Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yo Gabba Gabba Inspired Cookies and Cake

My dear friend Tobi owns a cake shop in Bond Head and we have collaborated on a few projects (and I don't mean when I buy her stuff and eat it, although that happens quite a bit too!!)  This is the first time we have been able to get photographs of our cake and cookies together.

This project was for twins who love Yo Gabba Gabba and while neither one of us wanted to blatantly copy the characters, we were both comfortable drawing inspiration from them.  We love how it came together and so did the client!  Another birthday made happy!


If you have not yet had the opportunity to visit Tobi's shop, make sure to drop in Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays for macarons, cupcakes, salted caramels and meringues.  Her custom order cakes are spectacular!  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday Tip - Press 'n Seal

I use plastic wrap to cover small bowls of icing in between filling bags, but for longer storage (even a few days) and for better protection against crusting, I love Press 'n Seal!




So my Tuesday Tip this week is to invest in a roll of Glad Press 'n Seal and use it to cover your bowl of icing.  It has a great sealing quality and you will also find yourself using it all over the kitchen for all of your storage needs.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Splash Cookies for Swimmers

Those of you who follow my life might know that I only learned to swim about two years ago.  I am part of a triathlon training program and we meet twice a week at 6 am for swim workouts (and two more times a week at 6 am for spinning and running).  A few weeks ago our swim instructor decided to mix things up and instead of getting into the pool at the shallow end, where we tend to hang out and chat in between lengths, she decided we would now start in the deep end - she is a slave-driver!!  When I walked onto the pool deck that morning and saw what our instructor had up her sleeve I almost had a panic attack.  I had no idea how I would get into the deep end without looking like a fool!  I watched as my fellow team members dived or jumped in and I just waited until everyone started swimming and then I slowly lowered myself in along the wall.  What a wimp I was!  I told myself I would have to learn how to jump in and one morning I announced out loud that I would be doing it that day.

So I stood at the side of the pool and fought the panic as it threatened to send me into a full blown panic attack.  All my optimistic team-mates left to get on with their day and I was still standing there.  The swim instructor left and I was still standing there.  Twenty-five minutes later it was just me and one encouraging lifeguard left on the pool deck.  I looked at the time and realized I had 5 minutes left before I would be kicked out and I thought it was now or never.  So with a few more encouraging words from lifeguard Jaclyn, I went for it.  It wasn't horrible, in fact, it was fun.  I got out and did it again.  And again and again!  I hugged Jaclyn and went home and announced my success to my teammates on facebook!  I was so proud of myself.  So about a week later I decided to try diving and did it too!!


Today I thanked my teammates for all of their encouragement with cookies - splash cookies!!  There is something so special about our group, so many happy and encouraging friends to meet with multiple times a week.  Our instructor got the role of "cookie pimp", handing out the cookies to each team member as they were leaving and she was as good at that as she is at kicking our butts in the pool!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Christening Cookies for a Sweet Boy


These cookies are to celebrate the Christening of Mary-Lynn's grandson, Ryken.  God bless you, Ryken!  

P.S.  This is my 400th blog post!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday Tip - Making Royal Icing + Recipe

I recently answered a survey about how I make royal icing.  The questions were multiple choice and when the question of how long I mix my icing came up, two of the options talked about mixing at high speed for 25-30 minutes.  I almost fell off my chair!  I literally mix for less than 2 minutes at the lowest or second lowest speed.  I might have a lot to do with not being able to tolerate the sound of the mixer for any longer.  I also have no interest in adding air bubbles to my icing that I am going to have to deal with later.  I really am trying to just combine the ingredients.  I make about 4 or 5 double batches each week and I have never had any problems with my icing - it dries with a lovely sheen, it is stable, it tastes delicious.  So I admit to being insanely curious how long you fellow cookiers mix your icing, please leave me a comment or send me a message!

I also make my icing thick, adding just enough water to make it combine - look for more information about that in next week's post.

So if I had to sum things up, I would say:

"Don't whip, make it thick."



After dissolving my meringue powder, I add my Redpath sugar and the remainder of the water.


I add it all at once, all the sugar and all the water.  Then I start my mixer on the lowest setting.

After just starting the mixer.
15 seconds of mixing.
30 seconds of mixing
45 seconds of mixing.
After about 60 seconds of mixing at the lowest setting, I stop the mixer and lift the whisk attachment out of the mix.


At this point the whisk attachment is clogged with dry sugar that I still have to mix in.  I think there are a variety of ways to deal with this, like mix at high speed or add more water, but I reach for a spatula.


I use the spatula to remove most of the dry sugar and to wipe the side of the bowl.


There - that looks better!  Another 30 seconds or so of mixing, this time at the second lowest setting.



And this is what I am left with:


At first glance it is not completely smooth, there are still lumps and bumps.  And it is thick.  Your first instinct might be to add water or mix it longer - but don't!  (More on that next week.)  I find that the lumps and bumps work themselves out as the icing sits.  For me this is the perfect base - I can now adjust the consistency and the colour and make a perfect icing for my cookies. 

Sweet Handmade Cookies' Royal Icing

10 tablespoons meringue powder
7 tablespoons of water
1 kilo icing (confectioners') sugar
5 tablespoons water

  1. Place the meringue powder in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Pour the first amount of water over the powder and using a whisk, combine the meringue powder and water, no vigorous action required, just combining the ingredients.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Stir the meringue powder one more time and then place the icing sugar on top.  Pour the second quantity of water onto the sugar and attach the bowl to your mixer.
  3. Using the whisk attachment on the lowest setting, combine the ingredients for about 60 seconds.  Stop the mixer and clear the still dry sugar from the whisk attachment and wipe the side of the bowl.
  4. Reattach the bowl to the mixer and mix for another 30-45 seconds.  Use the spatula to give the mixture another really good stir, make sure there are no dry pockets.
The icing will have lumps, but as long as there are no dry pockets, you are good to go!

In the next couple of weeks I will teach you about getting the perfect consistency!  I will be offering workshops in the new year, stay tuned to learn more!

Monday, November 3, 2014

80th Birthday Trombone Toronto Maple Leaf Cookies

Birthdays are not always easy - finding the perfect gift is so often a challenge, especially in this world where there is no shortage of "things".  Kim saw a facebook post of hockey jersey cookies and suddenly she had the perfect gift idea for her husband's uncle.  A tribute to his love of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and an acknowledgement to his musical ability on the trombone were included in this delicious set!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday Tips - How to Prevent Cookies from Spreading

Today's Tuesday Tip discusses the challenge of spreading cookies.  Here is just one of my tips to prevent that:

"Chill and rest your dough."

I have tried many different techniques to prevent my dough from spreading, the most radical one being altering my recipe.  That was a disaster I will tell you about another day.  Today I will discuss chilling and resting your dough.



After rolling out my dough between two pieces of parchment, I remove the top piece of parchment, cut my shapes and slide the entire slab of dough onto a cookie sheet.  I chill for a minimum of one hour before separating the shapes and baking.

I have heard from more than one baker that they chill their dough, then roll it out and cut their shapes.  That seems counter-intuitive to me - then aren't you trying to roll super cold/hard dough?  I have excellent results rolling then chilling.  Try it next time and let me know if you chill and rest, either before or after rolling.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Tip - Working with Meringue Powder

Today's Tuesday Tip is a simple one, but one that made a huge difference to my success with #1 and #2 piping tips.

"Dissolve your meringue powder."



Meringue powder is a powdered egg white product, usually sweetened with some sugar and sometimes with the ingredients cream of tartar and vanilla.  It is wonderful product to use in royal icing (my icing of choice) instead of raw egg whites.

One of the issues I had with working with royal icing, especially, but not always, when working with smaller tips (#1 and #2) was clogging of the tips.  It was very frustrating.  Then I read about dissolving the meringue powder in a portion of the water required for the royal icing recipe.

Here is what I do.  Place the meringue powder in your stand mixer's bowl.  Add about half of the water required.  Mix it with a wire whisk and leave it for a few minutes.  Whisk it again before adding your confectioners' (icing) sugar and remaining water.  How much water?  Watch for the answer to that and other questions in an upcoming Tuesday Tip.

And get hands on experience at one of my workshops.  Details to follow soon!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday Tips and being a Redpath Sweet Pro

In May of this year I received an email from Redpath Sugar.  Would I be interested in becoming a Redpath Sweet Pro at this year's Canada's Baking and Sweets Show?  I was honoured to get the invitation and I didn't hesitate in answering "yes!"  Not only do I love what I do, I enjoy sharing my knowledge, so I knew being a Sweet Pro would be a lot of fun!


The weeks leading up to the show were a whirlwind, with videotaping my Sweet Pro promo to preparing my demonstrations for the show.  I was scheduled to do two demos each of three days - Introduction to Decorating and Intermediate Skills using the theme of this year's Baking and Sweets Show, The Wizard of Oz.  I baked more than one hundred cookies, decorated about 40 for displays and the remainder I prepared to use at the demos.  I also made a large amount of royal icing which I prepped in all the colours I needed.  I packed my spatulas, paint brushes, food colouring, bowls, piping bags, couplers, whisk, scissors, lustre dusts... yes, it was like I was moving house.

Here is my car ready to drive to the "Big Smoke"
My nerves were in overdrive on the day I was scheduled to leave.  Would I run out of cookies or supplies?  Would I be to talk for 30 whole minutes?  Would I make a fool of myself on stage?  All those thoughts settled down once I started driving to Toronto, with the feeling of "whatever happens, happens".  I set up for my first demonstration and with both a camera person and assistant beside me, I began.  Soon 30 minutes were done and I could have spoken for another half an hour.  The crowds were amazing, standing room only!  I could see light bulbs going off for so many people in the audience.  I know I am not a fancy decorator, but I am efficient and practical and I have picked up a few tips making 20,000 cookies in the last two years, tips that I am happy to share!


After the first demo, I was so relaxed it was all about having fun!  On the second day my family came to watch.  This might surprise you, but they don't know a lot about the process of making cookies.  You see, they rarely see any part of it, mostly because they are not allowed in my Sweet Handmade Cookie kitchen.  You read that right - that is my rule.  It is a health board approved kitchen and I keep everyone out.  Also, they are not very interested in the subject of cookies.  I thought the demonstrations would be boring for them, but my family (my harshest critics) were fabulously complementary!  It made me feel terrific.


I also met a lot of local people who came to the show.  One of my friends won tickets to the show in fact and we had lunch together.  One local baker won the theme cake competition for the third year in a row!!  There was so much to see and do.  So many great famous chefs and bakers were there giving demonstrations.  And so much yummy food!  I finished my last demonstration on Sunday, packed up my things and headed for home.  It was a weekend I won't soon forget.  The Redpath crew were incredibly fun, kind and generous; the crowds were receptive, happy and inquisitive.  When I arrived home, my family had made me a beautiful and delicious dinner!

As a result of the positivity I received from the audiences, I am launching a new website feature, called Tuesdays Tips.  Watch this space every Tuesday for a new tip on how to make beautiful cookies easier than ever!  See you next Tuesday right here for a helpful and easy tip.

P.S.  Don't forget to follow me on Instagram for behind the scenes pictures as well as some more pictures from the show.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Christmas in September Market cookies



Once per year at the Farmers' Market we celebrate Christmas in September.  Here were the cookies I made this week.  Loved them!

I also made some oversized gingerbread men and two young men stopped by and scooped them up!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Edible Image Printer - Retired

Last night it became official - my edible image printer has been retired.  I had big dreams for it when I bought it a few years ago, but time after time I was unsatisfied with the results and the ink cartridges often dried out and clogged between jobs resulting in purchasing new and expensive replacements.  Yes, I read somewhere about someone who printed a page every week just to keep those cartridges from drying out and I didn't do that, but when a local business started offering edible image printing, I decided to change my edible image printer to our new regular printer (it offers a wireless connection that our old printer didn't) and so my edible image days are done.  Surprisingly, I am not at all sad!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

#TBT Baby Announcement Cookies

I made this set last year for my niece's darling little baby girl, inspired by the embroidered birth announcements that were popular many years ago.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Starfish Cookies

The Starfish

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, "Young man, what are you doing?"

The boy replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don't throw them back, they'll die."

The man laughed to himself and said, "Don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?  You can't make a difference!"

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said,

"I made a difference to that one."



Trisha contacted me to create starfish cookies for the Literacy Council of York-Simcoe.  The organization is celebrating their 30th anniversary and the cookies were a gift to their students, volunteers and members to remind them they have been making a difference for 30 years!



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Musical Cookies

Another season of beautiful music has started at Bradford's Piano Music Studio.  Last year each student got a Sweet Handmade Cookie to celebrate a new year and this year they were all hoping for the same.  Zuzana did not disappoint them!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First Day of School Cookies

Wishing all of you a great first day back at school!  These were the cookies I created for the Farmers' Market this weekend, all of them sold out by about noon.




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Cookies

I was nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by my friend Shari.  My children were happy to help pour ice water over my head (I think I heard "highlight of the month" uttered by one of them) and I must admit today was the perfect day to do it, as it was soooo hot!  I made these cookies and used them as incentive to inspire others to donate.  The prize was grabbed up in about 30 seconds!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Horse Head Silhouette Cookies


I am surrounded by horse lovers (one lives in my house, in fact) and the request for horse cookies never seem to end.  I don't mind!  I personally love silhouette cookies and really like how these turned out!  Hope you do too!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sweet Handmade Cookies on Social Media and Being a Redpath Sweet Pro

I really love social media and am very active on Facebook and Instagram, as well as Twitter, Pinterest and Flickr.  In the past I have worked hard to keep each of my Sweet Handmade accounts updated with the same pictures and content, but that is getting harder and harder to do because there are more accounts to take care of and I am getting busier and busier with work (which is thrilling!)  Also, I think each one of these social media platforms have different strengths, so I am trying to use them the way they are intended to be used.

I feel like Facebook and this blog (which is often referred to as a website) is the best way for me to tell you stories about my baking life with pictures and words.  I am using Instagram to show behind the scenes photos, this is not where I generally post my "official" pictures.  I like the old-school Flickr for cookie pictures - just cookies.  Pinterest is the same, but there my pictures are sorted into albums which makes them somewhat easier to find if you are looking for something specific.  My Twitter account is a way for me to share recipes and tips of some of my favourite sweet accounts.

Whew!!  Just reading these first two paragraphs makes my head spin!  What I am really trying to tell you is that I am going to try to make this page more inclusive of all of my social media endeavours so that if you don't follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you can still see what is happening in regards to my cookies right here!  You can also join my mailing list by dropping me an email at sweethandmade@rocketmail.com and asking me to add you to my list.

Now, to try and catch up on some of my more recent social media postings you may have missed:


I posted an album to Facebook this week with pictures of my recent Redpath Sugar filming day.  I am a Redpath Sugar Pro at this year's Canada's Baking and Sweets Show.  First they filmed me decorating cookies, then I got interviewed.  The interview portion was definitely the most stressful part.  Here are some pictures of the day.  I will also let you know when the 30-90 second promo is available for viewing!