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!  




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beauty and the Beast Cookies

Finnley's favourite Disney princess is Belle and cookies were in order to celebrate her birthday!  Happy birthday to a special girl!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Boston Bruin Sad Emoticon Cookies

Tracey from Regina, Saskatoon contacted me for custom cookies.  It seems she needed to make good on a hockey bet and commissioned me to create these sad Boston Bruin hockey cookies for her friends in Oakville.  Super cute! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Elmo Cookies

My character cookies this week will be Elmo and Cookie Monster!  And, now that Germany has secured their spot in the World Cup this weekend and we just have to wait to find out if they will be facing Argentina or Holland (Hup Holland!), I will let you know I will have flag and soccer ball cookies available to make your World Cup watching festivities more fun!   See you on Saturday!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Baseball Themed Birthday Cookies

Friends and team-mates Dallas and Ryan shared a birthday and a love of baseball, so their mothers arranged baseball themed cookies to celebrate with the entire team.  Baseballs and customized baseball jerseys for everyone!  Happy birthday!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

End of Year Chalkboard and Apple Cookies for Teachers

Stevie is changing schools and he wanted to give a special thank you to the teachers and support staff who have been a part of his life!  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Muskoka Cottage Wedding Weekend Cookies

Jen's gift to the bride and groom was Sweet Handmade Cookies in a theme suitable to their wedding weekend at their Muskoka cottage.  I love how the cookies turned out!  Best wishes to the happy couple!

I got a note from Jen yesterday - "The cottage cookies we ordered as a wedding gift were a huge hit.  The lovely bride wanted them out on the wedding sweet table.  Everyone said they were delicious."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chalkboard Teacher Cookies

As the school year draws to a close, it is time to consider teacher gifts!  Here is one of the cookie styles I will have available at the market tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Years ago I ran as part of my fitness routine, a routine that also included skipping, weight training and aerobics classes.  I wasn't fast or graceful, but I could run a 10k without much effort.  One day I sprained my ankle, a few months later I wretched my knee and after a particularly fast and long run with my husband, I developed a severe case of plantar fasciitis.  I stopped running and developed stiffness in my joints, especially in the morning.  Today I avoid any kind of exercise that is jarring to my body, preferring swimming and spinning and the occasional yoga class.  I feel pretty good generally, but get asked frequently to run and always turn those requests down, citing my desire to stay injury free.  I consider my ability to move comfortably important, and will do what it takes.

It is therefore ironic that I have been neglecting myself in other ways.  My business pretty much relies on my ability to pipe with my right hand.  I am not in any way ambidextrous; it is my right hand or nothing.  When I first started making decorated cookies for the 2011 farmers' market season, I ended up with a pretty bad case of tennis elbow.  I would finish a late night of decorating and barely be able to straighten my arm.  I would go to bed and all would be pretty okay by morning.  Eventually I learned to ice my arm and wear a brace.  When my cookie orders slowed down at the end of the summer, I got the rest I needed to heal.

Over the years I have done many marathon sessions and don't have too much trouble with my arm.  I do know that an over-filled piping bag will give me a hand cramp, but I try not to overfill, so that is rarely a problem.  Until Thursday.  I pre-filled 5 bags of icing (I usually fill as I go) and over-filled all 5.  As I was using the first one, I considered fixing them, but I ignored my rational thought and went on.  It was a long day of work and I think after those first five large bags, the damage was done.  By the end of the night, I was having trouble touching my thumb to my index finger.  There was visible swelling in the fleshy part between my thumb and index finger.  My thumb muscles were aching.  I still had more work to do the next day so I knew rest was really not in the cards for me.  The next day most activities were a challenge - including packaging about 250 cookies (which requires a lot of thumb/index finger action), even cutting my dinner was painful to my thumb muscles.

I guess it is time I smarten up.  I need to pace myself a little better to avoid days of 150 cookies at a time.  I need to rest and ice.  I need to listen to that voice that says "the piping bag is too full!"  In the meantime, I am enjoying a second day off with a bag of frozen peas in my future, but only until my 400 cookie week starts tomorrow.  Take care of yourself and share your healing tips if you have any!