I love how they held-up and they tasted better than the others (sorry girls!).  Notice that it calls for sugar with vanilla beans.  I’ve been storing vanilla beans in my sugar ever since I read about it last year.

Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies (from Bake at 350)

3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar (I use sugar that I’ve stored vanilla beans in)
2 sticks (salted) butter, cold
1 egg
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.

The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling (video on University of Cookie).

Roll onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets (I recommend freezing the cut out shape on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before baking) and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy and have fun!

Latte on the Cheap

9 Nov

I have had a very long love affair with coffee.  My parents never used a coffee maker when I was growing up.  They traveled to Europe when they were first married and learned the secrets to making good coffee; buy good quality beans and grind them daily.  The sound of a coffee grinder makes my heart skip a beat, I swear!

The other trick is to get the water REALLY hot.  That’s why most household coffee makers just make OK coffee and not excellent coffee.  My parents would put the fresh coffee grounds into a cone with a paper filter that sat on top of a thermos.  Then they would boil water in a tea kettle and pour the boiling water into the cone.  Oh the smell!!!!  Better than Starbucks!

As luck would have it, I have NEVER been able to replicate their process because I could never find the right cone to fit on the right thermos.  I can’t tell you how this irked me for years!

Recently, my husband developed a little system for making the best cup of coffee ever, even better than my parents’!  What he meant as an occasional treat has turned into a daily ritual for me.

Here’s what I use:


Organic espresso beans, my trusty coffee grinder, a small sauce pan, a little espresso percolator thing, and an immersion blender.  You can see my poor, neglected coffee maker in the background.

It is on my list to get a stainless steel espresso maker like mine only bigger.  I  avoid using aluminum anything.  So, if you are going to buy something like this, look for good quality stainless steel.  This looks like a nice one.

Do as I say, not as I do:)

Anyway, fill the bottom with filtered water (not tap water), THEN add the grounds.  I don’t even want to admit how many times I’ve filled the coffee basket, tampered it down, and then realized I forgot the water.

Again, do as I say, not as I do.

Put your coffee maker on the stove and while it is brewing, pour some whole milk into a saucepan and warm it on medium low heat.  Once it starts getting hot, use your immersion blender to make some foam.  Yum!  I wish it was morning so I could make some now.

Another fabulous thing to add to your latte is vanilla bean paste.  Over the top!

I use this stuff in everything: scones, frosting, you name it.  It’s much easier than scraping a vanilla bean and you still get all the little vanilla beaniness!

I like to pour the milk in my cup and then pour the coffee.  Ok, I have to stop writing about coffee now or I’m not going to be able to sleep.

Dream about that!