(The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.)

This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge looked difficult.  I’m not an artistic type. I make tons of sugar cookies at Christmas, but that’s about it, so I don’t have many non-Christmas cookie cutters – and I didn’t think “Christmas in September” would fly.

But September happened to be the month I did a massive spring cleaning of my pantry.  I have a huge panty – probably bigger then some NYC kitchens – and it accumulates stuff.  I took everything out, cleaned it all, and gave away a bunch of stuff I never use. 

And I found my tea cake mold. I bought it a few years ago, with the intention of using it for very detailed chocolates.  It failed miserably – because it was metal, you couldn’t get the chocolates back out of the mold.  It’s sat in my pantry ever since.

But when I came across it, I thought, “I bet I could bake tiny sugar cookies in that!  And then put a tiny bit of icing on top, and it would run down the sides, and I’d have these cute little cookies that would look like Bundt cakes with glaze on top! And that would be perfect for this month’s challenge!”.

So I made the sugar cookie dough, and I pressed  it into the molds, and I baked them.

Decorated Sugar Cookies

I should have used a little less dough in each one – they puffed up over the top and had to be trimmed.  But they came out rather good, and I particularly liked the heart-shaped ones.  They were an interesting texture, too, with lots of crunchy edges, but soft in the middle.

Then I made the royal icing.  I used the recipe from Joy of Baking, with egg whites.  I have really good professional gel food coloring, so I split it into thirds and did one bowl each of orange, brown, and black.  The black didn’t turn out – the color had separated, and I got a dreadful shade of green.  But the orange and brown came out bright and September-y.

But when I tried to put it on the cookies, it refused to drizzle nicely down the sides.  Plus, with a dab of icing on top, I lost the details that made the cookies look good in the first place.  So I ended up with some rather uninteresting, but brightly-colored, lumps of sugar cookie.

Decorated Sugar Cookies

I tried to thin out the icing, but it still wouldn’t drip down the sides like a glaze. If I ever try this again, I’d probably actually use a glaze recipe and skip the royal icing.

Still, the cookies were good, and now I have a use for my pan.  Hopefully, I’ll have better luck with next month’s challenge!

Frosted Chewies

Like everyone else in the 80’s, I grew up repurposing cereal into snacks and desserts.  Rice Krispy bars, Chex Mix in a million variations, and chocolate-covered cereal and pretzel mixes.    I’ve grown out of most of them -although I do have a great browned-butter Rice Krispy treat recipe – but this one I’ve kept around. 

I put the Special K in my biggest mixing bowl while the sugar/peanut butter/corn syrup comes to a boil.  Then pour the syrup over the cereal, being very careful not to spill it – it’s both hot and sticky, so if you get it on your skin, it will cause burns fast. 

Mix it up to get all the cereal coated, and then press it into a buttered pan.  I butter the pan first, then pour in the cereal mixture, then butter my fingers to press it down until it’s firmly packed.  You could also butter a piece of parchment paper and press down on that, if you don’t want to get your fingers greasy.

Then melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips – this is my mother’s recipe, so it says to use a double-boiler, but I just melt them in the microwave.  Put them in for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until they’re melted.  When I’m feeling particularly decadent, I double the topping and use one entire bag each of chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Put them in the fridge to set, but take them out before you plan to cut them.  At room temperature, they’re gooey and wonderful.  Straight out of the fridge, they tend to be a bit hard to cut (or bite), but I eat them that way occasionally too.

( see the recipe )

Snickerdoodle bars

Sometimes I don’t want to spend 4 hours putting together dessert. Sometimes, I just want to put a bunch of stuff in the mixer, pour it into a pan, bake it, and eat it. This is one of those recipes.

Mike really likes snickerdoodles, and I don’t make them very often. So when I saw this recipe come through an RSS feed one day, I bookmarked it. I’ve lost the link by now, but the original recipe went in an 8-inch square pan, and I wasn’t thrilled with the cookie-to-topping ratio. So I doubled it, and put it in a 9-inch pan, to make them thicker and chewier in the middle.

The recipe itself is simple, and very close to a cookie recipe – cream the butter and the sugar, add the dry ingredients, and put it in a pan lined with foil or parchment paper (to help get them out without breaking).  Then mix up the topping, sprinkle it on top, and bake. 

I loved these, Mike loved these, and when my mother took a pan to her church lunch, they all disappeared – so they’re going in my "make again" list.

( see the recipe )

Last weekend, I made cupcakes.  I didn’t make cupcakes because I wanted cupcakes, though – I made cupcakes because I’ve been craving really good frosting.  And as tempting as it was to just make a batch of frosting and eat it with a spoon, I decided I should at least pretend to have some level of decorum.

So, the cupcakes.  I used the first likely-looking vanilla cupcake recipe from Food Network, which turned out to be Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes.  They were perfectly good cupcakes.  Nothing to write home about, but a nice, basic, vanilla cupcake. 

While they were cooling, I started on the frosting.  I’ve been looking for a not-terribly-sweet cooked buttercream, so when I saw this one on Baking Bites, I had to try it.  It wasn’t that hard, really – beat the eggs, and then “cook” them with a simple syrup to stabilize the frosting.  Once all the simple syrup was in, it looked really good and stable – then I started added an entire pound of very soft butter.

I’ll admit, it started looking scary a few times.  It was hard to find the patience to not add more butter until the previous pat was entirely integrated, and a couple time it looked like it was going to break.  After all the butter was in, I watched it nervously for a few minutes, then turned my back for just one minute to finish loading the dishwasher.

And when I looked back, it was perfect

Vanila Bean Buttercream

It was light and fluffy, flecked with vanilla bean bits, and amazingly rich.  It was just sweet enough to be “frosting”, but not that awful cloying sweetness of grocery-store-bakery frosting.  It was exactly the frosting I’d been fantasizing about.

So I put it on the cupcakes.  All the cool kids these days seem to be piping frosting on top of the cupcakes instead of frosting them with a knife, so I did the same thing:


The only problem was it made 36 cupcakes, and there was no way we could eat them fast enough, so the exposed tops got stale very quickly.  Next time, I’ll spread a thin coat of frosting to just cover and protect the top of the cupcake, then pipe the rest. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a little bit of frosting left in a bowl in the fridge, and I have a spoon…

( see the recipe )