Friday, October 31, 2014

Sugar Cookies... yummmmm!

Since I had so much response to my FB post about Halloween sugar cookies, I decided to repost my recipe for sugar cookies and poured fondant. My cookies usually just have simple decorations. I don't get really fancy like the "cookie decorators" out there, but these are oh sooo good. The trick to making really yummy sugar cookies is to not roll them out too thin, and do not overbake them (or any kind of cookie). I like my cookies soft, so they almost melt in your mouth. Another thing to assure wonderfully tasting cookies is to always use real butter. Nothing else will do but the real stuff here.


Here is my sugar cookie recipe that I have used for many years. It is so yummy...soft and just sweet enough. They melt in your mouth. They are good just iced with buttercream frosting and sprinkled with cookie sprinkles, but when I want them to be really special, I dip them in fondant and then decorate them.  

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll dough 1/4" thick on floured surface. Cut into shapes. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet for 6-8 min. or until just set and barely brown on bottom. Do not overbake. Cool completely on rack. Ice with fondant or buttercream icing if desired. Makes 2 1/2 - 3 doz. cookies. 

Poured Fondant

This will be a bit difficult, because I never measure my ingredients for my poured fondant, so make sure you experiment on your family first to get the proper consistency.

Powdered sugar

Corn syrup
Flavoring (I usually just use vanilla or butter vanilla)
Warm water

I make the fondant in my KitchenAid mixer, but you can even mix this up by hand, as long as you take time to get all the sugar lumps out. Add powdered sugar to the bowl. How much will depend on how many cookies you have to dip. I normally fill my bowl approximately half way. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of light corn syrup and desired amount of flavoring. Then, add warm tap water, a little at a time until your fondant is thin enough for dipping, but not so thin that you can see through it. Mix with flat beater on low speed until smooth. You do not want to add air bubbles to the fondant. With a little practice, you will know when you have the proper consistency. Now, put a cooling rack over a cookie sheet. As you dip the cookies, let the excess drip off, then using your finger, scrape off the edge of the cookie, and put on the cooling rack to allow to drip off any more excess fondant and set. Before the fondant sets, you can add sprinkles if desired, or make designs with colored fondant.

An alternative to dipping the cookies is to pipe a string border from buttercream with a #3 or #4 writing tip and then fill in with the fondant, using a toothpick to coax the fondant around the edges. I use a squeeze bottle filled with the fondant to fill in the top of the cookies. This gives your cookies a cleaner edge. These cookies never harden as much as cookies decorated with royal icing, but they do set up to the touch, and if you leave them set out for about a day (if they last that long) they will be slightly harder. 

Update to original post: I forgot to mention that I never use black food coloring unless absolutely necessary. All of the "black" that you see in my decorating is made with Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa. Just keep adding enough cocoa until your icing looks black. Sure tastes better than that nasty black food coloring.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Satisfying my sweet tooth...

Losing weight - not easy when you are a caterer and cake designer, and when you love to eat as much as I do. My real downfall is desserts. I have a real sweet tooth. So... I am trying to come up with some low calorie, low points desserts that won't blow my Weight Watchers program. On Monday nights, we meet together with our empty nesters group to have gospel discussions and activities - more lovingly known as FHE or Family Home Evening. We take turns having our group at different homes, and whoever has the lesson that night also supplies the dessert. I have been trying hard to come up with delicious yet calorie conscious desserts. Last night was a hit... Peach filled meringue shells. Yum! We're still eating fresh peaches from Palisade, so this was a tasty way to use some of those. 

Peach Filled Meringue Shells

Meringue Shells

3 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract

In a grease-free bowl, add egg whites, cream of tartar and flavorings. Bring to room temperature. (Egg whites will whip higher.) Whip until soft peaks form and then add sugar, 1 T. at a time. Continue to whip until glossy stiff peaks form. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop 8 mounds onto baking sheet and with back of spoon, form into 3 inch round cups. (If you want to make them fancy with a decorating bag, use a large star tip and pipe out 8 3-inch circles. Then pipe a double circle around each to form a wall.) Bake at 225 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, and let cool in the oven without opening the door for 1 hour. When they are done, they should sound hollow when you tap on the bottom and peel easily off the parchment.


4 or 5 fresh peaches, cut in small slices
(you can remove the skins if desired)
Small amount of agave nectar or honey (to taste)
Lite Cool Whip (or real whipped cream if you don't care about the calories)
Cinnamon and toasted sliced almonds (for garnish)

To assemble, put meringue shell on plate, spread small amount of cool whip inside each shell, add desired amount of peaches. Put a dollop of Cool Whip on top. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and add a few toasted almond slices. 

Makes 8 servings. 3 WW points+ per serving. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Remembering Black Forest...

On June 11, 2013, I was in California visiting with my son and his family. That night as I was checking the latest  Facebook news feed on my iphone, I was devastated to learn that a large area of Black Forest, only a few miles drive from our home, was up in flames. It was so hard to know that this was happening to our area again.  People were still recovering from the Waldo Canyon fire from the previous summer. We knew people who lived in Black Forest or close by and we were praying that the fire was not reaching them. After the fire was finally contained, over 500 homes were lost and 2 people had died. It was the worst fire in Colorado history. 

Many people who lost their homes are now in the process of rebuilding. Last Saturday, we had the privilege of working with a great couple, Fran and Larry Rutherford, who had just moved into their newly rebuilt home the week before. We catered a lunch for their house "cooling" party. They wanted to have a party to thank all those who had helped and supported them in the rebuilding process. During that time, they had lived with family members, friends, and in hotels. They had on display pictures of their old home, pictures of what was left after the fire (basically nothing), and then pictures of the new home. They have tried to make the new home as much like the old home as possible. They did add a few extra square feet, but other than that, it's the same. I shot a picture of the two of them in front of the house just before we left.

We set up our buffet table in the garage, and the guests ate under a canopy out in the bare field where beautiful trees used to be. We served a taco bar, pasta bar, and cakes for dessert. Of course, one of our cakes had to be a Black Forest cake, in honor of where we were. It was my first attempt at making one... a huge hit... beautiful presentation and tasted magnificent. Immediately offered it on my list of specialty cakes. 

All of the guests were very gracious and kind, and we were honored to be able to be a part of this special celebration. Thanks Fran and Larry. Best wishes to you in your new home!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making edible lace and fabric...

If you are a regular follower of my blog, you will know that I have used an edible lace product called Sugarveil to make my lace pieces, and flags for my military cakes. Suguarveil is a fine product, but my biggest problem with it is the fact that it takes forever to set up and then it becomes brittle with time. You have a window of time that you need to work with it, or it is no longer flexible. Problem solved... I have found 2 new products that I like better because the lace stays flexible for a very long time after you have made it, and with my busy schedule, that's what I needed.
 Cake Lace by Claire Bowman... product is made is UK
Sugar Dress by Martellato... product is made in Italy

Both products are available here in the US. through Amazon, Global Sugar Art, and Etsy.

 Mixing it is a 2-part process. First, you combine a powder with a little water and beat according to directions, and then you add a small amount of a liquid and continue beating until peaks form. The liquid is what keeps the lace flexible. 

After you have finished whipping it up, you can spread it into a lace mat or spread it out on the back of a lace mat or onto a silicone baking mat and use it as a piece of fabric. The edible fabric is what I use to make my flags for my Air Force cakes. After you have made your lace pieces or have combined fabric pieces to make a flag, you can fold up your pieces and store them in a zip-lock bag until you're ready to use them. The pieces stay flexible and do not stick to each other... literally like working with fabric. 

Many different lace mats are available. They are quite pricey, but the finished product is incredible. Here are some of the lace mats that I have.

Here are a couple of great videos to show how the whole process works...

Sugar Dress

Cake Lace

Here are some of the cakes I have done with edible lace products...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Watermelon or a Cake? How about both!

For my birthday this year, I wanted to keep on track with healthy eating, and definitely wanted to get away from the traditional cakes that I'm around most of my life, so I tried this new idea... a no-bake watermelon cake that I found online. Hubby wasn't too excited, but I LOVED it, and, after all, it was MY birthday, not his. :) 

After I posted a picture on Facebook, several of my friends requested the recipe, so here is the link. A special thank you to Jennifer Garza for posting this. 

To ice it, you can use real whipped cream, Cool-whip, or my favorite... coconut whipped cream. 
Here is the recipe for the coconut whipped cream... needs little or no sweetener. Yummy!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Off we go into the wild blue yonder...

It's that time again... USAFA graduation time. I think this year there were 990 + cadets that graduated and became 2nd Lieutenants in the United State Air Force. A proud time indeed for the graduates and their families. I have only had the privilege and opportunity once to attend an Air Force Academy graduation, and it was amazing! Of course, my favorite part was the hat toss at the end and then watching the Thunderbirds fly over. Last year because of budget cuts, they cut the flyover... very disappointing. I was glad to see that this year they were back! Residing here in Colorado Springs, I always end up designing several AF cakes throughout the year for promotions and retirements, but at this time of year, I especially enjoy designing cakes for the new 2nd Lieutenants. When I originally started designing these cakes, everything was done with patterns pressed into the icing and filled with buttercream. The details became so much more precise and clean when I got my Cricut Electric cutter. But now... oh my gosh... with my new Zing electric cutter, I can cut out so much better details, especially with the lettering, than I ever have before. Thank you Klik-n-Kut for a great piece of equipment! And congratulations to all of the 2014 USAFA graduates!

One of the first AF seal cakes that I designed-all in buttercream... not bad, but not as precise and clean as this..
I use Tappits to cut out the letters outside of the seal.
Again, before cutter-nice, but not as precise as this...

One more... AF bars in buttercream...
AF bars in gumpaste with cutter
My Zing cutter makes it all possible. I LOVE my Zing!

Some of my other favorite AF cakes...

AF flag cake... one of my most popular retirement cakes
These are the planes he piloted... all edible images
USAFA Chapel for retiring chaplain

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pretty in Pink

I was asked by a friend to design a cake for a baby shower today. The mom-to-be loves lace and pearls and of course, lots of pink since she is having a girl. Pale pink fondant with lace and pearls... yeah, I can do that. I was excited to use my new "Sugar Dress" product for making the lace. Wow... so much easier than "Sugar Veil." That's the subject of another blog post. I brushed the fondant pearls with plenty of pearl dust so they looked like real pearls, and then placed on some beautiful gumpaste flowers along with a shimmery bow. . . very pretty. I'm still practicing making gumpaste flowers, but each one turns out a little better. When I started decorating cakes 37 years ago, I learned how to decorate everything with buttercream and royal icing, including flowers. So, this old gal is learning new techniques everyday with fondant and gumpaste. I'm actually having fun with it too. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tender moist juicy chicken... every time!

I know that most of my posts are about sweets, but once in awhile I'll post something about a wonderful savory item... this is for those of you who want a simple chicken recipe without all the fuss. It's quick, easy, and flavorful, and part of a nice meal if you are watching the calories, like I am. 

Easy Moist Chicken Breasts

2-4 chicken breasts (I like the Kirkland brand from Costco)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
Seasonings (I like thyme and garlic rosemary seasoning)
2-3 tsp. olive oil

Pound your chicken breasts to a nice even thickness. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. You will need some type of saute pan with a tight lid. Heat the pan on medium high heat. Combine the flour and seasonings in a zip lock bag. Add the olive oil to the pan. Lightly dredge the chicken breasts in the flour and add to the heated pan with oil. Saute chicken for 1-2 minutes, until nicely golden brown. Turn the chicken over, put the lid on the pan, and turn down the temperature to low. Set your timer for 10 minutes. DO NOT PEEK! When the timer goes off, turn off the temperature, and set the timer for another 10 minutes. Again, DO NOT PEEK! This time, when the timer goes off, open the lid and see your chicken breasts cooked to perfection. Yum!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Making Carissa's "Frozen" Cake

What little girl is not in love with Disney's "Frozen" right now? My granddaughter Carissa turned 5 today. One of her gifts from Mom and Dad was the "Frozen" DVD, so I decided to make her a "Frozen" cake with Olaf as the central figure. I started making the pieces a couple of days ahead, and assembled everything this afternoon. The flavor was vanilla with fresh strawberries and strawberry mousse. I didn't want to refrigerate it because of the fondant and isomalt pieces, so I assembled it just before we needed it.

First of all, what winter cake is complete without snowflakes? I had a few left over from Carissa's preschool cupcakes from last week, so used those plus made a few more. White chocolate is perfect for piping snowflakes. Just copy a bunch of snowflakes on regular paper, tape them onto a board and cover with waxed paper. Then just pipe over the patterns and let set up. Very easy. I made a few snowflakes also with a First Impressions blue silicone mold. They were very difficult to make, as the mold is very shallow and intricate. I tried using gumpaste, fondant, modeling chocolate, 1/2 modeling chocolate with 1/2 gumpaste or 1/2 fondant. I tried putting the molded snowflakes in the freezer before unmolding them. Some of them turned out beautifully, but several just fell apart when trying to unmold them. Not the most favorite mold I've used. 

Next I made Olaf. I looked for 3-D pictures online, and then just patterned Olaf after the pictures. He was made from 1/2 modeling chocolate and 1/2 fondant, His arms and hair were piped out of dark chocolate. Pipe plenty extra because most likely you will need them if one breaks while you are assembling him. I also made a few snowballs out of the same 1/2 and 1/2 mixture, and then rolled them in sanding sugar.

Next I made the ice pieces and a few curly cews from isomalt. If you've never used isolmalt, you must try it. The results are amazing. It's not hard to use once you learn how. You can go to the CakePlay website and watch their video tutorials. CakePLay Isomalt To give it a "crinkly" look, I bunched up a piece of aluminum foil, then smoothed it out and sprayed it lightly with cooking spray, then spread the melted isomalt out thinly on the foil. 

I iced the cake with vanilla buttercream and then covered it with blue and white marbled fondant. I love the look of marbled fondant. Here is a good video on how to marble fondant. She also uses "The Mat" to roll out her fondant like I do. How to Tie Dye Fondant

After the fondant was on, I started assembling the pieces on the cake... here's where you can use your creativity. The last thing I did was cut out Carissa's name with my Tappits and white modeling chocolate, and then sprinkled the entire cake with clear edible glitter.

Carissa's reaction to the cake was priceless. She couldn't stop laughing at Olaf! It made all of my work worthwhile. Happy Birthday Carissa!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Update on Whipped Cream Icing

If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know my dilemmas of coming up with good ways to stabilize whipped cream to use for icing cakes. Well, once again I have changed my method. This time, I think it's a keeper because it not only tastes terrific, is readily available, and holds up well, but is also very cost effective... all using the real stuff. Yum. So here's the method... for every pint of heavy whipping cream, add 1 Tablespoon instant vanilla pudding, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, and vanilla to taste. Whip in chilled bowl until stiff peaks form. Voila... incredibly tasting whipped cream icing for your next cake.

I get the 1/2 gallon from Costco since I go through a lot of cream. I also use it in 
my buttercream icing. You can just use the inexpensive store brand for the pudding.

Look at this yummy fluffy whipped cream, perfect for icing this strawberry shortcake specialty cake... rich buttery yellow cake with 3 layers of whipped cream and fresh strawberries... gotta love it!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sometimes you feel like baking... sometimes you don't...

Have you ever been in the mood for cookies, but don't really feel like baking? Or maybe it's in the middle of the summer and you just don't want to turn on your oven because it's too hot. One of our family's favorite "go to" recipes when we want something sweet and quick has always been NO BAKE COOKIES. There are several different versions... chocolate without peanut butter, chocolate with peanut butter, and peanut butter without chocolate. My friend Sarah asked if I had a good no bake  cookie recipe, and of course I did, so Sarah, this post is for you. 

Here's our family's favorite recipe... it has cocoa and a little coconut... because we LOVE coconut.

Leavitt Family Favorite No Bakes

Mix the following ingredients together in a bowl and set aside:
3 cups rolled oats
5 Tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup coconut

Bring the following ingredients to a rolling boil:

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk

Boil for 1 minute and combine with dry ingredients. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper or parchment paper and let set until firm. I like to use a small cookie scoop. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bakes

Bring the following ingredients a rolling boil:

1/2 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa

Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add:

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

Stir until peanut butter is melted, and then add:

3 1/2 cups oats

Drop spoonfuls onto wax paper or parchment lined baking sheet. Allow to cool until set. Some people also like to spread the mixture into a pan, cool, and then cut into bars.

This last recipe is for those who love peanut butter, but want to leave out the chocolate.

Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups rolled oats

Mix together sugar, butter, and milk. Bring to rolling boil and then boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla, stirring until peanut butter is melted. Stir in oats, and drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper or parchment paper.