Sunday, June 29, 2014

How Cookies Can Help You Win at Life.

...sounds so much nicer than "Cookies: How to Bribe People into Doing What You Want by Manipulating Their Sweet Tooth," "Cookies: How to Make People like You with Minimal Effort," or "Cookies: You Don't Have to Worry about Being Socially Awkward When Your Mouth Is Full," right? In case you hadn't guessed it, I made a few batches of cookies yesterday to take to a party. Cookies = winning.
Pictured: Tiny discs of awesome.
I figured out how to make my awesome America cake for the Fourth, so I was free to sample a few new recipes and tell you how wonderfully tasty they are. Specifically, peanut butter pudding cookies and lemon drop cookies. Though they look bakery quality, these little tasty little sugar wafers are effortless to make (minus the mess- damn my constant struggle with powdered sugar). I mean, my friends didn't even mind (possibly because they didn't know) that I was using them as little sampling lab rats to see if these cookies could pass the test and be sent across the pond to my husband. Considering I only had a few leftovers, I'd say they're good to go. Let me tell you how you too can coerce people by baking for them in a lovely step-by-step tutorial.
Yeah, don't tell your friends how simple this is, or they may not care so much.
Watch out, these peanut butter pudding cookies may break the bank when it comes to ingredients...heavy, heavy sarcasm. One cup of peanut butter (JIF- because there is no substitute, Skippy...), two eggs, two 3.4 ounce packages of vanilla instant pudding mix, and you're set. You don't even need a mixer for these- neither stand nor hand! Start by cracking your eggs into a medium bowl. My mother taught me to always start with the eggs. In the event the chicken has gone funky (see what I did there?!), the rest of your ingredients are uncontaminated and free to have their own set of problems when the time comes. Then throw everything else except the sugar crystals into your bowl and mix away...
Simplicity can be so comforting. And so tasty.
At this point, you should both ensure your oven is at 350 and your dog doesn't resent you for breaking out the JIF without filling up a Kong, too. Then take your cookie scoop (because I assume you're like me and have a ridiculous amount of kitchen tools at your disposal), and scoop, scoop away. This should yield 16-18 cookies. I say 16-18 because by the time you taste test a few to make sure no one will die if they eat them, you'll be left with 16. Roll your little round pieces of heaven into the bowl of sugar crystals to coat. Plop on a tray lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat if someone loved you enough to buy you one..ahem) and then get your fancy on and use a fork to create hatches in the top of the cookie like so:
Getting to smush things is so, so flag.
Once done fancifying the cookies, bake for 13-14 minutes. You know, I absolutely abhor pudding. I feel as though it is only acceptable for the following groups of people to eat it: the elderly, toddlers, and people who just had dental work. But adding pudding into cookie dough makes literally the best damn cookies I've ever had in my life. I believe this is what is called irony.
Delicious irony.
Now, on to the lemon drop cookies. People will honestly think you're a damn pro if you bring these to a party. And by pro I mean professional baker, not prostitute. Although, you'd be surprised what people will do for a cookie. Again, this recipe consists of so many ingredients you may second guess your chances at becoming an awesome, cookie baking machine.
The bottle of Jameson in the background is actually not a part of the recipe,
but you could totally go for it if you're adventurous.
Guess whose Wal-mart doesn't have plain lemonade Kool-Aid? Yeah, big surprise there. So use a packet of that if your Wal-mart isn't as useless as your grandmother after five apple sangrias. If you're in my boat, just use a packet of Country Time Lemonade- On the Go! Italicized just like on the packet! The only other things you need are a lemon box cake mix, two eggs, the juice from one actual lemon, and 1/3 cup of veggie oil. I used my mixer for this just because I missed it. Can people have separation anxiety from kitchen appliances? Start with your eggs again (just in case, people!), and then throw everything else into your mixing bowl sans the powdered sugar. Save that to make a huge mess later.
Pictured: A future clean kitchen ruiner.
Bump that oven up to 375 and get ready to get sticky. Heeeyooohhh. Seriously though, the one downside to these cookies are they are a friggin' hot mess. The dough has the consistency of cake batter, possibly because the dough is made mostly of...cake batter. Science, bitches. I used my cookie scoop again, but these cookies end up doing a great deal of expanding in the oven thanks to their consistency (I'm told it's key), so I'd go with a teaspoon next time instead. Your hands are going to be covered in batter because you need to roll your scoops around in the giant mountain of powdered sugar you have in a spare bowl. Don't roll these into tight little balls...if you do, when they cook, your powdered sugar will be all spaced out and weird and make something that smells so good look so wrong. I know because I did this after shoving them into the oven for 8 minutes on my still only parchment lined baking trays. Silpat liner, why must you elude me?
They looked so pretty before they went into the oven.
But then I immediately added more sugar to cover up the weirdness.
No one wants to eat an ugly dessert. I will always stand by this. So go the extra mile, make the bigger mess, and add more powdered sugar to the tops of your cookies if they come out looking like Silly Putty that fell into a bag of flour or crack. I'm not judging you, or what you do with your Silly Putty- but now you know exactly what those cookies looked like before I added more sugar, so, you're welcome. This recipe yields about two dozen cookies, but your friends will probably only see 22 of them. Always sample the goods first, ya know, as a public service.
The peanut butter and lemon scents made my house smell surprisingly good
and not at all conflicted. No sarcasm.

These cookies will help you win at life because if you're feeling shitty for whatever reason (bad hair day, feeling gross, Netflix doesn't stream the show you wanted to watch, tired of feeling like you're melting to death when you go outside, etc.), when people make the "yum" noise while eating them (you know which one I mean), you know you brought them that yum. You are responsible for the joy happening to their taste buds. You are a cookie rock star, and people will love you for it. Cookie Monster would have your ass on #1 speed dial if he actually existed. So the next time you need cheering up, a favor, or just a general reminder that you win at life, bake a few batches of these for your friends and family. It brought me out of my "my husband's birthday is today and we can't be together" funk, which is like a level 7 funk. Totally major. So I will definitely enjoy making a few batches of these to send to him in a few weeks...because up next is celebrating 'Merica's birthday with a hopefully kick ass cake to rival even the most patriotic of Americana. Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Dirty Thirty.

This past weekend I spent up in Denton with my sister, her fiance, and my little namesake niece. During my four-day stay, I was reminded of how unbelievably humid North Texas is, and also the fact that every living creature there is actively trying to maim you. I am sure there is a direct correlation between the two, but that's something for a scientist to describe, not a girl who bakes cakes. Speaking of, I did bake my sister a birthday cake because this is what great sisters know, name their children after you or bake you cakes. I suppose one of these greatly outweighs the other when read just in print, but it was a really, really yummy cake y'all.
And so festive! Ole!
I have been wanting to do glitter numbers for a birthday cake for awhile now, and thankfully my sister obliged me and didn't mind that there was a giant 3-0 staring her back in the face when it came time for birthday cake. Yes, so far she's winning the better sister award, I realize this. I'll get in to detail about how to remind your very own loved ones that they're losing the battle with age later, but the most impressive part about this cake is that I had to make it sans stand mixer.
Simplified tools of the trade.
It is totally weird to bake in someone else's kitchen, and I realize it must make me a cake snob (which I've totally earned the right to be called), but I have such a higher appreciation for my mixer at home now. A hand mixer just takes too damn long. And by too damn long, I literally only mean an additional two minutes. But those are two minutes I could've spent eating something or drinking something. I may have a slight issue with gluttony. Either way, I mixed that sucker up better than a damn martini, and poured her in a 9x13 glass pan. My sister happened to have a purple pan, which I think offsets the chocolate frosting and colorful candles quite nicely. Cake shui, bitches.
Never, ever forget to smooth your cake out with a spatula, people!
After another several minute battle of smoothing out the batter with a spatula, she went into the oven. Glass pans can't exactly get slammed on to the counter top the way my round metal pans can when I smooth those out before baking. I'm assuming cake sprinkled with glass isn't great for the body. But you know what IS great? Getting to bake a cake at sea level so you don't have to pretend to actually know how to make adjustments to your oven temp and cooking time. I put that thing in the oven and walked the hell away for 25 minutes. It was so liberating. After a few hours of  letting the cake cool and running errands (just try to keep me away from a DSW), I shamefully nuked canned frosting for 25 seconds before pouring it on to the cake. Hey, it was either spend all day making everything from scratch, or enjoy time being a productive member of the greater Denton shopping society. So when going that route, always nuke the canned frosting; it spreads on so smoothly with little-to-no-effort for your wrist and spatula:
Also pictured: Ridiculously large cookie cutters.
As you can see, all you need to age-shame your family members for their birthdays are large cookie cutters. I had to order these from Amazon Prime because surprise, surprise, nowhere in Clovis had large cookie cutters. Now instead of just a "3" and "0," I have like a fifty-piece set of cookie cutters. Kate will soon be baking more cookies instead of cakes, apparently. I simply positioned my cutters on the middle of the cake, and SLOWLY, PEOPLE, SLOWLY, sprinkled glitter stars inside of the cutters. I began to get overzealous toward the end and a few stars landed outside of the cutters and on my smoothed frosting. Without my emergency cake tweezers (yes, this is a real thing), I was powerless to remove them, and they stared me in the face mocking me for the rest of the day. Before removing the cutters, press your glitter down as firmly as possible, and then painstakingly slowly, pick the cutters straight up with no wiggling or odd movements. This was a small victory for me, as my motor skills seem to be improving slightly and less spastically.
Those five stars outside the three- they're still laughing at me.
I finished this cake up by piping a shell border and adding in some squiggly candles. I thought they would look cool, and I did love the neons, but guess what squiggles aren't? Orderly. Guess what OCD people like me adore? Order. Lesson learned. We also put out a really nice spread for the party:
Pictured: ORDER. Snack shui, bitches!
In addition, I made my delicious spinach queso dip, whose recipe will remain secret only because it is so easy. I can't just give you everything, people. The night was a pure success in my book. For one because my sister enjoyed herself immensely, and for another because I got to bust out my choreographed dance moves to "Spice Up Your Life" with my hetero life-mate, Taren, during the musical interlude portion of the evening. I mean, what girl our age didn't spend most of her 11th or 12th year on this planet learning all the sweet Spice Girl dances moves? You should see what I'm capable of when "Say You'll Be There" comes on my XM radio. Shortly thereafter, I said let them eat cake:
I also sing the birthday song with LOTS of pizzazz.
And once done breaking hearts (or glasses) with a stirring rendition of "Happy Birthday," we went on to enjoy the evening. And lots of cake for the rest of the weekend. However, a few weren't quite as jubilant about the cake because they couldn't have any...
"Worst. Party. Ever." -Hank and Roger
"Ahem, I was told there would be cake?" -Little Aurie Kate
It wouldn't have been a party without cake, just like it wouldn't be summer if I wasn't covered in at least 5 bug bites at any given moment. I'm off to go dip myself in Benadryl itch cream and curse the need to ever leave the house. I will be taking this upcoming weekend off from caking because I have a wicked awesome idea in mind for a Fourth of July cake, so I need plenty of time to prepare to blow your mind (figuratively of course). I loved being able to spend time with my family, but Clovis actually wins one for once because we came home to a nice, dry arrid 80 degree temp. Once home, I could simply stand outside without breaking into a profuse, druggie-type hot and yet cold sweat. So to that I say to you, Denton:

Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Kate Also Bakes Cookies!

Before I get down to business, can anyone tell me why I have "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" stuck in my head? I mean, I don't really is a catchy little diddy that takes me back to my youth while also putting a pep in my step. And can we just talk about how dreamy Kevin Richardson and Nick Carter STILL are to this day? I seriously know how to pick my celebrity crushes. I just had to get that off my chest, and I hope for the remainder of your duration reading this entry, you're singing this song in your head too, remembering that BSB > 'N Sync. Moving right along...while I did bake this past week, I did not bake cakes; obviously, I went a different route.
Om nom, nom, cookies! For another great song to get stuck in your head,
Youtube "Om nom, nom, babies." You won't regret it. Promise.
I baked D a batch of extra large M&M chocolate chip cookies and another batch of equally massive Andes mint chocolate chip cookies. I know you probably noticed that extra space on my parchment paper there...I promise the remaining two cookies were in the oven. I mean, I did have to eat one of each just to make sure they didn't taste horrible. But I did this long before the photos occurred. These cookies are massive, but they should also withstand shipping all the way overseas, and not just because my former time spent with FedEx taught me so, so many things (like, yes, people do ask if they can ship human remains. I mean, really??!). These cookies have a secret ingredient to keep them super soft and chewy on the inside:
Hint: The secret ingredient isn't the brown sugar...
It's the Jello! Vanilla instant pudding and pie filling to be exact. Add a 3.4 ounce package in your favorite, everyday (most likely Nestle Toll House) cookie recipe, and walla- cookies that stay so chewy you'll think its magic. Or something like that. But really delish either way. I'm sure the extra butter love doesn't hurt things either. You'll also want to adjust the size of the cookie dough scoops so that these bad boys have a proper amount of chunk to them (I went with 1/4 C):
Also, if you're OCD and Type A like me, you'll go the extra mile
and put more M&M's on top of the cookie so they look pretty.
So the Andes mint cookies aren't as pretty, but they taste so much better
that you almost don't even notice. On account of how fast you'll eat them.
 The other thing you wanna do to make these cookies even freakin' better is to chill your shaped dough in the fridge for at least two hours. I left mine overnight. Don't make the same mistake I did though and cook your dinner AFTER you've already inhaled several spoonfuls of cookie dough. You know, to make sure the integrity of said cookies are going to be wonderful enough for your husband to eat. That's what I'm going with...I mean, my tuna cakes were really good, but after the tongue tastes the dough, little else will ever satisfy it. And by tuna cakes, I mean crab cakes but with tuna. Because there's no such thing as fresh crab meat out here. If there was, I think I'd question everything about life.
It just looks so...healthy.
The next day, I begrudgingly ate salad for lunch in attempt to keep from going full inner fat kid on my body. I cooked my dough at 350 for 17 minutes. The original recipe said 11, but since my oven is more temperamental than a tantrum-throwing toddler, absolutely no melting had occurred after 11 minutes. I'm not sure if it was the parchment paper I use to keep the bottom of my cookies from burning or what, but I required six more minutes to gooey perfection. The outsides were golden brown, and the insides still slightly doughy. I think for cookie baking (I tried, no good mash up of the words "cookie" and "baking" can be made), I need a Silpat liner. If I happen to have any rich benefactors reading my blog, I promise to try to class things up around here a bit if you send me one. Mostly because my birthday falls right after Christmas, and I have no other time to ask for  something as trivial as a Silpat liner. First world problems, ya know? But either way, I highly recommend this recipe. I mean, don't you just want one of these so badly???
Heaven on my counter tops, but a lifetime on the hips.
When shipping overseas (or even regular destinations since the USPS seems to take its precious time), it is helpful to add a piece of bread into a freezer bag with your cookies before boxing them up in an airtight Tupperware plied with plenty of Saran wrap to create a cushion. This way the bread gets stale instead of your cookies. I, however, was of course out of bread, and instead used hamburger buns. I'm sure that is going to be all sorts of confusing for my poor husband when he gets them. "Am I supposed to make a sandwich with these or has my wife clearly lost her damn mind?" A little of both, sweetie...a little of both. Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mosquitoes, tornados, and hail storms- oh my!

Well, I have to start off by admitting this was the first week in ages that I didn't make an actual cake. But I have a really, really good excuse, trust me:

Oh, hi there....
I spent around an estimated three hours in my closet between Friday and Saturday night praying I wasn't about to get blown off the map...I know, usually I would love for this place to get blown off the map. Just not while I'm in it. Between me, the dog, and hedgehog, it was like a stress fiesta in that little interior room. I was also not very enthused to leave the questionable safety of my closet to find out that hail was either so large or coming down in so much frequency and volume that my outside A/C unit had totally bit it (it sounded like all three, FYI). Clovis summers: 2 My A/C: 0. Some of you know that within the first two weeks of moving in to this house, the unit went kaput. Then to have it happen again Friday, well, let's say I believe there is a direct correlation between my husband deploying during the summer and my A/Cs ability to function. Apparently it really gets down in the dumps when he isn't here to enjoy all its hard work.

Luckily a broken A/C was all that happened to us, and I was later able to pound lots of grape to recover (that's slang for wine drinking), and watch all 13 episodes of Orange is the New Black in two days. I may have a slight binge Netflixing problem. But it isn't hurting anyone. I still remembered to feed Hank and P.B., okay? Don't judge me. I really couldn't move around on account of the eleventy billion mosquito bites I've collected on my body thanks to all this wetness everywhere. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have two large mosquito bites on the back of your knee? And the bottom of your toe? And the side of your damned face? Yeah, I look like I have some strange form of pox. Anyway...the whole weekend I kept meaning to play with the cake decorating tips my mother-in-law mailed to me, but between all my itching and scratching, Litchfield Prison and its captivating inmates just won out...

I just, like, septupled the amount of tips I had in an instant.
It was really awesome of my MIL to send me all these tips. They have been in her family for quite some time, so I am honored to have them passed down to me, the newest cake decorating Fox. Seeing as how I have a massive need to organize everything as succinctly as humanly possible, it should come as no shock that I busted out my Wilton catalog and organized each and every single tip in to its proper category with its other like-minded tips (yes, I realize I just copped to segregating my decorating tips).

My soul stopped feeling itchy after I had each of these in their proper place.
 I played with quite a few tips that are no longer even in existence in the Wilton line. Why, yes, I do feel special, thanks for asking. I was really happy to get a bunch of basket-weave tips as that is something I wanted to experiment with. I also have quite a few leaf tips now, so I should probably figure out how in God's name those are properly used by a left-handed caker. Anyone? Bueller? I think my next cake will feature mostly weaving, and I realize that means I'll spend about thirty-five days icing said cake, but it is really nifty:

Please ignore my first attempt on top...
clearly I cannot eyeball measurements to save my frickin' life.

It is a fun little decorating idea, and I could even get crazy and mix colors together in my weaving. Watch out, we got a real rebel here. But this week will not be devoted to any cakes- there's this dude I'm married to who has a birthday coming up. Unfortunately he's clear across the pond, and a cake would look like a mushy pile of mold by the time it got to him...because it would literally be a mushy pile of mold by the time it got to him. Instead, he gets my famously soft and chewy cookies sent in a birthday care package at the end of the week. I'm sure at some point I'll still manage to get frosting in my hair even though these cookies don't call for an ounce of frosting. I'm just that talented. I'll be sure to post my secret to amazing cookies for you all with plenty of photos in the next blog because I tolerate love you so much. Sorry for phoning it in with the blog this week, but I totally could've died this weekend, so you really should be more understanding...geesh. Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The blog post that almost wasn't...

Go on vacation, they said. It'll be fun, they said...and then you have to adjust back to real one said. I don't know if it is just me, but I have the hardest time getting back to normal life after spending a long weekend away. This may be because I have to return home to a place that smells like cow poo most days of the week, is full of morons, and is ugly as sin. I'm sensing there may be some sort of correlation between the two. Also, my computer decided to delete half of the pictures I took while assembling my cakes this past week, and I had a mild meltdown and almost didn't blog. Right now I'm eating my feelings with delicious cake remnants from the past weekend which allowed me to pick myself up from self-shaming central and write:
That's right, TWO cakes.
I made both these tiny little cuties the day before I left for ABQ/Santa Fe to take my mom on a tour of the actual land of enchantment section of New Mexico (they really should've visited the entire state before settling on that motto). While the sum total to construct these two cakes was over six hours, it was totally worth it. Both cakes were from a batch of triple chocolate fudge cake. Triple. Chocolate. Fudge. Why three times the fudgyness, you ask? Because the only person in the world who loves chocolate more than me is my mom.
Thankfully you can't tell how much we love chocolate due to our deceptively small waistlines.
I wanted her to get the full Kate Bakes Cakes experience, so everything was from scratch. That homemade chocolate frosting was a huge pain in the ass to make, but so tasty. I've told you how powder-filled-coked-out my kitchen gets when making white icing from scratch, but this time...well, there was cocoa powder everywhere. Things were coated in brown. To anyone living in Clovis, you'd just assume I hadn't dusted my house in a week. To everyone else, it looked like I was baking in a house with a dirt floor. End results:
HA- this one really doesn't look like poo!
The icing was super stiff, so my rosettes looked like cardboard, but trust me when I say they didn't taste like it. Even the pearls were edible! My other cake may fill you with a sense of deja vu. This is because I used the leftover frosting from last blog's birthday cake, and the royal icing flowers I made like 18 years ago. Man, those suckers last FOREVER. Still had that wonderful melt-on-your-tongue tastiness I so wish Catholic Communion wafers had. Note to self- copyright that idea and change the face of Catholicism.
Oh, and also, sprinkles...cause, well, you know.
This was my first time attempting to stack cakes of different-sized layers. I'd show you what that process looks like step-by-step if my computer wasn't a jerk of Kanye West proportions today. We'll just take a tour of the abbreviated version instead. I wanted to make sure my tops were completely flat (but just the cakes', not my tops), so I tried a new little trick involving a coaster and a bread knife.
Step one: You put the awkwardly elderly-styled Floridian home deco piece coaster into the cake pan.
Step two: Try to remember if you were drunk when you bought coasters better fitting of Blanche Deveraux's house.
Step three: High five yourself for awesome Golden Girl's reference.

Step five: Remember, you're blogging about cakes here.
Step six: Put the cake back in the pan on top of the coaster.
Step seven: Slowly saw across the top of the cake to remove any unevenness.
There's an optional eighth step here where you remove the trimmed pieces and shove them directly into your mouth because you have zero self control and chocolate cake bits makes a perfectly balanced lunch for a grown ass woman. You do you,  honey. Either way, this trick will leave you with a perfectly leveled cake. Since these cakes were so small, my garote wire cake leveler seemed like overkill. While I am usually a fan of overkill, something about that bread knife just spoke to me. Oh, I guess we're back to those red flags again. After crumb coating, chilling for 30 minutes, and then the smoothed frosting layer on both cakes, some assembly was required:
Bamboo skewers are not easy to cut down, by the way.
I put four cut skewers into each cake to hold the top layer in place while transporting cakes on a three and a half hour drive to Albuquerque. Something, something, my car goes vroom vroom really fast, something, something, preserving the beauty of the cakes. The cakes made it just fine and dandy, thankyouverymuch. However, since we almost completely devoured the chocolate cake, I was really weirded out by the fact that you can obviously SEE four skewers for that cake in the above photo, but we could only find three...yeaaaah. I am totally an overzealous eater, so there's a chance it is inside my person right now. I guess I am no better than those morons I mentioned earlier...but at least I know how to read. So at the end of the day, I'll take whatever small victory I can get. Til next time, my fellow eaters!