Little Hands Sugar Cookies & Cards

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

Were you starting to wonder if I’ve been baking lately? Since my last few two posts were a little more about me, myself and I, and not exactly recipe-filled, you might be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to in this kitchen of mine. I’m here, I promise. The holiday season has definitely sprung, and I’m a little stressed–I won’t lie. It’s all that good, you know, hustle and bustle holiday-type stress, but sometimes (and by “sometimes” you know I mean “always”) I take on just a little too much. Do you ever do that? Always? So because of that little tendency of mine, I decided to choose a few special baking projects this year, rather than crank out endless varieties, although, technically, there is still time for that . . . kidding. Sort of. For the last two years, I’ve had this “hand cookie”  idea bookmarked in the 2009 Martha Stewart Holiday magazine, and this year I knew I couldn’t resist making them.

My girls, ages 2 and 4, have embraced their creative sides, and so I thought this would be a great way to tie that into the holidays. When Reese wakes up, she literally runs for the crayons, markers and paper and immediately starts to create, and as soon as she’s aware of the holiday season, all she wants to do is make Christmas Cards. For everyone, literally. The mailman, the cat, every neighbour for miles and more. Don’t be surprised if you get one too — this girl can seriously create, and fast. She reminds me so much of the me when I was a little girl (memories of my tireless childhood rug-hooking fascination come to mind), and I love that she’s so enthusiastic. Neve does too, but because she’s just 2, she enjoys it for a few moments and then moves onto something else.

That’s actually why this project worked so well, because there was a little bit of baking, a bit of colouring and more. To create the template for their hands, I traced their hands onto cardstock and cut them out–so simple, yet the girls thought this was so fun. For some reason, I had it in my head that this would be a really crazy super time-consuming project, but, actually, with such a simple decorating approach, it was probably the quickest sugar cookie project I’ve ever done. Perfect!

Sweetapolita

We did these over the course of a few days (which seems to be the best way to approach this type of thing with 2 small kids, I’m finding), and the day the photos took place, Reese was at school, but Neve was ready to ham it up, as always. Since we just put up Christmas Tree, started listening to holiday music and were holiday baking and crafting, we were suddenly immersed in holiday-ness. Funny how that can give us all the boost we need sometimes–young or old. It’s been kind of grey around here for the past few weeks, in typical Canadian winter fashion, I suppose, but, this cookie project lifted us all quite a bit. That and decorating (and redecorating) the tree. The girls have rearranged it so many times, but I think they’ve got it just “so” now.

Sweetapolita

After around the 1,330, 330th time “telling” the girls to “stop touching the balls (ahem)!” I lauged out loud and then let it go. Crash! Bang! Crash! And . . . it’s offically Christmas. This is all new to Neve, since last year she was only 1 and likely has no recollection of Christmas, so I just don’t have the heart to keep her away from the tree. It just wouldn’t be Christmas around here without a little bit of heartwarming chaos (with a hint of just plain chaos, of course).

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

I love that the hands don’t expand when baked (which is why it’s so important to follow the prebaking chilling steps), since puffed up, oversized baby hand cookies may be a little weird. I compared the template to the baked cookie, and it was almost exact. Yay! We decided that we’d go ahead and package up each cookie, complete with name cards and handmade Christmas greetings and that we’ll give them to family, Reese’s teacher, etc. I gave the girls a stack of 6″ squares of white cardstock and a box of markers and told them to create-away. I also gave them some 6″ strips of cardstock for their names, which I left Reese in charge of writing both (soon enough Neve will be able to write her own, I’m sure!).

Sentiment aside, this is my favourite sugar cookie recipe (as you probably remember in this previous post), as they are so scrumptious and traditional. Because they are so crisp, buttery and classic, I personally love eating them this way, with no icing. Next time I make these, or any other unfrosted variation, I will likely add some vanilla bean to add to the already lovely and old-fashioned taste, but if you use a good quality pure vanilla extract, that alone does give it a beautiful flavour. It’s just never a bad idea to add vanilla bean, right?

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

I’ll be back soon to share some holiday cakes that I’m really excited about making, and more. Until then, Happy Holiday Baking!

Little Hands Sugar Cookies

Yield: Apprx 30 medium-small cookies, depending on shapes/size

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened for about 20 minutes at room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) pure lemon extract

Instructions

  1. In large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs.
  3. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and lemon extract and blend.
  4. Remove 1/2 of dough from bowl, make a ball, and place on a large piece of plastic wrap on counter.Wrap the sides of wrap over the ball, then press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2" thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. Chill both discs of dough for about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove one disc and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn't slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit.), then place two 1/4" wooden dowels on either side of your dough, then another sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) so it's flush with dowels--they will ensure that your dough is even thickness.
  7. Preheat your oven to 350° F. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice, placing them on a baker's half sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (or parchment), with 2" clearance around each one and the edge of sheet. Place sheet with cookies into freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
  9. Cool sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling.

Notes

*If you follow the pre-baking chilling steps, you will find that your baked cookies end up the same size as your hand template, with no expansion (that could be kind of weird).

**May be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. They also freeze well.

***Package as desired.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

1. For packaging, I used a 6″ wide x 9″ crystal clear bag and cut a 6″ square piece of patterned scrapbooking paper and 6″ square piece of wax paper (regular wax paper) overlay to place on top. I highly recommend using the wax paper overlay, otherwise the cookie will leave buttery marks on your pretty paper.

2. I cut additional 6″ squares of white cardstock so the girls could write Christmas Card messages and then I slid them into the bag, facing out (the back of the bag) then cut small white strips for their names to slide into the front of the bag. In our case, with two little girls I wanted the recipients to be able to easily identify each girl’s cookie, but if you’re using only one “little hand,” you could skip this step.

3. To seal bag, I folded the excess bag over the front and then, using a single hole punch, created 2 holes a few inches apart (see photo), then tied with ribbon (I used a Celadon colour).

Good luck & enjoy!

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Rainbow Doodle Birthday Cake

Rainbow Doodle Cake via Sweetapolita

I hope you had a wonderful weekend filled with feasting, family, and friends. I know we certainly did! We celebrated Easter as well as our little Reese’s 4th birthday. On Saturday we went to “The County,” where Grant grew up, to visit his dad (Grandpa), step-mom Kathy (Grammy), and family at the farm. It’s such a neat situation, because it’s the house Grant grew up in, which is on the same property as his grandfather’s (Poppy) farmhouse, so when we go with the kids, there’s so much for them to see and do. With Easter and Reese’s birthday falling on the same weekend this year (a rare occurrence), we decided it would be fun to celebrate in The County on Saturday. When Reese and I were talking about birthday cake ideas, we thought it would be the perfect time to make the brilliant Rainbow Cake.

When Reese first saw the Rainbow Cake on Whisk Kid’s blog, she fell in love with it, and rightfully so–this cake is a kid’s dream come true with its 6 vibrant rainbow-coloured layers and tons of buttercream! Kaitlin’s blog is filled with scrumptious cakes and treats, photos, and helpful baking hints, and if you haven’t yet, you really must check it out! As a cake girl myself, I have to tell you that I think her rainbow cake invention was likely the most genius layer cake design in the history of cake. She’s pretty amazing herself–a 20 year old sophomore at Michigan State University who happens to be a super-bright, passionate and talented baker/blogger, and more. If you don’t believe me, ask Martha Stewart who had Kaitlin herself on the show to demonstrate the making of the Rainbow Cake!

Rainbow Doodle Cake via Sweetapolita

I told Kaitlin that I think the fact that she left her buttercream Rainbow Cake white on the outside was complete brilliance and perfectly executed. I was tempted to do that as well, but I thought it would be so fun to let Reese design the outside of her own cake, so I covered the buttercream Rainbow Cake with some white fondant, chilled it overnight, and then handed her a pack of AmeriColor Food Colour Markers (below)–again, a dream come true for an artsy and infinitely creative kid like her. I ordered these pens awhile back, and promised her that someday soon she could colour on her own cake. She was so excited that she even sketched out some ideas on paper with regular markers, so that she was ready and prepared (this is so my child). First thing she did was write her first name, then her full name, then a number 4. Then she thought about it, and just did whatever she wanted until the cake was filled with doodles. My personal favourite is the rainbow and the big yellow sun. Wouldn’t it be cute to make matching sugar cookies covered in white fondant, and let the kids decorate their own cookies at a birthday party? Or even writing guests’ names on fancy cookies as place cards. So much fun!

Rainbow Doodle Cake via Sweetapolita

What I absolutely love about this cake is the element of surprise and the wow-factor, when the first piece is cut and served. There was literally some audible gasps at the table when they saw the rainbow inside, and the kid inside of me couldn’t be more in love with rainbow layers (was a tween in the 80s, what can I say). The cake is made by dividing and colouring vanilla cake batter using gel colours (I used the recipe below, but any vanilla butter cake would work well) and baking in separate pans for 15 minutes each. The process was really a fun change for me and Reese helped colour all of the bowls of batter. This piece with “Alyea” on it makes me smile; I suppose that’s one way to claim your piece! I think I may start doing that around here. The cake itself was so delicious, and I just adore Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream, so that was the perfect addition to the vanilla cake and vanilla fondant. So decadent with all of that gorgeous buttercream!

Here’s our little birthday girl full of love, laughter, and life . . .

Just sitting around being cute and, well, four. It’s hard to believe that she’s four, actually. Sounds cliche, but it’s so true. When she was a baby, I used to sing “Turn Around” to her on a regular basis after hearing Grant’s stepmom sing it to her–every single time I sang that to her I would be crying before even the end of verse 1:

Where are you going my little one, little one
Where are you going my baby, my own
Turn around and you’re two
Turn around and you’re four
Turn around and you’re a young girl
Going out of the door

Okay, it seems that even writing about it makes me cry, but that’s exactly what happened: I turned around she was two, and then I turned around and she was four. Here’s my favourite photo of her when she was two:

 

My favourite of Reese’s modeling gigs–definitely a particularly proud mommy moment (sorry if that’s a total mommy brag)! Well, on second thought, I won’t complain that she’s four, because as the next verse of that song reminds me, I’ll turn around and she’ll be having “babes of her own.” I’ll take four and enjoy every minute of it.

Sweetapolita

An unexpected birthday highlight at the farm was driving Grandpa’s tractor for the first time. Apparently, she’s quite the driver!

After those tractor-driving lessons from Grandpa, she was ready to drive cousin Lucas’ Jeep, and did she ever.

Then it was time to hitch a ride with cousin Piper; now if only the closest Starbucks wasn’t 30 miles away . . .

Have a wonderful week! We were lucky enough to have another fun birthday dinner for Reese with Grant’s mom (Nanny) and sister, Mary, here at our house last night, and we’re about to have yet another tonight, since it’s her actual birthday today . . . a birthday Mardi Gras of sorts!

Here’s the recipe for the Rainbow Cake followed by my how-to for the Doodle Cake version:

Rainbow Doodle Birthday Cake         {click here for printable recipe}

Rainbow Cake via Whisk Kid

White Cake (but not really)

2 sticks (226 g) butter, room temp
2 1/3 c (466 g) sugar
5 egg whites, room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 c (375 g) all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 1/2 c (355 g) milk, warmed for 30 sec in microwave to bring to room temp
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple GEL food coloring. Liquid will not be vibrant enough!

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Oil and line how ever many 9” cake pans you have (I have three and I just reused them).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream the sugar and butter, then add the egg whites (I cracked them all into one bowl) and add them a little at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. Then, alternating between wet and dry, add the milk and flour mixture in two parts.

Divide the batter amongst 6 bowls (I did it by weight. Weigh your mixing bowl before you begin adding ingredients and then subtract the weight of the bowl from the final measurement after the batter is completed. Divide that number by six and add that weight of batter to each bowl), and then whisk a fair amount of the appropriate food color into each bowl. Keep in mind that the color of the unbaked batter will be the color of the baked batter. Pour into the pans and bake for 15 minutes each.

When you remove them from the oven, let them rest on the cooling rack, in the pan, for ten minutes. Then flip, cover, and stash them in the fridge to cool quickly.

Lemony Swiss Meringue Buttercream

To fill and crumb coat:
9 egg whites
1 ¾ c (350 g) sugar
4 sticks (454 g) of butter, room temp
2 tsp lemon extract

To frost:
5 egg whites
1 c (200 g) sugar
2 sticks (227 g) butter, room temp
1 tsp lemon extract

Cook the egg whites and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved (test by rubbing some between your fingers. If it’s completely smooth, it’s done). Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on a medium-slow speed, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. After all the butter has been added, turn the mixer back to high speed and whip until it has come together, about five minutes. Add the extract, beat briefly and then use.

If the buttercream seems soupy after all of the butter is added and does not come together after whipping, refrigerate for 5 to 7 minutes and continue whipping until it becomes fluffy and workable.

Assembly
Stack the layers in your preferred order and fill and frost as you would any other cake.

Sweetapolita’s Notes & Doodle Cake How-To:

1. For tips & tricks on making Swiss Meringue Buttercream, both Kaitlin & I have posts about this, so lots of info!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified and How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • You may find my previous post 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes helpful with this cake (and hopefully others).
  • I was worried at first that I somehow made the layers too thin, but they were perfect, so don’t panic when they seem almost pancake-like! Once you pile 6 of those layers and all of that buttercream, the cake is a perfect height. Mine was about 4.5″ high. Use a 9-inch,  1/4″ thick cake board when building the cake.
  • To make the doodle cake, cover the buttercream cake in white fondant and refrigerate overnight. You will need approximately 2 lbs, 3 oz of fondant for a 9″ round 5″ high cake. Remove cake from refrigerator and let child (or anyone!) colour all over cake using AmeriColor Food Colour Markers (below). Place cake back in refrigerator every 15 minutes or so, if it begins to soften before child is finished (otherwise you will get dents in the cake). It’s also fun to have everyone at a birthday party sign the cake, write a message, draw a picture, etc!
  • You can store finished cake in refrigerator, but serve at room temperature or buttercream won’t be soft enough and the flavours won’t come through as intended. I typically take this type of fondant-covered cake out of refrigerator about 6 hours before serving. Just a note the cake will dent very easily when ready to serve,  so avoid touching the cake itself.
  • As another kids craft cake alternative, you may like Paintable Chocolate Peanut Butter & Jelly Cakes.

You can find the AmeriColor Food Colour Markers here:

*A note about the rainbow cake colours: I used AmeriColor electric gel colours to get such vibrant hues in the cake while adding minimal colouring. Here are the colours I used and links to find them:

Electric Purple AmeriColor Gel Colour – Electric Purple – 4 oz
Electric Blue AmeriColor Gel Colour – Electric Blue – 4 oz
Electric Green AmeriColor Gel Colour – Electric Green – oz
Electric Yellow AmeriColor Gel Colour – Electric Yellow – 4 oz
Electric Orange AmeriColor Gel Colour – Electric Orange – 4 oz
Super Red AmeriColor Gel Colour – Super Red – 4 oz

Good luck & enjoy!



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