Something really fun and wonderful happened to me this month. A cool lady – Barb – emailed me out of the blue to ask if I’d like to “act the chef” at a holiday themed bridal shower she was hosting for her daughter’s best friend.
Reading the email that night, I was stunned. Someone was actually asking me to do what I love. Chat with lovely people while talking about cake and cookies. How could I resist?
The party included a 12 inch coconut cake (one of my all time faves)
and 6-8 gingerbread cookies per guest in mitten and snowflake shapes (also one of my faves).
I also put together favor bags with 3×5 recipe cards of the cake, cookies and icings (Swiss meringue for the cake, royal icing for the cookies), piping tips (Wilton #s 1 and 1M) and cute cutters Barb provided.
When the big day arrived, I got to Barb’s house just in time to do a little prep before the party began, due in large part to my husband’s help. He sorted piping tips and filled favor bags that morning while I scuttled about the kitchen like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to finish up the last batch (or three) of frosting.
Later, when I saw the entrance to the house, I knew everything was going to be fine, just fine. Look at that simple star and outdoor ornament decorations! This gal has style!
The rest of the party rolled along like we were taping a segment for a Food Network holiday special. The house was open, contemporary, gorgeous.
The tiered counters in the kitchen allowed a little square of work space for 14 guests to hone their cookie decorating skills while I demonstrated I am Baker’s rose cake technique and how to fill and clean a pastry bag the easy way, using Karen of Karen’s Cookies techniques. After addressing the basics, I passed around some “inspiration pictures” I printed from Google images to get people started on their snowflake and mitten cookies.
I also set out a plate of cookies I had prepared earlier, just to give people an idea about what can happen when you become a full fledged “cookier.” That’s a technical term, right? If not, I might lose my identity.
For fun (and confidence), I also set out bowls of sanding sugar, pearls, non pariels, crushed candy canes and snow disco dust to improve any imperfections and make everything shine. But it wasn’t necessary. Everything already glittered! Everybody had a ball, learned a little and left with a personal plate of cookies. Cookie party, all grown up!
Here are my recipes from that day. Hopefully, you can try them in 2013!
Triple Coconut Cake
(adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, Baking Illustrated)
1 large egg plus 5 large egg whites
3/4 cup cream of coconut (found in drink mix aisle of grocery store for pina coladas)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 1/4 cup cake flour, sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened but still cool
2 cups packed sweetened shredded coconut
1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9 inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour (I just use baking spray).
2. Beat whole egg and egg whites in a large measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla and coconut extracts. Beat with fork until thoroughly combined.
3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed until combined, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.
4. With mixer still running, add half of egg mixture. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining egg mixture in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape bowl with spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds (batter will be thick).
5. Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cake pulls away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.
6. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans and invert cakes onto racks, and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.
7. TO TOAST THE COCONUT: While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet, toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.
8. TO FROST THE CAKE: When the cakes are cool, cut each layer in half with a serrated knife (for a total of 4 layers). When frosting the cake, sprinkle some toasted coconut between each layer. When the cake is completely frosted, sprinkle the entire cake with the remaining toasted coconut.
Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1. In the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 160 degrees F).
2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 3 minutes.
3. Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixture on medium-low speed, add the butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition (If the frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more). Beat in salt and extracts. Stir with a rubber spatula until the frosting is smooth.
(Almost) No Stick Gingerbread Cookies
Makes approx. 24 cookies
Mix and refrigerate dough for 3 hours or overnight before rolling and baking.
3 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup packed Muscovado sugar (deeper molasses flavor, found at specialty shops or online, but additional brown sugar is ok too)
½ cup unsulpherized molasses
1. Combine flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a medium bowl.
2. In a large bowl fitted with the paddle attachment for a standing mixer (or use an electric hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar (approx. 3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add egg and molasses and beat on medium speed until smooth.
3. Scrape bowl and add the flour mixture. Blend on low speed just until combined (do not overmix – I hand knead the dough to get the last bit of flour incorporated).
4. Separate dough into two balls and flatten into disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
5. When ready to roll and bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
6. Unwrap dough and allow to sit for a few minutes on a floured surface. Then, using a floured rolling pin, roll out dough to approximately ¼ inch thickness and cut desired shapes with floured cookie cutters.
7. Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 11-12 minutes. When done, gently pull the parchment paper (with cookies) to a wire cooling rack.
8. For decorating, I use royal icing. If you would like a quick decorating method, combine 2/3 cup powdered sugar with 1 to 2 teaspoons milk. Spoon the icing into a plastic baggie and cut the tip of the corner to create an easy decorating bag. Adorn with raisins, candy, etc.
Royal Icing (for cookie decorating)
(adapted from www.bakeat350.com)
4 tablespoons meringue powder (available at cake decorating or craft stores)
½ cup warm water
1 lb. powdered sugar
½ teaspoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Combine the meringue powder and water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Hand whisk the mixture for 30 seconds.
2. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat with the paddle attachment (or an electric hand mixer) on low to combine.
3. Add in the corn syrup and extract.
4. Increase mixer speed to medium high and beat for 5-8 minutes, just until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form.
5. Store in an airtight container until ready to use. Add food coloring as desired and use a spray bottle to add water for a thinner, or “flood” consistency. This “stiff” icing is perfect for outlining, piping details and building gingerbread houses.