Oh boy, did I have fun sculpting shortbread for Mother’s Day. I’m getting this in just under the wire, but chances are you have everything you need to make these rich Chocolate Shortbread Flowers. I learned what works (and what definitely doesn’t) when it comes to designing cookie flowers, and have chosen my two favorite options for this post: roses and two-layer posies.
I used half butter and half shortening to give the blooms a little more stability. I know, I know . . . I don’t like shortening either. But sometimes you just have to make an exception. As long as you roll the dough out between pieces of parchment, you can re-roll to your heart’s content. (I used my handy tortilla press again, and it worked very well!)
Leave the flowers plain or decorate the heck out of them. The cookies don’t have much sugar, so you can dip the baked edges or bottoms in chocolate without being afraid of getting them too sweet. I’ll give you a few options for decorating, and then you’re on your own.
Whatever you do, make sure you have a glass of milk or cup of coffee with your cookies; they’re really rich!
Chocolate chips (large preferred) for 2-layer cookies
Dark chocolate and sparkling sugar for decorating, if desired.
You will need a small heart cutter for roses (though you can make them with circles, too) or two flower cutters - one large, one smaller - for the 2-layer flowers.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, shortening, and powdered sugar together until creamy.
Add egg yolk and coffee (or milk) and mix well.
Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and cornstarch. Beat well. Be patient - it may take a few minutes before the mixture comes together.
Divide into two parts and chill for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 F.
Working with half of the dough at a time, roll out thin, about ⅛-inch. It's best to roll between lightly floured sheets of parchment. (Or use my trick and put small balls of dough between parchment and use a tortilla press.)
TO MAKE ROSES: Cut 6-7 small hearts. Press both rounded sides between thumb and forefinger to thin them out a little. Roll one heart, beginning at a rounded corner and rolling towards the other, making the center. It will create a "stem". Don't worry about this, you'll be cutting it off when you're done. Add one heart at a time, wrapping around the center. Stagger the petals as you go, and gently roll them outwards. If the dough cracks, just pinch it like you would clay. Add as many hearts as you want. Cut out two leaves and press them against the sides of the rose. Using scissors, cut the stem part off so the rose will sit flat. Place on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake 10-12 minutes. They should be firm, but don't let them get dark. Cool on a rack. Dip the bottom of the flowers in chocolate if you wish, and place on parchment until firm.
TO MAKE TWO-LAYER FLOWERS: For each flower, cut out one large and one small flower. Use a wooden skewer, toothpick, or the back of a knife to gently score the petals. This will make them easier to shape. (Dip the edges of both in sparkling sugar now if you wish.) Lightly position the small flower on the large one. Place a large chocolate chip point side down in the center of the small flower and press firmly. This will make the top flower raise and cup slightly. Slide a thin spatula under flower and lay it over the cavity of a mini muffin pan. Don't press down - it will shape itself as it cooks. Once muffin pan is full, bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a rack before lifting the flowers out carefully.
Leave plain, or dip the bottom in chocolate. You can add filling to the center - chocolate ganache, icing, or a mini peanut butter cup.
Press a large chocolate chip firmly on the top flower. It’ll magically raise up and take shape.
With a thin spatula, set flower carefully over the cavity of a mini muffin pan. Don’t press – it’ll settle in as it bakes.
Once cooled, I like to dip the bottom in melted chocolate and then set it on parchment until firm. (The fridge makes this go much faster.) You can leave it as is or fill the center with ganache or icing. You can also dip the edges in sparkling sugar before assembling the flower.
Now for the roses:
Cut out 6 or 7 small hearts. Press along the rounded tops to thin the edges. Roll first heart into a rose center.
Add a second heart. (Don’t worry about a long “stem” developing. You’re going to cut that off later.) Gently roll top edges of petals away from center.
Add petals until the rose is as big as you want. You can also cut a heart in half if you just need ONE more.
Use a leaf cutter or just cut leaves freehand. Press them into the sides of the flower.
Now – cut off all that extra “stem” at the bottom so the rose will sit nicely.
and . . . bake!
I covered the bottom of my roses with melted dark chocolate, finding it was easier to paint the chocolate on with a brush than to dip the cookies. I love the texture contrast – that snap of chocolate before your teeth hit cookie. Mmmm.
For fun, I put some of the melted chocolate into a small pastry bag and accented the petals on some of the flowers, outlining each one. It was surprisingly quick and easy, and fancy-dancy.
Well, there you have it. Not nearly as complicated as you expected, right? What are you waiting for? Go, go, go!
A Mother’s Day challenge was thrown out by Tamara of The Three Gerbers, asking us to list 10 ways our parenting has changed as our children grow older. I’m (gulp) a shit-ton of years older than she is, so my changes are probably more dramatic, but I’ll play along and give all of those young whippersnappers something to look forward to.
Here are some of my observations:
All three of my “children” can (and do) teach me new tricks in the kitchen, but they still appreciate my familiar comfort foods. They used to get underfoot and drive me nuts, but now I love cooking with them when I have the opportunity. One thing hasn’t changed: I still get stuck with the dishes.
I hate to admit this, but I’d much rather let them drive; they have so much more confidence than I. And yes, my kids’ hands shoots out in front of ME now when there’s a sudden stop.
I can still embarrass my daughter, only now it’s on social media for everyone to see. The boys have stronger survival instincts and steer clear of Facebook and Twitter.
I message my daughter for fashion advice. “Can I wear boots with jeans that are snug around the calf?” “What? I can’t wear socks with flats?” She knows this stuff, and I’m hopeless.
Surprisingly, they really haven’t changed much. Their personality traits have just strengthened, if anything. From oldest to youngest: artistic/independent/affectionate, creative/sensitive/capable, stubborn/erudite/irreverent. And all of them are very witty. The boys are like a comedy team. Their sister can hold her own, but I haven’t seen all three together for years. I’d be an appreciative audience for that show!
When they were younger, I felt that they were at least obligated to listen to my advice. Now I’m more hesitant about butting in. They may not believe it, but I really do hold back, because once I left home, my mom didn’t give me advice unless I asked for it – and the older I get, the more I appreciate how hard that must have been. (Just for the record, I’d give anything to sit on the couch with her and have her dish it out with abandon.) I’m afraid I can’t claim the self-control my mother had.
I’m the one getting reprimanded for having a potty mouth.
As they get truly settled (if there is such a thing) I find I’m worrying less. Finances, health, safety, it all swims around in my head, but I’m confident they will find their own answers. They, however, are probably beginning to worry more and more about the same issues—with ME. Wait . . . I’m becoming one of the aging parents everyone is worried about?
The older I get the more temptation there is to just sit in my (beloved) recliner and let the kids come to us. Now I understand why my parents did that as they aged. But until I am unable to travel, it’s important to go see them, too – especially now that there are grandchildren involved. Out of my comfort zone? Oh well. We’re heading to California to see the two oldest kids soon, and I can’t wait. Our youngest lives nearby, and he prefers to come here because then he can mooch a meal. Works for me!
I’m in contact with my daughter a lot – thanks to social media. (I really don’t like to talk on the phone for some reason.) The boys? Not as much. But basically, they are all independent and busy. I guess I’d worry about them if they had to call Mama every day. I know I’m loved, and I’m truly glad they are so self-reliant. Still, I think that mother hen instinct is always there, wanting to gather them all close and keep them safe.
I’ve been on a bit of a binge lately, and have probably eaten my weight in hickory smoked almonds in the last month or two. My obsession shows no sign of stopping. This is actually good news for you, because it inspired me to use part of my stash to create very tasty crackers that pair beautifully with salmon dip. And Chardonnay.
I hate to appear wishy-washy by giving you a lot of options and alternatives, but some people will click out of a recipe if it says something scary like “roll the dough”. I get it – rolling dough can be messy and time consuming. I’m going to give you an alternative to that. Personally, I love rolling out dough. It may be the only exercise I have in a day!
First, the basic method:
To make flat crackers, the dough is rolled out and then cut into any shapes that float your boat. But you can also flip a mini-muffin pan over and drape circles of dough over the . . . bottom of the pan to create crunchy little cups.These are genius, because they hold more dip.
Whether you make flat crackers or cups, you’ll need to get the dough very thin – no more than 1/8-inch thick. Thinner is even better. Don’t worry, it’s easy dough to work with. The simplest way to make the flat crackers is by rolling the dough directly onto a baking sheet. You don’t need to separate the crackers – just cut them with a pastry (or pizza) cutter and bake.Or you can use cookie cutters for cute shapes, cutting them directly on the pan or by rolling your dough on a floured surface (removing the scraps for re-rolling).
From left to right – thick to thin. The thick cups were 1/8-inch, the ones on the right were probably 1/16-inch.
Once the crackers or cups are baked and the oven’s turned off, any crackers that aren’t completely hard (which would be those on the thicker side of the scale) get returned to the warm oven to dry out for 30-40 minutes. This ensures a crispy, crunchy, sturdy cracker that will store well.
For you rollingpinphobes, I had an idea that worked very well. Do you have a tortilla press? Love mine, and it wasn’t very expensive at all. Just plop a ball of dough between pieces of parchment and press down gently. Don’t press all the way or you’ll end up with a VERY thin piece of dough that will tear easily. I can cut three 2 1/2-inch circles at a time this way, and the thickness is consistent.
When I first tried making these, I assumed that the salt content of the almonds and the cheese would be enough, so I didn’t add any salt. But crackers need to be salty in my opinion, and they just didn’t quite cut it, so I added a small amount of salt to the second batch and found them to be perfect. If you’re a real salt lover, sprinkle a little on the top of the crackers before baking.
No, I don’t get a kickback for this. I just love this stuff and want to share!
I used this Sweet Onion Sugar on one batch because I crave the whole sweet/salty/savory experience, and it was a big hit. My bottle was a gift from a friend, purchased from an amazing store in Montana called The Copper Moose . . . one of those places that could make a foodie run rampant, scooping up things they never even knew existed. Danger, danger, danger.
This recipe will yield approximately 4 dozen dip cups or 2-inch square crackers.
For flat crackers you will need a large, flat baking sheet. For cracker cups, you will need a mini-muffin pan. If your muffin pan isn't non-stick, you will also need small paper liners.
Chop the almonds very fine. To save time, you can us a blender or food processor, using short pulses to avoid turning it into paste.
In a large bowl, combine almonds, cheese, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Mix well.
Add oil, buttermilk, and Worcestershire sauce. Use a heavy spoon or your hand to thoroughly combine. You should be able to form the mixture into a ball with your hands.
FOR FLAT CRACKERS: Roll directly onto ungreased baking sheet. Lightly flour rolling pin and the top of the dough and roll very thin, no more than ⅛-inch. Use a pastry (or pizza) cutter to cut into squares or diamonds. You don't need to separate them. Alternatively, you can use cookie cutters. Lift the scraps between the shapes and save for re-rolling. Sprinkle with salt if desired and bake 7 minutes, or until crackers are rich golden brown. Remove from oven and place baking sheet on rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough. Once all crackers are baked, check to see if crackers are dry and crunchy. If not, turn oven off and open the door for 30 seconds. Return crackers to warm oven for 30-40 minutes to dry out.
FOR CRACKER CUPS: Turn mini-muffin pan upside down. Lightly grease non-stick pans, or cover each metal cup with a paper liner if your pan isn't non-stick. Roll out dough on floured surface, or press balls of dough between pieces of parchment in a tortilla press. Dough should be no thicker than ⅛-inch. Thinner is better! Cut circles that are 2½ inches and drape the dough circles over each cup, shaping gently. If any holes or tears appear, patch them with a pinch of dough. Bake 7 minutes, or until rich golden brown. Move pan to cooling rack and allow cups to cool for at least 5 minutes before lifting each one carefully from the pan. Remove paper liners if you're using them. Once all the cups are baked check to see if cups are dry and crunchy. If not, turn off oven and open door for 30 seconds. Place cups on a baking sheet and return to warm oven for 30-40 minutes to dry out.
If you’ve been following my blog, you might remember the Deviled Cakes I made a few years ago. They’re still one of my very favorite creations, but unfortunately the egg shaped baking pan is impossible to find now. So I decided to try the same idea with easy shortbread cookie dough.
Finding plastic eggs that open horizontally wasn’t that easy either, but they’re out there!
It wasn’t quite as I envisioned. I had hoped the shortbread dough would be strong enough to hold its shape in the oven with a hole in the middle for jam or ganache.
However, I filled that hole with a solid chocolate egg and baked it flat-side down, and—voilà! The chocolate egg supported the cookie dough and added a fun surprise center. Sweet!
A little white chocolate was spread smoothly on the cookie and topped with yolk-colored buttercream and red sugar sprinkles.
I’m getting this post in just under the wire, with two days until Easter. It was sort of an impromptu decision, which translates into: “I didn’t feel like cleaning house today”. This was much more important, right? If you don’t have time to make them this Easter, they’d be cute for a spring tea or luncheon, too.
¼ teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, increase to ½ teaspoon)
½ cup cornstarch
24 small solid chocolate eggs
½ cup butter, softened
3½ cups powdered sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
You will also need:
Plastic eggs that open horizontally
White chocolate candy melts - about 1 cup
In a large bowl, combine butter and powdered sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.
Add egg yolk and milk, and blend well. (If using a stand mixer, you may want to switch to the dough hook at this point.)
Add the flour, salt, and cornstarch and mix until it turns into a smooth, stiff dough. At first it will seem very crumbly, but it should come together. If it doesn't, add a little milk, a few drops at a time.
Chill dough for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 F. Cover baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
Lightly grease or spray the inside of one egg half and dip in flour. (The grease will help the flour stick.)
Press chilled dough firmly into egg, level with the top.
Press one unwrapped chocolate egg into widest half of the egg as deep as possible. Using your hand or a knife, level the dough in the egg. It's okay if a little chocolate is showing.
Squeeze the sides and ends gently to release the egg flat side down onto prepared baking sheet. Repeat, placing eggs at least 1 inch apart.
Bake 14-15 minutes, or until the flat side is beginning to turn light golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet on a rack. (If you need to use the pan for the remaining eggs, slide silpat or parchment onto the rack.)
Once eggs are cool, melt white chocolate in the microwave at 15 second increments, stirring often, or in a small pan on lowest heat. Use a knife or offset spatula to spread melted chocolate smoothly on each egg. Run your finger around the top edge for a clean look.
Make buttercream: Beat soft butter until creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar (and a little of the cream if it's too thick to mix), beating well. Add vanilla and remaining cream and beat well until fluffy. Add food coloring. I used mostly yellow, with just a tiny amount of green and orange to achieve an egg yolk color.
Pipe buttercream onto each cookie and sprinkle with red sugar.
This pretty spring confection is a five layer honey spice cake filled with whipped buttercream icing and topped with a layer of marshmallow honey fondant. A cute little beehive is made from leftover cake pieces (removed because I just had to make the cake a hexagon to go with the honeycomb theme) and placed on the top amid icing flowers and leaves and a jellybean honey bee or two.
You’re looking at a lot of time, labor, and ingredients. The butter! Omygosh, the powdered sugar! If this has you shaking your head, don’t stop reading. I’ll give you time-saving options.
The picture doesn’t do it justice; this is a huge cake. I used 10-inch square pans, which hold roughly twice what a standard 9-inch round pan holds. Even after cutting my cake into a hexagon shape, it weighed a ton. Trust me, it’s a thing of beauty, but be prepared to make a lot of icing! (And by this I mean . . . buy extra butter and powdered sugar. Depending on how generous you are, or how many flowers you want to make, you may need another batch.)
Right off the bat I’m going to go into my usual disclaimer: I’m a little bit nutty when it comes to playing with my food. I’m also retired and have a whole lot of free time. If you don’t want to go all the way with this project, here are some ideas for cutting corners:
In the first place, don’t cut corners! I made a hexagon to resemble honeycomb. You can stick to a round or square cake.
Cut the recipe in half and use three 9-inch round pans. (If you only have two pans, use approximately 2 1/2 cups of batter in each of your available pans and bake the cakes. (They won’t take as long to bake, so start checking at 30 minutes.) When they’re done, re-use one of the cake pans with the remaining batter. It will be fine waiting there on the counter for its turn. Don’t try to divide them – just level the tops and go with three thicker layers.
If you choose not to go with a hexagon shape, you won’t have leftover cake for the beehive. Use a big round pastry tip and pipe a buttercream beehive in the middle. Or just decorate with flowers and bees.
Easier yet? Make cupcakes. The fondant can still be rolled out and pressed with bubble wrap for the design, then cut into squares and draped over the cupcakes. An icing beehive on each would look really cute.
Speaking of fondant, you could save time by buying it (in the cake decorating aisle of large stores), but it sure won’t taste as good. Lots of people just peel it off anyhow, so it’s up to you.
Flowers are a lot of fun to create, but they can also be very time consuming. You can buy pre-made decorator flowers, use edible fresh flowers, or even buy wafer paper edible flowers online. (Just type “edible wafer flowers” into your search engine.) See what wafer paper pansies look like here on my Brownies for a Crowd post.
Don’t forget that you can spread this out a bit, too. Make the cakes ahead. Wrap them well and freeze them, or let them chill in the fridge for a day or two. If you’re making flowers, do that ahead of time, piping them onto pieces of waxed paper and freezing them. The bees can be made way ahead. They don’t need any special treatment – just put them up high where they aren’t a temptation to little ones, so they don’t “fly away”.
TO MAKE BEES, use jelly beans – a yellow one for the body and thin slices of either yellow or white for the wings. I used a Wilton edible ink marker for the eyes and stripes, but found that some jellybeans really resisted the color. A little dark chocolate and a very small piping tip might be easier for you. I stuck a pin in the poor bee’s bum for easy handling, and then when he was finished, pulled out the pin and put a tiny strip of black licorice in the hole for a stinger. I melted a little white chocolate in a small dish to use as glue and attached two thin slices to the sides for wings. You will need to hold them in place for a few seconds to let the white chocolate dry.
My little bee factory
The following recipe is for the LARGE spice cake. It’s easy to cut in half if you prefer to go that route. Yes, yes, I know – the recipe goes on and on and on. That’s because it is for the fondant, the cake, and the icing!
This will make a huge cake, using three 10-inch square cake pans. You can also divide the recipe in half and use three 9-inch round pans instead. Make the fondant the day before and leave (covered) on the counter until ready to use.
FONDANT (for best results, make the day before):
14 ounces marshmallow creme (also called "fluff")
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
yellow and orange food coloring, and a small amount of cocoa powder to achieve honey color
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 cup cooking oil (peanut, canola, anything light colored)
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
Juice and zest of one large lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice)
12 eggs, separated
3 cups cake flour
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1½ cup buttermilk
1 cup milk
WHIPPED BUTTERCREAM ICING:
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup shortening
3 pounds powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (clear vanilla for a lighter color)
1 teaspoon banana flavoring (optional - substitute lemon or extra vanilla if preferred)
⅔ cup heavy cream
assorted food coloring
Small bubble wrap
Decorations: flowers, bees (you can find these pre-made in some cake decorating departments, or make them from jelly beans), leaves, sprinkles
FONDANT: In a large bowl, combine the marshmallow cream, honey, and vanilla extract. Add food coloring one drop at a time, and a little cocoa powder, until it is the color of honey. Stir in as much of the powdered sugar as you can.
Lightly coat your work surface with shortening and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Using greased hands, knead the remaining powdered sugar into the fondant. This may take 10-15 minutes. When finished, the fondant should be fairly stiff and should not stick to your hands. (If it's still sticky, use a little more powdered sugar.) Cover with a bowl on the counter or place in a plastic storage bag. Leave out on the counter until ready to use.
CAKE: Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour (or use an oil/flour spray like Baker's Joy) 3 10-inch square cake pans. (If you don't have 3 pans, bake the cakes in shifts.) Place parchment in the bottom of each pan.
In a large bowl combine oil, butter, sugar, and honey. Beat for 2 minutes.
Add vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat until combined.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl frequently.
In a large bowl or pan, sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and milk.
Beginning with the dry ingredients and ending with the liquid, add ⅓ of each at a time, mixing each time just until incorporated. So . . . ⅓ of the flour mixture, mix. ⅓ of the liquid, mix, repeat until all is combined.
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form. Fold gently into the cake batter.
I filled two of the pans a little over half full - about 7 cups of batter in each - (these will each be divided into two layers once cooled) and filled the third pan less than half full - about 4 cups of batter. The third cake will be thinner, and won't be divided - just use it as the top layer.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes (a little less for the thinner cake), or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake. Ovens vary - if you see that the cake is browning and pulling slightly away from the sides of the pan, give it the toothpick check!
Allow the cakes to cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully turn them out.
For easiest handling, I really recommend you chill the cakes thoroughly before cutting layers or trimming.
I made a cardboard template of a hexagon and used it to cut the cake before layering it. Save the trimmings in a covered bowl for later if you plan on making a beehive for the top.
Divide each of the two larger cakes into two equal layers. Leave the thin cake as is. A little dome won't hurt with this cake, because the fondant will be draping over it, but you can level it if you'd like.
ICING: In a large bowl, beat the butter well. Add the shortening and beat until thoroughly combined. Beat in the vanilla and banana flavoring. Add powdered sugar slowly. If mixture gets too thick to beat, drizzle in a little of the cream. Scrape sides often, and beat until completely combined.
Slowly add cream, beating at high speed until icing is thick but spreadable. If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If it is too thin, add a little more powdered sugar.
Spread icing between each layer, being careful to bring the icing all the way out to the edge. (Piping a "dam" around the edge is very helpful.)
Cover the entire cake with a very thin coating of icing. This is a crumb coat, which will trap the crumbs and keep the cake looking nicer when you ice it.
Chill for at least one hour, or pop the cake in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
Spread icing over entire cake. Don't worry too much about making it perfect. If you're using the fondant top, you'll only see the bottom part of the cake. Save about ¼ cup of icing if you are making a beehive for the top.
Roll the fondant out on a greased surface generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Roll just a little less than ¼ inch thick. Cut a rough circle at least 1 inch bigger all around than the top of the cake. Press entire circle with lightly floured bubble wrap to achieve a honeycomb effect. You can do this with a rolling pin, but I find that I have better control when pressing with my hand.
Using both hands, lift the fondant up and quickly drape over cake. Fondant will stretch! Don't press onto sides of cake - let it hang. Use a pair of scissors to trim around the bottom of the fondant in a slightly uneven design or scallop, leaving the bottom inch or two of the cake showing.
To make the beehive, combine cake scraps with just enough icing to make it hold together when you squeeze it. Form a beehive and drape with a thin piece of fondant. Use fingers to press smoothly. Press a little cocoa in the beehive entrance to give it some depth. Set on cake.
If you’ve always longed to make a gingerbread house but couldn’t find time during the winter holidays, this is your chance to shine! Orange flavored sugar cookie dough is rolled and cut into six pieces, glued together with royal icing, and decorated to your heart’s content. Use your creation as a centerpiece instead of lilies; it’ll produce smiles rather than sneezes.
Here’s the back side of the house:
I’ve actually made two of these bad boys this year, trying out different sizes, shapes, and ideas. Here’s the one I made for a feature titled Super Sides in the Spokesman Review, a Spokane daily newspaper. It was a little more elaborate, with cookie fencing and a white chocolate conveyor belt carrying white eggs into the house and colored eggs back out for the bunnies to load into baskets. I had a blast making it (and “testing” the candy for freshness).
Created for The Spokesman-Review
I changed the dough a little bit for this house. Originally I used shortening for a more stable dough. For this version I substituted a little butter for part of the shortening and removed part of the leavening, and it worked just as well. The odds are no one will actually eat the house, but just in case, I also added some orange juice concentrate for more flavor.
And, yeah . . . it’s a little wonky. And I forgot to put the doors in before I set the roof, so one of them may be leaning a bit. But it has character, right? Charm. Kind of like a little Hobbit house.
I added some chickens to my yard. I cut them from leftover dough and painted them with melted candy melts.
Close up of the side yard, with chicken and nests.
If you make one of these, I’d sure love to see a photo of it! Just post it on my Rowdy Baker Facebook Page or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.
There was no way I could stuff all the instructions and ideas into one recipe, so I’ll add some tips below. And . . . here are my templates. You can see that the front and back pieces are angled to be wider on the bottom. I gave the measurement from the corner where the side meets the angle for the peak. That’s where your sides will go (on the back of the piece, of course) so you can angle it out as much as you want from that point.
Front and back. Cut 2! (It’s 6 inches from the bottom left corner to the bottom right corner.)
Yeah, yeah, I know the window isn’t centered. We’ve discussed my issues with spacial concepts before, and I assure you there has been no improvement. While I’m confessing my problem, I’ll confide that this house was supposed to be bigger at the top and smaller at the bottom, Like a Dr. Seuss house, but I somehow measured the roof for the wrong end. Sigh. I like it this way, so it wasn’t a total loss. Besides, it’s probably a lot more sturdy this way.
Makes enough dough for a house and fence if you are so inclined. Or you can simply roll it out, cut it into desired shapes, dust the cookies with colored sugar, and bake!
½ cup shortening
¼ cup butter
1½ cups sugar
⅔ cup milk
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate (yep - straight from the can)
1 teaspoon vanilla
4½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons meringue powder
8 tablespoons warm water
Cut house templates out of card stock or heavy paper. Cut out windows and doors.
Heat oven to 325 F.
In a large bowl (stand mixer is best), beat shortening, butter, and sugar for 1 minute.
Add egg, milk, frozen orange juice concentrate, and vanilla, and beat well.
Add flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until combined. Dough will be stiff.
Working with ⅓ of the dough at a time, roll out on lightly floured parchment paper, about ¼-inch thick.
The parchment sheet will be slid onto a baking sheet with the pieces you have cut out, so plan accordingly. You should be able to fit three pieces on the sheet at a time. Using a sharp knife, cut out the shapes, leaving at least 1 inch between them. Lift off scraps and slide the parchment with the cutouts onto a baking sheet. Cut shapes for windows and doors, but don’t remove the pieces; they will help hold the shape during baking. Once the pieces are baked you can re-cut and remove them. Save the doors to use in the house, cut the upper shutters apart and save. The window pieces on the side walls are scrapped. (Set all scraps aside and re-roll last, if needed.)
Bake approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to turn golden brown. Remove from oven. Hold your template over the pieces. If they have spread, take a sharp knife and trim them to size. Allow to cool on rack. Repeat with the remaining pieces. If any pieces feel soft after cooling, put them back in the oven for a few minutes. They must be very firm.
If you are making fences, cut the long parallel support pieces and short vertical fence pieces. Don’t put them together before baking or the fence posts will droop between the support pieces. Bake them separately and put them together with royal icing after they cool.
MAKE ROYAL ICING: In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Gradually add water until it is very thick and creamy. Add additional water if necessary, ¼ teaspoon at a time. Beat for at least 5 minutes. Mixture should make stiff peaks. Transfer 1 cup of icing to a small pastry bag or storage bag with the tip snipped off. This will be used to glue your house together. Small amounts can be colored for flowers and other decorations. Color the remaining icing green. Keep royal icing covered when not using or it will dry out quickly.
You may want to decorate your outside walls and roof before construction. It’s easier to do this on a flat surface! Use a small amount of royal icing to attach candy and decorations and allow them to dry. Flat candy wafers or sour strips make great roof tiles. Add shutters to the upper windows. For easy window boxes, pipe melted chocolate along the bottom of the side windows. Set carrots made from candy melts (or little candy flowers) along the edge and then cover with a little more chocolate, letting the tops peep out. Let dry thoroughly.
The walls will go up first. Pipe a generous amount of icing along the short edges of one side piece. Using heavy cans to brace the structure as you go, connect a side piece to the front piece. Because the front and back pieces curve instead of creating a 90-degree angle, the side pieces will fit slightly inside inside, so the front and back will stick out a little on each side. Add the back piece and the other side. Make sure your house is straight, and then let it dry overnight.
Spread green icing on a sturdy cake board. Carefully pick up your house and place it on the icing. If you have extra icing, save it for grass and bushes.
Place your doors now, if you're having them open into the house. Add a little icing to the "hinge" side for extra stability. Add bunnies looking out the windows if you wish.
Pipe a generous amount of white icing along the top edges of the house – on the sides and the roof pitch.
Place one roof piece on the house and carefully stick two pins through the roof into the house, almost at the tip of the pitch, one at the front of the house, one at the back. Repeat with the other roof piece. You can add a couple of pins along the roof line if necessary, pinning one side to the other. Count how many pins you use so you're sure to remove them all at the end!
If you are adding a fence, do so now while the green icing is still soft.
While the roof is drying, you can decorate the yard. Add vines, grass, bushes, and flowers using colored royal icing. Crush chocolate cookies for a garden bed. Build a fence using cookie dough or a row of marshmallow bunnies. Set a chocolate bunny by the front door. Add nests using crushed shredded wheat, baked cookie dough, icing, or edible Easter grass and fill them with candy eggs or jelly beans. Make a walkway out of candy rocks or flat candy (like Smarties or Pez).
Once the roof feels solid, (several hours) PULL OUT THE PINS. Count them to make sure you have them all, and then enjoy your masterpiece.
Use templates to cut out shapes. Don’t remove windows and doors until the house is baked.
Slide parchment onto baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.
Attach tiles to the roof. (These are sour strips, but pastel candy wafers are nice too.)
Cans hold the house together while it dries.
An offset spatula would work beautifully, but I went with this handy putty-knife-thingy
Setting the roof.
See the pin? That will help hold the roof on until the icing has a chance to harden.
Yes, I could have brought the “tiles” to the roof peak. If I had more. If someone hadn’t eaten them.
OK, fine. I’ll admit it. It was I who ate them. I did. I LOVE sour candy. Meh. Jelly beans are cute anyhow.
There will be plenty of dough for the house, with enough left over to play with. Make a small picket fence, and glue it together when you put your house together so it has a chance to dry. Place it on the soft green icing when your house is placed. Or make little chickens (see the photo above), baskets, nests. Maybe a mailbox with “E. Bunny” on it.
Make sure the cookie pieces are thoroughly baked. If they feel soft after they’ve cooled, put them back in the oven for a few minutes.
I made curtains from white chocolate for one of the windows. It was tricky, but cute. I spread a little melted chocolate on a piece of plastic wrap and then laid it over a few skewers to get a rippled effect. Once it hardened, a piece was attached to each side (inside of the window) with royal icing.
Space out your roofing as much as possible without seeing gaping holes. That stuff gets heavy fast.
Candy melts (melted, of course) painted on the doors and shutters with a pastry brush will look like wood grain.
I couldn’t find edible Easter grass this year, but if you can get your hands on some, it would look great chopped up and sprinkled over the green icing.
I gave this house to the gal that cuts my hair. Someone there asked me what I charged for them, and I told her that I didn’t sell them. There is way too much time and fussing and swearing to make it anything but a labor of love. The thing is, though, once you make one the next one is much easier. And . . . I guess if you make a few for family and friends, there won’t be quite so much leftover Easter candy to *ahem* dispose of. Your call.
About the size of a large doughnut hole, though not as sweet, these miniature hot cross buns will look great in a basket on your Easter table. The dough is filled with raisins or currants, spices, and saffron (if you choose to add it). The taste can be a surprise, because our eyes see the icing design on top and our brain assumes that the buns themselves will be sugary, like cinnamon rolls . . . or doughnuts. They aren’t. The bread is like a slightly sweet dinner roll, though those little bits of fruit inside do add a sweet surprise with each bite.
With regular hot cross buns there’s a higher bread-to-icing ratio, so I usually slather mine with butter or jam, but these little ones don’t need to be gussied up like that. Just two bites (unless you’re my husband, in which case, they are popped into his mouth whole) and you’re reaching for the next one. See? You’ve just saved all of those pesky butter and jam calories, so you can eat more mini buns!
A few years ago I made hot cross buns for a Yummy Northwest Easter column, using a very old and challenging recipe. It was an experience. If you’d like to see what happens when I have kitchen fail after kitchen fail, by all means go read the archived article: Old Fashioned Easter. Scroll down; the link to the recipe is right under the photo of Hot Cross Buns.
I added saffron to this recipe because it’s a traditional spice used to symbolize something or other (sunshine, spring, happy stuff) and because I happened to have a bottle of it languishing in the pantry. If you have some, add a few strands – but don’t overdo it, because the sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg should predominate.
You don’t have to mark the tops of the raised buns. You can just bake them as they are and use the icing alone to create the crosses. If you want to cut the design in the top before baking, make sure you use a very sharp blade so the puffy little buns don’t get smooshed.
If you like lots of fruit in your rolls, add more raisins or throw in a handful of chopped apricots or dried cherries.
Makes 60 mini buns Hot cross buns are slightly sweet and lightly spiced. Saffron is a traditional addition, but the buns are delicious without it, too.
⅔ cup milk
small pinch saffron - OPTIONAL!
½ cup raisins
½ cup butter, cut into large chunks
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 cup very warm water
1 package active-dry yeast
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ginger
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon allspice
4½ cups bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons water (or use fresh lemon juice for some "zing")
In small saucepan, heat milk and saffron (if using it) until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove from heat and, using a strainer if you added saffron, pour into a large bowl. A stand mixer is best. Add raisins, butter, and ¼ cup sugar, stirring briefly. Butter will soften, but don't worry if it isn't completely melted.
In a small bowl, combine warm water with remaining 1 teaspoon sugar. Add yeast and allow mixture to sit until foamy - about 5 minutes.
Add yeast mixture, egg, and spices to the milk mixture and beat until combined.
Add flour and salt. Switch to dough hook if using a stand mixer, and knead by machine for 5 minutes. If kneading by hand, drop dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 7-8 minutes. Dough should be soft but not sticky.
Place dough in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double, about 1 hour.
On lightly floured surface, punch down dough. Divide into 60 equal pieces and roll into balls. The easiest way to do this is to work on an unfloured surface. Form a ball by bringing the sides to the top, like an Asian dumpling, and then turning the ball over and pulling it towards you, scooching it along the surface.
Place balls at least ½-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets, cover, and allow to rise until almost double, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375 F
Combine powdered sugar, vanilla, pinch of salt, and water (or lemon juice) in a small bowl. Mix well. (Hint: for a firmer icing, add ½ teaspoon meringue powder.) Remove 2 tablespoons of icing and place in a small cup. Add water to the small cup a few drops at a time until it is a very thin consistency. This will be brushed over hot rolls to add a thin, shiny coating. Place remaining icing in a heavy plastic bag with one tip cut off, or in a pastry bag with small writing tip.
With a very sharp knife or razor blade, cut a cross shape on top of each bun, if desired. Bake mini buns for 12-14 minutes, or until the tops are rich golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately brush with a light layer of the thinned glaze. Allow to cool on a rack.
Pipe a cross on each bun with icing (fill in the design if you cut the buns before baking) and allow to dry thoroughly before storing.
Add a small pinch of saffron to milk if desired. (I may have gone a little crazy here. Don’t use quite that much unless you love the taste of saffron!)
Heat milk until bubbles appear all around the edge of the pan. (Don’t forget to strain out the saffron.)
Isn’t this beautiful, soft dough?
Cut dough into 60 equal pieces. (Mrs. OCD here can tell you that I had 60 20-gram balls of dough. Yes, I weighed them. No, you don’t have to.)
Roll into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet to rise.
After balls rise, cut an X in them with a very sharp knife or razor blade if desired. (Or you can skip this step and just make the X with the icing after they’re baked.)
Brush with thin glaze while hot, and then pipe on the cross after they cool.
They don’t have to be for Easter, of course. Skip the icing and split these little sweethearts in half. Spread with lemon curd, honey butter, or flavored cream cheese for a luncheon or party. And . . . hide a few for yourself!
If you see chocolate covered raisins and grated carrot peeking out of the cookies on my brunch table, you’ll know the Easter Bunny has left a little surprise on his way through the kitchen!
He can’t help it; bunnies are like that. I had a litter-box trained rabbit once, but he still left a few droppings on the way to and from the box. More than you wanted to know, right?
These cookies are very light and cake-like, not crunchy. I like mine just bursting with goodies, so I add a handful of toasted pecans to the dough too for a little extra flavor and crunch. You could also add a small can of crushed pineapple with the juice thoroughly pressed out.
You don’t really have to glaze them, but they’re so appealing with that thin coat of icing that I couldn’t resist.
These are about as easy as cookies get. Make lots and lots; they’ll go quickly!
I went all Irish on you with this bread. It has both Guinness Stout beer AND potato in the dough. You won’t even taste the beer, but what a pillowy-soft dough it helped create. I made a savory Celtic braid by adding some Parmesan and garlic to the dough, and turned another batch into a braided cinnamon and sugar ring.
Both were light – surprisingly light – and tender. I will say, however, that this is a bread that is best eaten the day it’s made. On day two it was just a tiny bit chewy, though if it had been heated a little, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. This almost made me wish I hadn’t deep-sixed the microwave. (A pat of butter and a few seconds in a microwave will revive any cinnamon roll . . . or braid.)
Makes two Celtic braids or one braided cinnamon ring.
1¼ cups very warm water
3½ teaspoons sugar, divided
1 package active dry yeast
½ cup Guinness Extra Stout beer
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup dry instant potatoes
1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if your instant potatoes contain salt)
3½ cups all-purpose flour
For Celtic Braid: ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, if desired. 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water combined for egg wash.
For Cinnamon Ring: 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, ⅓ cup sugar, green candied cherries. Icing if desired.
In a large bowl, combine warm water and ½ teaspoon sugar. Add yeast and allow mixture to sit for at least 5 minutes, or until foamy.
In a small saucepan on low heat, heat the beer and 1 tablespoon butter until beer is lukewarm. (It’s okay if the butter hasn’t melted completely.)
To the yeast mixture, add warm beer mixture, instant potatoes, salt, flour, and 3 teaspoons sugar. (IF MAKING SAVORY BREAD, ADD PARMESAN AND GARLIC.) Mix well. If using a heavy stand mixer, let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. (If kneading by hand, knead on generously floured surface for 7-8 minutes.) Dough will be very soft, slightly sticky, and may stick to the sides of the bowl a little. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
FOR CELTIC BRAID: Cover large baking sheet with parchment. Punch down dough and divide dough into 4 pieces. (If dough is too sticky to work with, knead it a few times on a generously floured surface.) Working with 2 pieces at a time, roll each piece into a rope about 2 feet long. Follow photo instructions in post for making braid (or find a template online). Repeat with remaining 2 pieces. Place braids on prepared baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Cover loosely with towel, and allow to rise until doubled - about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375 F. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until rich golden brown. Cool on rack.
FOR CINNAMON RING: Prepare two large baking sheets by covering with parchment. (One will be used to coat the bread ropes in butter and cinnamon, and the other will be used to bake the braid.)
Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll into ropes, each approximately 24 inches long.
Melt butter and pour onto one of the prepared baking sheets. Combine cinnamon and ⅓ cup sugar in a small bowl.
Roll ropes of dough in the melted butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture, rolling until completely coated.
Pinch the three ropes together at the top. Lift onto clean baking sheet and braid. Tuck the ends under and pinch together where the ends meet.
Cover braid loosely with clean towel and allow it to rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Decorate with green candied cherries, if desired.
Heat oven to 375 F. and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Place baking sheet on cooling rack for 5 minutes, then slide braid and parchment onto rack to cool completely.
Drizzle with icing if desired. To make a simple icing, combine ½ cup powdered sugar, 1-2 drops green food coloring, and 1 tablespoon milk or water.
Dough will be sticky. Don’t add extra flour yet – you can always work in a little more once it’s risen if necessary.
Rises like a champ! Wait ’til you feel this dough – it’s billowy and soft as a baby’s cheek.
Roll dough around in the flour. If it’s really sticky, knead it a few times to add a bit more flour and make it manageable.
Start by crossing the two ropes at the middle, like an “X”.
And then do this . . .
. . . then this.
It should finally look something like this.
Brush the braid with egg wash and bake!
If you’re making the cinnamon ring, it’s a little easier – just a simple braid:
For the cinnamon braid, begin with three long dough ropes.
Roll them in melted butter, then coat them with cinnamon and sugar.
Braid the sticky ropes on a clean piece of parchment. Tuck the ends under and pinch together to make a ring.
Risen and ready for the oven.
Warm and fragrant.
Oh, and if you want to go with the whole green thing, drizzle this puppy with some green icing.
Serving it was kind of interesting. You can cut it in slices (the least messy option) or you can do what we did and just rip and tear. Licking your fingers is half the fun – no fork and knife for this gal.
St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite baking holidays, and I happily challenge myself each year to come up with something different. When my children were young, their lunches consisted of green everything. Everything!
As fun as it is to make green bread, rolls, and pastries, there are many other fascinating options out there – some Irish, some not so much. Booze plays a prominent roll in my brainstorming sessions, of course, which adds to the festivity.