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Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies {Christmas Style}

   I'm sitting in a dirty laundromat spending a good chunk of my day off making sure that I have clean clothes for a few solid weeks. There's an old dude that keeps coughing and producing some crazy vocal yawns that at first sounded like some kind of a stroke. After the 50th one, it's not as startling. 

  Towards the front we have the homeless crew that frequent this place during colder times. They cycle from going in and outside, filling the place with the scent of old cigarettes. I'm perched in the middle of everything with my laptop on my lap, watching colorful loads twirl around in the wall of dryers. Some people have paperbacks and newspapers to pass the time, others just sit on their phones or stare at the running machines. 

  It has been somewhat difficult, lately, trying to find the positives. Whether I'm in an uncomfortable laundromat, or sitting at home surrounded by treats and comfort. I let down a mentor of mine a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't realize how much of an impact that would have on my mentality and daily work life. But it has been hard, and at the end of each work week I have come out slightly worse for wear.

  There are some life lessons here I'm sure, and I'll probably figure out what they are once my head and heart stop ringing from the guilt and extreme dip in my self esteem. I'm a baker, I really believe that. But how do you keep believing that when you've all but self-sabotaged what could be your career?

  Times like these I don't do well sitting still. Hence the laundry and chores on my days off, hence the pile of cookies sitting in front of you.

  I'm not usually much for proverbs, but idle hands and whatnot are pretty true for me when I'm feeling blue. So odds are that you'll be seeing some projects on here in the next few weeks. There's a positive, right?

  I made these babies for the first time back in 2011, which I'm now realizing is very close to 8 years ago. 15-year-old Ellen was still learning a lot of ropes, and these cookies came out pretty haphazard. The frosting was more of a glaze, and I didn't realize how little these spread while baking--so they were more lumps than cookies. Additionally, my photography skills consisted of placing a tupperware full of cookies on our bright blue kitchen floor and thinking that was pretty artsy (it was not).

  But, I mean, if I haven't learned to laugh at myself at this point--I'm in big trouble.

  So while I'm pinching pennies and desperately trying not to screw up cakes and breads and pies at work, I'll be here letting loose. Yeah, this time around I remembered to press these cookies closer to what I wanted for their finished shape. And yeah, the frosting got a little too thin again, but would you look at that pine green color?

  These cookies are a guilty pleasure for me, modeled after those big soft cookies you see in every grocery store bakery with varying seasonal sprinkles/frostings. I've yet to make a homemade version of a guilty pleasure I didn't like, and these are no exception. Thank you to Hostess with the Mostess for giving us easy access to giant frosted sugar cookies, it was the baking therapy I needed last week.

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
Yield: about a dozen large cookies

Ingredients for the cookies:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4+1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

To make the cookies, in a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer or with a hand mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. 

When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball into a thick disc with your hands, getting it pretty close to what you want your end cookie to look like. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until the edges start to firm and the centers appear just set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all.)  Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes to complete cooking.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container.

Sources: found on and adapted from Everyday Annie, originally from Hostess with the Mostess


Earl Grey Chocolate Lavender Banana Muffins with Caramel Gloss

  I've just finished up the latest series of the Great British Bake Off and having watched the last episode today after getting virtually no sleep last night, I gotta say--I bawled like a baby. Every single one of them was so endearing to me and even though I was vying for someone else most of the time (don't worry, no spoilers here!), the winner really did earn their spot. God I love that show.

  It was only fitting that I had a proper cup of Early Grey tea to cry into, along with 3 or 4 (who's counting?) of these decadent little muffins. They're an easy enough treat in themselves, but with a little extra finesse when it comes to flavoring and glossing. Yep, not glazing, glossing. I made that up for these specifically because all I wanted was the barest sheen of dark, dark caramel.

  Paul Hollywood keeps talking about flavors, so I obviously couldn't make just muffins.

 The batter for this starts off strong by steeping some coconut milk (or cow's, your preference) with lavender for about 10 minutes. Then in go the Earl Grey tea bags for about 5 minutes, then you cool it all down before adding to your banana muffin batter. I recommend preparing the caramel while these bake so you can get the right consistency to gloss these muffins (i.e. it needs to cool a bit, caramel is hot!). 

  These are some slightly more involved muffins, so feel free to cut out the caramel gloss if you're not feeling too ambitious, these are still delicious without it!

  So, grab yourself a cuppa and a muffin and have a smashing week <3

Earl Grey Chocolate Lavender Banana Muffins with Caramel Gloss
Yield: a dozen muffins

For the muffins:
  • 3/4 cup coconut or cow's milk
  • 1/2 tbsp. dried culinary lavender
  • 3 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 large bananas, either roasted or extremely ripe
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped (or dark chocolate chips) 

For the gloss:
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. coconut or cow's milk

In a small saucepan, heat milk and lavender over high heat until it just begins to bubble. Reduce heat to the lowest you can and allow to gently simmer/steam for 10-15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve to remove lavender and place the milk back into the pan. Heat again until just bubbling then remove pan from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeezing excess liquid back into the pan. Return pan to medium heat, add butter and heat until butter is melted. Allow tea mixture to cool to room temperature. 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper or foil muffin liners. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Remove bananas from peels and place in a small bowl. Mash bananas well, leaving very few chunks. Add tea mixture and egg. Whisk to combine. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Mix in chocolate chunks. Portion batter into prepared muffin tins, filling a little over 3/4 full. 

Bake 25 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until a toothpick comes out clean. While the muffins bake, prepare your caramel gloss.

In a medium saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat, swirling the pan every so often to make sure that the sugar is melting evenly, until the sugar is a deep golden brown color. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter until melted. Whisking constantly--gradually add the milk. Pour the caramel into a heat proof container to cool down to room temperature.

Transfer muffins to a wire rack set over a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. Poke a few holes in the muffins with a toothpick/skewer/small blade (this lets the caramel seep in a bit), and begin to spoon about 1 teaspoon or so of the caramel mixture onto the muffins, spreading it as you go.

Consume as you so desire!

Sources: adapted from The Whole Bite and Food Faith Fitness


Simple Mini Ice Cream Cake

For a long time in high school I prided myself on making just about everything I could from scratch. Whether it was pizza dough, ice cream, or even freaking chicken alfredo (noodles and all), I was pretty determined.

 Alas, adulthood is a cruel thing. Once you're removed from your parents' resources and handy kitchen supplies, making everything isn't always feasible. Much of me still believes in making what I can when I can, but there's also a large part of me that loves nothing more than a frozen corn dog or some instant pad thai. Another guilty pleasure I've had for such a long time is Dairy Queen's ice cream cake. I've wanted to make one for some time, but I wanted to put my own twist on it.

 A couple weeks ago I finally got my chance to throw together a somewhat hodge-podge, but still very heartfelt birthday cake for my boo. In an effort to keep it somewhat real, I made a from-scratch vanilla cake to hide amongst the various layers of very much pre-made ingredients.

  Each layer is vanilla cake and cookie dough ice cream topped with a mixture of crushed Oreos and Magic Shell to mimic those magic "crunchies" that DQ does so well. Everything is frosted with Cool Whip, because homemade whipped cream is dank but doesn't hold up too well to long periods of freezing. And the whole thing is a three layer 6-inch cake cuz I don't need 8 inches of this in my freezer staring at my every darn day.

  Also, in keeping with the laid-back theme, all of these photos were taken on my phone. When you split your home life into two different apartments sometimes your DSLR is tucked away in a drawer somewhere else...so you just gotta make do.

  It definitely does the job, even if (and possibly because) it's not entirelyyyy from scratch. Nomz.

Mini Ice Cream Cake
Yield: one 6-inch cake

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 6 tbsp whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Other Ingredients:
  • one pint of your favorite ice cream, softened (I used Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream)
  • about 15-20 Oreo cookies
  • Magic Shell
  • Cool Whip, to frost
  • Sprinkles/other decorations as desired

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line a 6-inch cake pan with parchment paper.
Beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Combine milk and vinegar. Add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on low speed, until just combined. Add half of the milk/vinegar mixture, until just combined. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients, and then the rest of the milk.

Pour into prepared pan, and bake on a small sheet pan in the oven for 37-39 minutes. Until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan to cool completely. Once the cake is cool, slice into three equal layers with a cake separator or serrated bread knife. Wrap well in plastic wrap and place in freezer overnight (or at least 2 hours).

When ready, soften your ice cream at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes. Once softened (not melted), place into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer so it is spreadable. With a plastic bag and rolling pin or a food processor, crush your Oreos. Then pour into a bowl and mix in about 1 bottle of Magic Shell, so the crumbs are all well-moistened. Remove your cake layers from the freezer, and working quickly, spread about 1/2 of your softened ice cream onto the bottom layer and top with some Oreo crumbs. Repeat for the next layer. Place your top layer on top and immediately wrap the sides of the cake in plastic wrap to keep ice cream from leaking out too much, and place in the freezer to firm up for at least 4 hours.

When you're ready to frost, use an offset spatula to make a crumb coat of whipped cream on your cake. Freeze for 15 minutes and add your final layer of whipped cream. Decorate as desired, and freeze until ready to slice and eat!

Inspirations: vanilla cake adapted from Dessert for Two, otherwise an Indigo Scones original y'all