Google Sugar Dot Cookies: February 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

St Patrick's Day Decorated Sugar Cookies

How about a few shamrock cookies for St Patrick's Day? For these, I flooded alternating sections with 20-second royal icing, letting each section dry before moving on to the next.

Then I got out my new KopyKake projector. That thing's a little intimidating! I wanted to make some "Keep Calm" cookies so I made up a little saying for St Patrick's Day.


Then I wanted to make some super cute derby hat cookies, with little shamrocks tucked into the hatbands.

I bought this derby hat cutter because my family has a running joke about them. Ever since we were little, if anyone ever asked my Dad what gift he bought for someone, his answer was (and still is) "a derby hat". Hilarious, right? Of course it is.

So I bought the cutter with plans to someday make derby hat cookies for a family event.

The St Patrick's Day hat idea happened before that though.

Unfortunately my vision of this adorable hat was much cuter as a vision than it was in reality. So.....

Keepin' it Real . . .


This is the section in my posts to show you the cookies that I'd really rather not. The cookies that didn't quite live up to the dream.


Ha ha ha ha ha! Cute concept. Very poor execution. Just look at those "shamrocks"! The top shamrocks were wet on wet. That was my plan but they were so awful that I then tried wet on dry. They were just as bad.

It wasn't until after I made these that I saw the perfect wet-on-wet shamrocks on LilaLoa's blog. She even shows us how to do it. Oh how I wish I had seen her post before making these! Well, there's always next year.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chicks Hatching Sugar Cookies

It's a chick parade just in time for Easter!


Aren't they adorable? I think these are my favorite cookies yet!

I made the chick peeking from the egg before. He was inspired by Sugarbelle's cookie.

I was at the craft store last week. At the register I saw some Easter window clings. One of the designs was an egg with little chick feet sticking out of the bottom. It reminded me of the peeking chick cookie. As I drove home I could picture a whole bunch of designs of chicks in every stage of hatching. I got home and started drawing ideas.

They're all made using a chick cutter, circle cutter and egg cutter. For the feet sticking out, I just cut small rectangles and added those to the bottom of the eggs.

I think that my two very favorites are the one with the whole chick emerging (bottom right) and the one with the feet on the egg with his head popping out (middle right).

I just love them.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bakers, Calibrate Your Ovens!

It's not you, it's your oven! Seriously, it really could be! If your baked goods aren't coming out quite right, check your oven's temperature. Your oven could be way off. Mine was.

If you read my experiment post, you'll remember that I was trying to figure out why my cookie dough was spreading so horribly while baking.

I concluded that three things really helped minimize spreading:
  • More flour.
  • Chilled dough.
  • Correct, lower oven temperature.

That last one, the oven temperature, is the most difficult to fix when you have a finicky oven.

Please meet my new BFF. He's the one that clued me in on the fact that my oven was partially to blame for my spreading issues. He's the one that's going to help me solve them. Thanks Harold! Where would I be without you?

If you're having similar oven issues, you can easily find an oven thermometer. I found Harold at Bed, Bath & Beyond for just a few dollars.

I baked my first batch since my experiment and thought I had everything figured out and that I'd achieve perfect cookies this time with Harold's help. Unfortunately that didn't happen. I spent hours raising the temp, waiting for it to get there, lowering the temp, raising it again. It took forever. To make matters worse, the temp lowered a bit each time I opened the door. I wasn't very patient and put pans in when the temperature wasn't where I wanted it to be.

I had spreading issues again.

It wasn't you Harold. It was me.

After that long, un-fun cookie baking session, I decided that I'd have to do one of the following:

  • Call a repair man.
  • Bake at my parents' house.
  • Buy a new oven.

The third wasn't really an option. The first sounded costly. While visiting my parents is always nice, baking there would be rather inconvenient.

I realized there was actually a fourth option. It involved Google and a screwdriver. At least that's what I was thinking. There has to be some knob or screw that calibrates the oven. I can do that, right? So off to Google.

"How to Calibrate Oven". That's what I typed in and there were results. Yay! I can do it myself! But then I quickly realized that most of the results were for calibrating an oven that has a dial to regulate the baking temperature. Mine's digital.

If you happen to have the dial-type oven and need to calibrate, it is super easy. You just pop off the dial, turn two screws, turn another dial, then test it out. Here's a Youtube video that shows you how.

I went back to Googling and found something about digital ovens and checking the user's manual to find out how to calibrate it. Doh! Why didn't I think of that? I guess because I thought they'd tell me that if my warranty had expired that I'd need to call for a repair. How wrong I was. There it was, in black and white - "Oven Temperature Adjustment". All I had to do was press a few buttons on my oven's keypad! I didn't even need a screwdriver.

I have a Maytag Gemini. I can adjust my temperature -35 degrees to +35 degrees. I chose one, waited a while for it to heat, adjusted, waited for a while, and so on. I ended up going +20 degrees. I'll have to wait until my next baking session to see how well that works. I can always adjust again. I may have to go higher.

While Googling the calibrating issue, I ran into this post on O'Reilly Answers. It says to place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of your oven. The stone will hold onto the heat so you don't lose as much opening the door. It will also help distribute the heat evenly throughout the oven, lessening hot and cold spots. Bingo! Harold and I could really use help in those two areas.

Now I'd like to introduce you to Harold's BFF - Gladys. Harold is just smitten and can't wait to work with her.

Please don't judge Gladys by her appearance. Yes, she's been around the block a few times. She's been with me for a long time. She turns out beautiful pizza dough and dinner rolls. I always remind her that those are "character spots", not flaws. That's how she's supposed to look when she's been so well loved. Now she has the chance to be loved even more. By me and by Harold.


Here they are, working together as one. When I bake, Harold will have to be hanging from the upper rack where the cookies will be. The pizza stone... I mean Gladys, will stay on the lower rack.

Sounds like a plan to me!

Somewhere in my googling, I saw another mention of using a pizza stone but there it also mentioned using bricks wrapped in aluminum foil if you don't happen to have a pizza stone.

Don't tell Gladys but I'm thinking of trying that too. Without Gladys, I had that bottom rack moved to the top so that I could hang Harold from it. He would be hanging just above my cookie sheet. I liked him right there. Then I could add a brick or two on the bottom of the oven. No rack.

One little problem with that idea. I don't have a brick or two. Ha! I suppose that I could buy them.

Maybe I could buy a third rack. One to hang Harold. One to bake on. One to hold Gladys.

The experiments never end! I'll report back on how Gladys does. Or how the bricks do. Or both.

If you're having baking issues, I hope you'll buy an oven thermometer and run a few calibrating tests of your own. It'll take a bit of time but no more than just a few dollars. Sounds like a bargain to me!


Edit: For an update on my cookie dough spreading problem, please see this post.

Leap Year Frog and Calendar Decorated Sugar Cookies

It's a leap year! Wednesday is February 29th so of course I had to commemorate this once-every-four-year-phenomenon with sugar cookies and royal icing.

I can't claim the frog cookie / leap year idea. I saw this adorable cookie set on flickr.


Then I thought about Haniela's calendar cookies that I made for a bridal shower and knew they'd be perfect for leap year too.



So fun! Happy February 29th!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scrabble Tile Sugar Cookies


I made these cookies for two reasons.

1. I wanted to thank my fabulous tax guy for getting our tax returns done quickly.

2. I wanted to test out my new toy. Can you guess? A KopyKake projector!

It really helped out with the lettering! Not perfect of course, but a whole lot better than it would have been without the projector. I happened to have a piece of scrapbook paper featuring scrabble tiles so that worked out very well for projecting.

I still can't believe that I own one of these babies. I mentioned it to my husband and he told me to get one. Crazy guy. I'm the frugal one in the family. He's...um...not frugal. He said that he loves his toys and wanted me to get a toy. Woo hoo!


I used this tutorial to create the wood grain. I'm quite pleased with how that came out.

Unfortunately I made these cookies before I did my cookie spreading experiment so the squares aren't crisp and clean. With all that I learned, they just might be squarerer next time. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Problems with Sugar Cookie Dough Spreading and How to Stop It!

What's a cookie baker to do when her cookie shapes spread? Go to the experts. That's where I started. I compiled a list of recommendations to help with my spreading issues. You can see that here.

Before I started my experiment - my biggest fear and actually what I believed could very well be my true problem was that my oven is to blame. I think that I can fix anything else. Fixing my oven sounds like a costly solution, one that I'm not willing to do right now.

So here's what I was doing before....
I used to use Sugarbelle's recipe, roll with flour, bake room temperature dough, oven set to 400.

Later, I used the same recipe, rolled without flour - between plastic wrap, baked chilled dough, oven set to 400.

My cookies were nice and lightly colored on the back, not much browning on the edges. I seemed to get inconsistent results on the spreading. In general, they were spreading too much for me. My cookies don't have anywhere near those perfect edges that you see on Sugarbelle's post and on all of those other amazing cookie blogs.

I decided to run some experiments. I decided to use Sugarbelle's recipe, keeping the baking powder at 2 tsp. I wanted my cookies light and fluffy. I wanted them to spread up, not out. I did add a bit more flour than I usually do so that it wasn't sticky at all. Her recipe calls for baking at 400 degrees. To keep the timing consistent, I'll bake all batches for 8 minutes.

Warning: This post is crazy long and may be confusing. If you want to cut to the chase, just scroll to the bottom to see the conclusion.

If you're the daring type, come along for my baking experiments.....

The first thing I did was buy an oven thermometer.

Wow. Just plain old wow. The result was shocking.

I set my oven to 400 degrees. I heard the beep 10 minutes later and guess what the thermometer read? 300 stinking degrees. I tried to remain calm. So it takes a little longer to get to 400. No big deal. Everyone says to heat the oven for a long time before baking. I'll give it half an hour.

375 degrees. Worry starts to set in. At 55 minutes my oven finally reached about 390 degrees. Don't panic. Just set the oven to 410 and all will be well. Right? No. The dang oven got to 405 so I switched it back to 400 and decided to just get started.


So here's Batch #1. The raw dough.

I made the dough and let it rest for five minutes.
Rolled between plastic, no flour.
Room temperature dough.
Cut with a 2 1/4" cutter.

The dough was stretchy and difficult to move to the cookie sheet without distorting the shapes. I've never done it this way before. Hated it already.

Many cookiers say that over-crowding the pan leads to more spreading, so I crowded the cookies on the right and left plenty of room around the ones on the left.

The oven read 405. Reset it to 400 and put them in. *sigh*


Here's the result for Batch #1.

Difficult to see, huh?

Major spreeeeaaaaading problems.

They measure 2 5/8". Horrible! The scallops around the edges melded together quite a bit.

No difference between the over-crowded and not crowded cookies.

Batch #2.

I rolled out just-made, room temperature dough. No flour. Plastic wrap.
Chilled 20 minues.
The shapes were a dream to handle. No stretching.

My oven was now reading 390 stinkin degrees. Changed to 410 and popped those babies in. *sigh again*





Here's the result of Batch #2.

They may be the tiniest bit smaller than batch #1.
They measure 2 1/2".

No difference between crowded and not crowded.

Not good, but better.



A close up of the ones placed close together from batch #2.

Notice the bottom, left cookie, left edge. The scallops almost entirely disappeared. That side of the cookie isn't crowded at all.

Could it be my oven? Notice that it's brown on that edge. Hot spots in my oven?

Depression is setting in.







The backs of batch #2

Depression is seriously setting in.

The backs have never looked like this before.

Well of course they haven't. I've had my oven set at 400, not 410. I've been baking below 400 degrees. Who knows how much lower. It could have been a lot, especially if I started baking soon after (so-called) preheating.

Batch #3.

Room temperature dough from batch #1 but I re-rolled it using flour, between plastic.

I was hoping to firm it up a bit but still wanted to see what it did at room temp.

It was easier to handle this way than back at batch #1. Not as easy to handle as batch #2. Slightly stretchy dough.

(Is anyone following this? Ha!)

Changed my oven temp back to 410. Thermometer read 375. Uggggghhhh.


When I took them out of the oven, the thermometer read 390.

Crowded/not crowded were the same.

Brown edges.

These were measuring 2 1/2".

Better than batch #1. About the same as batch #2.

Very, very interesting.

Batch #4.

This is the rest of the dough from batch #3.

Rolled with flour between plastic but this time I chilled it.

Nice, firm dough. no stretching.



Batch #4 baked.

I had to do something about the browning. A lot of cookiers use the NFSC recipe. It calls for baking at 350 so I decided to try lowering my temp.

Oven set to 360. Actual oven temp 350 or slightly below.

Cookies measure 2 1/2".
More defined. Nicer scallops.
Things are looking better.







The backs of batch #4.

Much, much better.







Batch #5.

This is the same dough from batch #2.

Rolled with no flour, between plastic.

Chilled.

But I wanted to try it at the lower baking temperature.




Batch #5 baked.

Oven set to 360, actual oven temp is 350.

Nice and light in color.

Scallops aren't horrible.








Backs of batch #5.

Good.






It's looking like #4 and #5 came out the best. I wanted to compare them up close.

Batch #4 is on the top row. Batch #5 on the bottom row.

Very close. Look at that beauty on the top right. It's smaller than the rest and awesome!

The one on the bottom right is smaller than the rest of that row. I'm guessing that means that the right side of my oven is cooler and caused those to spread less.

Well I'm certainly not going to be using only one side of my oven, so I need to come up with a general conclusion here.

And that is....that Batch #4 is the winner. (The top row above.) The scallops are slightly more defined. The cookies may be the slightest bit smaller.

I must say that I'm surprised. Rolling with flour helps prevent spreading???? In all of my research on the topic (and that's rather extensive), I don't think that I've ever read to roll with flour to reduce spreading. Could it be?

Or could it be that I didn't have enough flour in my dough? I weigh my flour but I used a bit more this time.

Granted, there isn't a whole lot of difference between #4 and #5 but there is a difference.

I gotta say that I'm pretty shocked. I'm also pleased that I seem to be getting somewhere.

But I have to do just two more batches.

Many cookiers say that there seems to be more spread, the more you re-roll the scraps. So I took all of the scraps, let them come to room temperature, kneaded them together a bit, rolled between plastic, with flour.

Flour - my new secret weapon?

The oven had been on for a long time now and had gotten up to 360 so I reset to 355.

I opened the door and put the cookies in when it reached 350. Baked for 8 minutes, took them out and.....



Batch #6.

My first thought was, "Holy crap, those are beautiful cookies!" This is the best batch yet.

Gorgeous. Exquisite. Things of beauty. I think I'll frame them and hang them on the wall. There aren't enough adjectives in the English language to convey my feelings for these cookies. I think I want to marry them.

And they measure...2 3/8"!!!! Less than 2 1/2"! Just a tad larger than 2 1/4"! I know that you know what 2 3/8" means, I just can't believe it.





A beauty close up to show off their amazing curves.

Time for reflection. Why are these even better? They've had more flour kneaded in. They've been re-rolled once with flour. They've been chilled. They've been baked at a lower temperature.








There's just one more thing that I need to do. I'm going back to 400 degrees. I'm perfectly, completely pleased with the last batch. I'm just curious about decreasing the baking time at 400. I'm using the exact same dough as the last batch. 400 degrees for 6 minutes.



Batch #7.

Not bad. Not bad at all. They measure 2 1/2" just like many of the above batches but these scallops are much more defined.

Not as well defined or as small as Batch #6, but pretty good.

Shew. Has anyone read this entire thing? If so, you deserve a cookie. My head is swimming. If anyone else actually read this far, I wonder if it makes any sense at all.



One last picture. The gorgeous cookie on the bottom is from Batch #6. The one on the top is from one of the earliest batches. Quite a difference!

So let's wrap this up. The very best batch was rolled (actually re-rolled) using flour AND chilled. Baked at 350 for 8 minutes.

If you're experiencing spreading, I hope that this can somehow help you as it's helped me. Our recipes, our ovens, the way we do things are all different so I'm sure you'll have to run your own experiments but just maybe you'll find that lowering your oven temperature, using more flour, and chilling the dough will help you too. I hope so!

I'm quite unhappy that my oven isn't performing properly but I am quite thrilled that I may be able to get around it.

This whole oven temperature thing has rocked my world. I had no idea that my oven was performing this way. Who am I? What does this mean for all of my other baking? Whenever a time range is given for a baking recipe, I always end up baking for the longest time given. I thought that was normal. That's why they give a range, right?

I think I'm undergoing a baker's identity crisis right now. Am I babbling? Do I need to adjust the oven temp now for everything or continue on in the state of ignorant bliss that I was before? Everything (except my sugar cookies) was coming out just fine.

I'll have to do some baker's self-analysis on all of that.

In the meantime I think I'll just bask in the fabulousness of getting closer to non-spreading cookies. I can't wait to bake my next batch.

I had no real plans for these cookies, other than using them for scientific experimentation. I think I'll frost them with chocolate royal icing. Yum!

Edit: For an update on my cookie dough spreading problem, please see this post.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Save the Date Bridal Shower Calendar Sugar Cookies

Tomorrow is my neighbor's daughter's bridal shower. It's dead of winter here but the wedding isn't until July. July 7th in case you hadn't noticed. Ha!

The theme for the shower is "Think Summer" She'll be using a lot of flowers for decorations and for guests to take home.

Isn't the calendar design fabulous? It's from Haniela. Wouldn't any bride love to see *her* date like this?

Haniela made a template and used food markers to make her perfect lines. I used piping consistency royal icing, eyeballing and shaky hands to make my imperfect lines.

The lines actually weren't so bad if you start with making the rectangle up top, then make one vertical line down the middle, then divide those two areas in half. Do the same with the horizontal - pipe across the middle, then pipe across the middle of those two spaces.



My neighbor requested orange flowers with yellow centers. I would have liked to make the hearts on the calendars orange, but she asked for red.

After I finished decorating, those red hearts bothered me. I didn't like that there was no red anywhere else so I decided to add the little hearts to the flowers.

That made me feel better.














Summery and happy for a bridal shower.

















Fifty eight cookies packed up and ready to go.











How to Stop Sugar Cookie Dough from Spreading

My dough spreading in the oven is the hurdle that I am currently trying to overcome.

Have you seen photos of cookies on the web that are absolutely perfect in shape? Perfect, square sides. Crisp, clean shapes. Flat, gorgeous tops. How I ask you? Actually I asked the experts. Here's what they say . . .

Chill the shapes before baking.

Don't overcrowd the cookie sheet.

Check your oven's temperature to be sure it's accurate.

Don't over do re-rolling. (Some say that the cookies made later, re-rolled from scraps, tend to spread more.)

Don't over beat the butter/sugar. Mix just until incorporated.

Use less baking powder.

Add more flour if the dough is sticky.

Let the dough rest for a few minutes after mixing and before rolling.

Use quality butter with less water in it.

Use the proper pans - heavy, metal (not dark or nonstick).

Sometimes my dough spreads more than other times. I'm determined to find out what it is that's causing the problem.

These cookies actually didn't spread very much. I made these same flowers the other night and they came out nothing like this. Way more spreading!

Notice how much these spread! Oy! Wonky squares. (More on these cookies here.)

Stay tuned for a little ol' experiment!

Edit: I ran the experiment. You can see it here.

And a follow-up post here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mustache and Lips Sugar Cookie Pops

Mustache and lip sugar cookies decorated with royal icing on sticks!








Here they are in action! I made them for a family birthday party. All of the kids wanted the mustaches. Not many takers on the lips. Go figure.


I heard the cutie pie on the left say, "Mustaches are so in." Ha ha.






Would you like to know how I made them?

I bought these mustache cookie cutters from FunSlurp. They would be super easy if you used chocolate dough and used the tops of the cutters to imprint the texture. No icing necessary.

That's not the route I chose however.

I chose these cutters because of the fun variety included in the set. Sorry to say that I ran into a few problems with them.


First I tried to cut out chilled dough with them. The cookies wouldn't release from the cutters. Even floured cutters. Since they're closed on the top, there was just no way to release them intact.





Then I tried room temperature dough. The dough didn't stick to the cutters thankfully.




The cuts aren't the cleanest though. The plastic did a bit of smooshing along with cutting.










I flipped the shapes over on a cookie sheet, placed the sticks on top then covered each one with a piece of dough. I flipped them back over before baking, then tried to tidy up the rough edges a bit.


Some of the mustaches only had a narrow area where the sticks needed to attach. I was a little worried about how stable the would be but they turned out just fine.










I flooded them with 20-secondish royal icing then piped the lines on top.



The icing is colored brown. Chocolate icing would have been a fabulous alternative!













I forgot to insert the sticks on the first batch of lips! Multi-tasking is sometimes my downfall.













Here's the whole platter.

I made some small, round cookies too. The lips and mustache cookies are rather large. I wanted the adults to be able to have a small cookie if they'd prefer.

We were celebrating five birthdays so I added the initial of each of the birthday kids to a cookie.

Darn those wonky circles. I should have made a circle imprint before piping but I thought I'd just go for it. Big mistake. I really wish those had turned out better.




The only kid that volunteered to model with a lip pop. What a sport.

(Darn flash.)


Stroking his mustache! Gotta love it!

How about this cake? My 16 year old niece made it! Makes her aunt proud!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Valentine Sugar Cookies

More Valentine's Day cookies! These are the same as the ones I made before. A co-worker asked me to make four dozen for her to send to her daughters.

She didn't ask for the envelopes. I added those because I wanted to attempt them again. This time I didn't do any outlining of the flaps. I just flooded non-touching sections, waited for those to dry, then flooded the others. I added the little hearts after the white was dry. I like the way these turned out much better than the envelopes here.

I'm pretty pleased with how they came out. (I should be! This is my fourth batch of Valentine cookies!)

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