Sugar & Spice Delight Cake

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Well it seems that, somehow, between hours of mad baking, book writing, recipe testing and getting my cakelets back to school, it became autumn. I’m pretty sure it was summer last time I looked out the window, but nope–not so much! And when there are crisp winds, changing leaves and backpacks, my head and heart naturally say it’s time for sugary, spicy, pumpkiny baked delights . . .

And although I was certain that the Autumn Delight Cake from last year was my go-to for towering sugar and spice cravings, I decided to go for a true pumpkin version and then switch up the fillings and frostings. Tradition pumpkin pie is one of my favourite desserts of all time, and covered in real whipped cream and sprinkles of cinnamon and sugar is the ultimate. But to me, where there is cinnamon there should be gooey cinnamon buns. My heart is divided!

So this cake is an ode to my love for pumpkin pie, cinnamon buns and, well, cake.

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So what is the Sugar & Spice Delight Cake exactly?

Well, it’s 6 thin layers of moist pumpkin and crystallized-ginger cake topped with a layer of super-cinnamony and buttery Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling (think the middle of a Cinnabon), which is then topped with fluffy-as-air Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream and then the layered cake is covered in that cream-cheesy, sugary frosting fluffiness that usually adorns those beloved Cinnabons. Oh and some cinnamon and sugar sprinkled whipped cream poofs on top never hurts either. So I guess what I’m trying to say it you must bake this cake! Bake it, eat it, share it, marry it. I’m certain you won’t regret any of those decisions.

I actually made this cake twice for this post. The first time I found it had too much pumpkin puree and too much crystallized ginger, so I did the whole thing again (while my husband shook his head with utter confusion), and that was that. Guys, honestly, it really came together in taste the way I hoped, and it is really is a sugar and spice delight. It is decadent, but the whipped cream filling is so light and airy that it really balances it out.

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Yep.

So more specifically, the pumpkin & ginger cake layers are essentially the sweet potato cake layers (minus the sweet potato and add the pumpkin) from my Autumn Delight Cake, the Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting is from my Cinnabon-Style Gourmet Cinnamon Buns, and the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling is that found in many of my cakes (I love this stuff). The Cinnamon Sugar Spread, though, is something that is really simple yet goodness-me, so amazing. Who knew melted butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla could be so awesome? Actually, I think we all knew that, but I just never thought to spread it in my cakes until now. You can also smother it on pancakes, waffles, toast . . . spouses. Anything.

As a side note, I know some of you have had issues in the past with getting the Whipped Cream Filling recipe to come together, so I’ve modified it slightly for ease. You shouldn’t have any issues now! We add less confectioners’ sugar and sprinkle it in once the whipped cream begins to thicken, so basically we’re just whipping cream (in a super cold stainless bowl) before adding the confectioners’ sugar and stabilizing gelatine mixture.

Stabilized whipped cream makes the most amazing filling because, like I mentioned above, it’s light as air and not sweet at all. It can also stand the weight of the layers, which comes in handy! I turn to this often when I want to include other really sweet elements into the cake, and as much as I love sweet frosting, I find it too much when it’s both inside and outside the cake. You know? It’s also great when you want to pipe whipped cream on top of a cake, as it will remain stable for days (in the fridge, of course).

So, let’s make this cake!

November 28th, 2013 Note: I’ve increased the flour for the cake layers, to ensure the cake doesn’t get over-taken by the pumpkin’s moisture. There shouldn’t be any trouble with this issue now.

December 31st, 2013: I’ve also decreased the pumpkin puree, so the cake should bake up nicely and not be over-powered by the pumpkin.

Sugar & Spice Delight Cake

Yield: One 6-layer, 8-inch round cake

6 layers of moist pumpkin & ginger cake smothered in buttery cinnamon sugar and filled with vanilla bean whipped cream and frosted in Cinnabon-style cream cheese vanilla frosting.

Ingredients

    For the Pumpkin Ginger Cake:
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (315 ml) sunflower oil (or vegetable, safflower, canola oil)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) pure pumpkin puree (canned works well)
  • 3 cups (345 g) cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon (7 g) ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (7 g) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (3 g) ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.5 g) ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) brandy or dark rum
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup (60 g) chopped crystallized ginger
  • For the Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling:
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) ground cinnamon (I love Vietnamese Cinnamon for its intensity)
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling:
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) cold water
  • 1 packet (1 tablespoon) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
  • 2 3/4 cups (660 ml) whipping cream (35-37% fat), cold, divided
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla bean paste, or pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1 package (250 g) cream cheese, softened 30 mins
  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, softened 30 mins
  • 4 cups (500 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoon (5 ml) clear vanilla extract (or pure vanilla extract)
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange flavor oil (or 1/4 teaspoon orange extract), if possible

Instructions

    For the Pumpkin Ginger Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, dust with flour, tap out excess and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and eggs together on medium-high speed (I use #6 on KitchenAid) until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and beat on medium until combined. Add the cooled pumpkin puree and mix until combined.
  3. Sift dry ingredients together (cake flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and ground ginger) and then add to pumpkin/egg mixture.
  4. Mix in brandy/dark rum (I used dark rum) and vanilla. Gently stir in crystallized ginger.
  5. Evenly distribute batter into the prepared pans (weigh them if possible with digital kitchen scale for 560 g per pan), smooth with a small offset palette knife and place in the center of the middle rack of the oven, about 2 inches apart. (Depending on your oven, you will likely need to bake 2 pans, followed by the third.) Bake until a knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
  6. Let pans cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack and cool them completely.
  7. For the Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling:
  8. In a medium bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter, vanilla and salt.
  9. For the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling:
  10. In a small stainless steel bowl, place the cold water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of the cream just to a simmer, then stir into the gelatin mixture until the gelatin has dissolved. Refrigerate, stirring frequently, until cool but not set, about 8 minutes. (Be careful to keep your eye on it, or you'll end up with Panna Cotta!)
  11. In a chilled stainless steel mixer bowl with a chilled whisk attachment, beat the remaining whipping cream until it thickens just slightly, and then add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla bean paste and salt until very soft peaks begin to form, about 1 minute. Very gradually add the gelatin mixture and continue beating until medium-firm peaks form (should be thick enough to spread, but not spongy). Keep covered and chilled until ready to use.
  12. For the Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
  13. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the cream cheese and butter for 6 minutes on low speed (#2 on KitchenAid Mixer).
  14. Add 2 cups (250 g) of the confectioners' sugar and mix for 1 minute on low speed. Add the remaining icing sugar and mix for an additional 2 minutes. Add the flavors and mix for 1 minute on medium-high speed.
  15. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
  16. Assembly of the Sugar & Spice Delight Cake:
  17. Chill cake layers until cold and firm. Slice all three cake layers in half horizontally, so you have 6 cake layers total.
  18. Smear a small dollop of the frosting on the plate, pedestal or cake board, and place your first layer cut side up (so bottom of the cake layer is touching plate), and spread 1/5th of the Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling on the layer, followed by ~3/4 cup of Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling with a small offset palette knife, leaving 1" or so around the edge.
  19. Repeat previous step until you get to the final cake layer. Place last layer face down, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill cake for at least 30-40 minutes to set.
  20. Frost entire cake with a thin "coat" of Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat frosting, using a turntable and palette knife to create texture (as in photo)--use one hand to turn the turntable and hold the palette knife in the other hand. Keep palette knife in place and let the turntable do the moving. Top with dollops of the remaining Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling. Sprinkle with cinnamon and white sugar. Chill cake to set.
  21. Finished cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Keep refrigerated if longer than 8 hours, but serve at room temperature (although it does taste very good cold!.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Pumpkin cake is similar to other spice cakes, carrot cakes, etc. in that it not only lasts several days in the refrigerator but almost gets better with age. It retains its moisture so well that you can make it up to two days ahead, chill and serve at room temperature, however it also tastes great cold!
  • The cake layers are essentially the same as the Sweet Potato Cake layers from the Autumn Delight Cake, but with pumpkin puree in place of the sweet potato puree and less crystallized ginger.
  • If you’d rather not be bothered with slicing the baked layers, you can always serve this as a 3-layer cake–I doubt anyone would complain!
  • The Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling can be made the day ahead and covered in plastic wrap. To soften for spreading, simply microwave for about 10 seconds, or until it has softened enough to spread. On a sidenote, this spread is amazing on toast, pancakes, waffles or pretty much anything. And just when you thought cinnamon was cinnamon, there are several varieties, and each one will yield a very different taste in your baked goods.
  • The Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting is very fluffy and almost “loose” because we’ve beat the cream cheese to smithereens, but it tastes so good and creamy this way. I personally like using a really soft frosting consistency when frosting a cake, but it does take getting used to it wanting to slip and slide. If you find it too soft you can refrigerate the frosting itself until more firm, and in turn if you over-chill it and it’s too firm, you can soften in the microwave in very short intervals (about 10 seconds). It’s very forgiving. Just be sure to “beat” any air pockets out of it with a rubber spatula in a back-and-forth motion against the sides of the bowl.

Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

7 Beautifying Baking Ingredients

As some of you might know, I have a bit of a history with cake and beauty. I’ve always been a total girl’s girl–you know, hooked on dresses, lip gloss, fancy skin cream and the like. I’ve also always been obsessed with baked goods (what gave that away?). So, in light of wanting to make these two passions my career, by the time I was 26, I decided to marry my fascination for cake with my love for all things girly together in one sweet flurry–I created a collection of bath and body products made from high quality “baking” ingredients, blended and whipped together in the same way we would make sweet frostings or batters.

It took about a year researching ingredients and recipes, and of course serious concocting in the kitchen, but finally the initial line of “cakey” lotions, suds and scrubs was born. After a year of studying and working with of the best natural oils and butters on the market, I learned that we can achieve the most gloriously gorgeous skin using just a handful of these chemical-free, all-natural ingredients. And even though I left the company in the hands of my business partner several years later, my love for gorgeous skin and hair lives on–I continue to smother my skin in the very same ingredients we use to bake our beloved cakes and confections–they’re just too good and always in my pantry.

Besides, us baking junkies cannot live on baked goods alone, right? We all love our skin and hair to feel nourished, youthful and glowing (you know, for those days we actually leave the kitchen). So let’s talk beauty, baby:

*As with anything that you’re applying to your skin, you’ll want to do a little patch test, before using all over your face or body, particularly if you have sensitive skin.

HONEY

Aside from its divine taste and texture, honey is said to have countless health benefits and medicinal uses, a lot of which have to do with its anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties, among others. Honey seems to be a heal-all, including working as a treatment for cuts, wounds, sore throats, hangovers, energy-boosting and many more. But honey also boasts several beauty benefits. It is known for its soothing properties and for being a natural humectant (naturally attracts and retains moisture), so needless to say it’s a sweet addition to any beauty routine.

Here are some (of many) ways I like to use honey in my beauty routine:

  • Mixing a squeeze of honey with coconut oil or shea butter for a sweet-as-can-be body moisturizer.
  • Adding a few generous squeezes of honey (about 1/2 to 1 cup) to warm bath water for a luxurious bath (I have to admit, I do feel slightly Cleopatra-esque doing this, but I think we all need to feel that way whenever possible.) It feels incredibly silky and leaves the skin smooth as can be.
  • Squeezing a teaspoon of honey into your palm and mixing with my shampoo in shower for taming my rather processed, tangly, curly hair prior to conditioning.

You can learn more about the benefits of honey here.

7 Beautifying Baking Ingredients via Sweetapolita

SUGAR

So it’s true, sugar isn’t necessarily the most magical ingredient for the inside of our bodies–we know this. (Which is why we all keep our sugar intake to a minimum, right? Right. Ahem.) But, sugar is a fabulous beauty ingredient. It’s also helpful that it’s likely always in your cupboard, ready and waiting to beautify the baker (that’s you).

One of the main benefits of sugar (when used on the skin) is that it contains glycolic acid (Alpha hydroxy acid). Glycolic acid penetrates the skin easily, and is said to reduce wrinkles and remedy hyper-pigmentation (along with many other skin conditions). With its ability to “peel away” dead skin cells, it is a natural exfoliant, revealing the healthy, live cells beneath which gives our skin that vibrancy and glow we all yearn for. The sugar granules themselves are also an exfoliant and are a great way to bind other skin-saving oils (eg. olive oil) to create the ultimate natural skin product. (It’s also handy that sugar acts as a natural preservative, giving our homemade beauty products a longer shelf life.)

You can use any type of sugar in your beauty routine, but just note that the finer the sugar granule, the gentler the exfoliation. You can use it on its own, but I find it’s easier to combine with some olive oil, coconut oil or other beautifying base-oils, such as sweet almond oil or jojoba oil (these are found at health food shops or online).

From finest to most coarse, I use brown sugarcaster sugar (aka superfine sugar), granulated sugar, or raw sugar (aka turbinado sugar). You can, though, use any kind of sugar you may have or come across. Just remember that if you are using on your face, I would stick to brown sugar or caster sugar and apply in small, gentle circles before rinsing thoroughly. For your body, any of the sugars would work well–I use turbinado mixed with some lavender white sugar (and oils) for my body scrubs, and apply 3 times per week (the sugar dissolves down the shower drain). I don’t, however, recommend using a sugar scrub in the tub–the granules tend to sink to the bottom and can aggravate your, um, parts. Let us stick to the sink or shower for our exfoliating adventures.

EGGS

With their protein-richness and nutrients, it’s not a surprise that eggs can make a nourishing and natural beauty ingredient. Both egg whites and egg yolks can be used in at-home beauty care, both for nourishing facial and hair treatments. While I have to admit that I don’t feel particularly comfortable rubbing raw eggs on my face, but I have been known to smother my rather large, frequently coloured and potentially dry hair in whole eggs for a rich boost of moisture and shine.

There are many egg-based hair treatment recipes out there, but I like to keep it simple–break an egg (or in my land of big-hair, 2 eggs) into a bowl and whisk (scrambled eggs, anyone?). Get into the shower and work the mixture into dry hair from root to ends. Leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing with COOL water, not hot water, or you will end up with cooked eggy bits in your mane, and that’s never good. Once completely rinsed, shampoo and condition as usual.

7 Beautifying Baking Ingredients via Sweetapolita

COCONUT OIL

Let’s just call this the sweet-miracle ingredient. I keep a big jar of this stuff in my kitchen and bathroom at all times–it’s readily available at grocery stores, health food stores, online, etc. (try Trader Joe’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil) and I use it often. At only about 50 cents per ounce (or less if you buy in bulk), it’s hard to find a reason not to. The actual health benefits of coconut oil are seemingly endless: When used in cooking and baking, it has been scientifically linked to such things as weight loss, increased energy and lower blood cholesterol levels, just to name a few.

If that’s not enough of a reason to start buying it by the truckload, let’s talk about how it can make us even more dazzling. Back in my body-lotion-making days, I couldn’t get enough of coconut oil in my formulas–it’s so rich and creamy and leaves the loveliest sheen to the skin. (And no chemicals. Imagine?) You can use coconut oil straight out of the jar as a nourishing and effective makeup removerbody moisturizer (it’s a bit greasy for a face moisturizer though), massage oil, deep hair treatmenthair-styling cream to ease frizz and add sheen, lip balm and more.

Here are just a few of the ways I love to use coconut oil in my beauty routine:

  • Placing a small amount of the oil on a cotton round to remove my eye makeup. I love how easily it takes off even the blackest of mascaras, and moisturizes that sensitive eye area all the while (just don’t get it in your eyes).
  • Adding a scoop to homemade brown sugar body scrub (see below) used every few days in the shower. The coconut oil adds extra richness and leaves a gorgeous sheen (soap, albeit very necessary, is super-drying, so this is a fabulous skin-quench to apply after you use shower suds of any kind).
  • Using directly out of the jar post-shower as a full body moisturizer, rubbing it into nails as well for a cuticle treatment and nourishment (you can also try adding a bit of honey and rubbing together before massaging into skin–sweet decadence!).
  • Using as a once-per-week deep hair treatment by massaging into hair (starting a few inches below roots working through to ends), leaving on for 10 minutes and then applying shampoo, washing and rinsing in the shower (don’t rinse before adding shampoo, or it will remain greasy for days).
  • Applying to lips as a decadent lip balm, nails as a nail and cuticle balm and feet as a foot cream. (I also love using it on my dry hands, but because it does have a light greasiness to it, so you just want to be sure to really work it in.)

Learn more about the health benefits of coconut oil here (there are plenty!).

OLIVE OIL

With large amounts of vitamin A, D, and, as well as vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant–antioxidants kill free radicals which cause our skin to show the signs of aging), olive oil is another miracle oil of sorts–its uses and benefits are seemingly endless, for both health and beauty. Back in the very beginning of my natural-beauty-product-making days, while researching all of the various oils and their properties, I remember being shocked to discover all of the amazing beauty benefits of olive oil–an oil I thought was just for cooking. I immediately started using it as a moisturizer and nail oil for weeks before working it into some of the product “recipes.” I noticed a remarkable transformation in the softness, sheen and texture of my skin. Just remember that olive oil imparts a subtle and distinct “olive oil” scent.

Here are some ways in which you use can olive oil in your beauty routine:

  • Using an olive-oil based sugar scrub in the shower (you can also include the coconut oil mentioned above, among other ingredients in this list.) for a decadent and nourishing skin treatment.
  • Applying all over body for a skin-sheen and hit of moisture.
  • Applying a few drops to a cotton round to removing makeup (and as with commercial makeup remover, you just don’t want to get it in your eyes).
  • Working into hands, feet, heels and elbows (or any other dry patches or areas of skin) for and instant treatment, either on its own or mixed with honey.
  • Filling a small dish with olive oil and soaking nails for a few moments to soften cuticles for a mini at-home manicure (soak for a few minutes and then gently push the cuticles down prior to painting your nails).
  • Adding a few tablespoons of olive oil to warm bath water for moisture and lighter layer of sheen.

Learn more about the many health benefits of olive oil here.

COCOA BUTTER

Dessert for your skin!

Okay, so you may not already have this in your pantry, unless you’re making your own chocolate, but this makes for not only an amazing baking ingredient (try it–it’s awesome), but incredible asset to your natural beauty ingredient arsenal (you can buy it at health food stores or online, such as on amazon: Cocoa Butter). Cocoa butter is high in antioxidants and is extremely nourishing. Much like chocolate, the cocoa butter itself is solid at room temperature but begins to soften and melt with the warmth of your hands, so it makes an ideal massage bar and body butter–it’s creamy, rich, nourishing and velvety. It also has the most delightful-but-subtle chocolaty confection scent to it, naturally–pure decadence for your skin, lips and nails.

My aunt and uncle used to work in a chocolate factory, and I remember when I was a teen, they would bring me home huge chunks of cocoa butter. I loved using it as a body butter then, and I love it now. (However, if I was writing this blog then, I may have to told you that to achieve the ultimate goddess-like tan, you should smother yourself in it and lay on a scorching black roof with your best friend whilst listening to Guns ‘N Roses. That would have been very, very bad advice.)

But, I can tell you that cocoa butter does have some amazing uses for natural beauty and care . . .

Here are some of the ways you can use cocoa butter in your beauty routine:

  • Use a chunk of raw cocoa butter as a massage bar, which in turn becomes an rich and nourishing moisturizer.
  • Apply to lips as a decadent (and yummy-smelling) lip balm.
  • Rub into nails for an effective nail treatment and natural shine.
  • Melt 1 part cocoa butter and 1 part coconut oil over a double boiler until melted, remove from heat and add a squeeze of honey and stir until combined. pour into a glass jar and let cool. Use on dry skin or all over body for a sweet and decadent body butter.

BAKING SODA

So it does seem a little strange to be using the same thing for our beautiful-ness as we do to deodorize our refrigerators and bake our cakes with, but it seems there are countless ways to tie this everyday ingredient into our skin and hair care routines (you’ll just want to keep the box of baking soda in the fridge, in the fridge). And since you likely always have baking soda on hand, it just might be time to give it a few other cheap and cheerful purposes. Think purifying and clean. Super clean.

Here are some nifty ways you can work this clarifying ingredient into your beauty routine:

  • For a quick and super-affordable dry shampoo, use a clean, medium-sized make up brush dipped in baking soda (with excess tapped off) and blot along your oily roots. Leave on for about a minute and then shake hair with your hands to distribute and rid of any excess. The baking soda will absorb all of the grease and leave your hair feeling ready for (yet) another day.
  • Create an effective, natural face cleanser by mixing 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water, and apply to damp skin in a gentle, circular motion. Rinse well with lukewarm water and pat dry. This is gentle enough to use several days per week, particularly in the summer when our skin generates more oil.
  • Sprinkle some baking soda onto the regular amount of toothpaste on your brush, and brush your teeth as usual for a homemade tooth whitener.

So there we have it! There are so many more, but these are the ingredients I use the most in my beauty routine. And if you’re not the type of person who feels comfortable smothering and slathering kitchen cupboard ingredients on themselves, try looking for beauty products that contain one or some of these ingredients–I bet you’ll notice a difference.

And if you’re eager to get buffing, here’s the 5-minute brown sugar body scrub I make and use 3 times per week for a gorgeous, super-healthy glow:

Decadent Brown Sugar Body Scrub

Ingredients

  • 2 cups turbinado (raw) sugar (or 1 1/2 cups turbinado plus 1/2 cup lavender sugar, if you have it)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Instructions

  1. In a wide-mouthed glass jar, add all of the ingredients and stir to combine. Keep lid on jar between uses.
  2. Apply to body in a circular motion and rinse. Use up to three times per week.

Notes

In a pinch, you can use straight turbinado sugar and olive oil--it will still be a decadent exfoliation and nourishing treatment for your skin!

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Do you have other ways in which you incorporate baking ingredients into your beauty routine? I’d love to hear about them!

See you soon with a baked good recipe!

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!

Related posts:

Steps to Making the Perfect Sugar Cookie (and Cookie Pop)

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

Modest title, right? Okay, well, I am proud of my sugar cookies, so don’t mind me. I’ve been baking up batches like crazy these days, so I feel as though I have it down to a science. Funny, I used to make them primarily for special occasions, but they have become such a nice treat for pretty much anytime at all, simply because they taste so good. Sure, I decorate the heck out of them typically, but the cookies themselves are so good that I often eat them simple and plain. Crisp, sugary, and vanilla-y, which is just what a sugar cookie should be. The dough is the perfect consistency for rolling and cutting; and the batch is a really workable size, in my opinion. I’ve had a bunch of readers ask for my sugar cookie recipe, and albeit simple, to me it really is perfect. So, I thought now would be a good time to share it, and my steps to making them, with you, so that we can keep going with of plenty of decorated versions, and that we’re all on the same sugar-cookie-basics page. I have to admit that I get told often that these cookies taste better than most, including the ones at Starbucks :)

I started adding pure lemon extract to the batter in addition to the vanilla. This came to me after becoming hooked on the lemony-vanilla flavour in some Italian animal crackers I bought for the girls that tasted just like McDonaldland Cookies (Italians worldwide are cringing as we speak). I’ve added my own steps for the chilling/rolling/cutting process in the method below with what works for me. It may seem like a lot of work, but I promise that it’s worth it. I learned, over the years, that if the cookies are baked with anything less than perfectly chilled dough, that they expand and don’t keep their clean intended shapes. So frustrating, but avoidable.

So here are some photos to help us along, and since I was making cookie pops this past weekend, I thought I would add that bit into this tutorial, just in case you felt inspired to make cookie pops; they too can be frustrating if the correct steps aren’t taken. I purposely left the decorating portion out of this post, so that we can focus on the fundamentals of baking the cookies themselves. I want to say, though, that making sugar cookies is about personal preference, just as any technique is, and this is my way, but not necessarily the only way.

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

I’ve included explicit instructions for the sugar cookie recipe/chilling/rolling/baking below, but to give you a visual of the cookie pop process as well, I’ve included some extra photos. Here is the cookie dough after well-chilled and rolled using 2 dowels for even thickness and sandwiched between 2 pieces of parchment. This yields a perfectly even sheet of dough for cutting. I always slide this entire thing, minus the dowels, onto a large cutting board and place into refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

I then take the chilled sheet of dough out of the fridge and begin cutting my shapes. For cookie pops, I tend to cut one at a time, insert the cookie stick, place on baking sheet, and then move on to cutting the next cookie. On a side-note, let me say that collecting cookie cutters is slightly addictive!

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

So when making cookie pops, I take my cut shape, make sure it’s near the edge of my board, gently place my left hand on top of the cookie shape, and using my right (dominant) hand, I slowly insert the end of the cookie stick (found at baking supply shops) into the bottom of the cookie, using a slow, turning motion. This really helps minimize breakage of the dough when inserted . . .

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

But, as we all know, hearts can be broken, so after inserting the stick, although the top of the cookie looks perfect, when I gently (and I mean so, so gently) turn the cookie over with a sharp spatula, I see that the bottom has broken a bit. But, that’s okay, we can fix that . . .

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

I take little wee bits of the cookie dough scraps and patch it up with my fingers (now is a good time to use some nice clean food prep sanitary gloves). See, all better. Now oh-so-carefully pinch the bottom of the cookie, where the stick meets it, and ensure it’s secure. I then place each cookie pop onto the cookie sheet using a cookie spatula.

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

Here they are ready to go into the oven, using a baker’s mat. (I use Silpat Mats and clean Nordic Ware aluminum bakers half sheets, and I reserve the half sheets for cookie baking only, to keep them pristine.)

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

And baked! I find the key is letting them get a golden edge, but also a light golden hue–otherwise, I find they aren’t crispy on the outside. They look so ready for some serious cookie decorating.

The Perfect Sugar Cookie (and Cookie Pop)

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

Buttery, crisp and classic vanilla, these sugar cookies are ideal for decorating, snacking, tea-time or gifting. If the steps are followed, they will keep their shapes well and won't expand while baking.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (454 g)(4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened for about 20 minutes at room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1 tablespoon (15 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 325° 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

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

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For other Sweetapolita cookie decorating ideas, here are a few from popular past posts that you may like Milk & Cookie Cookies, Artist Palette & Paintbrush Cookies, or Neapolitan Milk & Chocolate Cookies.

I find I’m drawn to using fondant for my cookie decorating–not always, but often. If you’d like to read some seriously great cookie decorating tutorials, ideas, tips, and more, with a focus on royal icing designs, here are some of my fabulous cookie-goddess friends’ blogs that I know you will love, if you don’t already, that is. These reigning queens of cookie are incredible at what they do (in no particular order):

Bridget, Bake at 350

Callye, The Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle

Gail, One Tough Cookie

Marian, Sweetopia

Glory, Glorious Treats

Good luck & enjoy!

 

Sugar Cookie recipe adapted from my class at Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts

 

 

 

 

Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts has been teaching the art of cake design, decorating, and sugarcraft since 2008. They offer professional level programs for those committed to pursuing a career in cake design and a variety of continuing education for all skill levels.

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