Friday, 30 March 2012

Dread Spread!

First... A little lesson in Trini-talk... When we say something is "dread" we use it to emphasize stuff... For example "he rel' dread boy!", which can mean he is awesome or he really sucks... It's just one of the things we say... Because I've titled this post as though I'm talking to a bunch of Trinis... I felt like I should explain... It's a real "bes' title"... Which means it's a great title... Two in one night! :)

Alright, down to business... Something we all hate and dread... Our cookies spreading! Spreading is second on my list of cookie-ing pet peeves (Air bubbles that show up after my icing is dry is my biggest, in case you were wondering). It works my last nerve because 99% of the time I make a stencil and then hand cut my cookies and if those cookies spread in the oven it ruins my design. I know it happens with cutter cut cookies too and it's annoying when it does but when I've spent hours hand cutting minute details and a cookie spreads I could kill someone! Not really but you get the level of piss I'm at!

So a couple things have worked for me and I haven't had a SINGLE cookie spread on me since! Yes that's right... Not even one! I've done some little experiments to illustrate the mistakes I used to make that maybe some of you are making too... I know my life got infinitely less stressful when I worked this stuff out :D Hope it works for y'all. Here they are in no particular order... "The Dread Spread Culprits"

Culprit One - Oven Temperature

Right... So, if you are anything like me you're a stubborn little bastard and you don't need to follow recipes to the "t" because you know better! When the recipe says "cook your cookies at 400 degrees" you just know that the people who's recipe you're trying are wrong... Screw the fact that the recipe comes from a long established and well respected industry bible like "The Joy of Cooking"... What do those guys know?! You laugh in their face for the obvious typographical mistake they've made and have not correct and preheat your oven at a much more believable 350 degrees and relax, confident in your genius, gloating the whole way that "The Joy of Cooking" folks don't know squat!

Boy are you stupid! But you don't admit defeat... Hell you don't even acknowledge the possibility of it! This is a great cookie recipe to tweak to your own liking and because you're new at this whole cookie thing, this is just how cookies bake right? Stueps (see next post for the definition and sound of that Trini word :D)

What you really are is an idiot! Because after reading cookie blogs on your path to cookie success you realize that there is a common thread on all of them and cookie-ers around the world all hate "the spread". So sugar cookies shouldn't spread? Huh! You don't say. Now you're even more convinced that those people at "The Joy of Cooking" don't know their bums from their elbows because not only are they wrong about oven temperatures but their recipes suck!

After months of trimming still warm cookies in to their proper shapes and burning your fingers in the process a penny drops... Maybe they aren't wrong... Maybe their temperatures were right? Your science trained brain puts two and two together... If you bake at a higher temperature the outside of the cookie is pretty much set and the inside will cook with in the confines of the cookie shell that's just baked... Genius!!!! 

So you do that...You cook at the right temperature and the spreading issues, they get better! But not PERFECT... And since you want the perfect cookie your brain starts whirring again! You break down the ingredient list in your head and start thinking about the ingredients... Baking powder is a leavening agent... Do you really need the full amount they're calling for? NO! No you don't! And that leads me to...

Culprit Two - Leaveners!!! 

Alright... Baking powder... I only use 1/3 of the amount of what I like to call "my jump off" recipe calls for... Sometimes I even leave it out entirely! In case you missed it, it was from "The Joy of Cooking" and the standard dough on my menu is nothing like this jump off recipe... I've tweaked that recipe to death... But it's still a great one if you're looking for your own jump off recipe :)

Where was I... Oh yes... 1/3 the amount of baking powder I "should" use! Okay, so I haven't noticed a difference in taste or texture at all when I leave it out of a recipe and therefore, I declare baking powder some what unnecessary! And since I've come to that realization... Nay! enlightenment!... I haven't had problems with spreading!!! Woot woot! Three cheers for baking powder being banished!

Culprit Three - Room Temperature Cookie Dough! 

I always, always, ALWAYS bake frozen cookie dough! Always... You know, once more to emphasize my point which is... ALWAYS! 

Here's how I roll (get it?!?!) roll? No? Okay... )... I roll my cookie dough out between large ziploc bags that I cut the zip off of and then open on the two sides (I use the best rolling pin known to man by the way... The Joseph Joseph adjustable rolling pin!), put the rolled out down on a small cookie sheet in the freezer... When it's frozen I cut my shapes, put the rolled dough with the cut outs back in the freezer to firm up before I peel away the dough scraps. Then and only then do I remove the cut outs and bake them. If I have a large order or a ton of orders for one day I freeze the cut outs in one layer, once their frozen completely I stack those up and start baking once all of the shapes are cut. Time saver right there. I'm digressing again though...

I just have found that when I bake dough that's room temperature I get spreading. Maybe it's the butter loosening up? I live in a VERY hot climate so it doesn't take long for that to happen. Since I started baking frozen dough, yup, you guessed it... No issues with spreading!

Culprit Four - Dough Handling!

Here's the deal... When you've cut your dough and picked it up off of whatever you've rolled and cut your dough on, chances are, you've stretched it. Not sure if I'm describing that right. I've just noticed that when I lift dough and put it on my cookie sheet it looks kind of wonky once I've laid it down. And on the occasions when the perfectionist side of my personality has gotten the best of me and I've put my stencil on my cut dough that's been put on the cookie sheet the dough is ALWAYS (I like the word "always") pulled out of shape! ALWAYS! Maybe your cookies aren't spreading, right? Maybe when you laid them down you just didn't notice that you unintentionally pulled them out of shape in the first place?! Maybe?!?!?!

I PEEL my ziploc bags off of my cut and frozen cookie dough rather than pick my dough up off of anything and guess what... Since I started removing the plastic from my cut and frozen cookie dough and THEN placed the cut dough (still frozen :D) on the cookie sheet NO! ISSUES! WITH! SPREADING!!!!!!

And now that I have babbled incessantly about my spreading issues/triumphs I wish you all good no-spreading-luck from here on out! 

I'd love to hear if anyone else has any more tips or if anyone else has found the same things I have through trial and error so feel free to bombard me with comments because I love hearing from y'all :D

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Time To Make Icing... Key Word "TIME"

It takes me FOR-EV-ER (think Squints Palledorous in "The Sandlot" while you read that please) to make icing. For a couple of reasons... And here they are...

1. I! Am! The! Ultimate! Procrastinator!

2. I leave it to the last possible minute before I start "decorating day" on my schedule. And that has nothing to do with reason one really... And everything to do with the fact that I give myself way too much credit in the swift mixing skills department and suffer from amnesia on the regular because I forget every-single-time that it takes me FOR-EV-ER to make icing!

3. I make my icing so stiff to begin with that it takes me a ridiculous amount of time to get it to a workable state after the fact. Have I mentioned at all that I'm a sucker for punishment? AND I have carpal tunnel syndrome for crying out loud! You'd think I'd go with the easiest option here right? Wrong! Clearly I don't mind trying to work ten squirts of water at a time into stiff icing, trying desperately not to have any of those ten squirts come sploshing (yes! SplOshing! Not splashing! I invent words when I'm not baking :D ) out of  the bowl in my vain attempt to make it all come together in just a few swishes of my spatula!

4. The frigging spray bottle and my stupid hang up about adding water in increments of 10 squirts to thin my icing out! And trust me... It was worse!!! I used to use these itty bitty little child's play style squirt bottle-ettes that dispensed in ten squirts the same volume of water I get from two squirts from my new, hot pink, sh** hot squirt bottle from heaven. I kid you not... With the old version I'd go through the entire tiny bottle for one colour. That was back when making icing used to take me "FOR! EV! ER! AND! EV! ER" though. Now if only I could get over the 10 squirt stupidity and just squirt till I have enough water to make proper flood consistency icing in one shot! Rah!

5. I seriously care way too freaking much about getting colours EXACT! I never knew I was such a perfectionist until I started cookie-ing... Which is a bit of a lie really because if possible, I think I was worse when I was at flight school... But that's understandable right? What with multi million dollar aircraft in the palms of my hands and my instructor's life and mine on the line right? I mean THAT'S understandable... The icing colour thing is just pathetic! God forbid my subject has on a t-shirt with seven shades of green in it! I just CAN NOT do anything less than those seven exact colours! It will bother me! I won't want to hand it over to the customer! Which is bad in so many ways... Most of all because cookies that get left behind usually end up being eaten by me or the Noodle... And I'm trying to loose the FORTY lbs I put on and I don't like her to eat too much "junk".

6. For the most part I don't use piping tips and bags... Just these little baggies that we can buy in bulk here, at the worst stockist known to man. But what do those little bags mean? Well... 1 bag for piping icing, sometimes 2 depending on how much outline or string work I have planned, and then on average 4 bags of flood icing per colour. Of all of those little bags 9 out of 10 them WILL leak and I only discover the ones that do whilst I'm tying them shut... RAH! This adds time to my icing prep for a few reasons... I take the time to curse... Out loud... Every single time I have a leaky bag... Add 20 seconds! I then have to snip a large tip off the end of the bag and stick the bag in to a new one, squeeze all the icing out, tie the new bag and PRAY! that this new one doesn't leak... Add 30 seconds! And if that new bag leaks... Well add 20 more seconds of colourful language and maybe about 10 seconds more for icing bag slamming (time varies depending on how over tired I am) and then another 30 seconds worth of rebagging and an extra 10 seconds for prayers!

                                              Not a terribly clear image but these are my bags!

                   And this is how we buy them... In bags of 250... I get 1000 in bulk for not even US$5.00

If I could hire someone to make icing for me I'd just adore that! But I know I'd make their lives a living hell with my icing control issues... And I don't like making anyone's life a living hell :)

And now... For your viewing pleasure, and license to mock my lack of video taping ability... Here's a lil video of my mega stiff icing. Note... Before anyone dreams of saying I sound like Rihanna be forewarned... I can not stand that woman and you'll be on my list if you do! Trinis and Bajans sound nothing alike :D

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

daily cookie... The Blog!

Alrighty... So I've been asked by a couple blogs to do some guest posting. Awesome! "We just need the link to your blog!" they say... And then I rather embarrassingly admit that I don't have one... Yeah! I know right?! I mean I love to blab! Why don't I have a blog for crying out loud? And here's the simple, pathetic answer... I'm too freaking lazy for a blog!

I have to correct something... I do have blogs... In actual fact I am a serial blog starter. I get all excited and puffed up with opinions, I even picture the way I want my blog to look! When it comes down to it though I rarely get past the "name your blog" stage... Once in a while I write a post or two... And then promptly get bored. So I do have little dead blogs all over the place...
This one... This one is different though! Because I have a ready made audience of awesome cookie people who actually give a crap about what I have to say... Cookie or un-cookie related :)
So here we go folks... daily cookie... The Blog!