I make one brownie recipe. It’s from the Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. It’s so good, I haven’t felt the need to try any other recipes out there. These brownies make an appearance in the annual Christmas in a Bowl. They are fudge-y as opposed to cake-y. They are dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate. They are salty as opposed to sweet. Ha! Just kidding. However, they do have a hint of sea salt that makes them taste all the more sweeter. (Did you know that adding salt not only compliments but brings out the sweetness? It’s my favorite ingredient in baking.)

Go ahead. Give it a try. It may end your brownie search. Did I mention, they are super easy to make? One bowl? Quick clean-up. Are you convinced now?

Brownies
recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 c. all-purpose
1/2 tsp. salt (I use sea salt. If using, you don’t need the full 1/2 tsp.)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square baking pan or heatproof glass dishpan with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on 2 sides. (I use 2 sheets of parchment paper, setting them perpendicular to one another in the pan. This makes for nice corners on the brownies.) Set aside.
2. Place butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over, but not touching, simmering water. (I use this double boiler. It also serves as my one mixing bowl for this recipe. Totally worth the investment, especially after you start making these all the time.) Stir frequently until chocolate and butter are melted, about 7 minutes. Remove bowl from heat; let cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Stir sugar into cooled chocolate mixture until combined. Whisk in eggs one at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. Whisk in vanilla. (I use a spatula. Works better than a whisk with batter this thick, in my opinion.) Gently fold in flour and sea salt.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan, and smooth top with an offset spatula. Bake until cake tester inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. (These will be fudge-y!)
5. Using parchment, lift brownies out of pan and onto a wire rack to cool completely.

TIPS
• Let the brownies cool for well over an hour—I’d recommend 3 hours. They are really hard to cut right out of the oven because they are so gooey. Be patient. You will be rewarded.  
• You may have to rinse your knife clean midway through cutting. This will make cutting the other half easier. The yummy brownie goo on the knife can make cutting difficult.
• Looking for more chocolate? Add 1/4 c. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips into batter. Don’t melt. 
• I typically use Ghirardelli chocolate. Use the best you can find or afford. 
• Wondering why they are so gooey? There is no leavener in this recipe, i.e. baking powder or baking soda. That’s the difference between a cake-y brownie and a fudge-y brownie.  

What’s your go-to brownie recipe?

Vanilla Cake + Pastry Cream + Italian Meringue Buttercream = Very Vanilla Cake. I’m in love.

This cake will please the pickiest of palettes—it’s vanilla, right? But don’t call it boring. It’s so rich, so good, and so sinful. And, might I add, so worth the calories.

This was only my second time to make Italian Meringue Buttercream. However, this will be gracing the outside of many more cakes to come. It is TO DIE FOR. Definitely not as easy to make as your traditional buttercream, but it’s worth the time and technique. Trust me.

Speaking of technique. A couple years back, my graduate school husband used to work Saturdays. I absolutely hated being home alone (I’m a big time extrovert), so I kept myself very busy cooking and baking all day. Sometimes I would try new recipes just to see if I could do it, with no real intentions of actually eating it. One Saturday I set out to make Italian Meringue Buttercream. It looked challenging enough. So I got out my candy thermometer. Made the meringue. Made the “candy.” Added the butter. Whip, whip, whip. And viola—buttercream success! Since I hadn’t made a cake and had no intention of doing so, there was no reason to save the icing. However, graduate school husband does not like to throw anything out. We are after all on a graduate school budget. With plenty of time to spare before he got home, I began feeding the trashcan. And then I heard, “Surprise, I’m home early!” I was caught. Red handed. Feeding the trashcan perfectly good buttercream. Note to self—it is not a good idea to practice techniques and then throw away the perfectly good end product, especially on a graduate school budget.

Moreover, why would I ever toss something so delish? I will never throw out Italian Meringue Buttercream again. Sorry trashcan. It’s just too dang good.

The recipe behind the cake and buttercream is from my favorite, Warren Brown. Pinky promise, I will only make cakes from Warren’s recipes from here on out. They are the best. He has an app too with recipes included! Don’t wait. Download it now. If you plan on making this cake, I recommend making the pastry cream first. Then the cake. When the cake has cooled and you’re ready to ice, make the buttercream. Stay tuned below for decorating tips.

Yellow Butter Cake
recipe from Cake Love by Warren Brown; 2 9-inch round cakes or 24 cupcakes

DRY
1 1/4 c. unbleached AP flour
1/4 c. + 1 tbsp. potato starch (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

LIQUID
1 c. half and half
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

CREAMING
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 c. extra-fine granulated sugar (I food process my regular sugar)
4 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Set rack in the middle of the oven.
2. Set out ingredients and equipment. Sift flour. Measure dry ingredients into separate mixing bowl. Add flour and whisk together. Measure liquid ingredients into a separate bowl and set aside. Place butter and sugar in bowl of standing mixer. Crack eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3-5 minutes. (This will feel odd, but keep it on low.)
4. With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through the step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.
6. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.
7. Prepare the pans. For 9-inch round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Do not spray the sides of the pan. (This helps to keep your cakes from doming in the middle. Your cake is able to crawl up the side as it bakes and maintain an even shape.) For cupcakes, line the pan with paper liners.
8. Distribute batter evenly in cake pans or fill cupcake liners with 2-ounce trigger release ice-cream scoop. (I also use the trigger release ice-cream scoop for the cake pans to make sure I have an even amount of batter.) For the cakes, bake for 28 minutes. For the cupcakes, bake for 22 minutes.
9. Once the top of the cake doesn’t jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cake. The center should be an even blonde color and the edges should be just beginning to pull away from the pan. When the skewer shows a touch of crumbs or comes out clean, the cake is done.
10. Cool cakes for 20 minutes before removing from the pan. Use a small off-set spatula to loosen the cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert and remove parchment paper. Allow to cool completely before icing.

Pastry Cream
from Macarons by Annie Rigg (This can be made ahead.)

3 egg yolks (save your whites for the buttercream)
3/4 extra-fine sugar (pop it in the food processor)
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 c. whole milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream

1. Put the egg yolks, half the sugar, and cornstarch in a small heatproof bowl, and whisk together until combined.
2. Heat milk and other half of sugar in a small saucepan until it only just starts to boil.
3. Pour the hot milk over yolk mixture whisking constantly until smooth. (If you don’t whisk quickly, the eggs will curdle.) Pour mixture back in pan, and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until custard comes to a boil and thickens.
4. Strain into a clean bowl and add butter and vanilla extract. Stir until incorporated. Cover surface with plastic wrap and leave to cool before refrigerating.
5. Refrigerate. Once chilled. Whip the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold into pastry cream. Continue to chill, covered, until use.

Italian Meringue Buttercream
recipe from Cake Love by Warren Brown; makes 4-5 cups

5 egg whites
1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1/4 cold water
4 sticks butter

1. Watch this video tutorial first. Set out ingredients and equipment. Separate the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add 1 cup of sugar and the water into a saucepan. Stir to combine. Measure the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar into a separate bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoon sized pieces and set aside.
2. To make the sugar syrup, place the candy thermometer in the sauce pan and heat the mixture over medium-high heat. Partially cover with lid to capture the evaporating water—this helps to moisten the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
3. With the  mixer on high speed, begin whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks. When the peaks are stiff, you have a meringue. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into the meringue and whip again to combine. Turn mixer off.
5. Raise the heat under the sugar syrup to bring the syrup to 245° (hard ball) if it’s not there already. When it has reached 245° and with the mixer running on medium speed, remove the thermometer and slowly pour the syrup into the meringue. (It helps to hold the pan just above the height of the mixer. Pour confidently trying to hit the meringue and not the side of the bowl.)
6. After 1 to 2 minutes, reduce the speed of the mixture to medium for 6-8 minutes or until meringue is cooled. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the mixer speed to high for 2 to 4 minutes or until the butter is fully incorporated. (Buttercream may look soupy. If so, keep mixing, it will eventually thicken as everything comes to the same temperature. If not, pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes or so and mix again.)
7. Ice cooled cake.

Now that you have your cake, pastry cream, and icing, it’s time to make it look pretty! I made a 3-tiered mini cake by cutting out 3 cake rounds using a 4 1/2″ biscuit cutter. You can accomplish the same thing with your 2-tiered 9″ rounds. If you’d like to replicate this mini cake, make the full cake recipe, 1/2 the pastry cream recipe, and 1/2 the Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe. You will have some leftover cake. I’ll leave it up to you on what to do with that. But whatever you do, don’t feed it to the trashcan.

How to Ice a Cake

1. Make sure cake is level on top. Do so by trimming off excess using a long serrated knife holding it parallel to the cake. I rarely have to do with with Warren’s recipes (They’re that good!). Place the cake on a stand. Add strips of parchment paper underneath the cake to keep the stand clean.
2. Place heaping amounts of pastry cream in the center of the cake and spread out using an offset spatula. I like to taste the pastry cream when I’m eating cake, so I use a fair amount. Don’t spread cream to the edge of the cake. Leave a 1/2″  gap. It will spread once you add weight on top.
3. Place second layer of cake on top. Add pastry cream and spread if you are adding a third layer.
4. If applicable, place third layer of cake on top.
5. Smooth out pastry cream overhang (have a taste if you wish) and place it in the freezer for 15 minutes. This will help to firm the cake up so that it will hold it’s shape when you begin to work with it.
6. In a separate bowl, place a small amount of the buttercream. Pull cake out of freezer. Apply a thin coating of icing over the entire cake, otherwise known as a crumb coat. This will keep those pesky crumbs at bay. If icing right away, place cake back in freezer for 10 minutes. If icing later, place in refrigerator.
7. When you are ready to ice the cake, make sure the icing and cake are around the same temperature. If they aren’t and you ice the cake, it will sweat. Figuratively speaking, your mascara will start to run.
8. Apply icing all over cake. Plop (super technical) icing all around the sides of the cake as well at the top. Be generous. Spread the icing until smooth. It will take about 10 minutes to work the icing smooth. You can leave the cake as is or add a little rustic flare. To do so, hold the spatula vertically and begin pulling up. Repeat around the entirety of the cake. On the top, place spatula in middle, and pull outwards in a curved motion. Repeat.
9. For one final flare, add a simple piece of candy or fruit to the top. And now you have yourself a pretty cake!
10. Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Pull parchment paper out from underneath cake. Be gentle. Serve at room temperature. Fall in love with Italian Meringue Buttercream.

I think you know well by now, I love Italian Meringue Buttercream. What’s your favorite type of icing?

I had planned on doing an easter post today. But my idea flopped. Many tireless hours went into, and it flopped. Yes, I do want some cheese with this wine. I wasn’t going to tell you what I was making incase I decided to give it another try. But, I’m not. I’m no good at these things. And by “things” I mean cake balls. I’ve tried a couple times, and they’re just not my forte. I have these conflicting thoughts of “Don’t give up!” and “Just stick with what you’re good at.” Well, I’ve decided to stick with what I’m good at, leaving the cake balls to Bakerella. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for a good challenge. And, I don’t mind if I fail from time to time. But I’ve learned I’m much better at baking than I am at decorating (case in point—cake ball fail). I’m much better at perfecting the classics (scones, cakes, cookies, macarons) than coming up with something new. I’m much better at sticking to my purist ways, than bending the rules and using the not so pure stuff. My take-away from all of this is—stick with what you’re good at, and get really good at it.

Shawoof (wiping sweat off brow). That was cathartic.

Now on to the good stuff. Red Velvet Cake! Remember the Sailboat Cupcakes from the last post? I told you I’d be back with the recipe. As promised, here it is. But first, I have to do another plug for my favorite baker—Warren Brown from Cake Love. His recipes make the best cakes ever (no lie). He is a purist as well. He believes in baking cakes from scratch. None of that artificial stuff. However, he does make a Red Velvet Cake because of it’overwhelming request at his bakery. It’s the only thing he uses food coloring in. You can leave the food coloring out and call it Brown Velvet. Or you can use the India Tree products (this is what I use), which are made from vegetables pigments.

Red Velvet Cake
recipe from Warren Brown, United Cakes of America
makes 24 cupcakes

DRY INGREDIENTS
2 1/4 c. Cake Flour (I used unbleached AP Flour)
2 tbsp. Cocoa Powder
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking soda

WET INGREDIENTS
1 c. Buttermilk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar

CREAMING INGREDIENTS
2 sticks of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
1 1/2 c. Superfine Sugar (You can pop regular sugar in a food processor to achieve this)
2 large eggs
1 oz. Red Food Dye (Opt out and make it Brown Velvet)

1. Preheat oven to 335° and place the rack in the middle position. Line 2 cupcake pans. (Read the last post for a cupcake liner tip.)
2. Measure the dry ingredients and wet ingredients into 2 separate bowls. Whisk each to combine.
3. Measure the the butter and sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together on low speed for about 5 minutes.
4. Add eggs one at a time into the well creamed butter. Beat in the dye.
5. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients about a quarter at a time. (This should only take a minute.) Scrape sides. Beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute.
6.  Pour the batter into the liners and bake the cupcakes for 20 to 24 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
7. Cool the cupcakes for 5 minutes before inverting them on to a flat surface. Allow them to come to room temperature before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
recipe by yours truly 

2 sticks of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
16 oz. Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Dash of Sea Salt
3-4 c. Powdered Sugar

1. Cream together butter and cream cheese.
2. Add vanilla extract and salt. Mix.
3. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Mix well between each addition. After 3 cups, taste to see if additional powdered sugar is necessary.
4. Ice your cupcakes. Looking for tips? Check out the last post.

If you missed it, click here for the sailboat decorations. For matching invitations, click here.

P.S.—These lovely little sailboats made their debut on the very talented Shauna Younge’s blog! Thanks Shauna!

Remember the Ahoy! It’s a boy! invites I shared with you a couple weeks ago? I told you I may or may not be making cupcakes with a cute DIY topper. Well, I wasn’t lying. It’s time for more sharing and free downloads!

This post includes DIY instructions for the sailboat cupcake toppers. Another post on the recipe for red velvet cupcakes and cream cheese frosting is to come. So sit down, get out a pen an paper (or just bookmark this page), and let’s get decorating!

Here’s what you’ll need:
• Plaid Cupcake Liners (I ordered mine from Bake it Pretty. Sweet LuLu is another great resource for cute baking supplies.)
• White Cupcake Liners (Always double up your liners so you can actually see the pretty liner. If you use one liner, when the cupcake bakes, the color of the cupcake will bleed into the liner thus losing its pretty pattern. Sad.)
• Wooden Skewers (Think kabobs.)
• Wire Cutters
FauxMartha Cupcake Sail Pattern
• Printer
• Textured, cardstock weight paper
• Scissors
• Exacto Knife
• Cutting Board
• Colored Duck Tape (or colored masking tape)

Here’s how to achieve the look (pictures below):
1. Make and bake your cupcakes, using a recipe of your choice. Remember to use 2 liners. Place the white liner inside the plaid liner. Allow cupcakes to fully cool before icing and decorating.
2. Meanwhile, cut wooden skewers about 5″ long using wire cutters or some other cutting utensil. Keep the side with the pointed end. Don’t worry if the wood begins to fray where you made the cut. We will cover that up shortly.
3. Print out the FauxMartha Cupcake Sail Pattern on textured cardstock. Cut out each sail. Using the longest side of the triangle (not the angle), cut an “x” at the top and bottom on a cutting board. Insert pointed end of wooden skewer into the top “x” on the printed side. Continue to insert the skewer through the second “x”.
4. Cut thin 1/2″ strips of duck tape. Place tape on the top of skewer where you made your original cut. Evenly fold over. Make 2 diagonal cuts to achieve a flag. Push sail up to give it that curved wind blown look.
5. Ice your cupcakes with the frosting of your choice. I use the Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro to ice my cupcakes. In order to get the thick swirls, I don’t use a tip. Place pointed end of the sail into cupcake and you’ve got yourself a cute sailboat cupcake!

If your visual, like me, these should help:

If you missed them, click here for the matching baby shower invites. Now that you have everything you need to get started, happy baby shower planning!

I’m headed out of town to help throw a baby shower for a good friend from home. But before I leave, I want to share these “Ahoy! It’s a boy!” invites with you. And by share, I mean free download. Keep reading…

Chevron, plaid, craft paper. Oh my!

Tiny, cute flags. Yes please!

Whoever said a slight shade of pink is not welcome at a baby boy’s shower?

Free fonts are a budget’s dream.

Since you kept reading, it’s time for the good stuff! Here’s how to create this same look yourself:
1. Order A-7 Craft Paper envelopes from Envelope.com.
2. Download the 5×7 invite! (The PDF is designed with 2-invites up on a page; front/back.)
3. Download the free font, Museo Slab, to help complete the look. You’ll also need a nice italic font to accompany it that can be found on your computer. (I used Century Schoolbook Italic).
4. Use an editing program to fill in your specific information.
5. Print the invites on a thick, textured white paper. (I used a Neenah paper—Sundance Felt.)
6. Finally, mail those cute suckers out, and plan the party!

Stay tuned for a post on the food portion of the shower. I may or may not be making cupcakes with a cute DIY topper.

Oh nuts! I’ve been keeping a secret from you. A good kind of secret. Not the bad kind. Who am I kidding? I’m no good at keeping secrets. I’ve already spilled the beans. Can you guess what it is?

Drum roll please…Oh! Nuts. That’s my secret! Or should I say, my secret weapon. I’ve been dying to try a couple new recipes that call for almond flour, and they were nice enough to send me some. I’ve made my own almond flour before, but let me tell you, it’s tedious. Blanch almonds. Peel off skins (this takes forever!). Blend up finely. Who knew you could buy almond flour? This stuff is a time life saver! And it makes some darn good tarts.

Mini Almond Tarts with a Strawberry on Top
yields 12 3-inch brioche molds

Almond Tart Dough
recipe from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 large egg, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond flour

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until well combined. Add egg and mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
2. In a medium bowl, combine both flours. With the mixer on low speed, add flours all at once; mix until well combined.
3. Turn dough out onto work surface and form into two disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
4. Once dough is ready, preheat oven to 350°.
5. Place dough on a floured work surface, sprinkle dough with flour, and roll out to 1/4-inch thick. (You may have to wait until dough comes closer to room temp in order to roll out.) Cut out 12 circles using a 3 1/4-inch round cutter, re-rolling dough if necessary. Place each circle in a mini 3″ brioche mold, gently pressing down on the bottom and sides. Place filled molds on a baking sheet; transfer to a freezer for 20 minutes.
6. Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake tart shells until just golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer tart shells, in their molds, to a wire rack to cool completely.

Almond Pastry Cream
recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
2 c. half and half
1/2 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
1 tsp. almond extract

1.Bring half and half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar until smooth. Once half and half begins to simmer, slowly whisk one cup of the simmering half and half into the egg yolk mixture to temper, stirring constantly. Once combined, slowly whisk mixture back into the simmering sauce pan. Turn heat down to medium, and whisk constantly for about 30 seconds. Lava like bubbles will begin to burst on surface.
3. Remove pan from heat, and stir in chilled butter and almond extract. Transfer to bowl, and place plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
4. After pastry cream is chilled, pipe or scoop into prepared almond tarts.
5. Prepare strawberries by chopping off end with stem. Set strawberry up on flat side, and make thin slices almost cutting to bottom. Squeeze strawberry in center to fan out and set in pastry cream.
6. Cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled.

TIPS
• Tart dough and pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance.
• Tart shells can be cooked one day in advance. Cover and leave at room temperature.
• Assemble tarts day of serving, no earlier.

Can you tell I’m a little obsessed with almonds right now? Last post—almond sugar cookies. Next post—it’s a secret (I guess I’m full of secrets these days, good ones though). But I can tell you, almond flour will be present.

Don’t wait. Check out Oh!Nuts, get your almond flour, and make tarts!

This week—I was a graphic designer by day and a baker by night.

I dream of being a full-time baker. Especially after this week, where I made 120+ cookies for a friend’s wedding shower. It wore me out, no lie. But I loved every last second of it. If only I didn’t have to work 8-5.

In regards to most recipes on this blog you’ve probably heard me say—This is easy, I promise. Not the case with these little guys. They are hard work. Back breaking work. And they take tons of practice. So, now that I’ve scared you away, let me also say, You can do it. It will be so rewarding. I promise.

Before you get started, I recommend watching this clip from The Martha Stewart Show (the video is on the lefthand side of the page). The trickiest part about these cookies is working with the royal icing. This segment will teach you how to make the royal icing, as well as all the important lingo like damming and flooding. Best of all, it will teach you how to achieve the chevron-like pattern I did on several of the cookies.

You’re also going to need a couple of tools before you get started, such as a condiment bottles. I found mine in the baking section at Michael’s.

Food coloring is a must. I recommend investing in the all-natural kind although it is a couple dollars more. I went with India Tree (sold at Whole Foods). They make their food coloring out of vegetable pigments. You can still achieve beautiful colors with it, and it doesn’t pepper your icing with a bad aftertaste like so many do.

Now on to the good stuff—the recipes! I made these cookies as all-natural as possible. Usually these types of cookies scream fake and over processed to me. But it doesn’t have to be the case, especially if you make them yourself.

Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies
recipe from Bake at 350, with slight changes
amount of cookies will vary based on size

3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 c. cane sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
1 egg
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. pure almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts, and mix.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture, and beat just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
5. Knead dough together with hands as it will be crumbly.
6. Place dough on floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/4″ thickness or thicker. Cut into desired shapes.
7. Place cookies on parchment lined baking sheets or Silpat and freeze for 10 minutes before baking.
8. Bake for 9 minutes. (I pull the cookies out before they begin to golden for a softer texture.) Let sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. (Make sure cookies are completely cool before icing. I usually wait overnight.)

Royal Icing
recipe from Dani Fiore via Martha Stewart, with slight changes
makes about 2 1/2 cups

1/4 c. meringue powder
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 3 1/2 to 4 c.)
1/2 c. water

1. Using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix together meringue powder with 1/2 cup water until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Using the beater attachments, add sugar one cup at a time; continue mixing until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Icing will become thick and glossy in appearance.
2. Ice cookies.* (Do not cover or stack until completely dry. I usually wait overnight.)

*Throughout the decorating process, you will need different consistencies of royal icing. Writing icing will need to be thick while “flooding” icing will need to be a bit thinner. To do this, add more water. If frosting becomes to thin, add more powdered sugar.

Below are pictures of the process with a couple decorating how-to’s.

Royal icing: When beating, it will go from soft peaks, to stiff glossy peaks as you add in the sugar.

Applying Icing: In a seperate bowl, add a tiny bit of water to icing. Add food coloring if necessary. Dam, flood, watch it flood, fill in any blank areas, let dry.

Decorating: HEARTS—use original icing (not thinned icing). Pipe 2 circles. Pull the icing down with tip to form a heart. DOTS—while icing is wet, place nonpareils on cookie using tweezers. CHEVRON PATTERN—while the base icing is still wet, draw horizontal lines with original icing (not thinned). Using a toothpick, lightly pull icing down in a vertical manner. Make sure to wipe off toothpick each time. Pull up to create zig-zag effect. FLOWER—much like the heart, use original icing and pipe 5 circles. Using the tip, pull in to center. Place nonpareil in center with tweezers.

They are hard work. Back breaking work. And they take tons of practice. But, you can do it. It will be so rewarding. I promise.