Right now, I should be cutting out cookies, lots of cookies. But right now, this helpful hint needs to be shared. Frankly, it’s the kind of tip I would never have thought to share, mostly because I assumed everyone already knew about it, like my shpritz bottle tip. We all know what happens when one assumes something.
If you’re like me, you collect a lot of metal cookie cutters. And, invariably, affixed to the cutter is a sticker coated with enough adhesive on the back to keep it secured for the next 200 years. Great for SKU reading devices, but a nuisance for the person actually putting the cutter to its proper use.
If you just peel the cutter away, you’re left with an impossible to clean residue, and probably some leftover pieces of the sticker that refuse to budge.
Well, I have a simple, chemical-free solution to this little annoyance: your hair dryer. It’s simple, it’s fast and it works.
See the little Eiffel Tower cutter in the photo? That’s today’s culprit.
Turn the hairdryer on to the highest and hottest setting and point toward the sticker. If you’re holding the cutter between your fingers, beware….that metal can get very hot, very quickly. Here the cord of the hairdryer is being used to steady the cutter.
Point the dryer’s hot airstream directly on the label for about a minute or more. Sometimes the label will darken, but not always. Turn off the dryer and test an edge to see if the label lifts easily.
This is perfect. It’s lifting without tugging, and there’s no glue-y residue.
Now, just wash your cutter in hot, soapy water, dry thoroughly and start cutting out cookies!
Just like I am going to do now.
Many thanks to Cookie Cutter Company for the adorable Eiffel Tower cutter!
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Embellishing a cookie or 200 with meticulous detail can be back-breaking work. If you’ve ever written, swirled, dotted or piped intricacies on a 3 inch edible canvas, you know what I’m talking about.
You might, if you’re anything like me, work standing, not sitting. Standing, leaning, bending, hunching sometimes for hours on end.
I NEVER sit while decorating cookies. First of all, I can’t outline a cookie to save my life while sitting. My counters are higher than most kitchen counters. My torso is short and my legs are long, so when I sit, that counter is practically at the same level as my neck. Definitely not a good angle from which to work.
Years ago, an accomplished wedding cake designer told me she never lets her employees sit while working. With a packed daily production schedule, she was concerned with employing assistants displaying deft skills and record-breaking finishing times. Allowing workers to sit, she discovered, made them too comfortable, extinguishing the spring in their pastry bag wielding steps.
So, the question becomes how to work effiiciently and quickly, without becoming the next Hunchback of Notre Dame?
Answer: Cake turntable, or, as J calls it, the twirly thing.
It’s not just for frosting cakes. By balancing your tray of cookies on the turntable you can stand, bend from the waist, as opposed to hunching over, and, because it twirls, you don’t have to reach unnaturally over to that cookie in the far left hand corner of the tray. Twirling the tray means you’re less likely to drop something on a freshly flooded cookie, because you’ve easily turned it out of the way.
If you don’t have a turntable, think about investing in one. Your straighter back and your un-huched shoulders will thank you. So will your cookies.
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The winner of the regifted Martha Stewart sifter swag is Carol Sacks!!! Congratulations, Carol! I can’t wait to see the sifter retooled as a planter or flower vase.
And, if I can add a postscript to the whole sifting conversation, I am not anti-sifting. I am anti-sifter. As I said in the original post, I whisk or put dry ingredients in my stand mixer and paddle for a minute or so. For more ornery ingredients, like cocoa powder, I do use a strainer and a rubber spatula. I carefully tap the loose powder through the strainer and use the rubber spatula to work the harder lumps through to a fine, silky cocoa powder.
Thank you for all your great comments. This was a silly little, tongue-in-cheek contest that I hope amused you as much as it amused me.
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As many of you already know, Martha Stewart unveiled her new iPad Cookie App on her television show on Monday. And, she invited people like me to sit in the audience and tweet about it! One full hour of intense cookie tweeting!!!!! Martha. Cookies. Twitter. It just doesn’t get any better than that for me.
So, we assembled early in the morning. We got our special name tags.
Now, I’m no stranger to the Martha set. I was there just a couple of weeks ago for this show. And, I was in the audience last November for the 1st pie contest. So,when we were shepherded around the set on a special tour, I found myself mouthing the words “I knew that” when a particular point of Martha-set-ology interest was passed on to us. I heart Martha and everything she stands for.
So, back to the tweeting show. The App was unveiled. Guests were on the set. Cookies were mixed, baked & distributed to the audience. I can’t speak for the others, but I was burning up the internets with my lightning tweets. Keeping my eyes glued to my computer screen, stealing glances of the action in front of me only occasionally so I could accurately report the action in front of me, I was a woman on a mission. And, it was glorious!
That is, until one of the items of swag was announced. A sifter. We were getting A SIFTER!!!!!!!!! Oh, for crying out loud!!!! I nearly stopped mid-keystroke. Did I really hear this correctly?
You KNOW how I feel about sifters. Please, let me remind you how I feel about sifters.
What was particularly perplexing about this choice of a gift was that Martha and her guests weren’t using sifters to aerate and incorporated their dry ingredients. They used a whisk or a fork!!!! But, WE were getting the bright and shiny one trick pony of a kitchen gizmo. Yes, we got other lovely gifts, but this one, this particular gesture of generosity, struck me as, well, odd.
But, I shlepped it and the other gifts home. And I pondered. To whom would I regift this sifter? Our friend, Joey, who really started me off on this tangent? Impossible. We just closed his beach house and I went to great lengths to smuggle his sifter out of that house without being surveyed on one of his eight surveillance cameras. Sheesh, what would I do with this thing?
And, then it hit me. This is the perfect way to learn the ins and outs of blog contests. It’s like turning lemons into lemonade. The regifting of this contraption to you, one of my wonderful readers. It does have a beautiful Martha Stewart tag on it. Her photo is beautiful. You can play with it and draw your own conclusions as to the worth of this thing. Here, take a look!
The rules of engagement:
Leave me a comment here telling me how you’d put this sifter to work in a way other than it was intended. Make a flour pot, make a doorstop. Make it interesting, if you covet this wonderment of modern marketing.
You must retweet the tweet that I will tweet about the blog post.
You need to go to The One Tough Cookie Facebook fan page and click ‘like’ if you haven’t already declared your like for it.
And, one week from tonight a winner will be chosen. I will send the sifter to you as quickly as possible, so that I can regain that valuable piece of closet real estate that’s currently housing this gizmo.
Hurry. The clock is ticking. The race for the regifted swag is officially ON!Read More »
About six weeks ago we were at our dear friend’s beach house. He was showing me a gift that he had recently received: a metal sifter. I saw it and said “Return it. You don’t need that thing.” Joey looked at me like I had three heads (which he often swears I do)! ”What do you mean, I don’t need this? You HAVE to sift.”, he cried. I explained the method I use and why. Joey scoffed at me and said, “I’m keeping it.”
More recently, I was a guest on Sirius Radio’s “Martha Stewart Living Today” with Mario Bosquez. A caller phoned in with the sifting question. Once again I explained my method and the reason why I aerate the dry ingredients my way. I believe I failed in penetrating her rock solid sifting stance.
So, I began thinking about sifting and sifters. Many of us have fond memories of seeing our mothers sift flour for baking. More than likely we remember her using a contraption like this, except maybe with a crank to turn (instead of the squeezy thing)
which always reminded me of an organ grinder and his monkey. With every turn of the crank, I thought I heard the familiar tinny music box notes of “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Instead of being greeted at the end of the song by a pop-up jester, my eyes followed the puffs of flour dust that floated down to the counter and floor.
In my opinion, this one trick pony of a culinary tool has its drawbacks. It’s messy. Messy when using it and messy when storing it. If it’s washed, it will rust, just like the one in the picture. If it’s not washed, the particles of flour still clinging to the insides of the sifter will draw bugs. Not scary ones, but who wants bugs of any sort in their cupboards? Here’s the brutal truth: the sifter is just not efficient. Yes, it aerates. It breaks up clumps. It produces a fine grained photo-finish of a mound of mise en place. BUT (THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BUT THAT IS KEY TO THIS POST), if you put all your flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder in at once and crank away, all those important ingredients will just fall and land in one spot. And, to compensate for this, when you’ve finished adding the dry ingredients to the fluffed up butter, sugar and egg mixture, you might just keep the mixer running a bit longer. Just to be safe. You’re not safe. You’re (gulp) overmixing.
Overmixing a cake will just develop the gluten structure equivalent to the Situation’s abs: overworked and good for nothing. Which just means you could be on the precipice of #bakefail. I’m not saying that this will happen every time, but it could happen, so why take the chance? I mean, you’ve done everything in your power to make sure there are no rogue bits of eggshell floating about, and to let all cold ingredients come to what you think is the perfect 72º that defines room temperature, right? So, why get caught in this trap when you can easily avoid it.
What’s a baker to do? Well, the first thing you do is eradicate the word ‘sift’ from your lexicon. Replace with ‘aerate’, because that’s essentially what you’re being instructed to do to the flour that’s been packed down in the package during shipping. Aerating the flour will result in a lighter baked good. Now, to the ‘aerate’ phrase, add ‘and incorporate’. Incorporate the salt. Incorporate the leavener Aerate and incorporate. Is there a gizmo for such a thing? Yes. There. Is. You don’t have to buy anything. You already own them.
A bowl and a whisk. Magic tools. Aerate the dry while turning the bowl and incorporating the ingredients. Voilà! Don’t believe me? Here’s what one of my baking heroes, Shirley Corriher has to say in her book “Bakewise”:
In a recipe that instructs “sifting,” you can get a more even blend of ingredients by beating them together for 30 seconds with the mixer, fork, or a whisk.
And, if you bake cakes using Rose Levy Beranbaum’s method, all you have to do is put the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and turn it on ‘stir’ for about a minute or so. Voilà again! Aerated and incorporated.
So, stop being intimidated by this nasty word. Take control and repeat after me, “Aerate and incorporate.”
NOW, will you please get rid of that sifter?Read More »
I love those cookie decorating tutorials in magazines and on television that make it look like any mannequin could decorate cookies like a pro in 5 minutes. You know which ones I’m talking about. The pictures that show all the pastry bags and squeeze bottles neatly filled with the perfect consistency of icing. And the spatulas are color coordinated to the bowls and mixer. The naked cookies are all baked and lined up waiting to be frosted by smiling mothers and angelic children. You can just feel the joy that’s about to be born from this experience.
You try and recreate the whole scene, maybe without all the color coordination. By the time the are cookies baked, the icing is made and the bags are filled, you’re exhausted. Royal icing is showing up in your hair, down your bra, and on your shoes. And, there’s not a single perfectly decorated cookie to show for this melee.*
Allow me to let you in on a little secret. There are squadrons of helpers behind the scenes making and coloring the icing, filling the bags and bottles, baking the cookies. No wonder those Stepford wives look so happy and clean while they’re pretending to pipe an outline.
Here are some tips that I’ve learned (the hard way) to embrace. They won’t insure that your cookies look like a pro did them, even on the first try. But they will make your sugary encounter so much more positive and pleasant, that you’ll definitely want to give it another go again sometime.
1. Prepare your dough and the cookies the day before you want to decorate. Spreading the tasks out over two days make the whole process much more manageable and enjoyable. Freezing dough is the way I roll (literally). If you bake the cookies a day in advance of decorating, tightly wrap the trays with plastic wrap to ensure freshness.
2. Timing is everything. No matter how much time you allow for decorating the cookies, allow more. Rushing the process may result in cookies that don’t show off your best artistry. Trust me on this one. I STILL have timing issues.
3. Strategy. Think about what supplies and tools you’ll need in advance. Having everything thought out and prepared eliminates the frantic search for everything at the last minute. The time and energy you save doing this can be appropriated to your perfecting your piping skills.
4. Keep it clean, kids. Grease is the mortal enemy of royal icing. Make sure you de-grease your mixing bowl and beater by washing with white vinegar to remove any micro-traces of grease.
5. Keep it simple. Make your first attempts successful by choosing simple designs that don’t require more than 3 colors. A well-executed simple design truly is a thing of beauty. It’s important to learn the basics and be really comfortable with them, before trying the fancy stuff. Do you think Michelangelo just started out and poof! He created the Sistine Chapel? I don’t think so. All right , I’ll grant you that he might have had a leg up even when he was just drawing stick figures. [wink] The point is, we all have our learning curves. When you believe you’ve mastered piping lines, move on to something else.
6. Less is more. When adding food color to royal icing, start with a pin dot’s worth of color to a small amount of icing. Keep adding icing and color in small increments til you get the desired color. You can add color, but you can’t take it away. And, too much food color can inhibit proper drying as well as causing that cursed bleeding.
7. Don’t cramp your style. If your work area is cluttered and disorganized, it WILL constrict and block your creative juices. Clean as you go and give yourself plenty of space to work comfortably. You won’t regret it.
8. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? So simple, but so true. Practice, practice, practice on parchment paper. And on cookies. The first cookies I ever decorated were horrid. Truly. It’s taken me a few years to get where I am, and I’m not even where I want to be. Don’t be hard on yourself. Stick with it.
9. A watched cookie will never dry. Flooded cookies, in my opinion, need a good 8 hrs to dry. If you need to speed up the process, put a tray of cookies on the middle rack of a COLD oven and turn on the oven light. It’s a humidity-free environment for your cookies. Just check every so often that they’re not over exposed to the heat of the light bulb. You want the icing to set, not separate.
10. There is no such thing as an unwanted cookie. No matter what the outcome of your cookie decorating efforts, you’ll always be everyone’s hero. You made cookies, for crying out loud!
What? You don’t believe that my early attempts weren’t very good? Here…I’ll show you what I have photo’d. And, these aren’t the worst, by a long shot.
AACCCKKK! I must really like you guys to share these with you.
Moral of the story is the next time you see a cookie demo where an artfully designed cookie is whipped out in about 3 seconds flat, remember, that somewhere behind closed doors, there’s a mountain of bowls begging to be washed. And, happy helpers are munching on the rejects.
*In the spirit of full disclosure, and writing about what one really knows, I can fully attest to the fact that I’ve wrestled with my own demons of decorating, and am a better decorator for it.Read More »
When I bake, I like to scale out my ingredients. Weighing all the components insures a consistent product each and every time, regardless of the season, the weather, or any other dastardly impediment to a perfect cake, cookie, or frosting. And, since I was schooled at The French Culinary Institute, I’ve converted most of One Tough Cookie‘s recipes to grams, kilos and litres.
That said, I need a scale I can rely on every day. I’ve gone through several through the years. They’re your best friend when they’re in tip top form, but watch out when that damned battery fails. The scales that I’ve used in the past have never issued warning signals that told me they were living on borrowed time. Not a chirp, not a blink….nothing. The thing just dropped dead in front of me. Of course, because Murphy’s Law seemed to wake up at this time, too, I always had the beginnings of a cake for 50 or so in the bowl. And, it’s not like I ever had a stash of these batteries in my “just in case” closet.
Thank goodness I have good neighbors who cook. I borrowed a scale to get me through my cake. Oh…I’ve neglected to tell you that I did buy replacement batteries, but something happened to the little battery holder in my scale, so it wouldn’t close competely and make the proper connection to power up the battery. Time to research new scales!
It’s no secret that I love Oxo Good Grips products. I’ve tweeted about a number of them. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not paid by Oxo to be nice to them. Not paid in money, not asked to test products or anything of the like. I buy Oxo just like everyone else, from various retail outlets.
Well, did you know Oxo Good Grips makes a digital scale? Neither did I! I read the online product description and decided to take the $50 plunge. Result? I. Am. In. Love.
This little piece of perfection was made by and for people who weigh their ingredients. It has an easy to remove and easy to clean stainless steel platform upon which to place the object(s) to be weighed. It holds up to 11 pounds! It works in pounds and in kilos, and, specifically in 1/8 oz increments; important to bakers like me.
What really separates this baby from other products is (a) the back lit display. You can light it up to see the already large readout even better. Ever place a gigantic bowl on top of the scale only to have it overshadow the display? I find myself turning my head practically upside down to read the display. Not with this baby. THE DISPLAY PULLS OUT! SEE?
Someone in Oxo really had their thinking helmet on the day they invented this! Oh, Oxo, you’re making those other scale makers really kick themselves in the rear with this feature. So simple, so obvious, yet so not available on any scale but yours, I think. And, I adore the little icon that shows what percentage of the 11 lb capacity has been used. No more stressed out scales.
Remember those silly little batteries that you need to go to the special battery store for? Not now. Oxo’s scale takes AAA batteries. The kind you can find anywhere. And, as if I couldn’t love this thing more because of everything I’ve mentioned, there is one more feature that made me say, “Oxo, I’ll never stray.” A low battery indicator. It sends you a gentle warning when the batteries are conking out so you never have to curse at the blasted scale again while in the midst of a big project. Is that the most genius thing ever? NO MORE SCALEFAIL!
And, like other scales, if you forget to turn it off, it turns itself off for you.
Oxo, the only thing I can’t measure out is the respect and admiration I have for this amazing kitchen helper.Read More »