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31 December 2012

Arrivederci 2012

Well, we made it through another year.  Here's to 2012; the memories made, the friendships forged, the days we won't forget, and all the rest - good and bad.  May your 2013 be even better with less of the "bad" and more of the "good."

I stumbled across this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald the other day and thought it was a perfect sentiment to not only start the New Year with, but to keep in mind everyday.  After all, any time is a good time to make a change.


I hope you do.  Happy 2013!


27 December 2012

The Run Down

I survived the Christmas season!  How about you?  I hope you had a fabulous holiday, even if you were a bit stressed and stretched at the seams.  I was, but would we be happy any other way?

In case you're curious, my Christmas was great.  I spent time with family and friends and we even got some snow.  Which meant we had a white Christmas, but more importantly we maybe eked out a tenth of an inch of moisture...one of the best presents our area could receive right now.  We would have gladly taken more!

But, anywho, on to the Christmas cookies; the cookies that pretty much consumed my December.  Cookie Monster may always want a cookie, but at this point I definitely don't.  *sigh*

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A few statistics from the cookie carousel:
  • Cookies baked:  52 dozen (624 individual cookies)
  • Pounds of butter used:  17
  • Pounds of powdered sugar used:  48
  • Sheet pans borrowed:  6
  • Rolls of parchment paper used:  4
  • Burns sustained from hot pans and/or oven:  5
  • Average decorated cookie completion rate:  3 dozen/hour
  • Days spent baking:  2
  • Days spent decorating:  8
I was pretty pleased with my burn rate this year - I think it's down from previous years, even though the cookie count was up.  I must admit though that it's this time of year when I most seriously consider finding a temporary sous chef; but haven't cracked under the pressure yet.  Luckily, I've figured out a decent system to keep everything running smoothly for the most part.  I'm basically a cookie making machine once I get rolling.

Of course, there are things that happen that are out of my control.  Like a winter storm with 60 mph winds, snirt (snow + dirt, for those of you unfamiliar with the term), and loss of electricity.

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Yep...I boxed cookies by lantern light.  I can honestly say this is the first time I've had to do that, but orders must go out on time, so a resourceful baker does what she has to do.

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Oh, and since the cookies weren't keeping me busy enough, I also whipped up a few dozen mini cupcakes for a birthday.

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Yes, those are Christmas cookies in the background.  I'm telling you, there's a point where there's no escaping the cookie.

And, since I couldn't very well just feed the fam Christmas cookies as dessert on the 25th, I also made some pies and other sweets.

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Mini peanut butter pies, anyone?  Yep, I used store-bought graham crusts.  I'm not ashamed, they work like a charm and save me time.  In addition, there was also puppy chow, homemade reeses, grape salad, lumps of coal, and apple pie dip.  Oh, and rice krispies treats, which ironically enough, went the fastest of anything. My group is sometimes happiest with the simplest, most classic things.  C'est la vie.

Do you have big plans for ringing in the new year?



25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!


Happy Holidays!  Or whatever sentiment would be proper for the season you observe!  Wishing you the best today and in the year to come.  Oh, and just a quick reminder:


Try to remember this today - especially when the in-laws start to drive you crazy or the kids have already given up on the new toys, or your exhaustion with the entire escapade starts to set in.  These are the times, and these are the days, that you can never go back and "do over."  Embrace the crazy, live, laugh, and love.

Mmm...tasty!




21 December 2012

The End of the World

Well, probably not if you're reading this.  Somehow I don't think there would be Internet access if the world had ended.  Guess the Mayans missed that prediction...

Since I'm obviously not one of those who prepared for the end of the world, bet you're wondering what I'm up to today?

Well, I'm certainly not veggin'...

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Though I am off work from my full-time, real job today.

Nope, rather I'm feeling like I'm racing around; life is a highway after all.

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And, just because it is the season, a few more Christmas cookies!  Yay!

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Side note, I've finally found a use for this giant sheet pan.  It's about twice the size of my regular sheet pans; notice how tiny the "normal" size pan looks in the background.  But the giant one is perfect for holding sugar cookies prior to boxing them.  Yep, nothing like having that one tool that you only use a few times a year, and requires precious space to store. Hah!

Oh, and how about some authentic Southern pound cakes - chocolate and original.

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Hope you have a Merry Christmas!  I'll have one more after Christmas, Christmas cookie post next week.  You'll want to stop by - I'm planning to give you the run down on the cookie adventures.

Talk to you soon!

20 December 2012

2nd Birthday Gift Winner

We have a winner for the Williams-Sonoma gift card I'm giving away for the blog's second anniversary!  Drum roll please...

The winner is comment #3, as picked by Random.org.
The comment was left by C.J. whose favorite part of the season is the cold weather.  I have to agree, just wish I lived in a part of the world that had more of it.

To claim your prize, C.J., send an email to sugaredconfectionsblog@gmail.com with your contact information and I'll get your winnings on the way to you.

Thanks for playing!

18 December 2012

New & Nifty: Stacked Wines


This may not be such an issue at the holidays, since it seems like there are always people around, but do you ever yearn for a glass of wine, but hate to open a new bottle because you know you won't (or at least you don't plan to) finish it?

If so, let me introduce you to Stacked.  What is it?  A tower of four individual cups of wine that snap together to equal a full bottle.  It's perfect for sharing.  Or not.  For on the go, since it's already in a glass.  Or staying at home, since you won't have to dirty any additional dishes (did I mention it's already in the glass?).  It currently comes in four varietals:  cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, and pinot grigio.  And, if you only feel like one glass, you no longer have to worry about wasting the rest of a bottle.

Mmm...tasty!

P.S. You've still got time to enter the Blogiversary giveaway!  You can do so until 12 pm CST tomorrow (12/19); just click here.

*Disclaimer:  Stacked Wines has no idea who I am and they didn't ask me to say nice things about their product.  I just wanted to share a new product that I found fun and innovative.

14 December 2012

Spiced Pecans

Need a healthy snack during the holidays?  Or really anytime for that matter?  If so, might I suggest these spiced pecans?

They are a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet and are perfect for snacking or to serve as an appetizer.  Oh, and they are a quick fix, too, just 20 minutes plus cooling.  I prefer the pecans warm, right out of the oven, but if you'll be storing them, make sure you let them cool completely.

Don't be concerned if some of your pecans look burnt (unless you forget and leave them in the oven too long...then, yes, be concerned), that's just the spicy goodness caramelizing.  Trust me, the ones that look the most burnt are usually the best and most flavorful.

Couple of additional tips:  1.  Make sure you line your pan with parchment paper, you'll be glad you did.  2. Look for whole coriander in the "ethnic" aisle of your grocery store; you'll pay a fraction of the cost and you'll get considerably more flavor by crushing the seeds immediately prior to use.  I usually find whole spices in the aisle with the Mexican/Spanish foods.  Price comparison?  At my local grocery, the whole coriander in the "ethnic" aisle was $1; the pre-ground stuff in the spice aisle was nearly $5...that's a big difference!

Spiced Pecans
Printable Recipe
Adapted Slightly From Runner's World Magazine
Prep:  5 minutes,  Cook Time:  15 minutes
Yield:  4 to 5 cups

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Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 cups pecan halves
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp crushed coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
Preparation:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place the pecan halves in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk together the soy sauce, cayenne, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, brown sugar, and olive oil in a small bowl until well combined.
  3. Pour the marinade over the pecans and toss until the pecans are well coated.
  4. Spread the pecans on the prepared baking sheet and roast at 350°F for approximately 15 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container or serve immediately.
Happy baking!

13 December 2012

Infinity and Beyond

Bet you can't guess what this first cake is themed around.  The aliens in the series are my favorite, though  not the biggest characters.  Oh, and I just recently watched #2 and #3; yeah, I'm a little behind the times.  Did the baby in the third movie give any of the rest of you shudders?  Creepy...

Anywho, the cake!

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The figurines, candle, and wings weren't edible, but everything else was including the "cardboard" box topper.  This was one of those cakes that I had to transport unfinished, so I didn't get to snap any plain background photos.  *sigh*  Here's one of the cake before it left my kitchen - minus the wings, topper, and characters; it might give you a better idea of the cake itself.

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I also created this "groovy" sweet sixteen cake this week.  I was a bit stumped for a design originally, but ended up loving the bright, over-sized flowers.  The writing was cut on the Silhouette using a chocolate icing sheet...it didn't taste very much like chocolate though.  Trust me.

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And, because it's that time of year, a few of the first batch of "official" Christmas cookies!

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I added a few new designs this year:  the 8-point star, the light bulb, and a penguin.  Speaking of cookies, I better go start baking, I've got around 400 more cookies to bake and decorate before December 22nd.  Not sure my kitchen is going to hold them all...I'll keep you posted!

Oh!  And don't forget to enter the "Blogiversary" giveaway; you could win a $25 Williams-Sonoma gift card.  You can enter here.

Talk to you soon!

11 December 2012

Reuse Parchment


If you use parchment paper when baking cookies, don't throw it out after only one use.  You can continue to use the same piece of parchment paper until the edges start to brown or until you change the flavor of cookie.  Saves time and a few pennies!

Mmm...tasty!
P.S. Don't forget to enter the 2nd "Blogiversary" giveaway.  You can do so here until December 19th.


08 December 2012

Turning 2

Giveaway has closed.

Hard to believe I've been blogging for two years this month!  You're probably wondering who chooses to start a blog in December of any year, right?  Well, this girl does...as though there isn't already enough going on in December, right?

If you've been following the blog, all I can say is thank you.  I'm glad somebody out there is interested in my ramblings.  If you aren't a regular reader, feel free to take a tour around.  Who knows you might find some helpful tips, some yummy recipes, and a few sugar inspirations.  You might even decide to come back more often!

And, since it is December and the 2 year "blogiversary," I'm giving a gift to one lucky reader!  I'll warn you though, it will arrive after Christmas, so don't start planning to make it part of your gifting.  Besides, shouldn't you get to treat yourself, as well?

Here's what 1 lucky winner will receive:

1 - $25.00 gift card to Williams-Sonoma

Note:  the gift card won't look like the image above, just wanted to give you a pretty picture to accompany the text.  'Cause I'm thoughtful like that.

The card can be used in stores or online and if you're not a Williams-Sonoma fan you can also use it at Williams-Sonoma Home, Potter Barn, pottery barn kids, PBteen, and west elm stores.  I personally would choose to use it at Williams-Sonoma, just because I love that store and find it difficult not to spend tons of money anytime I visit...it's a foodie heaven!

So, how do you enter?

Leave a comment on this post (only comments on this post will be used for the entry) telling me your favorite thing about the holiday season.  It could be the lights, the time with family, the shopping...really just about anything!  And, be sure to leave a moniker (i.e. nickname) of some kind with your entry, so that I can identify you as the lucky winner.  

Entries will be open until Wednesday, December 19, 2012 @ 12:00 pm CST.  Winner be selected using the Random.org true random number generator and will be announced Thursday, December 20, 2012, so be sure to check back to find out if you're the lucky winner and for instructions on how to claim your prize!

Good luck!
**Disclaimer:  I am not in any way affiliated with Williams-Sonoma, nor did they provide the prize or ask me to say nice things about them.  They don't even know who I am.  I just wanted to share a fun gift with my readers in honor of the blog's birthday.



06 December 2012

Pretty Ponies & Dramatic Damask

Do you remember pretty ponies from your childhood?  I do, they were some of my sisters' and my favorite toys.  But, as I am so often finding out these days, so many of my childhood favorites have been re-vamped and made-over so they don't hardly resemble what I remember.  Kinda makes me feel old...

The ponies on this cake were no exception.

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I made this cake for one my nieces, I have to presume she was pleased with it since I ended up having to miss her birthday party.  It was buttercream finished with fondant flowers and writing.  The ponies I drew onto gumpaste and colored in with edible ink markers.

Why did I miss her party?  Well, because I was on the road with another traveling cake.  This cake and these cupcakes, actually:

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The display was for a Sweet Sixteen party, and I had a great time with the client and the entire group of people I met during the weekend.  Plus, I got to visit a town I pass by quite often, but never have stopped into...I think I may need to go back sometime since I didn't get to do much sightseeing.  Oh, and, I experienced a major case of kitchen envy (the client had an AH-MAZING kitchen, which I was allowed to work in to finish up the cupcakes) and I contemplated bringing the cake stand home with me since it was absolutely gorgeous.  Note:  I didn't bring the stand home, have a little faith, people; I'm not the kind of person to abscond with things that aren't mine.

The topper cake was covered in white fondant with a black fondant damask pattern.  The cupcakes were vanilla and chocolate topped with vanilla buttercream and either whole Oreos or crushed Oreos.  Added bonus, for those who didn't like cake, there was also a chocolate fountain with all sorts of delicious dippers.  And...the chocolate in the fountain was dyed purple.  How fun is that?

Talk to you soon!

04 December 2012

Chill Out


'Tis the season for cookie baking, especially cut-out sugar cookies.  If your cookies tend to lose their shape as they bake, there's a good chance it's because they got too warm.  (I bet your sugar cookie recipe tells you to chill the dough, right?)

A simple fix - once you finish a pan of cutouts, pop them in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  Chilled cookies will keep their shape, warm cookies will spread as they bake.

Mmm...tasty!


03 December 2012

And So It Begins...

Cookie season is in full swing!  Don't get me wrong I make cookies year 'round, but December is far and away the busiest month for cookies...particularly decorated sugar cookies.  But, don't worry - while my kitchen will be pretty much covered in cookie dough, powdered sugar, sprinkles, and royal icing for the next few weeks, I'll still have cakes to share with you.  And, yes, there will be photos of the cookies. Hehe!

But, for today, how about zebra stripes and leopard print in both cake AND cookies?

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A few of the extra cookies I had leftover, minus the "3" and "T."  Yes, the leopard print on the cookies looked more giraffe than I would have liked, next time I'll use a light brown.

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A little more proof that I do make cookies in designs that aren't winter/Christmas themed:

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Football!  Oh yeah...it's not over yet.  There's still a few high school playoffs (which is what these cookies were for) going on and then there is "Bowl Season."  It may be a fiasco, but at least it's college football.  And...OSU will be making a bowl appearance this year!  Hmm...what bowl, you ask?  Well, it's one I've never heard of, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but it's still a bowl.  We'll be going up against Purdue and yes, I plan to cheer the Cowboys to victory.  Go Pokes Go!

Ahem.  Excuse my little sideline jaunt there, I'm back on task now.  In fact, so nicely back on task that I've got the first of the winter/Christmas sugar cookies here for you!

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Speaking of Christmas, are you done shopping yet?  I can gladly say that I am!  Now I just need to wrap everything, good thing I love that part of the holidays.

Talk to you soon!

01 December 2012

Happy Fall Ya'll

Yes, I realize it's the 1st of December.  And you, along with everyone else including yours truly, are dreaming of mountains of snow; brisk, cold days; and surviving the holidays.  But...it's still technically fall.  I promise!  Winter doesn't officially begin until December 21st.  That's also, coincidentally, the date of the rumored Mayan Apocalypse, but I'm erring on the side of caution and preparing for Christmas anyway.

But, since it's still fall, I figured I'd share some very autumnal treats with you from the last few weeks.  (Yep, still playing catch-up, but getting better all the time!)  Oh, and one less than appetizing photo near the end of the post, just to keep things interesting around here.

For instance, these pretty leaf topped cupcakes.  Pumpkin spice with caramel buttercream; a perfect fall flavor combination.

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Squirrels, pumpkins, acorns, and leaves...oh, my.  And, for the record, squirrel cookies are more difficult to decorate than I imagined they'd be, but still super cute and a fun addition to my cutter collection.

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And, a basket full of fallen leaves and mini pumpkins.

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Now that I've showed you the pretty stuff, would you like to see something ugly?  It's not mean, just ugly - a burnt, baked-on, harder to remove than tar kind of ugly; it's the aftermath of a dessert I made for Thanksgiving.


Yes, that is one of my baking sheets.  Needless to say, the dessert that caused this will not be gracing my kitchen again.  Honestly, if the clean-up is going to take hours, then the recipe had better yield phenomenal results.  Great or amazing results will not cut-it when this is part of the package...only phenomenal will do.  And, this pastry didn't cut it.

What was it?  The culprit was a classic French apple tart (on the right in the line-up below).  I also made a version with a salted caramel glaze rather than the traditional apricot/rum.  That version is on the left; it played a little nicer and tasted better, but I still expected so much more from puff pastry, apples, sugar, and butter.  How could it have gone so wrong? *sob*

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Next time, I'll do better justice to the ingredients.  Talk to you soon!