Thursday, June 30, 2011

Star-Spangled Sugar Cookies

Homemade Star-Spangled Sugar Cookies
Who else is excited for the holiday weekend?! I think these cookies speak for themselves in demonstrating my enthusiasm about the Fourth of July! It really is one of my favorite holidays of the year! It is always a highlight of my favorite season (summer!) and I love celebrating it with my friends and family in one of my favorite places: Cape Cod! So in honor of America's independence this year, I decided to pull out all the stops to create some very patriotic sugar cookies.

I was excited to use a sugar cookie recipe I found on that was featured as a moderation to another recipe. The moderation was created to produce a softer sugar cookie (by adding less flour initially, allowing for more flour to be added during the rolling-out process). The moderation didn't turn out to completely live up to my expectations however, as the dough was much too soft to be rolled out. I ended up having to add so much flour to the dough as I kneaded it and prepared it to be cut into shapes that I think it may have just been worth it to add the extra 3/4 cup of flour in the first place. You live and learn -- such is baking! 

Nevertheless, once I added enough flour to create a dough consistency that warranted rolling out, I used a set of four different star cookie-cutters to create a variety of cookie sizes. The recipe yielded about 40 cookies so I definitely had my decorating work cut out for me! Luckily, I had some help from a good friend who assisted me by mixing up and coloring some of the frosting, and decorating some of the cookies! Baking can definitely be more fun with a friend, and we had a blast coming up with different festive ways to employ red, white and blue frosting, piping gel and edible glitter! When all was said and done, we were left with an array of classic sugar cookies with a star-spangled twist! Yum!

In addition to great family, friends, food and fireworks, I'm looking forward to sharing these celebratory desserts with everyone this weekend! What are your plans for celebrating the Fourth of July? No matter what they are, I would definitely recommend whipping up some of these cookies! They are a fun and easy way to get into the celebratory spirit!

Happy 4th and Happy Baking! :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My First Wilton Basic Cake Decorating Class Cake!

My first Wilton Basic Cake Decorating Class cake!
I am so excited to share the results of my first Wilton Basic Cake Decorating Class! On Monday night, I attended the second session of the Wilton Basic Cake Decorating Class that I am currently taking. After receiving much instruction in the first class, I arrived at the second class prepared to create my first completely decorated cake with an array of new decorating tools, two consistencies of homemade Wilton buttercream frosting (thin for frosting the cake and medium for icing the design), and a freshly baked classic yellow cake!

I got to work right away, as the class is only two hours long and I hoped to avoid being rushed at the end. To my dismay, I missed the memo on bringing pre-colored frosting to class for the design I planned to use, and so while some of my other classmates saved decorating class-time by doing this in advance, I had to spend extra time prepping my materials. Luckily, I was able to complete my decorating once I returned home after class and I was content with how my first attempt came out!

I love that Wilton provides you with a detailed mini text book for class that maps out each session step-by-step. Decorating your first cake can be overwhelming if you don't know what to expect and you don't have anything to reference, but the book helps to avoid all that! Lesson #2 covered everything from torting and leveling a cake, to filling and frosting a cake, to a variety of icing methods and techniques, to piping gel design transfers, and much more! After Monday's class, I feel totally confident that I could create another great cake for any occasion! I am really looking forward to our next class where we will tackle cupcakes and cupcake decorating! I would absolutely love to go on to complete Wilton's second and third courses that provide instruction on frosting flowers and mastering fondant! Someday, for sure.

I have been preserving my first cake in the fridge all week waiting to share it with my family over the holiday weekend, so hopefully it will taste as good as it looks! I have to admit, I tasted a few bites of the top of the cake that I leveled off with a bit of my homemade frosting, and I found myself reaching for seconds!

So, I would consider this first cake attempt to be a success! As a new cake decorator, here are some of my tips for those of you who are just starting out, as well (or considering it!):
- Take your time! A class setting can be intimidating as everyone goes at a different pace and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Don't allow the pace of the group deter you from taking the time you need to learn and create your best work!
- Frosting a cake is harder than it looks. Crumbs can creep in without a moment's notice and it takes some serious patience and a steady hand to keep them at bay. The secret is to use a lot of frosting so your spatula never touches the cake, and of course, practice, practice, PRACTICE!
- Color your frosting in advance. Enough said. It saves time, and the icing darkens over time, so doing it in advance will help you get a better feel for the true color you will be using on your cake.
- Don't take yourself too seriously. It is just a cake, after all. It should be fun and remember, you are new at this. Cake Boss wasn't a "boss" over night. It takes time, but if you stick with it (like anything), you are bound to see improvements!

Happy Baking! :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Toasted Coconut Cookies

Toasted Coconut Cookies 
Happy Thursday, all! With the end of the week fast approaching, I was hoping to whip up something delicious for the family to enjoy over the weekend! I think these hit the spot! I love coconut flavor, especially in the summer! So, with that in mind, I was thrilled to come across the recipe for these soft-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside cookies on a fellow blogger's site.

The toasted nature of the coconut in this recipe really does do wonders for enhancing the flavor. On the flip side, the coconut is not overwhelming and truly adds the perfect kick to this delicious dessert! I made my cookies a little bigger than the recipe called for, so naturally I ended up baking them for a bit longer, but other than that, I thought this recipe was wonderful! 

If you're looking to put a new spin on your cookie creations this summer, I would encourage you to give these a try! It's a good thing I got some shots of them beforehand... I don't know how long they'll last ;)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wilton Cake Decorating Class

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:
I am so excited to be taking the Wilton Decorating Basic course! For the next couple of weeks, I will be learning the ins and outs of cake decorating on a basic level! There are three Wilton cake decorating courses you can take. The remaining two focus on flowers, cake design, gum paste and fondant method. I would be thrilled to complete them all, but right now I am loving the first class.

Our first class meeting was tonight and we began by learning how to bake a great cake, make three different types of frosting (stiff, medium and thin), how best to level, frost and fill a cake, and how to use a featherweight decorating bag with a variety of tips! We practiced frosting techniques on sugar cookies, in preparation for creating our first complete cake next week! In order to participate in the class, I purchased the Wilton Decorating Basics student kit which includes a variety of materials used in class. I'm so glad I'll be able to master the art of cake decorating with tools that I can keep for a lifetime of amazing cakes ahead! The class is conveniently held at a Michael's craft store too, where picking up extra accessories is almost TOO easy! Let's just hope my bank account can support my artistic needs! Our homework for next week is to bake a cake to be leveled, frosted and decorated in class, so be sure to check back for a post on the finished product! Here's to great cakes!

Happy Baking! :)


My Finale Dessert! Manjari Mousse (Photo Credit:
My friend Ashley (right) and I (left) enjoying dessert at Finale in Boston, Mass.
Over the weekend, the girls and I finally visited the sensational dessert destination of Boston, Finale Desserterie & Bakery.  I love Finale because they use the best ingredients to create edible works of art. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm serious when I say that the desserts at Finale are some of the most beautifully designed I've ever seen! So beautiful that I couldn't seem to get a photo of my Manjari Mousse that did it justice, so I tried to provide a better one above by borrowing it from someone else.

Finale provides the ideal environment for indulging. My choice, the Manjari Mousse, consisted of Bittersweet Valrhona Manjari chocolate mousse layered with chocolate buttermilk cake and French apricot puree, served with a napoleon of blackberry cabernet sorbet and strudel dough. In other words, Y-U-M! Whether or not you can appreciate the deeply intense and meticulously designed array of flavors in each Finale creation is frankly irrelevant because everything is just so good! As a dessert enthusiast, I was delighted to experience my choice in slow motion, acknowledging and savoring each and every level of flavor. Each dessert is put together on the dessert plating stage at Finale, which features overheard culinary mirrors that allow all diners to watch (in amazement) the artistic process of concocting each dessert. Needless to say, I was completely enthralled and utterly impressed. A+, Finale! I'll be back. 

Who wants to go to Finale?!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Margarita Bars & Chocolate Raspberry Cookies with Raspberry Glaze

Margarita Bars

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies with Raspberry Glaze

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! On Saturday night, my family hosted a dinner party, and of course I jumped on the opportunity to try out some new dessert recipes! I later learned that experimenting with new recipes during a dinner party isn't always the best baking strategy, but you live and learn!

I was psyched to find the Margarita Bar recipe on a fellow blogger's page! It seemed like the perfect treat to top off a summer gathering, and they were! Plus, these tasty bars feature a tablespoon or two of tequila and triple sec, so the margarita flavor is completely authentic -- yum! One of the biggest challenges of baking is the balance between oven temperature and baking time however, and these bars proved to be no exception. Although I cooked the bars with the oven temperature and baking time suggested in the recipe, they turned out to be a bit undercooked after all. This recipe is more difficult to test as well, since the tried and true toothpick method is a no-go with the gooey consistency of the bars (no matter how perfectly they are cooked). I ended up popping the pan of bars in the fridge for a while to help them set before cutting and serving them, but they definitely would have worked better if they had been in the oven for a few more minutes. Next time! 

I love the flavors of chocolate and raspberry together, so I was really excited to tackle the new recipe for the cookies! The chocolate raspberry cookies proved to be a perfect example of why experimenting with new recipes at a dinner party can be dangerous, however. To make the cookies, I used a Paula Deen recipe from the Food Network which called for Hershey's Premier Dark Chocolate Baking Pieces Filled With Raspberry Creme. Well, on my last minute run to the grocery store to grab the necessities for my desserts, I realized that the store did not carry this item. So, instead I used a generic brand of Chocolate Covered Raspberry Cremes. I realized after baking the first round of cookies with these candies that this was a poor choice. The raspberry creme filling from the candies more or less melted and transformed into a syrupy mess on the cookie sheets, ruining my perfectly greased pans. That round of cookies ended up being chiseled and pried from their syrupy graves. In doing so however, I racked my brain for a plan B! There was still plenty of cookie dough left and I couldn't leave the guests hanging! For the second round, I decided to pick out all of the evil baking pieces, and instead infuse the chocolate cookie dough with raspberry flavor by adding a tablespoon or two of the raspberry preserves that the glaze recipe uses. Luckily, my improvisation was a success and I was able to salvage at least half a dozen cookies. Another perfect example of living and learning through baking!

When people ask me how I know that baking is my passion, I explain that I'm never too tired to do it, it never discourages me to the point of wanting to quit, and it is always relaxing to me, no matter what the circumstances. Not to mention that it comes with some pretty delicious benefits that make me and everyone I love happy! So, even though these recipes weren't my best successes, I still had a great weekend of baking and learned more from it than I would have if everything had gone according to plan. So, I encourage you to stick with baking, too! It isn't ALWAYS perfectly glamorous and delicious, but I promise that if you keep at it, you too can single-handedly save a near-disastrous dinner party. 

Happy Baking! :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sicilian Inspiration: Pesto Chicken Florentine & Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

Pesto Chicken Florentine

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

Those who know me probably would not associate me with cooking. It's not necessarily because I am bad at it, it is just because I have always enjoyed baking much more. As a result, I've honed my baking skills much more than my cooking skills, but we all know there's no dessert without the main meal (except in certain cases when dessert IS the main meal, which happens to be my favorite). So, lately, I've been trying to develop my cooking skills in hopes of becoming a great baker AND chef! 

Earlier this week I decided to create a meal for my family inspired by all of the great food I experienced on my trip to Sicily this past March. Sicily is known for their delicious tomatoes, lemons and ricotta cheese, among other things! So, with this in mind, I decided to make a pasta dish, Pesto Chicken Florentine, and Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze for dessert.

I based the pasta dish on a recipe I found on For a healthier kick, I used whole grain pasta and light alfredo sauce. I also decided to add diced tomatoes for an extra level of flavor which was well received by my taste-testers! I served the dish with fresh french bread and let's just say there weren't many leftovers! 

Dessert was a total hit, as well! I used a Giada De Laurentiis recipe from the Food Network to make the lemon ricotta cookies, which basically disappeared within hours after setting them out for my family to enjoy! These cookies are truly lemony delicious. The ricotta creates a very moist, nearly cake-like cookie that could be enjoyed at any time of day! The glaze adds the perfect finishing touch. I am definitely considering these one of my new favorite cookies, especially since they are inspired by the famous fruit of one of my favorite destinations: the legendary lemons of the beautiful Italian island of Sicily!

I encourage you to try out either of these recipes and let me know how it goes! Happy Cooking & Baking!

Red Velvet Graduation Cupcakes & Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars

Red Velvet Graduation Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars

A few weeks ago, my brother graduated from high school. After the ceremony, family and friends celebrated with a barbeque at my family's house. I was responsible for the night's desserts and decided on red velvet graduation cupcakes and strawberry swirl cheesecake bars! I aimed to design a menu that would appeal to differing tastes and decided on a mix of chocolate and fruit choices that ended up being a hit amongst guests. 

The festive graduation cupcakes were a perfect touch to the evening's celebration. I decided to focus the majority of my time on decorating each cupcake and so instead of making the cupcake mix from scratch, I saved prep time by using Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Red Velvet Cake Mix. I frosted the cupcakes with Duncan Hines Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and used a variety of cookies and candies to create  miniature graduation caps on each cupcake. I began with a miniature Reese's peanut butter cup placed upside down on top of a frosted cupcake. Then, I placed a thin peanut butter fudge cookie on top of the Reese's cup, securing it with frosting. This completed the mortar board. To create the tassels, I cut short pieces of Twizzler's Pull 'n Peel candy and attached them with frosting and an M&M on top of the peanut butter fudge cookie. To create a consistent color scheme, I chose all red ingredients and accessories. The cupcakes looked great displayed on my new Wilton Cupcake Dessert Stand, which I purchased especially for the occasion! 

The strawberry swirl cheesecake bars were a great way to take advantage of the debut of strawberry season! When I came across the recipe on (one of my favorite recipe resources), I couldn't wait to try it out! The bars were rich and bursting with fruity flavor -- a perfect summer dessert! I would encourage you to add this easy-to-make and delicious dessert to your summer dessert menu. It certainly did not disappoint amongst my family and friends!

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Graduation Cake

In May, I graduated one year early from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. To celebrate, my family hosted a dinner party at a local restaurant and surprised me with this amazing cake! As an avid viewer of shows such as Cake Boss, Fabulous Cakes and Ace of Cakes, I was completely enthralled by the intricate details of this both delicious and imaginative masterpiece, made by Elegant Edibles. The cake was designed to encompass many of my interests, passions and experiences at UMass Amherst. One of the most impressive features of the cake was the edible marker. Guests of the dinner party were able to write well wishes on the "box" with the marker, which added an even more personal touch to the already meticulously individualized dessert.

The cake tasted as good as it looked! Composed with my favorite fruit flavor (raspberry), the cake featured white vanilla butter cake with raspberry filling and raspberry buttercream icing covered in fondant. All of the decorations were edible. The dessert was a complete hit amongst my family members and friends at the dinner party! I am really excited to begin my Wilton basic cake decorating class next week to begin learning the tricks of this trade! It's amazing how great desserts can truly top off a great dining experience. 

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