Red Velvet Cut-Out Cookies

Red Velvet Cut-Out CookiesIt’s the most wonderful time of the year…for me, at least. The 89th Annual Academy Awards are happening this Sunday. I look forward to them all year long.

Yes, I know that awards shows are silly, but I don’t care. I have always loved movies, even going so far as to go to film school. My life and career ended up going in a totally different direction, but my love of cinema has remained. I’ve seen the major nominees, I have my opinions and my books of statistics,* and come Sunday night, I’ll be parked in front of the TV, happy as a clam.

*Yes, I have homemade books of Oscar statistics. Don’t you?!

Red Velvet Cut-Out CookiesNow, I have a lot of Oscar Sunday traditions. For one, I don’t watch them with anyone. I get pretty riled up, so I feel like it’s best that I watch alone. The only person with whom I really interact is my best friend, Tad. We met at a failed screening of Shrek 2 twelve years ago, realized that we were the only two people on our college campus who took the Oscars seriously, and have been talking about them ever since. He lives in San Francisco, so we can’t watch together, but we text back and forth all night.

My other big tradition? Red Velvet Cake. I posted my recipe (and my best-ever Cream Cheese Frosting) on here last Oscar weekend. I just love the chocolate-vanilla flavor of Red Velvet Cake, and it’s perfect for Oscar night because it’s red like the red carpet! It’s a little silly for me to make a whole layer cake for a night I am planning to spend by myself, so I’m changing it up this year and celebrating with these Red Velvet Cut-Out Cookies!

Red Velvet Cut-Out CookiesThese cookies are a twist on my favorite Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies. They’re souped up with cocoa powder in place of some of the flour, a touch of vinegar, and an extra egg yolk to keep them just a little bit soft. As far as the color goes, I reach for gel food coloring. I do not recommend using liquid red food coloring in this recipe as it will change the chemical makeup of the cookies, making them spread or become cakey, or both. Yuck. Red gel food coloring can be found at Target, craft stores, and your local kitchen supply.

Red Velvet Cut-Out CookiesThe cookie dough is easy to roll and cut, and the cookies won’t spread as they bake. That’s right–once your cookies are cut into cute shapes and placed in the oven, you won’t have to worry about them warping. It’s the dream. I love that my little Oscars (made with a mummy cutter and some strips of dough) actually look like their namesake statuettes!

Red Velvet Cut-Out CookiesI decorate my Red Velvet Cut-Out Cookies with Quick-Dry Royal Icing. I wrote a mini-tutorial about it during the holidays. I know royal icing can be intimidating, but trust me when I say that if I can use it, anyone can. Just draw the outlines and fill them in. It’s really fun to see these cookies come to life!

Will you be watching the Oscars? Have a great weekend, y’all!Red Velvet Cut-Out Cookies

Red Velvet Cut-Out Cookies
makes 3-4 dozen medium cookies

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 oz (1/2 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red gel food coloring

Special Equipment:
rolling pin
cookie cutters

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Cream in granulated sugar, followed by the egg, egg yolk, vinegar, vanilla extract, and gel food coloring. Add dry ingredients in 3 installments, combining completely after each. Divide dough into quarters and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.

Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin. Take one quarter of chilled dough at a time, roll it to 1/4-inch thickness, and cut with cookie cutters. Place cut cookies at least 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies 6-7 minutes, until no longer raw-looking. Let cookies cool on the pans for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Repeat rolling, cutting, and baking with any remaining dough.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Quick-Dry Royal Icing
recipe barely adapted from SugarDeaux

3 tablespoons meringue powder
5 ounces warm water
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond or lemon extract
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar, divided
1 tablespoon corn syrup
water

Special Equipment:
small bowls
gel food coloring
piping bags (or plastic sandwich bags)
small round piping tips and couplers
squeeze bottles
toothpicks
sprinkles
luster dust
clear imitation vanilla or vodka

In a large mixing bowl, combine meringue powder and warm water. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until doubled in size, about 1 minute. Mix in cream of tartar, vanilla, and almond extract. With the mixer running on low, add 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar. Mix in corn syrup. Add the remaining pound of confectioner’s sugar. Scrape down the bowl before beating on medium-low for an additional 30 seconds.

Divide icing among small bowls. Press plastic wrap to the surface of all exposed icing.

Make outline icing. Working with one bowl of icing at a time, add water 1/2 teaspoon at a time until icing dribbled into the bowl forms a ribbon that fades within a few seconds. Stir in gel food coloring until the desired color is reached. Place 1/4 cup of icing into a piping bag with a tip. Alternatively, load icing into a plastic sandwich bag and snip a very tiny corner. Outline all cookies. Set aside to dry while you prepare fill icing.

Add water by the 1/2 teaspoon until the ribbon of icing fades into the bowls within 2 seconds. Load icing into squeeze bottles. Working with one cookie at a time, fill icing into outlined sections. Use toothpicks to coax fill icing evenly to the outlines.

Decorate with more icing or sprinkles, as desired (see post above). Let cookies dry uncovered at room temperature for 4-6 hours.

To get sheen (as seen on the Oscars and gold stars), mix 1/4 teaspoon luster dust and 1 tablespoon clear imitation vanilla or vodka in a small bowl. Use a clean small paint brush to paint a thin layer over the tops of the dried cookies. Allow to dry 1 hour.

Iced cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

For more information on decorating with royal icing, see this and this. Their royal icing recipes are not the same as the one used here, but the decorating tips are the same.

Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter

Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterI reorganized my kitchen last week. I should have done it months ago–my beloved mix-in cabinet was basically overflowing and the tiny bins I had for dried fruit, nuts, sugars, and chocolate just weren’t cutting it anymore. It had gotten to the point where I knew I had some of everything, but none of it was easy to access. After spending a cool $20 at Target, I’m happy to say that everything is organized and back in working order.

I knew I had pounds of dark chocolate and that I am set on light brown sugar for at least a month, but I didn’t expect to find two full pounds of pecans. It makes sense, being from Texas and all, but still. I live in a place where people generally prefer walnuts; I’d expect to have far more of those than anything else. So, what does one do when they have a glut of pecans? Well, first, make Carrot Cake Blondies. And then blitz the rest into this Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter.

Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterI love making nut butters. They come together in a matter of minutes and are far more delicious than their storebought counterparts…although I don’t think I’ve ever seen pecan butter for sale at a grocery store. Not in walnut country, anyway. This brings me to my next point: when you make nut butter at home, the possibilities are endless. Beyond peanut and almond butters, there’s homemade Nutella, pistachio butter, coconut-cashew butter. Heck, you can even make the best flavor combination in the world into a nut butter. <– seriously, make that.Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterMy Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter starts with roasting 12 ounces of pecans (about 3 cups of halves). Transfer the pecans to the bowl of a food processor and blitz until smooth. Resist the urge to eat it as-is (although you totally should). Add a tablespoon of maple syrup, a splash of vanilla, some cinnamon and nutmeg, and process again. The pecan butter will tighten up a bit and become nice and spreadable.

Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterOh, this stuff is good. It has a really pronounced roasted pecan flavor and the maple makes it slightly sweet. The vanilla and spices round out the flavor and make this nut butter pretty irresistible! Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter is great on toast, and would make a killer sandwich with a little raspberry jam. My favorite way though, is with a sprinkling of finely chopped dark chocolate.

Yep, chocolate for breakfast. Because I’m an adult.Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterMaple-Roasted Pecan Butter
makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 cups pecan halves
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread pecan halves in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool in the pan on a rack until you can handle them.

Add pecans to the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and process until combined. Store in an airtight container.

Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter will keep at room temperature for up to a week, or indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter

Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones

Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese SconesHello!

It’s been a crazy week around here. I’ve been preparing for a couple of catering gigs and the end of the month cake rush. In all the planning, this blog has been put on the back burner, but I’m here today with some spectacular Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones.Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones

Why are these little scones so great?

1. Well, first of all, they are full of Meyer lemon flavor. This seasonal fruit tastes like a combination of lemon and orange. Oh my word. So good. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s, but they are all over the place this time of year. I am planning to cook with them constantly before they disappear from shelves!

2. Cream cheese, y’all. Where my other scones are made with all butter, cream cheese steals the show here just like it does in my favorite pie dough. Its flavor in the finished scones is pretty mild, but the texture is just…incredible. These are the best scones I’ve ever made by a long shot. They’re crispy on the edges and insanely soft in the centers. I’m going to have a hard time making scones without cream cheese ever again.Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones

3. Another magic ingredient? Heavy cream. Plenty of bakers use heavy cream in their scones, but I almost always go for half-and-half. My old standby would definitely work here, but the extra fat in heavy cream helps the middles of these scones to be super tender. It definitely makes these a little heavier than your average scone, but the texture it brings is worth the extra calories.

4. The glaze. I’ll eat scones no matter how they’re adorned, but I am positively in love with this easy two ingredient glaze. The scones themselves are flavored with Meyer lemon zest, while the glaze is made with the juice. Just whisk it into some confectioner’s sugar and drizzle it all over the warm scones.Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones

I could write more, but I don’t think there’s a need. Run to the market this afternoon, pick up some Meyer lemons, and make some seriously good scones tomorrow morning. Enjoy your weekend!Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones

Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones
makes 8 scones 

zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into pieces
4 ounces (1/2 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, very cold, cut into pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream + more for brushing, very cold

Glaze:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3-4 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice

Note: Scone ingredients and dough need to remain cold at all times in order to bake up tender and flaky. If anything becomes room temperature or sticky prior to baking, chill for at least 15 minutes before proceeding as written.

Place oven racks at the top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and Meyer lemon zest. Use your fingertips to rub the zest into the sugar. Whisk in flour, baking powder, and salt. Add cold butter and cream cheese. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut them into the dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of peas. Fold in heavy cream. The dough should clump when pinched together.

Flour a surface and your fingertips. Turn dough onto the surface and pat into a 1-inch thick circle. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice the circle into 8 wedges. Place scones at least 2 inches apart on prepared pan. Brush with heavy cream. Bake on the bottom rack for 7 minutes. Move pan to the top rack and bake an additional 8 minutes. Let scones cool in the pan on a rack while you make the glaze.

Combine confectioner’s sugar and 3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice in a small bowl. Use a fork to whisk them together until smooth. For a thinner glaze, add 1 tablespoon more juice. Drizzle glaze over scones. Glaze will set after about 20 minutes.

Scones are best served the day they are made, but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 48 hours.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsWhile I was in Texas this past December, I held a pop-up sale in my parents’ dining room. When I set the date and began to plan the thing, I had grand ideas about what I would have available. The list of ideas included grapefruit bars and pie and Texas-shaped ginger cookies, but when it came down to it, I threw all those ideas out the window and took it easy on myself. The preparation was still intense, but making drop cookies and bars was far simpler than what I had originally planned.

There were Peanut Butter Blossoms, Malted Whoppers Cookies, and Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the first things to go were these Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars. Between their eye-catching color, classic chocolate-meets-vanilla flavor, and the swirls of cheesecake, their quick disappearance is easy to understand.

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsMaking Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars may sound daunting to some, but they were actually the easiest recipe I made. I mean, there’s no softening of butter, no chilling of dough, no waiting for chocolate to harden. Nope. These bars are ridiculously easy to make, and come together in just a few minutes.

The red velvet base is a play off of my favorite blondie recipe. You’ll notice a few changes from the norm here, most noticeably that they’re bright red, but food coloring isn’t the only thing these bars have in common with their namesake cake: natural unsweetened cocoa is subbed for part of the usual all-purpose flour and a touch of vinegar gives the base that signature red velvet tang.

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsThe batter comes together with just a whisk and a bowl, but you will need your mixer for the cheesecake. It’s the real star of the show here. I mean, red velvet is great and all, but I am all about that cheesecake layer. There’s nothing new here–cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla are beaten together before being swirled into the red velvet batter. Everything goes into the oven for about half an hour before taking a seemingly endless four hour chill. For all the ease of preparation here, there is a lot of patience required. I promise it’ll all be worth it once you bite into one of these bars.

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsLook at that! There’s almost as much cheesecake as there is red velvet! Make a batch this weekend, or use a heart cookie cutter and make them part of your Valentine’s Day โคRed Velvet Cheesecake Bars

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars
makes 24-32 bars

Cheesecake:
16 ounces (2 bricks) full-fat brick-style cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Red Velvet Base:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring

Place oven racks in the top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×13-inch pan with foil and grease with butter. Set aside.

Make cheesecake. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined. Mix in vanilla. Set aside.

Make the red velvet. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking completely after each addition. Whisk in white vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Use a silicone spatula to fold in flour mixture. Reserve 2/3 cup of the batter before spreading the rest in the prepared pan.

Pour cheesecake mixture over the red velvet batter. Drop spoonfuls of the reserved red velvet over the top and swirl in with a small, thin knife. Tap full pan on the counter five times to release any air bubbles. Tightly cover the pan with foil. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove top foil and place pan on the bottom rack to bake for 15-20 more minutes. Bars are done when the cheesecake layer barely jiggles when the pan is jostled.

Allow bars to cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature. Refrigerate for four hours, until cold. Place bars on a cutting board and remove foil. Use a large chef’s knife to slice them into bars (or a cookie cutter for fun shapes). Serve.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Shortbread

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel ShortbreadAs I write this, New York City is expecting snow. It’s hard to believe, considering that it reached 60 degrees on Wednesday, but we are all preparing for ten inches of snow. Schools are set to be closed, Trader Joe’s is out of everything, and everyone has trudged home with their essentials. I’ve got my pound of cornmeal.

Is it snowing where you are? If not, I’m giving you permission to pretend it is. Go put on your softest pajama pants. I’ll wait.

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel ShortbreadNow that you’re calling in to work and pretending you’ve got a winter wonderland outside your kitchen window, I think you should make some cookies. What says snow day comfort food more than cookies? Well, maybe Hot Chocolate. But you’ve got to have a cookie to go with it.

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel ShortbreadToday, let’s make Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Shortbread. It’s crunchy and a little crumbly, studded with nubbly bits of salty pretzel, and dipped in chocolate. It’s what salty-sweet snow day dreams are made of. The shortbread base comes together with minimal ingredients in just a few minutes and has a light caramel flavor that is out. of. this. world. It’s only enhanced by the addition of crushed honey wheat pretzels.

The dough gets pressed into an even layer and briefly frozen before being sliced into bars and baked. You will want to try these shortbread straight from the oven, but you should wait a few extra minutes to dip them in milk chocolate. Let the chocolate set and then grab two. You’re going to want two.Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Shortbread

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Shortbread
makes about 4 dozen

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup crushed honey wheat pretzels

Chocolate Dip:
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon corn syrup (or Lyle’s Golden Syrup)

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add granulated and brown sugars and beat until combined. Add vanilla extract and combine. With the mixer running on low, add in flour mixture in two installments, mixing until it is just incorporated. Fold in pretzels. Dough will be crumbly, but should hold together when pinched.

Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment. Place dough in pan. Using another sheet of parchment, press dough into an even layer in the pan. Freeze for half an hour.

Preheat oven to 325F.

Remove dough from pan to a cutting board and use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice it into 24 pieces.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place sliced shortbread at least 2 inches apart on prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes, rotating top-to-bottom racks at the 8 minute mark. Shortbread are done when the edges start to brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for ten minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.

While cookies are cooling, prepare chocolate dip. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place chopped chocolate in a bowl and microwave for one minute. Stir. Add coconut oil. Microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until chocolate is smooth. Stir in corn syrup. Dip cookies in chocolate one by one, removing any excess with the side of a fork. Lay them on the parchment-lined sheet. Freeze for 15 minutes, or until chocolate is set.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Shortbread