Since October is National Cookie Month, I thought you might enjoy some hints for decorating this year’s holiday cookies.  It’s not unusual for me to be thinking about holiday baking in October and  I thought you might find it helpful to have this information now so you can practice before you have to fill the Christmas Eve sweets platter….  This video shows the very simple process of “dipping” cut out cookie shapes into royal icing to cover the entire cookie surface — it is SO much easier and faster than the outline and flood technique.

I hope you’ll make this method your own and that from now on you’ll enjoy even more the cookie decorating process.  If you have questions, please feel free to email me — and if you do try this technique, let me know how you like it.

Posted by: Pat O'Brien | September 4, 2012

Some of My Favorite Books on the Subject …

Well, here it is – another first day of school …. And although it’s been more than a few years since I looked at the excited faces of my children as they watched for the school bus, I still feel a little wistful for summer days; ok, to be fair it’s not all wistful – I do remember thinking that 15 minutes on a school bus undid years of my teaching my boys how to behave in a group.  So in trying to think of something I enjoy about “back to school,” my thoughts quickly turned to the excitement of books – old favorites as well as brand new titles.

People often ask me whether I have favorite “how to” books for cookie decorating, so I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites and why I enjoy them and refer to them often.  If you were in my kitchen, you’d easily be able to tell my favorites — they have the most royal icing crust on the cover and between some pages ….

One of my go to reference books is Cookie Craft – From Baking to Luster Dust by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer.  It is so well organized (encouraging the reader to be organized as well – with step by step instructions for organizing work area, cutter storage, what tasks to do ahead of time) and defines just about every tool and helpful piece of equipment you’d ever want to use in your cookie decorating.   I like the layout as well – cookies for holidays throughout the year – with excellent color photos.  Techniques are explained clearly with illustration for every step.  If you are new to cookie decorating, or interested in building on your expertise, this is an excellent addition to your library.  At the back of this book is a short but excellent list of resources.  You’ll feel more capable and organized just from having paged through this pretty book!

I also LOVE Meaghan Mountford’s cookie sensationscreative designs for every occasionMeaghan explains the cookie baking and decorating lingo simply and breaks down the cookie decorating project into encouragingly manageable steps.  One of my favorite sections of the book is her templates.  You can lay a piece of wax paper over a page and practice your piping before you attempt it on the cookies – what a great idea! She also explains in clear detail both in text and in color charts how to mix colors (what to mix with what to achieve the desired color) and shows palettes that work well together.  If you’re feeling adventurous, this is a book that will inspire you to create your own cookie shapes, design and decoration .  If not, you won’t go wrong if you follow Meaghan’s suggestions.  This is a book I’ve referred to frequently over the six years since I started my business and I always see something new — it’s not that I don’t retain what I read, really…. The book is just that good!

The lovely book painted cookies by Akiko Hoshino shows some very precise, detailed decorating techniques with beautiful photos of little cookies.  The techniques and illustrations are lovely and I’d suggest this one for someone who already has some serious piping skills….

I’ll do another post in a few weeks that will talk about Christmas cookie books – that’s an entirely separate sub-category and there are some wonderful titles that will spark your imagination, not to mention feeling really ahead of the game this year for reading about Christmas prep in October ….

After I finished a group presentation on Home Baking Techniques this past week, several attendees told me that they couldn’t wait to go home to try to make the chocolate chip cookie recipe that was part of the discussion.  I always bring samples of the cookie recipes I’ll talk about  — I’m fairly confident that my remarks are  always more interesting when accompanied by a snack ….  Their enthusiastic reaction prompted the thought that this might be an interesting blog post. I should define what I consider “perfect” in a chocolate chip cookie — soft texture, just a hint of golden (not brown) color on the surface, evenly distributed chips and a beautiful, evenly round shape.

During the presentation, I emphasized that the opportunity for success in baking is in large part a result of using the proper tools and equipment.  To create these cookies, you’ll need 2 air-insulated cookie sheets (always in stock at Bed, Bath and Beyond), parchment paper (now readily available in the plastic wrap section of most supermarkets), and a commercial metal ice cream scoop (1/3 cup) or a 1/3 cup measuring cup.  Yes, it is possible that your first batch of these babies could cost $30 if you need to purchase all the tools, but you’ll enjoy making these so much that the outlay will be well worth it.

When you set your oven control to preheat to 375 degrees , you need to know the actual temperature inside that oven.  An oven thermometer is easily available for about $10, again at the super market.  This handy gadget lets you know what temperature you’ll need to set on the control so that your oven delivers 375 degrees of heat.

Here’s the recipe:

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you follow these instructions, your cookies will turn out perfectly – I promise. This recipe was developed 20 years ago when I was baking with my then 11 year old son Christopher; we started out using the recipe on the bag of chocolate chips, but only had one egg and somehow measured a bit too much flour into the bowl.  The results were so delicious that we wrote down our modifications and have used this recipe ever since for just about every family gathering, school team dinner, and then to send to college mailboxes and beyond ….

Yields 16 – 3 ½ “ cookies

  • ¾ cup white granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp (or in the microwave for 30 seconds at 30% power)
  • 1 egg
  • i teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (if you use salted butter, omit this salt)
  • 2 ½ cups unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use the supermarket house brand REAL semi-sweet morsels)

Preheat oven to 375.  YOU MUST USE AN OVEN THERMOMETER TO DETERMINE THE CORRECT TEMPERATURE – ADJUST THE OVEN CONTROLS UNTIL THE INTERNAL OVEN TEMPERATURE READS 375.

Cut parchment paper to fit over the surface of each cookie sheet.  (Parchment paper may be reused several times ….)

Blend sugars with butter until combined.  Add egg, blending until it’s completely absorbed into the butter mixture.  Add vanilla.   Add flour, salt, and baking soda, combining completely once again.  Then add the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate chips are evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Place 8 scoopfuls or 1/3 cupfuls of dough on the parchment on each cookie sheet – 3 along each side of the sheet and 2 down the middle.  Flatten each dough mound with the palm of your hand until they’re ½” high.  NOTE:  If you would like to freeze unbaked cookies to bake later, just put the 1/2″ high mounds on a plate in the freezer; when they’re frozen, remove from plate and place in freezer zip lock bag.  Bake frozen (don’t thaw) as needed at the same temp for a minute or two longer.

Bake at 375 for 11 or 12 minutes – set the timer for 11 minutes to check – the cookies should not be brown at all, but the top surface should not look like “batter”; it should looked “just cooked.”  (Note:  I often find that the cookie sheet on the lower rack is completely ready at 11 minutes, but the cookie sheet on the upper rack needs another minute or so to finish, so I move that to the lower rack and set the timer for another minute.)

Remove the entire sheet of parchment with the cookies from the cookie sheet to cool.  (Just pull at one corner of the parchment and slide it off the cookie sheet onto the counter.)

So, have some fun in the kitchen and let me know what you think of the recipe — Bake on!

Posted by: Pat O'Brien | February 23, 2012

Thank you for taking the time for an introduction….

Creating a blog has been in my imagination for as long as I’ve been reading the many enthusiastic posts on baking sites I come across….  I had baked and decorated cookies for many years at home with/for my children, for charitable events etc. when that passion combined with various “life events” to make possible the opportunity of starting a specialty baking business.  My company has just celebrated its fifth anniversary and, thanks to our wonderful customers, has increased sales substantially in every one of those five years.  My two favorite parts of this venture are (1) customer contact, mostly by phone or email since our customers are located around the country, and (2) creating new cookie designs.  The photo at the top of this page is of one of my “drawing boards” along with some of the finished cookies in our “I Love Winter (at the beach)!” assortment.

There are many timesaving and quality-enhancing hints that I’ll share over the next several months — for example,  how to host a successful cookie baking or decorating “party” with children or adults (and trust me, it’s not always an opportunity to succeed), simple how-to’s for the home baker, some packaging possibilities for showcasing your finished (baked) product — and for mailing it as well.  We try many of the cookie decorating accessories and tools on the market — we’ll let you know which ones we love and which ones actually make our work more difficult.

If you’re a cookie monster but not a home baker, I’ll share with you some ideas and wonderfully original applications that my customers have brought to us — and we’d love your suggestions for assortments you’d like us to offer in our online cookie shop.

OK, by now you’ve figured out that there is really a wide continuum of relevant subjects …. I hope you find the information interesting and useful.  Thank you again for taking the time to read this introduction.

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