35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 3 – The Deceptively Not So Simple Soft Lofthouse Style Frosted Cookies

O.k., you can totally call me on it.  I made these ones earlier in the week for the sole purpose of making sure I get the post out on time and, well, life happened.  So  here I am in Week 4, writing about my Week 3 conquest.

On  Thursday I was in the store scrolling through my board on the phone.  I was extra exhausted from work  and not in the mood to tackle anything major.  A few swipes in and I found them, simple copy cat Lofthouse sugar cookies.  These are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures of my husband and I.  They are so soft and the frosting is so rich and the recipe (ingredients) seemed so easy….seemed is the operative word here.

I got home later in the evening and went over the steps of the recipe and wanted to cry.  There was dough rolling and chilling overnight and more dough rolling and cutting. Ugh, I was so mad.  But if anyone knows me, I am committed.  I followed that recipe in my zombie state, threw them in the fridge and fell out.

At around 4:50 am the next morning, I started phase 2, The Roll Out.  I got my favorite, handy dandy roller and got to work.  Now, I will be the first to confess I have yet to master the art of rolling out anything.  I think I need a ruler because not matter how much my eyes convince my brain I have reached the appropriate thickness, I end up with double the volume once baking is complete.  As far as cutting out my cookies,  I have every cookie cutter possible except for a simple circle so I used my go to back up….a  drinking glass.  It does the trick to perfection and you don’t have to spend any extra money.

I threw those puppies in the oven and got to work on the frosting.  Now, I know I said I would stay away from buttercream frosting (and that is where it is solely butter), but this time I figured it wouldn’t be so bad being on a cookie and I was correct.  I don’t know if it was the heavy cream or what, but I was soooooooo delicious.  Anyway, wham bam thank you ma’am, the cookies were packed up and ready to be hauled off with me to work.  They came out cute, but the flavor was o.k.  I think the frosting saved the cookie as it tasted more dough like than that who-knows-what’s-in-it Lofthouse cookie you get from the store.  It only matched up with the store bought version by appearance and texture to some extent.

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I’m now going to pull a screenwriter move and go back to the beginning.  Imagine a tape playing back at full speed.  The recipe called for low fat sour cream, I opted for full fat.  This is not because I am some fancy baker that wanted a different flavoring, that is just what I had in the fridge.

I also opted to use the extra amount of flour that is directed to use as needed to flour my rolling surface.  I thought I was so fancy and graduating to a real baker coming up with my own plan.  It really didn’t work.  It was so sticky.  I also just did a dab of orange food coloring because food coloring freaks me out and I think I am going to have to suck it up and pay for the natural mixes they offer online.

For some tips:

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  1.  The absolute best rolling pin, in my humble opinion, are the solid wood pieces.  The ones with the handles that are on a type of roller can break under pressure (I promise I’m not heavy handed) and the full wood ones look nicer.IMG_7901
  2. Whenever possible and o.k., use parchment paper.  It allows you to just keep it moving with several batches.  Just pull the paper (with cookie) off the pan and you’re ready to start your next batch.  IMG_7907IMG_7909IMG_7911
  3. A quick way to get a good frosted cookie with the smooth edge is, as always, using a pastry bag.  It made this so much faster for me. (Ugh I just realized this picture is not in focus)
  4. Use an external thermometer in the oven.  I never do this as I do not have one, but I am definitely planning on purchasing one.  The oven definitely become hotter as I continued to bake and cookies were being done way faster than was called for in the recipe.IMG_7882
  5. I know I have said this before, but I don’t think I can stress it enough.  Always crack your eggs in a separate dish.  I use my custard dish because it looks like the cooks/bakers on t.v.  I will not gross you out with the high school Home Ec. class, but let’s just say I was very glad I was in the group that listened and got to eat my chocolate cake.

I guess I can say if I do choose to make this cookie again, I will try another recipe.  I like the look of this cookie and I can imagine doing fun and creative things with it for the holidays, but try it and let me  know if you had better luck.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 2 – Brown Butter Cake with Vanilla Bean Icing and Salted Caramel

The first thing I have to confess is that, due to my relentless cold, I am behind in posting, but I assure you I am baking in real time.  This cake was made this past Sunday.  I was, once again, able to find inspiration for my baking and this time it was my mother in-law’s birthday.  And what would be more appropriate for a birthday than a cake.  Aside from the gorgeous image of the cake, the words “brown butter” will get me every time.  OMG, I just wiped drool from my mouth.  Brown butter is the process of taking butter to an unimaginable level.  Imagine butter, now image having butter in heaven and you will get a glimpse of what it is to have browned butter.  If you think I am being dramatic, try it.  It attacks all of the major senses involved in eating.  The smell is mind numbing.  It is a cross between roasted nuts and caramel, a smoked caramel if you will.  I also, happen to love the look as well.  It is just a beautiful caramel color and it taste so rich.  As you can see, I can write a post on just browned butter alone, but I digress.  Aside from the naming of this delectable dessert, the beautifully crisp image that I chose to “pin” on my “wall” is what grabbed me initially.  I loved the smooth, seamless frosting underneath the glossy caramel drizzle with tiny little vanilla bean speckles can be seen on the sides of this adorable cylindrical masterpiece. The image below is from the original recipe and the one I chose to “pin”.

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The first task at hand was to get the right sized cake pans.  Since I am the absolute worst at visioning size of an object based on a documented measurements, I was shocked when I went to the store and found the four 6″ cake pans.  They were so tiny.  Anyway, I can now I can make cute little cakes so it was all worth it.

If I am being honest, though this was only Week 2, it was already a bit of a flop.  I started off looking good, I promise.

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As you can see, I masterfully browned the butter (I like to leave in the crust if it will not impact the look) as I have made several recipes with browned butter at this point and I even mentally created an updated version of one of my favorite cookies which I plan to make at the end of the month.  Don’t worry even though it is not part of the 35 week baking, I will still post.  After that, things slowly started to go south, from the forgetting to put in the eggs until after the dry ingredients had been mixed in to the, well, you’ll see later.

Despite the major fails, I do have some tips for this one.

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  1.  I am a master at preparing a cake pan.  Though I grew up making boxed cakes with my mom (which is funny because we never ate processed food for meals), I learned how to properly and thoroughly grease a cake pan as if I was making something from scratch.
    • Put shortening on a paper towel and grease the pan ensuring that you cover every inch including the creases
    • Then take a little bit of flour and dump it in the center
    • Work the flour around the cake pan like you are trying to keep a marble from falling off the edge of a tray (I hope that makes sense)
    • Finally rotate the pan like a wheel so that you get the walls of the pan and tap it to remove any excess flour (maybe I will do a video some day).

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Here is the picture of the finished cake out of the pan (above).  Mic drop.

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  1.  I do know if you are making a layered cake, you level off the top with a knife.  The cake should probably be really cooled at this point so you don’t knock off the edges of the cake like I did.  You are also supposed to  do something similar on the sides, but clearly I went too far.IMG_7845IMG_7846
  2. I saw this online and it worked like a charm.  For the filling layer, use a pastry bag and any circular tip to dispense and then lightly spread it with a flat spatula (any smoothing tool).  That made this step a snap.IMG_7875
  3. Do not, I mean do not substitute vanilla extract for vanilla bean but you can substitute it with vanilla bean paste which is also also quite pricey, but the unlike  billion dollars for the actual bean, it’s a much easier pill to swallow.  The little bean speckles add to the visual charm of the dessert and I believe it is more concentrated as well.  I don’t know, it just has a different flavor that is worth trying.  My husband found this one at Harris Teeter for $10.  But he heard that Trader Joe’s has the same one during the holidays for $4 so be on the lookout for a crazy lady collecting every single tube in November.

Now that is all the tips I am giving because I botched the other tips and ended up mutilating the cake.  Yes, a cake was hurt while filming this process.  But none was wasted!  The kids, my hubby and I gobbled up every little crumb that did not make it to the finale.

There were also a couple of steps I skipped as I was in a rush to get the cake to the birthday girl.  When you initially frost a cake, it is called the “crumb layer”.  Apparently this is a thin layer of frosting that is applied to the cake in order to “catch” the crumbs that magically appear.  This recipe went a step further and had you chill the cake after the crumb layer for 30 minutes.  I think this would have really locked in those crumbs.  This is where I almost lost the cake, again likely due to it not being cooled enough.  I actually started breaking off cake.  After a while I just pretended like I was working on dry wall and the frosting was my caulk.  I actually saved it…well at this step.

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Once I added the frosting, it started going south and it took forever just to get this look.  My final thoughts after making this cake are, one, I absolutely do not like butter frosting.  I said butter, not butter cream which has cream cheese in it.  I need more time and practice for making cakes as they are so much work.  I also dare anyone to ever ask me to make a cake because I will karate chop them.  It is so much work and you would have to charge a lot to make it worth it.

It was pretty good, but the most important part is the birthday girl loved it!

 

Here is the image on my Pinterest wall.

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See, just like the original.  I bet you can’t tell which one is mine.

A Little Something For a Little Someone

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Now I know you are saying to yourself “what a corny title”, but I have to say this first birthday celebration for my little guy is only a shell of what I had originally planned so it was definitely just a little something.  I guess these are those moments when that saying “Life is busy happening when you are making plans” or something like really applies.  I had envisioned my son’s first birthday celebration since the day of his birth.  O.k., that is an exaggeration, but pretty early on.  Yet, it just so happened that his birthday fell 5 days after we up and relocated our whole family to another state.  But I am happy to say that, throughout all the rubble and business, I was able to carve out a small moment to celebrate this wonderful occasion.

I was able to keep the same concept I had originally planned using whatever items made the long trek across country.  The table covering was left over construction paper I had purchased for my oldest son’s 3rd birthday since I didn’t have the gorgeously rustic wooden table I had envisioned.  It was absolutely a good investment since I have used it for 3 events at this point and there is still a significant amount of roll remaining.  I did purchase 2 cake stands from TJ Maxx.  One was only $7 and the other $12.99.  I ended up taking random pictures of the chocolate cake on the stand, because I will tell you, the right dishware will turn up food presentation several notches.

For my “Ode to One” chalkboard aka 99 cent store black posterboard, I used a white crayon to write the word “one” in multiple languages since I could not find chalk.

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The cakes I made were Chocolate, Southern Coconut, and White cake with Raspberry buttercream frosting (my favorite).  I will confess, in my haste, I forgot to add the 4.5 tsp of baking powder to the mix so it did not rise and was very dense.  None of which prevented me from gobbling up at least one slice.

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A little quick tip,  I threw away my broken sifter in the move and forgot to buy a replacement.  I strainer works wonders!

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Since I gagged at the idea of my 12 month old gobbling up a sugar encrusted cake, I frosted his cake with Yoplait yogurt.  I preferred using a plain yogurt in which I add a couple of natural and non-sugar flavors, but someone did not get the Plain Greek Yogurt I requested so I got the next best, non sugar icing thing.

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For my little prince’s crown, I used some pipe cleaner I found in my oldest son’s craft box.  It wasn’t my normal blow out, but hey, he was happy and I am a proud mama.

Ka Blam!! Fox’s Super Hero Themed 4th Birthday!

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The moment I walked into the rec room where my friend Richelle was throwing her son Fox’s 4th birthday and saw the awesome photo backdrop, I knew I had to share this party with anyone and everyone.  Of course, I knew a super hero birthday was going to be a hit with my sons when I first got the invitation.  I mean, what little boy or any child for that matter does not like dressing up as their favorite super human character and acting out the cool moves unique to the hero.  But I was not prepared for the creative ideas she concocted at this party.

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For the details, I must first coo over the backdrop that makes even the most conservative adult want to become a super hero.  She used Baby blue plastic table cloth to create the sky.  She created clouds in the shape of her son’s name (genius!).  Construction paper was used to craft a sun and the absolute best part was the cardboard boxes used to make buildings.  The secret was that these boxes are actually turned inside out so one can make use of any box without having to worry to worry about concealing the original packaging.  Talk about a time saver!  And of course, no photo set up would be complete without props.  There were several handmade options from the vintage action word signs to hero masks.

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For activities, there was coloring available with, appropriately themed, super hero pages.  One of the best and original games was the Candy Snatcher Villain.  Richelle created an original game where the kids get a chance to fill a bag with candy until the “villain” comes and snatches it away.  The kids waited in a single file line and went one at a time to prevent the havoc that would inevitably ensue if they were allowed to run free.  Finally, my favorite part, each homemade cupcake was topped with a cool super hero logo.  It was an awesome party and the kids were in super hero heaven.  I was very grateful to be invited.

 

Twofer: An Easter basket birthday gift.

Call me cheap…no really, call me cheap, because I am not one to shy away from a good “two for one” deal.  Which is why  it should be no surprise that I decided to combine an Easter basket with a birthday gift for my son’s friend’s 4th birthday party.  Honestly, it is really just a cute gift idea for a 4th birthday that happens to be the day before Easter.  Target had these cute buckets in the Easter section along with a sign saying “buy me, I come with a deal” so I bought one for the birthday boy and a few others for the many kids in my life (post to follow).  The thing with  basket gifts is that you have to get creative.  So beware anyone thinking of trying this (I do recommend it), you will have to come up with  how to fill it and I know for many people that could be a daunting task.

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I raided the dollar bins at Target, the dollar store, and I found a Michael’s Arts &  Crafts with $5 or less bins (Jackpot!).  Since I am not a big fan of giving kids too much candy, my creativity was in full affect.  I found some cute basketball band-aids, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle puzzle, a monster truck, markers, Leap Frog learning pad, and some water balloons.  For an extra bonus I threw in a pair of cute Carter’s brand shorts from Costco for $6.99 and yes you do see SOME candy.  I think with all that is said and done, I spent maybe $20 on the whole basket including the bucket itself.

A Spring Celebration For Daisy

A Spring celebration  couldn’t be a more fitting setting for little Miss Daisy’s 2nd birthday.  The pastel colors, the flowers, the beautiful insects all a perfect setting for an adorable little girl.  This is most likely why I had a brief (let’s emphasize brief) desire for a little girl when my bestie Dione called me to throw ideas back and forth for her daughter’s party.  This planning was a little different for me as Dione is also very creative and skilled in the art of crafting so she had her own ideas of how she would handle the celebration.  It started off with us spewing out any and everything that has to do with spring and eventually scaling it down to just butterflies and flowers.

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True to her nature, Dione did all of the work.  I added a backdrop of tissue paper flowers and assisted in setting up a deliciously colorful dessert table.  I hung some lanterns which I adorned with butterflies all purchased at two of my favorite frugal party planning locations, Party Barn and Fabric Barn (in Long Beach, CA).  A girl could shop there for hours and still have money left over.

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These cake pops were my favorite.  Dione cut flowers out of pink and purple cardstock with her Cricut and inserted them into the stick.  A very easy way to turn a  simple cake pop into an adorable bright flower.

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Being a childcare instructor (yeah, not sure of her official title), Dione knows exactly how to entertain children and with the super low cost, it was my kind of entertainment.  She set up tables/stations with leggos or drawing materials, and even a soil digging station which, by the way, was the kids’ favorite.  Oh and what would a Spring celebration be without an Easter Egg Hunt.

 

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All of the food, except Buffalo Wild Wings, was catered toward the children although if an adult decide they wanted a butterfly sandwich, who were we to judge.

 

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The party was fun and bright and ended up being an awesome way to ring in the Spring season.

 

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Snow White Gets A Budget

It’s February again and it’s time for my good friend Sara’s lovely daughter Julia’s birthday party.  I was so excited to hear that this year’s theme was Snow White.  Now regardless of Sara’s humility and claim that she is “not creative”, there is no denying her flawless execution of every piece of decoration she has at her parties.

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When I first entered the house I missed the cute paper frame taped on the mirror since my eyes were immediately drawn to the food table with a colorful streamer filled backdrop.  The food was simple, which not only makes it easy on the cook, but easy on the pocket and adorable homemade, themed signs added a little more fancy to the ‘f’ in frugal.  Sara’s bonus was using an apple-shaped cookie cutter to cut the PB&J sandwiches.  I think that had to be my favorite.  The center piece added a woodsy flair and cost her about…um $0.  She borrowed some sticks from me that I keep for decorative purposes and cut some excess foliage from her backyard trees and there you have a centerpiece that takes you into the forest.  Now, here is where I bond with Sara the most.  The rest of the forest-like decor on the table are actually from Christmas decorations purchased after the holiday so they cost next to nothing.

Oh and one crucial point I left out in the beginning.  Sara won a free visit from Snow White in a raffle so imagine a budget party that gets a surprise visit from the main character.  Oh yes, this had it all.

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The children’s table looked more like a forest picnic table.  It dawned a blue and white plaid table cloth that Sara already had in her stash, mini trees and apples for the centerpiece, and place settings in the color scheme of the snow white character (blue, red, and yellow).

For dessert, my fav, there were of course apple-shaped sugar cookies, cupcakes with adorable Snow White printables on top, and a special mini cake for the birthday girl.

The party was so fun for the kids and reminds me why I am a firm believer in having kids parties that are for the  kids and not to impress their parents.  It allows for much simpler and cheaper cooking and you still impress your main audience, the children.  I am still recovering from admiration of Sara’s surgeon like cutting technique.  She has no special tools so every cutout was free hand.  Insane!

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Each kid was sent home with an adorable, goodie-filled yellow basket that cost less than $4 each using the 99 Cents Only Store and Target’s $1 bin.  It was ultimately a craft project of a bird house to be painted and bird seed so the kids can actually see their work put to use.  The party was a hit and at no great cost, way to go Sara!

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