Disney’s Frozen Party – Snowball Cookies

Today I made a family favorite for our Super Bowl party: Mexican Wedding Cookies.  I’ve been making these for years, and have even made nearly 400 of them a couple years ago for my brother’s wedding.  They are small, delectable little treats that leave a trail of powdered sugar on those who partake in the goodness.  Once I stacked them in a bowl for the party, I remembered how much they resemble snowballs.  So, I paired them with the “Frozen Snowflake Snacks” from my last post and created a tower of Frozen-inspired treats.

February 2014 - Snowball Cookies

Mexican Wedding Cookies are simple to make, only require a few ingredients, are ready in about 30 minutes, and can entertain children who like to shake the baggie of sugar to coat them once baked.  Below is my recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup butter (softened)

1 cup confectioners sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups pecans

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar for coating

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Mix all ingredients using an electric mixer until a dough ball forms.

3. Bake 10-12 minutes.

4. Let cool for approximately 15 minutes.

5. Add 1 1/2 cups confectioners to a gallon bag.  Drop the warm cookies into the bag, seal, and shake to coat.

6. Open the bag, shake off the excess sugar, and serve.  Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

Homemade Soap Tutorial

I love bees and all things bees (except being stung).  I’ve decided to start using products that incorporate that love into my daily life.  So, I’ve starting making honey soaps.  My first batch was a goat’s milk soap, and I must say the results smell delightful.

My favorite is variety in which I combine my favorite scents–vanilla and almond–with honey and toasted oats.  The result is a smooth, creamy soap with a gentle, earthly aroma with subtle hints of sweetness.

ImageThe idea behind the soap varieties that I’ve created is that each contains a natural exfoliating quality.  Thus far, I’ve used coconut, toasted oats, and orange zest to add texture and natural scents to my soaps.  In the image below, I chose to use the zest of one organic orange to add a fresh, invigorating scent boost–and an uplifting color punch–to an orange honey glycerin soap.

ImageYou may also choose to add colorants, as I did with my fun blue coconut variety.

ImageEnough about my soaps.  Now it’s time to make your own!

How to Make Soap – Honey Almond Vanilla Goat’s Milk Variety

Being a soap-making novice, I opted to start with a base soap.  I chose goat’s milk because I was looking for a creamy spa-like soap with a rich lather.  To make a small batch of either goat’s milk soap or glycerin soap, you will need:

8 ounces soap base

1 tsp. honey

1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp. each: almond extract, vanilla extract, and/or essential oils

1/8 cup whole oats

Soap mold(s) – available at your local craft store

ImageTo begin, melt 8 ounces of the soap base in the microwave at 30 second intervals.  You may also choose to use a double-boiler method, but I find microwaving to be more efficient when making small 8 ounce batches.

ImageBetween melting intervals, toast 1/8 cup of whole oats in a 250 degree oven for about 3 minutes.  Lay the oats in a thin layer on a baking sheet for an even toast.  You are looking for a slightly golden tint.  But, you don’t want burnt oats so watch (and smell) carefully.

ImageThen, briefly run the oats through a chopper to eliminate large pieces of oats.  The idea is to have tiny oat flecks to gently exfoliate the skin while washing.

Next, add the oats oats to the melted soap base along with: 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract (cooking grade), 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract, and 1 teaspoon of honey.  Once combined, simply pour the mixture into soap molds.  If there are bubbles on the backside of the soap, simply spray it lightly with rubbing alcohol until they disappear (this is easy–and magically makes your soap appear silky smooth on the back!).

Depending on your time schedule, you may: let your soap harden on the counter (about 1 hour), put your soap molds in the refrigerator (about 30 minutes), or place the molds in your freezer (about 20 minutes).  Once hard, turn the molds over on a solid countertop and press gently in the center of the mold to release the seal.  You may find that the soaps are hard to remove.  If so, slide them in the freezer for about 10 minutes to break that seal.  NOTE: If your soap is still warm to the touch, do not attempt to release it from the mold.

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I hope you will find soap making to be as fun and rewarding as I have.  Once you’ve successfully made a batch, match different scents and shapes together for a cute basket to give as gifts–or simply keep for yourself to indulge in.

If you’re interested in purchasing soaps seen in this post, please visit my Etsy shop, ANESoaps, or click HERE.

Cut-Out (Rolled) Sugar Cookie Recipe and Tutorial

Given my recent post on baking sugar cookies, I decided to put together a more in-depth tutorial to accompany the recipe.  The idea for this post is to make Valentine’s Day cookies that can be easily transported to parties and events–and, to make sugar cookies that taste amazing.

ImageThe recipe I prefer is a Williams-Sonoma cut-out cookie recipe with a sugar cookie icing that dries shiny.  Because the icing dries, you are left with beautiful cookies that can be stacked if necessary.  However, the icing is still soft to the touch–not hard like royal icing.  To view my previous post that includes my favorite cut-out sugar cookie recipe and sugar cookie icing recipe, click HERE. Or, visit the “Recipes” tab of my blog when you’re finished reading this post.

Tip #1

Baking sugar cookies is a process.  Therefore, I suggest that you make your dough ahead of time.  Yes, making the dough only takes about 30 minutes.  But, rolling it out and cutting it, then baking the cookies and decorating them takes time too.  So, make the dough ahead of time and store it–wrapped in saran wrap–for up to 3 days in your fridge.

Tip #2

Rolled sugar cookies can become very bland when rolled out on a dusted flour surface, especially the scraps that have been rolled out a few times. So prevent an over-floured dough, roll your cookies on saran wrap.  Your cookies should already be wrapped up from the cooling process, so open out that piece and lay a second piece on top of the dough.  Then, roll out the dough.  You’ll save prep time and clean-up time, plus your last scrap of dough will taste as good as the first.

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Tip #3

Dip your cookie cutters in sugar or flour before cutting the dough.  This will help your dough slide out of nooks and crannies of the cutter more easily–maintaining the true shape of the cookie.

Tip #4

Use the same cookie cutter or one of similar size for each cookie on a single sheet.  This will ensure that all cookies on the sheet bake evenly and completely.

Tip #5

Pop your cut-out cookies in the fridge (on the baking sheet) for about 15 minutes before baking.  This will help ensure that your cookies bake in the cut-out shape instead of spreading across the pan.  This tip is especially important when using small cookie cutters or those with intricate details.

ImageTip #6

Bake on parchment paper.  You don’t need to grease your cookie sheet when using parchment paper, so your cookies slide right off the pan without tasting of oil.

Tip #7

Space your cookies far enough apart that if they do “grow” a bit while baking, they don’t touch (see pic above).  I usually aim for about 1 1/2 inches between cookies.

Tip #8

If you don’t have piping bags, don’t worry–use zip lock bags.  When decorating basic sugar cookies, you only need lines.  So, place your icing in a zip-lock baggie (zip it up!), and snip the corner.  I use a small snip to ice the edges (see Tip #9), and a large snip to squeeze the main color on before spreading it across the cookie.

ImageTip #9

Squeeze a thin line of icing around the entire edge of the cookie.  Then, let that line dry completely.  One dried, you will have much more freedom to fill in the design without the risk of icing running down the edges of your cookies.  In the picture below, you’ll notice two things: 1. I’m not a professional decorator.  2. The white icing around the edges of the cookies prevented run-off while allowing me to use a fair amount of fill-in icing on the cookie.

ImageTip #10

If you plan to add sprinkles or colored sugar, so do after icing each cookie.  The icing takes about 30 minutes – 1 hour to dry completely, but in just minutes to top will have begun to set.  Once the icing begins to set, your sprinkles will bounce off onto your counter instead of nestling in the icing.

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I hope you will find these tips to be helpful for your sugar cookie endeavor.  If you have questions, please feel free to ask.  I’ll do my best to respond the same day.  Enjoy!

Valentine’s Day Sugar Cookie Recipe

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we will all be looking for cute treats to send our kids to school with.  I made my famous sugar cookies for Christmas this year, and as always they traveled well for hundreds of miles.  Meaning, they can be stacked and transported by your young ones to school without the fear that they will look mangled upon arrival.  The icing dries shiny (and firm), so stacking them is not a problem.  Below is a snapshot of my Christmas version, but hearts with pink, white, and red icing are obviously your go-to choice for Valentine’s Day.  Enjoy!

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Update: This afternoon I made a batch of Valentine’s Day sugar cookies for my girls.  Any variation of heart-shaped cookies with white, pink or red icing would work, as would round cookies with colored icing and sprinkles.

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Sugar Cookie Recipe (Williams-Sonoma)

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

TO PREPARE:  Over a small bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Stop the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the remaining flour and continue beating until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal balls. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut out the desired shapes. If the dough sticks to the cutter, dip the cutter into flour before cutting out more shapes. Using a small offset spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies until golden brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes. If baking more than one sheet at a time, rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the racks and let cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 20 cookies.

Sugar Cookie Icing Recipe

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons milk

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

TO PREPARE:  In a small bowl stir together powdered sugar and milk until smooth.  Stir in corn syrup and almond extract until icing is smooth and glossy.  If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.  Add food coloring if desired.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Craft

My all-time favorite Christmas story is “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  So, when my daughter brought home this adorable craft as my Christmas gift from school I was in love.

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This simple treasure is a wooden spoon featuring the quote, “not a creature was stirring, now even a . . . “.  At the bottom is a thumbprint mouse.

These cute spoons will make an adorable Christmas keepsake gift for loved ones.  To make your own, follow the steps below.

What you’ll need: wooden spoon, black and red fine-tip sharpies, black ink pad, and ribbon (optional).

1.  Stamp your little one’s thumb at the bottom of the spoon.

2.  Draw on the mouse’s features

3.  Write: Not a creature was stirring, not even a . . . 

4.  Tie a ribbon on the handle for added charm.

You may also want to attach a wallet-size picture of your child.  My spoon was given to me in a cello bag.  Because a ribbon is already attached, though, wrapping is optional.

My Mother-in-Law’s Divinity Recipe

Since my husband and I started dating, I always remember eating my MIL’s divinity and bonbons at Christmas time.  After 10 years, she decided to share the recipe with me.  The result of her sharing: she’s asked ME to send HER divinity for Christmas this year 🙂

December 2013 - Christmas Divinity

Here’s her recipe:

Ingredients
2 2/3 cups white sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup chopped pecans

Directions
Cook sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 2-quart pot over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. (On humid days, use 1 tablespoon less water.) Cook, without stirring, to 260 degrees on candy thermometer (or hard ball stage).  Test the hard ball stage by dropping a spoonful of the mixture into a bowl of cold water.  If you can pull the candy out of the bowl and roll it into a ball without the ball flattening out, it’s ready.
While the candy is cooking in the “without stirring stage”, beat the egg whites in 1-1/2-quart bowl until stiff peaks form. Continue to beat while pouring hot syrup in a thin stream into egg whites. Add the teaspoon of vanilla (I used regular, not clear, because I prefer the taste).  Beat the mixture until mixture holds its shape and becomes slightly dull (see stages below).  Add the pecans.
Candy Tutorial
Left Image: Not quite ready                                            Right Image: Ready
Drop one dollop of candy from a buttered spoon onto parchment paper to test the consistency.  The candy should be spikey and hold it’s shape.  If it looks shiny and flattens a bit, turn your mixer back on.
20131215_160125(1)Correct Consistency
Let stand at room temperature, turning candy over once, until outside of candy is firm–at least 12 hours. Store in an airtight container.

Christmas Activity for Kids: Scrap Wrap

Scrap Wrap

If you’re like me, you may need to wrap a few presents while your kids are home. Today I have another fun, easy, entertaining, and economical way to entertain children while preparing for Christmas. Get them involved! Gather your wrapping paper scraps, used tissue paper and old bows. Setup an activity area for them with their wrapping supplies, as well as a few pieces of pre-cut tape. Ask your kids to color a picture for a sibling or friend, and them have them wrap it. Let them make an easy craft and wrap it for a family member. Or ask them to search through bins of forgotten toys and let them wrap a used toy or book to donate to a less fortunate child.

When moms and dads are busy, it’s important to keep our kids busy too. With this activity, your child can have fun while brightening someone else’s day.