Monday, 19 March 2012

A Day (or Two) Late and a Shamrock Short.

A side note before I begin the post in earnest:
I had fully intended to get this post done before St Patrick's Day, even with my busted laptop, I was going to borrow a computer... Then one of my cats fell terribly ill, and half of last week was spent trying to get a diagnosis and figure out treatment. Long story short: she's getting better. But then! Then I got sick! So the head cold from heck is also to blame for the lateness of this post.

And the fact that I had friends over for beer, cartoons & all-night Boggle this past weekend had absolutely NOTHING to do with it. Nothing at all.

But I digress, on with the post!

For those of you who have been waiting for me to reveal the secrets of my sugar cookies (because I know you're all on the edge of your seats holding your breath and all) the day has finally arrived! See above, where shortening and room-temperature butter are getting to know each other really well. Once they're well combined, add sugar and mix until fluffy.

Once that's done, add your eggs and vanilla, and mix it up until it looks like slightly lumpy banana pudding.


Next, add your dry ingredients - flour, salt, baking powder, and mix until combined.

The dough will likely still look chunky even after you've mixed it pretty extensively. You may have to get in there with your hands and knead it a bit to help it form together into a smooth dough.

Then I like to turn it out onto some plastic wrap, wrap it up tight and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.

You can also freeze it at this point. I've frozen this dough for up to 6 weeks, and after thawing in the fridge overnight it is ready to go again, and bakes up tasting just like the dough was made fresh. I often have this dough in the fridge just ready to go in case there's a cookie emergency.

You never know.

When it comes time to roll & cut your cookies, get all your gear in place: Sprinkle your work surface with flour, and have a bowl of flour handy for further sprinkling, and for swishing your cutters in between cookies so you don't end up with dough all stuck to them.

Roll your dough out evenly with a floured rolling pin to your desired thickness. For these, I left them a little thicker than usual - nearly 1/4 inch thick - to make a soft, thick cookie. The Hubby insists I make them this way every time from now on, so take that how you will.

You can also make them thinner and crisper, just reduce the baking time a bit to avoid burning. But I'm getting ahead of myself! We haven't even cut the shapes yet!

Four-leaf clovers were the first shape of choice, mostly because I could not for the life of me find a shamrock-shaped cookie cutter at any of my local stores! I am very disappointed in you, local Bulk Barn, Walmart, Everything for a Dollar Store, and Dollarama. Very, very disappointed.

So, four-leaf clovers it was.

I also hand-cut a couple of interesting shapes with a paring knife, like this guy here:

Any guesses on what that is? We'll come back to it later.

First I want to tell you about my mounting frustration as I cut out clover after clover... These were for St Paddy's Day! They had to be... Irish-er! I wanted Shamrocks, dagnabbit! But what was I to do with no shamrock cutter? Get creative, that's what.

Behold! Three tiny heart cutters and the stem bit from the clover cutter. By their powers combined, I am Capt- wait, no, hang on. I got distracted there. I may have watched too many cartoons recently.

I used some other cutters to make a shamrock, is what I'm trying to say here. It didn't look super pretty but I planned to flood these later so I wasn't too worried.

Here's what our clovers looked like once they baked up. And a few letter D's, for some reason? Hmm.

Once the cookies had cooled, I outlined them all in green royal icing. It took a bit of practice to get the leaves how I wanted them, but this one came out just about right (even if the photo came out just about blurry.)

I thinned some of the green icing and proceeded to flood the outlined cookies, much as I have done in the past.

I also tinted some icing brown to outline the... Well, the fiddle. And some potatoes. What's more Irish than potatoes?

I flooded the fiddle (try saying that out loud, it's fun) and let the icing set for about an hour before adding details in black frosting. For the potatoes, I lightened the brown flood icing with a bit of white and used that to flood them.

Does any one get where I'm going with this?

How about now?

Fiddle. D. D. Potatoes.

Fiddle dee dee potatoes!

You see, there's an ongoing joke at my workplace. One of our supervisors, Connall, is Irish. Actually, several of the higher-ups and my co-workers are Irish, but for some reason, Connall is the only one we harass about it! It's all good-natured ribbing, of course. We'll ask him where his Lucky Charms are, or his pot of gold, or some such.

He'll usually tease me back about my Scottish ancestry, it's all good. In any case, my co-worker Leigh and I teamed up to fill a basket for him with ridiculous, stereotypical Irish goodies, and these cookies topped the pile. It was great. It would have been even better if he'd gotten the joke. Oh well.

In the meantime, here's the recipe so you can whip up your own, slightly adapted from my Great Grandma's ancient Betty Crocker cookbook:

Traditional Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup shortening, half butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Cream together shortening and butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until relatively smooth. Pile on flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix with wooden spoon until dough forms, kneading with hands as necessary.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight. Can also be frozen for up to six weeks. If freezing, wrap in extra layer of aluminum foil for protection against freezer burn & drying out.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 400 degrees, roll dough out to desired thickness, and cut shapes. Place on parchment paper-covered baking sheet and bake 5-6 minutes for thin cookies (1/8-1/6 inch) or 6-8 minutes for thicker (~1/4 inch) cookies.

Once baked, let sit 2 minutes on pan, then transfer to wire rack to cool thoroughly.

Decorate as desired, and enjoy!


Until next time!

Friday, 16 March 2012

"Irish Car Bomb" Cupcakes

I must say, I was very nervous to make these cupcakes. Terribly, terribly, nervous. I had an awful feeling that - well, that they just wouldn't taste good! Chocolate and Guiness? In a cupcake? I was afraid I wouldn't like them.

I don't think I've ever been so wrong.

Just look at how this amazing recipe by the incomparable Sweetapolita starts:

That, my friends, is 1 1/2 cups of butter melting luxuriously in a steaming pot of hot Guinness. Oh my.

I think I should share the fact that I am not a beer fan, really. The only beer I come close to drinking is Guinness stout, which I guess isn't even really a beer but you know what I mean. Even then, I could never drink more than a few mouthfuls.

All that said, I LOVE cooking with it! It is fantastic in stews, and as I learned today, cupcakes! Who knew?

Well... Sweetapolita knew, I guess. And Amanda at I am Baker where I first learned that such a thing could exist. And the other 1,000 people on the internet who did recipes like this. Oh well, it's new to me.

In any case, back to the butter melting in the Guinness!

Cocoa powder has now been invited to the party. Sift it right in there and whisk until silky smooth.

... Like this! Oh, it looks so silky and delicious! But, it's not yet. Do not try to taste it at this point, there is not yet any sugar in here, and cocoa powder without sugar is bitter as all get-out. I accidentally dripped some onto my wrist when I was pouring it into heat-proof containers to cool (I didn't have a single container big enough for all of it) and without thinking, I licked the hot liquid away.

The very definition of regret, my friends. Eyuck!

While the stout & cocoa mixture is cooling, whisk up all the dry ingredients - flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Now, Sweetapolita's blog gives instructions for how to make this cake batter using a KitchenAid mixer. I can only dream, misty-eyed and longingly, of the day when one might grace my kitchen.

In the meantime, my Cuisinart hand mixer did a fine job of blitzing up the sour cream and eggs.

Once the eggs and sour cream are blended, add the cooled cocoa mixture in and mix on medium speed. It is, by the way, tantamount that you cool this stuff thoroughly before mixing it with the eggs, or you may end up with chocolate Guinness scrambled sour cream eggs. Uh, probably not tasty.

Once everything looks smooth, silky & homogeneous, you can start mixing in your dry ingredients bit by bit.

Like so. Be sure to scrape the sides down between additions to ensure a smooth batter.

Now I know I was just saying a couple of steps ago not to taste this stuff, but now that the sugar and all is in there, I had to try. Whenever I make a new type of cake I always taste a bit of the batter before I bake it, and this 100% passed the batter test!

(Legal/responsible blurb time: raw eggs are bad for you. Please don't eat raw batter with unpasteurized eggs in it. Besides, if you don't, it means more batter left for me!)

I wanted to keep the decorating simple on the cupcakes, so I just grabbed this cute cupcake cup & pick set from my local Bulk Barn. Cutest shamrocks ever!

I used my trusty 1-inch scoop and put 2 scoopfuls of batter into each standard cupcake liner. Then bake 'em at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes. I used the toothpick test to make sure they were done when they came out.

These turned out perfectly. Well, very nearly perfectly. I may have over-mixed them ever so slightly due to my lack of incredible KitchenAid stand mixer and guessing on the settings to use on my hand mixer, but oh well. Someday.

For the frosting, I must give credit to my friend Lindsay. I was originally going to do a whiskey frosting, until she put it into my head that a pure Bailey's Irish Cream frosting would go well. So, these consist of the following:

1/3 C of butter, salted (I know, they always say to use unsalted, but trust me on this one.)
3 C icing sugar
1 tbsp Bailey's Irish Cream liquer
2-3 tbsp milk

Just cream the butter with your hand mixer, then gradually add the icing sugar. Once you have little bitty chunks of butter all through the sugar, add your Bailey's, and the milk bit by bit, using your hand mixer set to medium to mix it the whole time. Add only enough milk for it to be of good spreading/piping consistency.

Top with adorable decoration of your choice.

So, is it any good? Well, a new friend at work took a bite, turned to me with wide eyes and breathed, "Oh my gosh, it's like I'm eating a cloud. What is happening?"

She then proceeded to savor every last bite. Everyone who was brave enough to try one enjoyed it thoroughly. I very, very highly recommend these. The sweet and light Bailey's frosting perfectly compliments the rich, deep flavor of the cupcake... you know what? I can't describe it better than that quote did. Just try it yourselves, folks. You will not be disappointed.

Happy St Patrick's Day, folks!

Until next time!

PS: I know that an Irish Car Bomb drink usually involves an Irish whiskey as well, but frankly, I didn't have any whiskey on hand, and I really don't much like the stuff, so I didn't want to buy any! If you are a whiskey fan, just add a teaspoon to your frosting before adding the milk. Either way, enjoy!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


It is with deepest regrets that I must inform you of the grievous injury recently inflicted upon my dear laptop.

The whole charging assembly broke after it toppled off an ottoman... and with no charge, it can't run. No laptop means no blog posts!

The good news is I have a bit of savings and hubby and I will be going to the computer repair shop this weekend. So everyone keep your fingers crossed that this is fix-able! I have 2 posts I want to do before St Patrick's day so here's hoping it'll be fixed in time, or that I can at least hijack someone else's comp in the meantime.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. Baker in the Basement shall resume as soon as this is fixed.

Until then!