Monday, December 12, 2011

Oh, sweet sugar.

Up first on IBB's Bake-a-thon? The sugar cookies. My Mom made a special request for these to be first, seeing as our family enjoys letting the younglings (that is, the children) decorate them! So the earlier they're done, typically, the better. I'll be making a few batches of these, one with lemon extract rather than vanilla, but I promise, I won't do a million sugar cookie posts.


Ahem. The thing about sugar cookies is you really need to let the dough chill overnight. An hour or two might work, but it was (and is!) easier for me to make the dough the night before my day off and make them the next day. Unfortunately, as I came home from work exhausted, I barely made the dough, let alone remembered pictures. Sorry, guys!

The next day, after work (yeah, got called in, whoops!) I decided to pop out a few batches of them. Not all, since I had a lecture at 9, but a few.

This recipe was courtesy of Bakingdom, seen first in her Alice in Wonderland cookies. But I'm pretty sure she uses this recipe like, religiously. And after trying them? I totally understand why. There was a minor tweak I had to make at the last minute when making this dough, though. Rather than use butter, I had to use the last of my Crisco shortening sticks.

The results were awesome. I haven't made the ones with butter yet (next on my list!), but I'm pretty sure there's going to be only slight, if any, differences. So! On to the shapes.

I've always found it easy to place them before pushing them down. This way you can fit as many cutters as you need in a sheet of dough before pressing, and you can change your mind if you need to! Simply place, then press. I've rolled my dough about 1/6th of an inch thick (maybe 1/8th? I didn't measure!) before cutting, and they were perfectly made.

After cutting your cookies, place them on the baking sheet, then pop 'em in the oven. The recipe called for 10 minutes, but with the way mine was reacting, only 8 minutes in the oven were needed and 2 minutes on the sheet afterward for these babies!

See? Beautiful, yeah? And they taste so good. Not too sweet (thank god), but with enough flavor to stand up on their own. My mom complained of a plain taste, but she's the type of woman who likes sugar upon sugar upon sugar, so we'll just ignore her opinion this time.

Don't tell her I said that. Ahem. Well! One down, five to go. I'll see you next time, guys. ;D

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Carols and Cookies Abound

It's official: Winter Christmas is coming. In places of retail, carols are played obnoxiously on repeat. Santa has begun making the rounds in shopping malls and Christmas festivals. My little sister is learning Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer like it's a religious hymn. There is a panic in the air; will I buy the right toy? Will it be sold out? When will they get more in?

Yep. Christmas. But it isn't just about the presents, or the horribly remixed Christmas carols. It's about sharing things you love with people you like. Or maybe that's backwards. Either way, one thing I love about this time of the year is the need to crank up our oven and crunch out cookies like a factory. We go through cookies like water in this house, so keeping a steady supply on hand is essential. We'd like them to last til Christmas. We'll be happy if they last til Christmas Eve, really...

And since this time of year means noshing on cookies constantly, I find it necessary to come into the season with a baking game plan. I'm getting into the game late, actually, as it is the third, but I've finally pegged out a short list of cookies to make this year. I decided full-on to focus on simple recipes that can be recreated as needed in case someone gets into a binge and eats them all.

So, without further ado, Itty Bitty Baker's Itty Bitty Cookie List:

1. Peanut Butter Cookies. Yes, the same ones I've made in the past in the blog. These went over so well, I only got a couple out of the two batches I made! Total winner, they have to be made again for Christmas or my Mom and my managers at work might string me from a carriage and drag me through town.
2. Peanut Butter Blossoms. We do blossom-type cookies every year, so I was really excited to see peanut butter ones. My Dad, J, has a soft spot for them, so I'm hoping they'll go over well this year. We'll see!
3. Sugar Cookies. A Christmas staple, shaped into a myriad of shapes and frosted. This year, I'm going to try icing a few myself with a more detailed approach before letting Shaunna go at it with frosting and a butterknife.
4. Chocolate Chip Cookies. As you can tell, there is no linked recipe here. I still haven't found a recipe I'm anxious to try! Woe is me. I'm perusing my usual bloghaunts in pursuit of a proper recipe, but until then, this is a maybe.
5. Black and White Cookies. These are a New York staple, but no one in my family has ever had them! So I'm going to try making some, but these might fall into the week between Christmas and New Year's rather than as a Christmas cookie. 
6. Spritz Cookies. My mom has a cookie press, and she really wants a spritz dough to use in it. So I'm appeasing the Mother with this recipe, and I hope it turns out well.

There you have it, guys. Six cookies and, hopefully, five blog posts from now til Christmas to look forward to! Do you have any suggestions? Any go-to recipes for Christmas? Share the love, guys. Everyone can use more cookie recipes in their repertoire.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An orange by any other name...

When I woke up this morning, I did not think to myself: You know, IBB, you really ought to make some chocolate.

When I woke up, I instead thought "Why, phone, are you ringing at eight AM on my day off?" But what're you gonna do. Anyway! Thanks to a nice scheduling mishap, I have the day off, and it's one of those days. You know the ones. The ones that just beg you to get your booty into the kitchen and whip something up. But what to whip?

Cookies? Been there.

Cupcakes? Done that.

Cake bites? Well... Not yet.

My eyes, instead, befell on a half-open bag of chocolate waiting to be melted into deliciousness. And I do have those new shiny molds. And I did promise you all pictures next time I did it...

Right. So let's make some chocolate.

Unless you're making dark or white chocolate, always start with milk. There are many nifty flavors you can play with, we'll be using orange and peanut butter today, but start with the basic milk chocolate. You can usually find this in a grocery store in the baking section or, if your store has one, in the "bulk chocolate" section.

We're using a double boiler to make the chocolate. There's nothing wrong with using a microwave, though! But since my mother requested I make the whole half bag, and that's quite a bit of chocolate, I went with the double boiler. When you use a double boiler, there are two things to be absolutely sure of: Do NOT boil the water! You want it at a simmer.

And do not let the water touch the bottom of the top pot. You want the chocolate to be melted by the steam, not the water.

While we're on the subject of water? Don't let water get into the chocolate. Just don't do it! It'll seize, and you'll have a useless lump of mud. Be extremely careful not to get water in your chocolate.

Now! Get the water simmering, and dump in some chocolate. You might want to do it in batches. I certainly do. Try not to make more chocolate than you can handle at once. You want the chocolate to be liquid so you can put it into molds, so you need to work quickly. Which is why smaller batches is easier.

Now, once your chocolate melts, if you're using flavoring like we are, add it here. Do NOT go overboard! Really! The flavoring oils (hint hint, do not use extract! It must be flavoring oil for chocolate) are very, very strong, so only a few drops will add a big punch to the chocolate. You can always add more if you need it, but you can't take it out.

Be sure to stir it up, and then bring it over to the table with the molds.

I always use molds. It's easy, it's effective, and it's cheap. While your chocolate is still hot, spoon (or drizzle, or use a bottle, or whatever you feel comfortable with!) the chocolate into the molds. Fill them up, then you're going to want to tap them. No, not with your hand. Lift the mold up and drop it LIGHTLY! onto the table. This helps to get the air bubbles out of the chocolate. Once you do that, pop them in the fridge.

... Well, sure, you can let it harden on the table. But putting it in the fridge is infinitely faster, and will yield a better product. Just put it in the fridge. And while you're in there, throw out the week-old raviolis. Really.

Now, you need to be patient. Let the chocolate sit for about fifteen minutes, then check it. If it's completely solid, take it out and drop the molds on the tables, again, lightly, to get the chocolate out. Put them in a bowl and put them back in the fridge so they can chill some more.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now. There is nothing, nothing, better, than taking a bite of a piece (or twelve) of chocolate you've made yourself. I hope that whatever silly fear you have regarding chocolate has been kicked right in the tookus, because really, melting chocolate is as easy as 1-2-3. And the results are gone in about 3 seconds, too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Peanut Butter Nirvana

Good god, when did it become Thanksgiving? I seem to distinctly remember my cousin toppling into my birthday cake in July, for the love of criminy!

Anyway, be that as it may, Thanksgiving for my family usually means me and my sister working while Mom and my other sister work on the food. Typically I don't even eat downstairs; I hide from the Younglings in my bedroom. However, despite my schedule deeming it necessary to work 12:30-5:30, I wanted to do my part.

And by 'my part', I mean 'make cookies'.

Of course, if my Mom doesn't relinquish the tin, I'm going to have to remake them before Thursday...

Anyway. Rather than go to my go-to gals over at Bakingdom and Bakerella, I recently started to read up on a little corner of the internet called Brown Eyed Baker. I knew that whatever cookie I made, I wanted my dad Jerry to like them. And he's pretty picky; no full on chocolate, no weird flavors...

So I went for the go-to flavor in our household: Peanut Butter Cookies. I went with BEB's Peanut Butter recipe, following her post to the tee (shortening, no greasing the pan, etc!). And you know what? This time, there were no burnt cookies.

No oven messups.

No mad dash for ingredients.

Fellow food lovers, I have attained Baking Nirvana today. Everything flowed so smoothly. Right down to the execution, for god's sakes. I'm convinced a black cat is going to fall on my face in the near future, but whatever! On to the baking!

First, the dry team. Let me pause right here and say before reading blogs and watching shows that strictly say do these things separately, I have never done dry ingredients separately from the wet. I usually follow my friend's Devious Baker method of throwing everything into a bowl and hoping it works.

I began to separate, though, and I love the results. I really do. Maybe you won't notice a difference; maybe you'll see it as another bowl to wash. But it makes executing the mixing of dry-to-wet so much easier, so I'm going with it. Even with my Younger Sister proclaiming my methods "weird".

Anyway. The dry team consists of pretty basic ingredients: Flour, Baking Soda, and Salt.

And now the wet team! (Yes, that's brown sugar in there; yes, it counts as wet, shut up.) This was simple enough; brown sugar, peanut butter, vanilla, milk, and Crisco--

Wait. Hold the presses. Crisco?


See, like I said, I followed BEB to the letter. And she explicitly says that trying this with butter just didn't turn out right. I will probably try butter just to see, but since I have 12+ people showing up for Thanksgiving, I wanted my cookies to knock it out of the park, so I didn't tempt fate with a substitution.

Just swallow your fear of shortening and do it. Trust me.

After some quick blending, we add an egg. Then some more mixing. And then flour, then more mixing. (I'm really grateful for our hand mixer at this point, not going to lie...) Then, finally, it is time to move them to the baking sheet.

I've recently discovered that this baking sheet? It's at least partially responsible for my Nirvana-of-baking today. My Mom has this ancient baking sheet that's burned, caked on, burned even more... It's survived at least two world wars and numerous horrific baking experiments.

So when I got this one from my Dad? I was in love. Especially when the cookies came out. You see, this pan plus the parchment paper seems to be good luck for me.

Rather than burnt, or even worse, hard and impossible to eat? My cookies came out flawless. Flawless.


Like I said, right now, as I type this post, my Mom's down there noshing on them with my Dad, so I might have to make them again. But if the results are the same? I'm sort of okay with that.

I encourage you all to try this recipe. If not for thanksgiving, then down the line. And speaking of thanksgiving... Have a good one, folks.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Itty bitty baking, big new layout!

So, I've been putting this off for a while, but finally I've gone and finished it! Itty Bitty Baker has a new blog, a new title, and some new information about the little lady (me!) who writes it.

I don't have any swanky pictures for this post, unfortunately, but I do have a question for you. Rhetorical, don't worry, no need to study! Have any of you delightful readers made your own chocolate? For those of you who said no, who might have even cringed in terror at the idea of melting chocolate...

What're you, chicken?

No, seriously. Let me share with you a tale of Itty Bitty Baker's culinary history. My mother has tried (in vain, for the most part) to influence me when it comes to cooking. Mostly this has failed, but in one manner, it hasn't: I love baking. And on top of baking? I love making flavored chocolate!

It's easy. It's practically fool-proof. And it's practically instilled in me. You see, every year around the holidays (like this time of the year!), whether we've fought nonstop the entire time or everything has gone as smooth as melted white chocolate, there are certain staples that have remained throughout the history of my family.

Making cookies, and candy, for Thanksgiving and Christmas, is a huge, huge tradition, and one I am quite honest to say I love to be relied on for. Before, Mom used to do this herself, but as of lately in the past couple years, it's befallen me and my sisters. And I do enjoy it, and I want to thank my mother for giving me that joy.

For you naysayers who're afraid of it, please. Look up a guide. Whether you use a double-broiler, or a microwave safe bowl and chocolate chips, melting chocolate is so, so easy. And so, so good.

Have you ever dipped plain popcorn into warm, gooey, melted chocolate?


Why don't you go do that, then. Believe me, it'll change your life. In the meantime... Stay tuned for some culinary baking marathons in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Oh, Bakerella.

You vixen. You culinary maven. You daring, brilliant person you!

Ahem. Pardon my gushing, but I follow a few baking blogs religiously. (Obsessively, if we're going to be honest!) Among them is Bakingdom, with her gorgeously creative cupcakes, and through Bakingdom, I found the little internet corner of Bakerella.

Oh. My. Goodness.

If you aren't automatically awed by the care she puts into her cake pops? Try her cookies. Or the Red Velvet cakebites. Go on, I dare you. No?

Well, fine then. I did for you.

A few days ago, while perusing through my blog list, I found Bakerella's new post about Comfort in Cookies. Don't they look diviiiine? Chocolate, and chocolate chips, and peanut butter. Oh god. The pictures alone were enough to make me do-want all over the place, but the ingredients? I had all but the chocolate chips! And the recipe? Way, way too easy to be legal.

Of course, I had apprehension. Our oven's not the most reliable. But I couldn't let that stop me, oh no. So, I assembled my ingredients.

If you want, go ahead and take a look at the link to the Comfort in Cookies post. It has the recipe there, and believe me, you do not want to miss out on Bakerella's awesome culinary confections. Anyway, minus the nifty little salt-pepper-ashes jugs up there, that's all you need!

I accidentally forgot that I was going to blog this, so I didn't take any pictures during the creaming portion. However, I got my head back in the game, and this is what happens when you mix all that deliciousness together:

FYI: It tastes better than it looks. Trufax.

So! After that, it was just a matter of dishing them out. The recipe said it would make 30 2-inch cookies. I tend to eyeball my measurements, so I just made little balls like so...

But like all well-laid plans, things oft go astray. You remember that oven I mentioned? This thing is the Devil. I'm convinced! I left the oven to heat up for an hour, give or take, and it still wasn't hot enough apparently, because after the mentioned 10 minutes, they weren't done! So I left them. And left them. And left them.

(Sound familiar?)

I did this with the white-chocolate-chip-and-cranberries cookies, too, and that turned into a disaster. However, patience (if patience is tapping your fingers impatiently on the table...) paid off!

Like Bakerella promised, they came out delicious. And soft. And gooey. And oh so good.

She's totally right. It's impossible not to eat them straight out of the oven. Sorry, tongue! Those tastebuds'll grow back, right?

... Right?

I hope so. In the meantime... Om nom nom.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

To Begin, We Fail.

Let me first begin by saying this: I love baking.

I really, really love to bake.

It's not a greedy thing, either; more often than not, I give what I bake to my friends or family or co-workers. But there's something undeniably fulfilling about pulling a pan out of the oven with beautiful, moist, delicious cookies or cupcakes that makes me feel proud.

Sort of like giving birth, only without 18 years of financial dependence.

And to this day, I've yet to have a failure. I follow recipes exactly, substituting only when absolutely necessary, and timing just so that they come out delicious and perfectly cooked. Until, of course, today.

Today, I attempted to make a recipe brought to my attention by a friend: White Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Cookies. These are delicious. They really are. However... I managed to fail horribly at making them.

First, there was a mad dash for ingredients, which was just oh-so-fun to live through. After running to the store while the oven preheated for baking soda and brown sugar, I returned, still relatively excited to do this! They promised to be absolutely amazing, and they tasted phenomenal as I mixed them.

This was also my first time creaming anything, and I was so excited when that turned out easier than I thought it'd be. Next, we added eggs and vanilla in exchange for brandy, though I could've used less vanilla for a less overwhelming flavor. Finally, the flour and baking soda.

...This is where things got ugly.

Unbeknownst to me, I only added 1/2 cup of flour, whereas the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups. This was an error I did not catch until Batch One came out.

And oh, how horrid batch one looked.

Go ahead. Take a gander.

Horrible, right? They're like little manhole covers! In my distress, I ran from the kitchen to the dining room in search of my mother. Her advice, when I explained how I screwed up oh-so-horribly? "Add more flour. But not too much."

Enlightened by this new prospect, I added more flour.

Too much flour. Just what my Mom warned me against. Crap!

These cookies went into the oven nonetheless, because I would NOT fail again, right?


Wrong. Well, sort of.

These cookies took almost fifteen minutes to bake through all the way. They didn't spread as much as the manhole cookies did, but they also didn't look quite...right? To me. So I left them. And left them. And got fed up, pulled them out, and...

They don't look too bad.

See? Not too bad. Still, my greatest fear is baking a cookie that isn't cooked all the way, so I sliced one in half.

Looks good to me.

And the taste? The taste in both manhole cover and too-much-flour is phenomenal. There's a bit of a vanilla punch, but if you use brandy, it won't be as overwhelming as the vanilla. All in all, this recipe was salvageable, but god help me, I'm going to make these cookies the right way next time.

So ends my catastrophic cookie failure. Now, I'm going to get some milk and start dunking.

... Hey. They're not pretty, but they're still totally edible.
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