Just over a month ago I signed up for our local Make-a-Wish Foundation’s Rope for Hope, where I need to raise a certain amount of money for the Foundation in order to get the chance to rappel down the side of a city skyscraper. As incentive to make donations I offered my donors various amounts of baked goods for various amounts of donations. (You can check out my spiel by clicking here). The response has been amazing!
I started honouring some of the baking requests last week in a bit of an unconventional way. Two of the generous donors were my brother and his family, and a longtime friend and her family, who all happen to live on the west coast. It also happened to be my brother’s 40th birthday last week. So I decided to surprise him for his birthday and delivered his stuff, and my friend’s, in person! I travelled from London, ON, to Vancouver, BC with several dozen cookies and two birthday cakes in my suitcase!
I made the cakes and decorations ahead, froze them, then packaged them up as securely as I could on departure day and hoped for the best! It all went surprisingly well. Following is a photo essay of the adventure.
After the Power Ranger cake last week I had some fondant leftover. Last time I had leftovers I made some little fondant-covered two-bite brownies. We were about to host a party at our place and I didn’t think those would be the right fit, so instead I decided to try and make some imitation Oreos and use the fondant for the filling.
I looked up some recipes and settled on a chocolate sugar cookie. It was pretty straightforward, cutting out all the chocolate cookies, and then cutting out the fondant to match.
The fondant was quite smooth, so I knew it wouldn’t stick to the cookies very well on its own. I was also making some empire cookies, so I just put a dab of royal icing on each side of the cookie to stick the sandwich together. It worked out pretty well, and because I had two colours of fondant leftover, we had two colours of cookies: white and hot pink. They were pretty tasty little guys, I will definitely be doing them again if I have leftover fondant!
I often admire the bright, clean look of cookies that have been decorated with royal icing. They are so attractive that you almost don’t want to eat them and mess up their perfect appearance. I have been wanting to try and make them for a while now, but I actually don’t often bake sweets unless there is a specific purpose; for example, a special event. Well, this weekend I had my chance. My husband and I were going to attend a party to celebrate life – most notably celebrating people who have survived breast and other forms of cancer, people who are still fighting cancer, and just the amazingness of life in general.
I decided to make some simple sugar cookies and use the flooding method to make pink ribbons as decoration. I looked up flood icing, which is basically royal icing that has some extra water to make it more runny to ‘flood’ an iced outline.
I made a dark pink icing for the outline, with the thought that it would look better to see the definition of the ribbon crossing itself. Then I made a lighter pink icing for flooding. When I first made the icing in the morning it seemed to be a good consistency; not too thick for a small piping tip. But when I went to use it in the evening it seemed to be thicker. I had already loaded the piping tool by the time I discovered this and decided to do the best I could with what I had, because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of taking it all out again. I had made the lighter pink icing runnier than the dark pink to begin with, but even so, it too was a bit thick for the purpose of flooding. It wasn’t a flood so much as a sploosh that needed a bit of spreading to reach the edges. The perils of not testing things in advance!
It ended up taking quite a bit longer than I anticipated, and my outlines didn’t have the super smooth look that I like so much, but I enjoyed the challenge and feel that I’ve learned something for the next time I try it. Practice makes perfect, so I just need to find a few more events to attend! Or I could just bite the bullet and make them for fun, I’m sure my family wouldn’t mind!
My daughter has been really into the story The Gingerbread Man lately. You know the old Golden Book classic, “Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man!” She has a pretty high attention to detail, so after reading the story many times she finally said we should make a gingerbread man, “with raisins for eyes, a currant for nose, and a pink sugar candy waistcoat.” She did also say that she wanted a girl gingerbread, but we ended up making some of both 🙂
So one Saturday morning we made the gingerbread cookies together; I helped with the rolling, but she did most of the cookie cutting herself. They cooled during rest time, and I set to work getting all the decorating requirements lined up, with a few additions just for fun. I had almost forgotten the most important piece, but when I went up to check on my daughter mid-rest (I don’t think she actually rested at all!), she reminded me with great excitement “raisins for eyes, a currant for nose and a pink sugar candy waistcoat.” I had about 20 minutes to produce some pink sugar candy waistcoats!
I threw together a mini-batch of fondant by melting some marshmallows in the microwave, mixing in icing sugar, then colouring it pink. It came out perfectly, and there was just enough for the number of cookies we had.
She didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t have any currants for noses, and was pretty happy with chocolate chips and gold dragees as substitutions. Even the raisins only made it on the first one she decorated! But she was very focused and spent about an hour meticulously decorating each gingerbread cookie, making each one unique from the last. And at the end she eagerly picked her favourite one to eat.
On the last page of the story (spoiler alert) a fox eats the gingerbread man, and it reads “that is exactly what should happen to all gingerbread men.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think my daughter does too!
As I’m sure you can guess, my time is pretty occupied these days with our kids. Although I am an avid baker, my day job is not only looking after my own kids, but a couple others who come to my in-home daycare. Needless to say it is a busy household!
Over the last few months I have done some fun baking and food activities with them all and thought I would share some of them here. Some involve baking, and some don’t, but they all involve eating yummy things, so I decided to include them anyway!
To start with, my kids love my flour bin. It’s an excellent sensory experience to feel the flour on their fingers, and I’m in constant awe of just how far that flour can travel!
Now let’s go back a bit and do this in chronological order. I’ll start with Valentine’s day. My daughter helped me make some heart cookies, and my sister-in-law helped me cut a ton of tiny little heart and star shapes out of fondant to use as decorations. With some royal icing in hand the kids did some awesome decorating. The rule was that they had to finish decorating their set amount of cookies before they could pick one to eat. They showed surprising restraint, only needing reminders a couple times, and then thoroughly enjoyed the fruit of their labour!
This winter was particularly snowy and cold, which meant we spent a lot of time inside. One day we set a bowl out in the falling snow, and once we had caught enough clean snow we made some snow cream to eat. So simple: snow, sugar, milk and vanilla. It seemed a lot colder than regular ice cream, and was like a super sweet snow cone. Needless to say they slurped it up in no time!
Also, because we were indoors a lot this winter, we tried several sensory activities. Finger painting is always a favourite, but my 17 month old son still eats everything he can get his hands on. I found a recipe for edible finger paint online which was literally some plain yogurt and food colouring. My son was super excited to be doing something that looked like what the bigger kids were doing. And when he discovered what it actually was he was super excited about eating it…and he ate it ALL!
And lastly, for now, we did some more cookie decorating for St. Patrick’s day. My daughter and son helped me bake the cookies, and then everyone participated in the decorating. What fun to be able to do all this with such an eager group of kids! An awesome reason to make and decorate cookies for any season!
We had another gloomy cloudy day last week, so we decided to break out the cookie book again and tackle another cookie recipe. My daughter chose the teddy bear cookies. I’d been avoiding these ones because they looked complicated, but once we got going on them they were actually quite simple.
We had to make two batches of dough, a light one and a dark one, so it was double the activity to keep her busy. She enjoyed pouring in the ingredients after I measured them, rolling out the dough, cutting the shapes, and constructing the bear faces on the baking sheet. The recipe said to put the chocolate chip eyes on once the cookies came out of the oven, and they would melt in place, which worked until we went to move them. They didn’t stick on very well, so if we were to do it again we might use some icing for the eyes instead, or try to bake them right on.
It was a fun choice of cookie, and they made great snacks for a couple picnics once the weather got nicer!
As my daughter gets older, it’s easier to involve her in the baking process. Her fine motor skills are getting tuned and she can now use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, move the cookies onto a pan, and she is super-good at eating them! I have to say, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so when she starts to put the cookie cutter down halfway across one that’s already cut, I often leap in to move it. But then I got thinking, these cookies are just for us, and she seems pretty proud of what she’s doing, and they’re going to taste the same no matter how they’re cut, so why should I get all worked up about it? After all, it’s an activity I invited her to help with, and at this stage in her life this should be a fun activity, not something she gets frustrated with because I keep butting in.
We have a great cookie cookbook that has pictures of each cookie with the recipes, which is perfect since she can’t read yet. She looks through the book and finds a picture that she likes, and we do our best to make them. Sometimes I have to improvise ingredients, and I almost always cut the recipe in half (or smaller!) That way we don’t have an over-abundance of cookies, and it takes less time which is great for her toddler attention span!
I think one of the things I like best about involving her in baking and cooking is that she has started to bake and cook in her ‘oven’ (which also happens to be the big box that her car seat came in!) We never got one of those Fisher Price kitchen sets, she just uses what she can find around the house, which I think is great. I keep my nice baking equipment out of reach, but there are still lots of pans and utensils to choose from. She regularly makes feasts of pizza, pasta and salad; and of course desserts: blueberry pie, chocolate cookies, ice cream, pecan pie, apple crisp to name a few. I like to cook and bake from scratch as much as possible, and if I can involve her in the process I end up teaching her how to do that too without really even trying. It’s one thing to tell her something, but it’s so much better when she can learn it hands-on. It can take some creativity to get an impatient toddler to participate, but if you pick recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, and cut the recipe size down so it doesn’t take as long, you can have a lot of success with it. As she gets used to the process, and grows and develops more, it will be easier to tackle more complicated recipes, and as an added bonus, work on math skills – all those fraction measurements!
Here’s a modified recipe we did recently that worked pretty well (you can probably make out the full recipe if you click on the photo above):
1/2 c butter
1/4 c brown sugar
1 egg white
1 c all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg white. Stir in flour and mix well.
Spoon mixture into a pastry bag fitted with star tip and pipe 3-inch fingers onto lightly greased baking sheets (you can use parchment paper, but it may slide when you try to lift the piping tip).
Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
My daughter helped soften the butter by pushing the buttons on the microwave, dumped the sugar in the bowl, helped hold the mixer, dumped the flour in the bowl, and helped stir in the flour with a big wooden spoon.I had to do all the piping at this stage, but she was pretty fascinated watching it happen. And she was a very eager taste-tester. She also didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t make the frosting for the middle, she was just happy to have some cookies!