Cookie Frosting

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Adapt the decoration on your cookies, or the color of the frosting, for any holiday.

This creamy frosting is a fun, easy way to decorate cookies. It’s not as fancy or sophisticated as icing, which is smooth and glossier, but it’s simple and yummy, and decorations like sprinkles stick to it easily. It’s especially perfect for spreading on sugar cookies.

I got this recipe years ago from a Williams-Sonoma booklet on making Christmas cookies. I keep that booklet in the front pocket of my dessert recipe binder and refer to it often when making any kind of cookie that needs decorating.

This makes about 3/4 cup, or enough to frost 2 dozen regular cookies (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter).

With the brown vanilla extract, the frosting comes out an off-white color. Try a clear extract if you want it pure white, maybe playing around with some flavors of extract to see how it turns out. This can also easily be tinted with food coloring.

2 cups confectioner’s sugar (powdered or icing sugar)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Food coloring, if desired.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl about 1/2 cup at a time. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and cream. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on medium speed until creamy and spreadable.

Rainbow Birthday Cake

rainbow birthday cakeHere’s a way to dress up a white cake for special occasions. The layers are colored and the frosting is white, so when slices are cut it’s the inside that stands out.

I was inspired by a picture I clipped from a magazine ages ago that showed four layers in graduating shades of blue. There was no recipe, if I recall — just the picture. But it was easy to copy using my existing recipes for white cake and buttercream frosting.

My son requested this cake for his birthday with four layers, each in one of our favorite colors. That was orange, green, red, and pink. I can foresee making this on holidays — shades of red and pink for Valentine’s Day, pastel colors for Easter, or red, white, and blue (maybe with another layer of white containing sprinkles?) for Independence Day.

The white cake recipe above yields two 9-inch round layers. I made the recipe twice to get four layers. Each time I made the recipe, I divided the batter evenly into two large measuring cups and tinted them with gel colors before pouring into the baking pans.

I also doubled the buttercream frosting recipe above.

Now, you’ll see from the picture that the cake is missing the red layer my son requested and has a brown one instead. That one counts as a lesson learned. I decided to use some red beet powder as a natural red food coloring — I had used it before to tint frosting — but this time, the cake turned out the color of whole wheat bread. I looked it up and it seems that the baking process, and maybe a reaction to the baking powder, turned the red beet powder brown. Oh, well. I know for next time.

A note on the frosting: For this cake, you want the colored layers to stand out, so you shouldn’t put a lot of frosting between them. Put just a small amount to act as a glue to hold the layers in place. The thin ribbon of white you’ll see between each layer when you cut the cake is also just enough to show off the colors.

Hard-boiled Eggs

There isn’t much to say about this recipe, but it’s a basic one that ought to be in your cookbook somewhere. I’ve been making more of these lately so we can dye them for Easter eggs.

1. Wash eggs to be hard-cooked in warm soap and water.

2. Place eggs in a single layer in an enamel, glass, or steel pan.

3. Add enough tap water to come at least 1 inch above the eggs.

4. Cover the pan and rapidly bring the water to a boil. Then turn off the heat. If you’re using an electric range, take the pan off the burner.

5. Leave the cover on the pan. Let large eggs sit for 15-17 minutes; medium eggs about 3 minutes less; extra-large about 3 minutes more.

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6. Heat retained in the water will continue to cook them, so remove eggs with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Cooling helps prevent the green rings that sometimes form around the yolks.

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Notes:
Don’t worry if the eggs crack a little during boiling, because they are still cooked and perfectly edible. If you dye them, part of the egg underneath the shell will be colored, but since most egg dyes are food-safe it won’t matter.

To eat them, tap the eggs gently on a hard surface to make cracks, then gently peel off the shell.

Slice or cut them into chunks, sprinkled with a little salt. Chop them for an egg salad sandwich or crumble them for a salad. Or make them into deviled eggs — see my recipe here.

Holiday Cornflake Wreaths

20141211_220232[1]These are like Rice Krispie Treats, only with cornflakes. They are a fun dessert to make at Christmastime, and very easy, too. Plus, they have only five ingredients.

Makes about 18

6 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine
10 oz. marshmallows
1 tsp. or more green food coloring
Small red cinnamon candies (Red Hots)*

To prepare, butter two or three baking sheets — you will form the wreaths on them later. Put the cornflakes in a large bowl.

In a medium pot over low heat, melt the margarine. Add the marshmallows and stir constantly until completely melted. Add the food coloring, starting with 1 tsp. but adding more as necessary until the mixture is dark green. (The ones in the picture above aren’t as dark as I intended.) Pour the marshmallow mixture over the cornflakes and mix carefully with a spoon until completely coated.

With buttered fingers, take out a small handful of the coated cornflakes (just enough to fill your palm). Put it on the buttered baking sheet and form into a wreath. Put four or five cinnamon candies on the wreath to look like berries.

Refrigerate the wreaths for several hours before serving. Use a spatula carefully to lift them off the baking sheets.

*I found the Red Hots in the baking aisle, next to the bottles of sprinkles — not in the candy aisle.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

This cake turned out to be a big success — a straightforward recipe with delicious results and a rich chocolate flavor. As you can see, it was designed for Easter. The top ridge of the cake caves in, creating a base for a whipped topping that looks like a nest. Lay some candy eggs on top and you’ve got much more than a flourless chocolate cake — you have an Easter Egg Nest Cake.

This was a Nigella Lawson recipe I clipped from The New York Times eight years ago. I don’t tend to have a lot of luck with her recipes, but as I suspected, the recipe’s appearance in the Times meant it was a winner. I hope you have similar results.

Yield: 1 9-inch cake

For the cake:
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
6 large eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted and cooled
Approximately 1 cup small candy eggs, like robin’s eggs

1. Heat oven to 350F degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, then grease the top of the paper.

2. For the cake, stir the softened butter into the just-melted chocolate and let cool. Whisk 4 egg whites until foamy (this is best done in a stand mixer). Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and whisk until whites hold their shape but are not too stiff. Reserve.

3. In a separate bowl, by hand, whisk 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 cup of sugar and vanilla until combined. Stir in chocolate to mix.

4. In three additions, fold whites into chocolate mixture*. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake rises, cracks, and center is no longer wobbly.

5. Cool cake on a wire rack; the middle will sink and the sides will crack. Carefully remove cake from pan and place on serving plate.

6. For topping, whip cream with vanilla until it is firm but not stiff. Fold in melted chocolate. Fill top of cake with whipped topping, easing it out gently toward the edges. Arrange candy eggs on top.

*A tip for folding mixtures: Folding is not the same as stirring. It requires gentle and methodical mixing with a spatula. Holding the bowl on the left side, cut through the batter with the edge of the spatula from left to right, then lift upwards with the broad side of the spatula along the half of the bowl closest to you. Give the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat, doing this until the batter is slowly mixed. Doing it this way preserves the air bubbles in certain batters where the bubbles are necessary for lift.

Turkey Stuffing

It’s way too early to think about Thanksgiving or Christmas, I know. But this, a recipe for the stuffing inside your holiday bird, really is delicious at any time of year — and it’s a great way to use that bit of French baguette you didn’t eat the other day. Frugal cooks, here’s one for you.

You can use it either as stuffing or dressing — the term for stuffing that you cook and serve on its own. And as a dressing, it works great alongside many types of meat, from turkey cutlets to pork sausages.

1 chicken bouillon cube
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 short *stale* French baguettes (in America, you can use 1 bag Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing) — or use the equivalent in stale bread
1 tsp. each sage, oregano, ginger, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, white pepper, and celery seed
2 eggs

If making this as a dressing, preheat oven to 350F/175C.
Dissolve bouillon cube in 1 1/2 cups water and set aside.

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Saute onion and celery until onion is transparent. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Put celery mixture in large bowl and add bread and herbs. Combine with wooden spoon. Add eggs.

Add the chicken broth a small amount at a time. Make sure the mixture doesn’t “glop” together; rather, make sure the stuffing still separates when mixed. (You may not need to use all of the broth.)

To serve as turkey dressing, place mixture in casserole dish and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. To serve as stuffing, place inside bird.