French Vanilla Trifle Cake

Yesterday, I turned 29.

I am now in the last year of my twenties, and it feels odd. I’m not sure how old I feel exactly, but it isn’t one year shy of 30. But regardless of how I feel, this is where I’m at. My birthday usually passes without much celebration or fanfare and I’m fine with that. There is however, one celebratory act that since I learned to cook/bake, does happen every year without fail.

I bake myself a cake.

*Could* I just buy some cake from a bakery or a store? Sure. *Could* I ask a relative or friend to bake one for me? Of course.

But see, here’s the thing: nowhere I could buy it from and nobody I could ask (with the exception of my grandma) could bake me a better cake than the one that EYE would bake. I’m not even bragging. Those are just facts.

So, I do it myself. And I must say, I don’t disappoint.

These are some of the cakes I’ve made for my birthdays over the past few years on the blog: there’s this one. And this one. This one was *especially* good. And I still fantasize about this one.

I’m just good at birthday cakes. And this year was no exception.

The very first cake that I fell in love with as a kid was a plain old vanilla cake. When it’s done well, there’s just nothing like it in the world. I had a lot of options for this year, but ultimately I decided to just go with that: a really, really good grown up vanilla layer cake.

How do you guys think I did?

The cake itself is flavored with both vanilla AND almond extract. The almond may seem like a surprise addition, but trust me: that’s what’s going to give it that little extra ‘something’ that would make you swear it was made in a bakery and not your own kitchen.

To make the cake more ‘grown up’ and to cut down on the sweetness of the vanilla buttercream, I decided to include a tart fruit filling. I had a jar of ligonberry preserves from IKEA that I was itching to try and as ligonberries remind me of a very sweet cranberry, I thought they would pair very well with strawberries. I was right.

This cake was so good. It was a delicious birthday present to myself & I guarantee that it will make a delicious present to anyone you decide to make it for–yourself included.

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French Vanilla Trifle Cake

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For Filling

  • 1/2 cup ligonberry preserves (You can find them at IKEA. You can use strawberry or raspberry preserves as well.)
  • 2 quarts fresh strawberries, diced

For Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 48 oz. powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour four 2 inch cake pans and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder, and salt. Stir with a fork and set aside. In a small bowl combine the buttermilk with the vanilla extract and set aside.

Using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer (or a handheld one) cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients to the butter mixture with the wet ingredients. Start and end with the flour mixture, and make sure you use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Divide evenly between the two cake pans on the middle rack of the oven for 32 to 36 minutes. (Cake is done at an inner temp of 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit). Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and to wire rack and cool completely (about 1 hour).

For Buttercream Frosting: Beat together the butter, vanilla and salt until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, alternating with the milk 1 tablespoon at a time, beating at a low speed until blended and smooth after each addition until it reaches your desired consistency.

To assemble: Level the tops of each cake. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on the platter. Pipe a border of frosting around the edges of the cake. Spread the layer with about 2/3 cup of buttercream. Top with first the sliced strawberries, then spread the preserves on top of that with the spatula. Top with the remaining cake layer. Spread entire cake with just enough frosting over the top and sides to make a crumb coat. (It should be thin).  Refrigerate cake for one hour until the crumb coat is firm. Finish spreading the remainder of the frosting on the cake. Refrigerate for an additional hour, just to let buttercream firm up. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

Linking to this week’s Fiesta Friday #243, co-hosted this week by Catherine @ Kunstkitchen’s Blog and Becky @ Bubbly Bee.

Vanilla Wafers

This week’s episode of the Cooking is My Sport show is entitled “But Jess…Is It Really Worth It, Though?”

Thank you for tuning in. It’s going to be a good one.

Over the past few years on the blog, I’ve shared recipes for things that many of us could, theoretically buy from elsewhere rather than make ourselves. It is easier and more convenient go to our local grocery store and buy something with little to no trouble.

I could buy quite a few of the things that I post here–if not from a grocery store, then from a bakery or something. And though even EYE I am not going to go to the trouble of making something like, puff pastry, for the most part, I really do cook or bake most of what we eat. Why do I do this?

Because I believe it’s worth it. I really do.

If you ask, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake Christmas cookies rather than just buying some in a store, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Ask “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake your own cake from scratch, then go to the trouble of making your own buttercream and skip the store bought cake with that greasy, lardy crap, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Come to me with, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to make biscuits from scratch when they’re available at the local chicken joint, I am DEFINITELY gonna say, yes. It’s worth it.

(My biscuits are better than any others that you can buy anywhere else anyway. Including Popeyes. Yeah, I said it.)

I shared the recipe for my grandma’s banana pudding on the blog years ago. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever made–but up until recently I had always made it with store-bought vanilla wafers. I’ll be honest and admit that is the way that she makes it, and it tastes fantastic. But recently, I decided to see what it would be like if I went the extra mile and made the pudding with vanilla wafers that I made by myself. Any guesses on how it went? Anyone?

OHMYGODGAMECHANGER.

From the beginning, I had two major concerns for the recipe as a whole: the short, crisp texture of store-bought wafers and the intense vanilla flavor. If I wasn’t going to get a comparable or superior result to the store-bought version, it just wouldn’t be worth it in the long run to make them. I’m pleased to report that this recipe delivers on both. They are crisp, but the butter keeps them from being too crunchy or crumbly. They’re not too sweet, and that vanilla flavor is spot on. Even if I had no intention of making banana pudding at all, I still would’ve considered this time well spent–it’s that tasty a cookie.

Go ahead and ask me: “But Jess…is it REALLY worth it, though?”

Yes. It’s worth it.

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Vanilla Wafers

Recipe Adapted from Williams Sonoma

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour with the salt, stir together with a fork and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a hand-held one) cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Stir the flour into the butter mixture, just until blended. (If it’s a little dry, you can add a few tablespoons of milk, one at a time, just until it holds together.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Sprinkle a rolling pin and clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper) with powdered sugar.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Keep the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the 1 portion to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a small (1 1/2 inch), round cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Place the rounds on the sheet pans.

Refrigerate the cookies on the pans for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle each one with white sugar, then bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges and bottoms are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks and let cool completely.

(Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #242, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Jen @ Apply To Face Blog.)

Vanilla Wine Braised Beef

I remember a long time ago, way back before I could even cook at all, that I really liked vanilla extract. Whenever I saw my mom take it out, I knew that something delicious was going to get baked. You know how some little kids love the smell of permanent markers? When she wasn’t looking I would sneak into the kitchen, open her spice cabinet and just smell the vanilla extract. I’ve always loved what vanilla can do to sweet treats, and now that I bake a lot myself I absolutely will not do without it.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I first saw savory applications of vanilla in recipes. I was intrigued and admittedly, a little unsure. I tried to envision what a savory vanilla dish would taste like, but couldn’t really get a grasp on it by thinking alone. The obvious concern is that it’s going to make the food taste too sweet, which then makes me nervous about wasting money on ingredients–if you bake with vanilla often, then you know it isn’t too cheap.

But y’know, as with most other things you’re afraid of trying, the best way to get over it is to just… try it out and see what happens. This was my first attempt to put vanilla into a savory dish, and I’m happy to say that it went pretty well.

It starts out with a spice rub that you’re going to let marinade on the meat overnight. It’s also got soy sauce (my go-to ingredient for just about ALL of my marinades by the way), and a splash of orange juice. After you sear the meat the next day, you put together the braising sauce that’s made of wine, tomatoes, and the vanilla extract. Don’t worry if it seems a little…’tomato-y’ at first. Once it gets time for the flavors to develop in the oven, they do balance out.

I think that this is a very, very good recipe to use for those of us who aren’t used to eating vanilla savory-style. It’s an easy braise with easy to find ingredients, and actually very little hands-on time. I paired this beef with the Sweet Potato Challah Buns I made a little while back and they made absolutely DELICIOUS sandwiches. Just saying.

Sharing this at this week’s Fiesta Friday #233.

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Vanilla Wine Braised Beef

Recipe Adapted from Nielsen Massey

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Ingredients

For Spice Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Seasoned salt and black pepper
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Soy Sauce
  • About 4 lbs of chuck roast, London broil, or tri-tip steak cut into large cubes

For Braise:

  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 (28 fl. oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 fl. oz.) can tomato sauce
  • juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Seasoned Salt and pepper
  • A few dashes of soy sauce

Directions

Combine the dry spices together in a small bowl with a fork. Place the beef cubes into 2 freezer gallon size bags. Sprinkle soy sauce onto the surface of the beef and use your fingers to gently massage it in. Divide the spice mix evenly between the two bags. Seal the bags, then toss around until the meat is evenly coated. Place both bags into a bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven over high heat. Sear the meat on all sides, 1-2 minutes per side until browned. Keep the seared meat in a bowl covered with foil, as you may need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan.

Deglaze the pan with about 1 cup of broth, then add the onions. Saute until the bits are loose and the onions are softened, about 5-7 minutes, then add the garlic. Continue to cook until most of the liquid is cooked off and the garlic is fragrant. Temporarily remove from the heat.

In a small saucepan combine the wine, sugar and the vanilla. Whisk together over medium heat and allow to reduce by half. Remove from heat.

Pour the rest of the broth, the dice tomatoes, tomato sauce, reduced wine, orange zest/juice, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and the rest of the spices into the Dutch oven with the onions/garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, allow to cook down for about 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning (But flavors will also further develop while braising).

Place the beef cubes back into the Dutch oven, cover then braise in the oven for 2– 2 1/2 hours until beef is fork tender.

Vanilla and Mocha Cookie Sandwiches

Okay, so look. I know what you’re thinking. What is the point in taking the time and effort to make your own sandwich cookies when there is a big name brand company that pretty much has the monopoly on sandwich cookies, and have gone out of their way to mass produce just about every possible flavor known to man and tried to jam it into a sandwich cookie you can run to the store and just buy?

I can think of several reasons.

First, when it comes to store-bought sandwich cookies, I feel like it’s a real hit or miss situation–there isn’t much space for ambiguity. They’re either really really good, or really bad. Both the cookie and the filling has to be right and that’s a harder thing to accomplish than you might think. That huge company has put out a LOT of different flavors of sandwich cookies, but in my opinion there are only a select few that have achieved that perfect sweet spot of delicious cookie and filling. The filling is where many mass produced sandwich cookies go terribly wrong–it either tastes too sweet, too artificial, or both.

I think that making your own sandwich cookies gives you the chance to correct the mistake of overly sweet and artificial filling, while also giving you the opportunity to get creative with your own taste buds and create something that you may not be able to find in stores. I’d be willing to bet that you’ll be able to pronounce every ingredient that’s in them.

And if none of the above are good enough reasons, then there’s always bragging rights–which, is more than enough for me.

I decided to make my own sandwich cookies, two ways. I knew going into it that I first wanted to make a perfect vanilla sandwich cookie. Most of the ones that are on the market now just don’t do it for me. (Yes, including the one from the huge name brand.) The cookie itself is usually okay, but that filling just kills it for me every time. I knew that what I was looking for was a cookie that was delicious enough all on its own, and a filling with a robust vanilla flavor and a smooth, non-pasty consistency.

The base is a butter cookie that I’ve made many times in the past. It’s quite simple, but you’d be surprised how the simply made baked goods will knock the fancy ones down from the pedestal. It has a buttery rich flavor and a tender crumb that melts in your mouth. For the filling I used a mixture of powdered sugar, butter, milk and vanilla. And listen guys. I want you to use REAL vanilla bean paste. I’m not above using extract but I insist that this time you go with the good stuff. You really can taste the difference and your taste buds will thank you for it.

The second flavor is where the coffee addict in me finessed its way into these cookie. I kept the same butter cookie for the base, but the filling gets a few teaspoons of instant espresso powder and liquid coffee in place of the vanilla and milk. Then, because coffee and chocolate flavors enhance one another, I decided to drizzle the top of the cookies with melted chocolate. What do you get when you combine coffee & chocolate? Mocha, that’s what. And there you have it.

I knew that these would be pretty good when I made them, but listen. They are REALLY good. They surpassed my expectations. They’re better than anything I’ve had from the store and I’m not trying to brag by saying that; I’m just being honest. I made these a while ago and I’m still giving myself a pat on the back for how they turned out, so if you’d like those kinds of bragging rights I’d suggest you give these a try yourself. Sharing at the Fiesta Friday #215, co-hosted by  Laurena @ Life Diet Health and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

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Vanilla & Mocha Cookie Sandwiches

Recipe Adapted from Genius Kitchen

Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 cups all purpose flour

For Vanilla Filling

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • At least 1/4 cup of milk, divided

For Coffee Filling

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • At least 1/4 cup of your favorite flavor of coffee, divided
  • Melted chocolate, optional

 

Directions

In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks one at a time, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla.

Gradually add the flour mixture in about 1 cup batches, stirring just until combined. (It may be a little dry and if so, you can add in a few tablespoons of milk at a time, just until it comes together.) Shape dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight,

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you work. Dust a clean surface (like wax paper or a pastry mat) with flour. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2- to 2 ½-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Using a ¾- to 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the centers from half of the cookies. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary.  Note: Make sure you’re cutting a ‘top’ cookie and a ‘bottom’ cookie each time you stamp, just to make sure you have an even number of cookie sandwiches. Also, don’t throw away the centers: they make wonderful mini cookies. 

Place the sheet pans in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with white sugar. Bake in the oven on the middle rack for 14-16 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Allow to cool on sheet pans for 60 seconds, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

For Fillings: In two separate bowls stir together the sugar, butter, and/or vanilla and/or espresso powder. Drizzle in the milk in the vanilla bowl 1 tablespoon at a time and the coffee in the other 1 tablespoon at a time until the filling reaches a smooth and desired consistency.

Divide the cookies in half (half for vanilla, half for coffee) Spread about a heaping 1/2 tablespoon of filling onto each bottom cookie (make sure the bottoms face up), then place on the tops (bottoms facing down). Gently press to make sandwiches. You may drizzle the coffee flavored sandwiches with melted chocolate if desired, then allow them to set for about 15 minutes until chocolate has hardened.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same. )

Checkerboard Cookies

I’d be lying to you guys if I said I wasn’t kinda ready for the summer to end. In the first place, I don’t much care for extreme heat and as I’ve said in a couple of recent posts, the heat here has been unnecessarily extreme to the point where I’ve retreated to whole different cities for the day because this desert valley we’re in feels too much like a…desert valley. In the second place, the sooner the summer ends, the sooner we can get to the autumn which is my favorite season. The sooner autumn comes around, the sooner we can get to December and my favorite holiday of Christmas.

Because yes, my thoughts are definitely already drifting towards Christmas.

To be honest, I usually start getting the ‘itch’ for Christmas in July. It’s like a Christmas in July effect takes over and suddenly I’m listening to my holiday playlist again and planning what new stuff I’m gonna try to cook and bake for my family and the blog. As some of my followers know, I do a yearly Christmas series of recipes and although it’s a heavy undertaking, it is one that I still look forward to doing. I’ve already got a few pegged in my mind for the series, but one of them in particular was one that I thought would be a good idea to practice with first, as it is one I’ve never done before and would require a little bit more effort.

When I was little, I loved checkerboard cookies. I thought they just had to be some kind of food wizardry that could only be done in a huge Keebler-Elf style factory with a fancy machine.How else could they arrange those two different colors/flavors in such perfect patterns? I also may as well as admit that until only recently I had no idea how it was done or that it COULD be done by a home cook/baker in their own kitchen.

But I learned. And then after studying the technique a bit, thought “Well, might as well try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?”

(Waste of dough and ingredients was the answer, but that’s kind of obvious.)

I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be necessarily easy and I will keep it one hundred with you guys: I wouldn’t recommend trying this recipe if you don’t genuinely like to bake, have some experience with working with cookie dough and are willing to be patient with yourself and the process. I’m a decent baker with quite a bit of experience working with cookie dough, I love doing it and (as you can see) my first try at checkerboard cookies still wasn’t exactly perfect.  Nevertheless, I’m still pleased with how these turned out and that I decided to do a test run before trying to make a ‘Christmas-themed’ version for the 12 Days of Christmas series.

I tried to make the directions for these as clear and detailed as possible. So, should you want to make these for yourself (and I do think you should), a few pointers: a ruler is a must here. You’re making two different cookies doughs and when you cut them, you want the portions to be as straight as possible so that when you arrange the strips, they actually look like squares. It doesn’t have to be fancy invested in a regular old blue plastic ruler that measures inches/centimeters that I bought from Target and use strictly for baking; it does the job just fine. Also, when you’re putting the doughs together to create the pattern, don’t beat yourself up if your squares don’t line up perfectly in a row. Mine don’t and I still think the integrity of the ‘checkerboard’ is preserved in the overall aesthetic of the cookie. I plan to get better the more I practice this and I’m sure you will too.

You don’t have to make the two outer ‘wrappings’ for the cookies. I just thought it looked prettier so I decided to go ahead and make some. All you’ll need to do after making the cookie recipe is halve the base recipe and use the two different doughs from the halved recipe to wrap the cookies. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Just read the recipe closely ahead of time and you’ll do fine.

Finally, don’t you dare throw out those scraps after you trim your dough logs! Cut them into mini pieces like I did and bake them off so that you get ‘bite sized checkerboards’ like the ones you see in the picture above. Aren’t they just as cute?

The labor alone involved in making these cookies make the finished product worth it–but I gotta say, the taste wasn’t a letdown either. Checkerboards have a close texture that’s slightly crisp on the outside, then buttery melt-in-the-mouth tender on the inside. The real dilemma here is going to be deciding which flavor you like better: the one where the vanilla dough is dominant or the one where the chocolate one is. I think I’m partial to vanilla, but that could very well change by Christmas time. We’ll have to see.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #186, co-hosted this week by Colleen @ Faith, Hope, Love & Luck and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

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Checkerboard Cookies

Recipe Adapted from “Classic German Baking” by Luisa Weiss

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Ingredients

  • 20 plus 1 tablespoons (300g) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 18 tablespoons (150g) powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/3 cups, minus 2 tablespoons (400g) all purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat butter until it is light and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and salt and continue to beat about 1 minute more until creamy again. Add the vanilla extract and beat until just combined. Add the flour in 1/2 cup increments, until just combined. (Use a rubber spatula throughout mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing)
Scrape out half of the dough, form into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining dough in the bowl and mix until combined. Form the dough into another flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place both in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Remove dough from the fridge. Unwrap one of the discs, then place in between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll out into a rectangle, about 8 x 5 inches long. Repeat with the second dough. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and milk. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the bottom rectangle of dough. Place one rectangle on top of the other. Press to adhere them to each other. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and save the striped strips in the fridge. Divide the rectangle lengthwise in half. Refrigerate the halves for about 15-30 minutes to allow to get firm.
Divide each of the halves into fourths, lengthwise. (A ruler or bench scraper works GREAT for ensuring straight lines) Use the four layers to make TWO checkerboard logs: Brush the tops of two of the layers with the egg wash, then place the other two on top of them. Make sure that you flip the top layers upside down before adhering so as to create the checkerboard pattern. Use your fingers or a spatula to press the logs together and smooth out the edges/corners, try to make them as square as possible. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°.

(If you would like to create the ‘outer wrapping’ for the cookies: halve the original cookie recipe and follow the same instructions, dividing the two colors, wrapping them in plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator. After you’ve finished creating the two checkerboard logs, roll one of the reserved dough discs out between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper into a long rectangle. Place one of the chilled logs on the rectangle, on the edge closest to you. Wrap the dough around the log, press lightly on the bottom to seal and trim any excess. Repeat with the other color and log. Refrigerate both for about another 30 minutes to allow to firm up.)

Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the log cross-wise into slices. Place sliced cookies on prepared baking sheets lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes, until just light golden brown. Allow to sit on baking sheet for about 60 seconds removing to wire racks to cool completely. Cut the reserved trimmings into bite sized nuggets and bake for about 13 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

(No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

vanilla-sugar-cookies1

Our current location is pretty convenient for several reasons. First, there’s a park nearby that me and my niece have gone to at least once a week since we moved out here. Second, we live a hop, skip and a jump away from a pretty dope children’s museum that my niece has become very fond of. Because the weather here’s been so hot and pretty much unbearable to play outside, we’ve been spending quite a bit of time at it. It’s a very nice museum, but it’s certainly not the biggest one that we’ve ever taken her to. You’d think that after going two or three times, a kid would get tired of it.

But…nope. Not ours.

The museum has the option to purchase what’s called a family membership where after paying one lump sum, you can go to the museum as many times as you like for an entire year. After our first two visits, her mother decided that she’d just go ahead and gift her with a membership. That way, on days when she doesn’t want to go to the park, or when stormy or hot weather doesn’t permit us to go (like nowadays) she still has a way to get out of the house and have some fun.

And boy, does she have fun. It’s become kind of amusing for me to see her go through the same exhibits, play with the same toys, see the exact same things and never seem to get tired of it–like, ever. Each time we go is like the first time for her.  In fact, she’s already asked me if we can go back there on Monday. I figure it beats standing out in the hot sun on a playground that has little to no trees for shade.

I said sure; why not?

Now that I think about it, I can’t really blame my niece for loving the museum that much. I can be like that in other ways about other things.

For instance, oh well…sugar cookies. I think my unending love and obsession for the sugar cookie has been well documented on this blog. There is no dessert or sweet that I love more. No matter how many different ones I’ve made, I’m always willing to try another recipe and try to either improve it or give it another creative twist.

Today’s recipe is kinda like yet another one of my niece’s visits to the museum: I’m showing up with yet another sugar cookie recipe. You all will not only deal, you will love it.

Ever since I bought my Springerle Cookie molds, I’ve developed a small obsession with making stamped/imprinted cookies.  They’re a really quick way to give your cookies a lift aesthetically and with some practice I’ve gotten pretty decent at getting the results that I want. The problem with Springerle molds is that because each one is hand carved, they’re not cheap. Right now I’ve only got two and because I wanted to widen my collection of cookie stamps, I knew I would have to try and find a cheaper alternative. A little digging on Amazon led me to some perfectly nice rubber ones from Tovolo. They came in a set of one plunger that fit three rubber stamps that could be switched out alternatively.

I used one of the stamps in the Tovolo set to make these very simple, but still sooooo delicious sugar cookies. Sugar cookies are one of the foods I love most. Baking itself is therapeutic for me, so I think that love just goes into it naturally. The stamp of choice just seemed appropriate. I would like to say though that although I used one for this recipe, these cookies DO NOT require you to use them for it to work. If you’re like me and are also obsessed with sugar cookies–especially ones heavily flavored with vanilla- but don’t have a cookie stamp, don’t worry about it. You can still make un-stamped but still perfectly fine vanilla sugar cookies. And I gotta say, in addition to being simple to put together, these ARE also pretty perfect.

Provided you roll the dough thick enough, these bake up soft and slightly chewy. The flavor I used was vanilla because that’s what I think works best with sugar cookies, but if there’s another flavor you’re fond of, like lemon or almond, I think that would work just as well.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #178.

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Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Nordic Ware

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 2/ 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla and mix just until combined.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a fork. Add this in batches to the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined.

Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour and up to overnight. Take out for about 10-20 minutes to allow to soften a little.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie stamps into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess. Press firmly into the dough. Use a slightly larger round cookie cutter to cut out shape, then transfer to cookie sheets. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.*

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 10-15 minutes. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, just until bottoms start to turn golden brown. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Note: You don’t HAVE to use cookie stamps for this recipe. I think it would work just as well without it. Use whatever cookie cutters you have, or shape the dough into a log, freeze for about 30 minutes, then cut into slices and bake as directed. Also,  no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

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I’m the kind of person who likes to learn to run before she learns to walk. I like trying the complicated way before trying the simpler way. I like doing more rather than doing less.

It’s a character flaw. But it’s just the way I am.

I remember before cooking became my sport, when just the effort of scrambling eggs and browning breakfast sausage in a skillet was a HUGE accomplishment for me, and I made the decision to begin to try to improve my cooking skills. There were a number of reasons why I wanted to give it a go and get better at the whole thing.

Cut Out Cookies8

One of the main ones was that I actually wanted to be able to bake my own desserts. I was under the HUGELY incorrect assumption that cooking was akin to baking. Cnce I figured out one, I would of course have the other one on lock as well. Tomato-Tomahto, right?

Heh.

Oh Jess. Sweet, simple, untried Jess. I had SO much to learn about the world and its ways. But honestly, that really was it. My mom had a pretty lit cookbook collection and I would peruse through them bookmarking a whole bunch of different dessert recipes that I would fantasize about being able to bake for and all by myself.

This was before I figured out that baking is a science and beginners in the kitchen should prooooobably try to become decent cooks before they dip heir toes in the baking pool. I actually know several outstanding cooks who are pretty “challenged” as bakers.

Cut Out Cookies3

But anyways, I started practicing my baking around the same time as I started cooking. It was a difficult learning curve with a LOT of trial and error but through it all I knew right from the beginning that if it was the last thing I did, there was if nothing else, one thing I was absolutely going to force myself to learn how to knock out of the park:

A bakery-style cut out cookie.

The cut out cookie is right at the top of my Favorite Foods of All Time. I mean, it’s even right up there with pizza, ice cream and pancakes (which are pretty much my Holy Trinity). Now when I say a cut out cookie, I’m NOT talking about something akin to the ones in clear plastic containers you can buy at Walmart with the pink frosting that tastes like sugary wax. Those are blegh and you deserve better things in your life. I’m talking about a real cut out cookie with a soft and tender crumb, a faint flavor of vanilla/almond and a smooth glossy icing on top that rounds out the mild sweetness of the cookie dough.

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Y’know…these.

Cookie baking is a learning process in and of itself that I’m totally willing to admit I’m still getting the hang of. You gotta practice. You gotta let your dough chill in the fridge. You MUST test-bake one cookie before the entire batch. And then, you can’t be afraid of sometimes just screwing up.  Because sooner or later you just will.

There is one recipe that I’ve become pretty awesome at though, and it’s this one.  I make absolutely DELICIOUS cut out cookies. These are probably some of the best cookies I’ve ever made/had, in general.

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These are a necessity for me and familiy now every year at Christmas but recently I also went ahead and made a huge batch to take to a baby shower, which is why they’re pretty in pink. The cookie itself is thick, soft and with a tender crumb on the inside. It’s versatile enough to where if you wanted these to have a different flavor than standard vanilla, you could easily swap in lemon, orange, lime or even cherry extract instead with wonderful results. I will strongly advise that you don’t swap out or exclude the almond extract; it’s the almond that gives the cookies that trademark “bakery-style” flavor in cut outs that you love but can’t ever quite pinpoint where it comes from.

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These would be just FANTASTIC for a kid’s birthday party where you have the cookies pre-baked and allow the kids to decorate them however they want. They’re also pretty thick and sturdy so they’ll travel VERY well. This recipe does bake a pretty huge batch, so if you’re wanting a smaller one you can feel free to cut it in half. But, I never do. Somehow, for some reason…the ones I make always end up being put to “good use”.

I’ll be taking my cookies to Fiesta Friday #125, co-hosted this week by Quinn @ dadwhats4dinner and Elaine @ Foodbod.

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/8 cups white sugar
  • 7 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

For Icing

  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon hot water, or more as needed
  • Food coloring, optional
  • Sprinkles, optional

Directions

For Cookies:

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs yolks, then the whole eggs, one at a time and mixing well after each. Add the extracts, mixing just until combined.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl; stir into the butter-sugar mixture in about 1 cup increments. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. I usually let this dough sit overnight for best results.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on to the prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate the cut out cookies on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. (My ‘magic’ number is 8 minutes, 35 seconds.) Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

For Icing

Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, oil, vanilla and corn syrup until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring to your desired hue. Gradually add enough hot water to achieve a spreadable consistency, but keep it thick enough so that it sticks on the spoon. Spread icing over tops of cookies, then decorate with sprinkles.

Allow cookies to remain uncovered on wire racks until icing it completely set and dried.