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Ship Shape

2 Mar

It’s been coming up lately: How do I ship cookies? While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I have done this and according to my amigos, they are arriving mostly intact.

Supplies Needed:

Money- this is not cheap. At least to me, it’s not. Maybe you have more moolah. It’s not as much as a Benz, but it’s more than mailing that long overdue thank you note to Uncle Willie. It will cost you more to prepare them for shipping and to ship them than it will to buy the stuff the make the cookies.

Bubble wrap- Hobby Lobby sells it. They also often have nifty 40% off coupons. The cost of the bubble wrap will break your nasty habit of popping bubbles and save it for shipping instead.

NEW cardboard box- Yes, new. No one wants to get cookies in an old beer box. Well, most people, anyway. Let’s not examine our friends too closely, hmmm? Walmart sells them in the office supply or craft aisle, depending on the location. You want one bigger than your cake box. I mention this because when I’m in Walmart my mind tends to stop working properly and I come out $200 poorer and haven’t purchased everything I need and a lot of stuff I don’t or the place is packed and I grab “whatever” to get out of there before I see one of those “People of Walmart.” Head down, straight to the box, and out, k?

Cake box- the usual, nothing fancy.

Cake board- to give strength to the cake box.

Newspaper- a lil something extra for the recipient if you include the Sunday funnies.

Packing tape

Cellophane tape- I almost said Scotch tape, but that’s a brand.

Black marker or shipping labels

Cookies- don’t try to ship anything delicate for your first foray. You don’t have to stick with plain rounds but anything delicate or with thin pieces will likely arrive broken. Free calories!

Cookie bags and ties or a nifty sealing machine (I got mine at a thrift store. You can’t buy it new anymore but it still works and didn’t cost so much that my electric bill was late.)

First up: package your cookies in the cookie bags and seal/tie the bags. I recommend sealing over tying to keep out as much air as possible. Air=stale.

Box assembly: make your husband do it. I don’t like taping boxes ‘cause I suck at it. The tape doesn’t stick, the box won’t hold still, the tape wrinkles, the box collapses, etc…. Generally, the box wins.

Tape the bottom opening shut with the packing tape and do it again on either side of the opening. Now tape across the other direction so that it crosses the other pieces at a roughly 90 degree angle, if that makes sense. Hold up a sec- we’re not done with the bottom yet. Tape the two sides, too- where the flaps are. You want to keep out air and critters. No hitchhikers on this trip.

Bottom of box with flaps shut (the colored part represents where the flaps meet):

Yeah, it’s a lot of tape and boxes are wiggly. Good luck with that. Try not to tape yourself to the table or something equally embarrassing.

Flip it right side up, grab some newspaper, scrunch up the newspaper, and layer the bottom of the box with said newspaper. Toss in a business card or a piece of paper with an address on it, in case something happens to the outside of the box.

Put this box somewhere away from the kiddos before the lil pirates commandeer it for a boat and then assemble the cake box. Put this aside, too, as these have been known to attract teenagers in search of crap keepers. Actually, just hide everything and put a comment on here telling where you put it so you can find it again.

Clear off the dining room table. I’ll wait; I understand this may take some time. We don’t use our tables much for family eating anymore, do we? Oh well, better to have a use as a dumping ground than no use at all, I guess.

Ready?

Okey dokey. Get the bubble wrap, scissors, cookies, and cellophane tape. If you’re lucky, your cookies are all the same size. Unroll the bubble wrap the length of the table, making sure to put something behind it to keep it from rolling off the table. God only knows what’s on the floor, right? Set a cookie on the loose end, measure the bubble wrap, and cut off a piece (of bubble wrap, not cookie).

If your cookies are all the same size, you can use this first piece as a template. HOWEVER, test if for size first. I refuse to admit that I have ever forgotten this step and ended up with a bunch of pieces that were either too small or way too big.

Wrap the bubble wrap around the cookie and tape it where the ends meet. If you’re really nice, you’ll turn the end of the tape under first so it’s easier to remove. Continue this way until they’re all wrapped in their bubble blankies.

Retrieve the cake box. Not my fault if you can’t find it, I told you to post on here where you put it. Go get another one and back up a few steps. You’ll just have to catch up with the rest of the class on your own time.

Toss a biz card in the box in case the cake box gets separated from the other box. Cut a piece of bubble wrap and put it in the bottom of the box. You did put a cake board in there first, right? *Sigh* Geez, I ASSUMED you knew that. Let’s not fight, k? We’ve got to get these shipped ASAP.

Place the bubble wrapped cookies in the box, preferably standing up, if possible. I have no solid proof, but I’ve read they’re sturdier this way. However, the ones I shipped laying flat arrived okay, too, so it’s your choice, your risk. Pack them in snugly but not so tight you’re jamming them in there breaking cookies.

 

Cut another piece of bubble wrap, place it on top of the cookies, shut the box, and tape the box shut.

Optional step:

If you have any concerns about moisture or the newspaper ink dirtying the box, wrap the cake box in bubble wrap and have a tape orgy with it.

Whew! Still with me? Nope! We’re not done yet. Retrieve the other box and place the cake box in the center of it.

Firmly, but gently, pack scrunched up newspaper around the cake box. Test it for wiggle- you don’t want these moving at all while in transit. Once you’re fairly confident, run out of newspaper, run out of time, or just plain ol’ give up, place a final layer of scrunched up newspaper on top of the cake box.

Shut the flaps and tape it closed the same way you did the bottom of the box. HOWEVER, leave room for the shipping and return address somewhere. After the addresses are in place, I use the packing tape one last time and put it over the addresses so it doesn’t get smeared if water or something drips on it. Give the box a final shake; flip it upside down, too. Does it sound good? Good meaning: silent. Nothing rattling around? Cool. Get thee to the Post Office. They should ask, but if they don’t, tell them three things:

It’s perishable

It’s cookies

There are no liquids in the box

I thought I took a picture of the boxes ready for shipping but I dunno where they are now. Camera gnomes at work, I suppose. Before you ask:  No, shipping cakes or cupcakes is not the same. I haven’t tried to ship those, but I have read it’s extremely tricky/difficult without using a door-to-door service and I surely do not have the spare cash for that and neither do any of my friends; or if they do, they’re not telling me. J

Cookies I have shipped:

(Practicing cornelli. As I suspected, I don’t have the thought patterns to do this naturally.)

(On this one, I learned you need thicker icing than outline consistency to make hearts that keep their shape.)

(I got the inspiration for these from pood on here: http://cakecentral.com/gallery/1917990 . I created mine a little differently and have a few uplifting tips I’ll share later.)

I did ship a small music note, too; but I don’t have a picture of it. I included it as a test of shipping something small and something with a fragile piece (the neck of the note). It did not arrive intact.

One last tip about timing: I bake cookies and freeze them until I’m ready to decorate if I’m not doing it that day so they stay as fresh as possible. I decorate them all in one day, give them a full day to dry, and ship the third day. The way my post mistress ships them takes 2-3 business days. I have shipped them on a Thursday and they have arrived two states away the following Tuesday still okay to eat, according to the recipients. You really have to plan the timing carefully as unlike local deliveries, you have to account for 2-3 days shipping time. Unlike the cookies you purchase at the grocery store, there are no preservatives in these cookies and this must be taken into account. After all, this face is counting on you:

Photo courtesy of Peanut Butter Monster in the greater Philly area:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150105571126543&set=a.86028146542.80434.516821542#!/pages/Peanut-Butta-Monster/124311800939154

 

A Tale of Three Cookie Sheets

21 Mar

Recently, hubby and I trekked to the big city for a cheapo dinner (his favorite kind) and he surprised me by purchasing a chocolate chip cookie for me whilst I was making the obligatory potty stop before the trek back to the wilderness. (So much for sugar detox, right?) I could have looked past the milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet, but Lord, I’ll never forgive the preservatives in those “fresh baked” dailies. It must be bad if I can taste it because unnatural, preserved beyond eternity doesn’t usually bother me at all. I’m just in it for the sugar buzz.

However, had it not been for the laughably bad commercially sold cookie that is marketed as “fresh baked daily,” I never would have been in the mood for a real chocolate chip cookie. Thanks or blame? You decide.

Having nothing better to do, okay- that I wanted to do, I cooked up a scientific experiment.

For my little foray into the scientific world, I used the exact same recipe but 3 different sheet pans/cookie sheets. One is the run of the mill jelly roll pan, one an airbake (which may or may not be a copyrighted term) type, and the last one a non-stick airbake pan. No, I don’t know why I have 3 different cookie sheets in my kitchen. It’s a recent development. I decided to not ask why, but just accept them for who/what they are.

This recipe is for a chewy cookie and experience with it has taught me that if you bake them until they look like all other cookies (that is, nice and brown), they will be as hard as your husband’s head when he thinks mixing your pink shirt with his tighty whities is a stellar way to save time and energy. Each batch of cookies was baked for the exact same time.

First up: the regular airbake pan.

These had to cool longer than usual in order to get them off the sheet in one piece. I assume this is because the pan retains heat longer? Good to know.

Next: the non-stick air bake pan:

As you can see, they are puffier than the other batch. However, they soon deflated to look like all the rest.

Lastly, the jelly roll pan:

I baked them for the same amount of time as the other pans even though (when I’m not experimenting so as to eat cookies without guilt) I normally bake them a minute or two longer. These look under-done. In fact, they looked under-cooked for a full 24 hours. They even tasted a bit like it. Not enough to keep away the chow hounds, but still.

For the last trip through the oven, I used the regular airbake pan again but this time I left them in the oven until they looked like cookies are supposed to look when they are done. They weren’t nearly as soft, yet they never reached the rock solid stage they do when I’ve cooked them for the full time with the jelly roll pan. Still edible, but not as yummy.  At least, not as yummy for those of us who like our cookies chewy.

Side by side comparison in the same order as baked:

Left to right: regular airbake, non-stick airbake, jelly roll pan

Again, left to right: regular airbake, non-stick airbake, jelly roll pan

Once more for the folks with short-term memory loss, left to right: regular airbake, non-stick airbake, jelly roll pan

Below is the last batch that I baked until brown. “How dry I am! How dry I am!”

What, you might ask, did I learn from this experiment? Nada dang thing. Except my cookie recipe is soooo much better than the ones for 2 bucks at that one restaurant. You know, the one with the subs. They should stick to bread and meat. 

Clean up volunteers get a free cookie!

One Smart Cookie

22 Dec

Day two. Yes, the Stained Glass candy, fudges, and Spritz were all made in one day. Better yet- one afternoon. It’s that quick to make them. However, now we slow down to a project that lasted three days. We didn’t do anything on the second day, but it still took 3 days to get it completely done. What could possibly take that long? Fruit cake? Ew, no. Sugar cookies. It’s not making the cookies that take so long, it the procrastinating and decorating that gets in the way. Fiddly stuff, cookie decorating. In years past, we would slather the icing on with knives and let the drips fall where they may. Santa never looked like his Jolly Old Self, the stars had craters of frosting like we were going for the moon, and the candy cane stripes were less than tidy. Even that haphazard method took forever and I usually pawned off the job on someone else. Being newly unemployed with the kiddos and hubby home, I knew I had to pitch in and at least help this year. Ugh. What’s a cake decorator to do?

Avoiding the issue and considering the options took a full 24 hours. I’m going to save you one whole day with this tutorial. I’ve cut out The Day of Consideration and Procrastination because I found the solution. One that people have been doing for eons, but in my stubbornness, I’ve never tried. I thought it would be even more time consuming, more messy, and too full of tiny details that drive me mad. Mad, I tell you. Mad, mad, mad! Cookie icing, sprinkle throwing, candy ball placing mad! Bwahahahaha!

Ahem, let’s get on with it, shall we? The recipe I used was the same one I used for my daughter’s wedding reception. You, too, can have your very own copy of this recipe by clicking here:

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Rolled-Sugar-Cookies/Detail.aspx

Jill is one smart cookie and one smart baker. I even used her confectioner’s sugar and icing mixture to ice them- until this year.

One thing to note: the dough has to be refrigerated so plan accordingly. I hate when I’m in the middle of a recipe and run smack into “wait one hour.” Ruins the whole flow and throws off the schedule. I’m warning you now. If you want to complete the baking portion start in the morning (or afternoon if you’re a night owl). If you start at night and expect to get it done before bed, it ain’t gonna happen.

Per the usual crazy methodology of mine, gather your ingredients and tools. Wanna know why I do this first? Have you ever gotten into a recipe only to find out you don’t have something you need? Stinks, doesn’t it? That’s why I gather first. It’s not foolproof (and I am nothing but a fool- a sugar fool.) but most of the time it works for me.

Can you believe those are but a small portion of the cutters I own?  I just bought a set of letters and numbers to add to the collection. Hubby thinks my cake pan collection is bad, heaven forbid he ever realizes how many cookie cutters I possess. If you spill the beans, you’ll be on kitchen clean-up for the next year. K? Now, let’s get started.

Make sure the butter is soft, and cream it with the sugar.

 

I know, I know: why so many pictures? I always try to assume if you read this blog, you’re a newb. It couldn’t be our witty repartee now, could it? As a newb, you may not know what I mean when I say, “cream.” Hopefully, the pictures show what creaming looks like and the stages from whole ingredients to completely creamed. Some will tell you that the sugar should be dissolved and the goo won’t feel grainy. That doesn’t happen for me, at least not with this recipe. It needs to be completely incorporated, but don’t worry about graininess just yet.

Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

 

I’m a daredevil. Look at the bravery-adding ingredients while the mixer is running. Don’t try this unless you’re willing to clean up mess ‘cause sometimes it throws stuff like a baby with oatmeal at 6 a.m. after allowing you a whopping two hours of sleep.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, let it whirr for a bit to finish mixing, and then add the dry ingredients: baking powder, salt, and flour. I add them in that order because I fear the baking powder and salt won’t be spread out evenly in the batter. You have your quirks, I have mine.

 

See the tossing? Yeppers. Fortunately, the mess wasn’t too bad. Today, anyway. Don’t try this on the high setting, folks; or you will curse my name for years to come. Low only.

Mix until it’s all combined, stopping to scrape the bowl as needed.

 

 Aaannnd now we wait.  Scrape into a ball-like shape and cover the dough.

 

 Stick said dough in refridge for at least an hour.

 

 As you can see, it’s leftovers for dinner tonight. I gotta ditch the ghetto tupperware before the relatives arrive.

In the meantime, we really should clean up the mess we made so far.

 

 (Mixer can be found here:  http://www.kitchenaid.com/flash.cmd?/#/page/home or you can wait 5 years for your hubby to realize you seriously want one, would not have put one on your Christmas list if you didn’t, and really will use it all the time to make stuff that will give him to the roundest Buddha belly in town.)

Feel free to chill out while the dough chills out. Pour a cup of nog, put your reindeer slippers on the furniture and watch Rudolph unplugged. Isn’t it sad how much they chop up movies when they put them on the tube? Go wild and buy the originals on DVD this year. Support your local elf.

Okay, that’s enough. Don’t want to get too relaxed or we’ll never get this done and the neighbors will know what a slacker at heart you really are.

Prep your cookie sheets.

 

I like 2- one in the oven and one to put more on while the first one bakes.

Plop some flour on the counter, flour your rolling pin, and plop a smaller pile of flour nearby to dip your cutters.

 Yeah, don’t forget that second pile. As you can see, I did; and I had to start all over again. Bah humbug.

For some reason known only to Herbie, I always have to add more flour to this recipe or all it does to stick to everything. If you have the same problem, feel free to add more- but not so much the dough is dry and don’t knead it so much that the cookies are tough. You’ll have to learn by feel for this. It should stick a little to the counter or hands, but not at all to the rolling pin.

Turn on the oven before you start rolling the dough. It’s the little details like that which will delay progress. 🙂

 

Okey doke, roll it out, dip your cutters in flour, and press away.

 

 Seethe little spreader? I used this instead of a butter knife for the first time this year. It worked much better. Less tearing, less distortion, less hair pulling.

Cut them out, get them on the sheet, and slip the sheet into the oven.

 Like the Spritz cookies, you want the edges to just start to brown before you take them out of the oven. Any longer and you’ve made hard tack. You know- the bread the pioneers used to take cross-country that lasted forever. I bet more than one person met their end because they were so desperate to eat those hard things that they took a chance on the local water.

 

 Keep cutting, baking, and cooling ad-infinauseum or until your dining room looks like this:

 Once cooled, cover them up, clean up the kitchen, and go to bed. Even Santa sleeps some times.

 

 A fresh new morning awaits! Get up so we can finish these before the big day. I won’t bore you with a bunch of details, as this explanation is already quite lengthy. As I told you way at the roof top of this post, I usually make a thick concoction of confectioner’s sugar and water to ice cookies. I have used good ol’ buttercream, too. However, the results were less than impressive. They looked like a 5 year old decorated them. Slop on some frosting, load it up with sprinkles, and move on with life, right?

Being nearly in the cake biz this year, I felt it best to work on the execution this time around. I loaded up with colored royal icing and sprinkles and set to work, hoping my creative vibe had returned after being squashed in a corporate pod for months.

 Important things to know about royal icing:

Grease-free everything. Don’t just guess. I keep separate tips, spatulas, and metal bowls just for royal.

It dries quickly, so keep everything covered every moment it’s not in use- the bowl, the tips, the spreaders, everything.

Once it dries/crusts, it’s useless for anything other than throwing at your kitchen mate.

Raw eggs are bad. Don’t spend the holidays on the potty, use meringue powder instead.

Primary colors can be difficult to achieve. I didn’t have too many problems with this, but “they” say it’s hard to do.

 Generally, you make royal thick, outline the area you want to ice, thin the royal, and flood the interior of the outline. Too many steps for me today, so I stuck with medium consistency to do both. It worked okay- not perfect by any means, but the kiddos who will eat these will think they are and that’s all that counts, right?

Generally, I like the smaller grained colored sugar better than the larger. The exception was the white sparkly colored sugar. If you want snowy sparkle, that’s the stuff to use. The larger grained sugar tended to lay on top and looked exactly like what it is: sugar sprinkled on a cookie. The smaller grain looked more like part of the décor. Make sense?

The chicklet was in charge of our very first 3D tree this year. Basically, you take 2 each of 5 or so different sized star cookies, stacked them so the points are off-set, and frost away. Being the smart chicklet that she is, she frosted first.

The candy ornaments and snow drips were added after stacking. Pretty nifty, isn’t it?

Okay, enough explanation. The big day is but a few hoof beats away.  Get in there and do it. Soon your dining room can look like this, too:

 

Puttin’ on the Spritz

21 Dec

Dang. The kitchen’s a mess again.

Someone’s going to have to clean before we move on. I volunteer you. You’re welcome.

Thanks. Appreciate it. You’re a real pal. As a token of my appreciation, I’ll show you how I make Spritz. What? Never heard of them? Sheesh. We are a poor society indeed. Spritz are cookies made with butter and shaped with a cookie press. My recipe is from a book older than me. I know, it doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. It’s from yet another cookbook that somehow made its way to my first apartment from my mother’s kitchen. It’s not like she ever used it or anything. She later told me I could have it so I’m in the clear, anyway. Thanks, mamma! Ol’ Betty taught me a lot.

This recipe is so good, it has hardly changed since that cookbook. Wanna see? Betty’s still “with it” after all these years, and has her very own website:

http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes.aspx/the-ultimate-spritz/aa68df04-bd64-4f1b-8421-0df82064bca4

Let’s line up the ingredients first.

Place ingredients in a bowl.

Mix ‘til it looks like…like…well, like cookie dough.

That’s the fast part.

Split the dough into separate containers. One for each color, if you please. Add color to the bowls.

You can find a similar cookie press here:

 http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?id=3E31881B-475A-BAC0-5BF4C1F280CA1C18&killnav=1

I found mine at a thrift store so my model isn’t available new anymore. The site also has a video about making Spritz cookies if you need more info than my words can provide. It’s actually a very informative video. However, it’s grainy if you expand it to full screen.

Alrighty, the color has been added and now it’s time to spend a lot of time incorporating the color. A…lot…of…time. I don’t know why I’m not faster at this, but I’m not.

Red, green, and yellow are the colors we’ve always used, but feel free to branch out into fuschia, lilac, or whatever tickles you.

Grab a hunk of dough and shape it into a roll.

Shove it into the cookie press.

Make sure it’s packed in there. Air pockets will tick you off. Cram it in there good and tight.

Put your disk in the cap, screw on the cap, and press away, my friend, press away!

Huh. Looks like the chicklet got my man hands. So sorry, dearie. Grow your nails long; it will help.

Greasing the sheet is up to you. I do, but that’s because this one time, I didn’t, and they stuck. A lot. I made cookies crumbs, not cookies, that day. However, if you have trouble getting the raw dough to stick to the sheet so the cookie properly presses, wipe off the grease on the sheet (with a piece of wax paper so there’s still a little grease on it) and try again.

Bake at an unbelievable temp for a short time.

Repeat until all the dough is used.

Spritz burn easily and, because the dough is colored, it can be difficult to know when to remove them from the oven. The edges should just start to brown. That’s how you know they’re done.

Yeah, the picture isn’t that clear. It’s the best I can manage. I can never remember how to work the macro setting thingy on my camera.

They only need to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before they are ready to be put on a cooling rack.

See the hand shaped candy cane one? That’s what happens if you don’t watch them closely.

Some people do all kinds of fancy decorating with these. Not me. They are perfect just like this. Buttery, light, and crisp. Not messy. Classic.

These freeze well, too. I’m frequently mentioning freezing because I usually start baking right after Thanksgiving and pop everything in the freezer to await the big day. Much better than having to do all this in one week. Do it when you get a couple of hours here and there. December is way too busy so make things as easy as you can for yourself. You deserve it. That, and a cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane draping the side of the cup. With Spritz cookies on the side, of course.

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