No-Mixer Sugar Cookies

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I’m not sure I’d ever made traditional sugar cookies before this week. It’s mostly because I prefer chocolate in my cookies, but also because there are so many more exciting types of cookie to make– cookies with chunks, cookies with fillings, cookies with neat decorations– it’s hard enough to choose from those, so how could I settle for plain old sugar cookies?

I also admit that my mental picture of “sugar cookies” is probably skewed by memories of dry, overly-sweet supermarket sugar cookies, inevitably the last things to remain on dessert tables at parties and usually tossed at the end of the day. But sometimes you just have to go with the classics. And when I came across a recipe that promised I could make perfect sugar cookies without softening butter OR using a mixer, I knew I had to try it. Instead of butter these cookies use vegetable oil, which is easier to mix and also keeps the cookies nice and chewy. Additionally, it occurrs to me that these would work perfectly for ice cream sandwiches– without any butter in them to firm up in the freezer, they should stay chewy and bite-able even when cold!

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Kitty Cookies (Slice and Bake)

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One thing to know about my daughter is that she loves cats. LOVES them. Anything that can have a cat on it, or be shaped like a cat, is bound to come out that way at some point. So when I suggested that we make cookies for a party she was invited to, she immediately declared that they would be “kitty cookies, with chocolate chips for eyes.” Fair enough, I could do that!

Since the only cat-shaped cookie cutter I have is a Halloween-style arched-back cat, I decided to make a slice-and-bake roll of dough and go a little more cartoony and do kitty faces instead. I colored the main dough pink, leaving part of it plain to use for the muzzle and the insides of the ears, and formed the two doughs into a log I could slice cookies off of. A little more work to begin with, but easier than rolling out thin and definitely quick at the end for decorating.

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Teddy Bear Mugs n’ Hugs Cookies

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I was inspired to make these by a video one of my friends posted on my Facebook page, showing adorable teddy bear cookies that you can hang off the side of a mug.

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Knowing my daughter’s love for both hot cocoa and animal-shaped food, I knew that these would be appearing in my kitchen at some point. I also couldn’t help but notice that the teddy bears would be perfect for making these bear-shaped cookies hugging almonds, which I’ve also seen around and coveted, so it would be like killing two birds with one stone, right?

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I went on Amazon and bought the Rilakkuma cutter set (which would also come in handy for cute bento lunches), and I was off!

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Bread and Butter Pudding with Clementine Marmalade

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I didn’t really grow up eating bread pudding on a regular basis. I think my dad made it a few times– cubed bread, soaked in a cinnamon-laced egg-and-milk mixture, with some raisins thrown in. It was reasonably good whether hot or cold, but it was admittedly somewhat lacking in… something. There was no pop of flavor or texture to make it stand out. Later, once I tried pumpkin bread pudding, chocolate bread pudding, and even savory spinach-and-gouda bread pudding, I grew to love it and to try seeking out new variations on the theme. Because really, what could be easier than cutting up some stale bread, tossing in some extras, soaking it in custard, and sticking it in the oven?

The other day I realized that I’d inadvertently let a half-baguette go stale (usually I slice it up and freeze it before it gets to that point), and decided to make some use out of it. Going through my refrigerator for add-in options, I came across a small jar of clementine marmalade that I hadn’t used in a while and decided to give it a try as a flavor booster for “bread and butter pudding.”

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Red Bean Cream Puffs

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Sweetened red bean paste is a staple of many Asian desserts, but I never really liked it growing up– compared to the other available dessert standards (chocolate, vanilla, etc.), it was just too “beany” for me to enjoy. But that all changed when I grew up and tried the incredible Azuki Bean Cream Puff at a local French-Japanese bakery.

The pastry has a thick layer of red bean paste on the bottom, and then is filled to bursting with sweetened whipped cream. I still haven’t figured out how they managed to make the flaky pastry so close to spherical when full, but I’ll do it eventually! In the meantime, I made do with regular choux pastry and made cream puffs. These are split, spread with red bean paste, and filled with stabilized whipped cream. Delicious! The lightness of the cream contrasts beautifully with the dense, sweet, slightly earthy red bean paste, and the pastry adds a little textural interest to the dessert.

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Snickerdoodle Blondies

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These Snickerdoodle Blondies are basically like crack. Not that I’ve ever tried crack. Hmm, perhaps I’d better find a better analogy. The White Witch’s enchanted Turkish delight? (which, by the way, I will never make for Reader’s Digest(ibles) because I don’t like it) The lotus from the Land of the Lotus-Eaters? Anyone? Or perhaps I should just say that they’re like the butteriest, chewiest, most delicious sugar cookie in the world, kissed with cinnamon, redolent with vanilla, and utterly irresistible. Because they are.

Suffice it to say that these are good. Incredibly good. Addictively good. And they’re made from the most basic of pantry ingredients. Honestly, if I could figure out a way to make these without softening and creaming butter (which requires a mixer) I’d probably make them on a weekly basis and clog up my arteries with buttery goodness. Perhaps luckily for me, I do need a mixer (though don’t think I haven’t considered trying a different technique), so I only make these when I feel that there are deserving people around to eat them. Or when I need a last-minute treat to bring somewhere and haven’t shopped for specialty ingredients.

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Emily’s Upside-Down Custard Pie

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Emily’s Runaway Imagination is one of Beverly Cleary’s lesser-known works, and it takes place on a farm in the 1920s or thereabouts. One of the scenes I remember best is where Emily (a little girl with a big imagination) bakes custard pie for a church potluck. She’d previously overheard someone say that the secret to a light and flaky pie crust was adding “a generous pinch of baking powder” to it, and she’s eager to demonstrate her newfound pie crust prowess.

“Two and a half cups of flour,” directed Mama. “Some salt — not quite a teaspoonful. Let’s see, some lard. You’d better let me measure that.” Mama came into the pantry and deftly measured the lard out of the lard bucket. “Now Emily, take two knives and slash through the flour and lard until it is as fine as corn meal.” Emily started to slash. […]
Quickly Emily added a generous pinch of baking powder and then, not certain how big a generous pinch should be, added another generous pinch to make sure. Then she slashed and slashed and according to Mama’s directions, added water, just a little bit. “There are two secrets to making good pie crust,” said Mama. “Use very little water and handle the dough lightly.” Emily smiled to herself because she knew a third secret. 

Unfortunately for Emily, once the pies come out of the oven, instead of the custard surface being “golden yellow and flecked with nutmeg,” the crust has risen to the top with the custard at the bottom. Her mother concludes that the custard filling was too liquidy to weigh the crust down (apples or raisins would apparently have worked better). No one wants to eat her “funny-looking” pie, until one of her neighbors remarks that the inversion will keep the crust from getting soggy… and then everyone digs in.

I always wondered as a kid if this would really happen if you added baking powder to a custard pie crust. Thinking about it now it doesn’t really make sense, since the custard would have no way of getting down through the bottom of the crust unless the crust had holes in it to let the custard flow through– without the holes even the puffiest crust would just end up pushing the extra custard over the top of the pan to spill on the oven floor. I could dock the crust, of course, but no one would dock a crust with big enough holes to let custard get through in any quantity– that’s just asking for the custard to leak and stick the crust to the pan.

I decided to give this food myth (if one can really call it that) the best possible chance of success by cutting a few 1″ circles out of the pie crust, allowing the custard plenty of space to run through and let the crust rise up to the top. I figured that if that didn’t work, nothing would.

Let’s see what happens!

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