As the season of Olympic baking is upon us, I thought I’d share a few hacks I will be relying on through the end of the year — and likely beyond. Just a warning: If you are the type of person who has an arsenal of pastry tubes and tips, who knows your way around fondant, you might want to skip this post. But if you are like me, i.e. the type of person who gets dazed and confused in JoAnn’s baking aisle, or who has grand ambitions about this year making a mind-blowing, game-changing sable for the cookie swap, but who ends up falling back on her old-standby ice box cookies for the fifth year in a row…then proceed as directed. I wanted to start with what you’re looking at above, The “A+ cake” I made a few months ago when I was filming my book trailer. In the video, I was trying to make the point that anything is worth celebrating with cake, even a good grade (even a Wednesday!) and so on set, I decided to fashion a homemade stencil out of parchment paper then dust on some powdered sugar. It’s cute, right? Is Martha going to be knocking down my door about this one. Um, no. But the return on investment (five minutes of work, using what was on hand –> happy, grateful daughter) should be enough for most of us, and around the holidays, I can see repurposing one of the kids’ art class snowflakes for the hack, too. (P.S. As long as we’re talking low-maintenance, high-payoff stencil action, you can also maybe try it in reverse with sprinkles, a la Brooke Reynolds.)
I actually do have a whole box of decorating tips somewhere in my baking box, but ever since I was little, I’ve just found it easier to spoon ganache or melted chocolate into a plastic bag, snip off the corner (a tiny tiny bit) and pipe on whatever message I need, including but not limited to: “2017,” kids’ initials, nicknames, emojis, hashtags (anything but #MAGA). P.S. I mauled these pancakes within seconds of taking the picture. See page 149 in How to Celebrate Everything for the recipe (minus the chocolate chips) that will inspire the lifelong Sunday Pancake Family Ritual.
Like always, we’re having some kids over for holiday cookie decorating, and this year I’m so excited to offer them not just boring old sprinkles and dyed frosting. No no no. THIS year, there will be luster dust (see pinkish cookie lower left, the one that looks like it was decorated by a toddler, but which was actually frosted by yours truly), the addition of which, I think, makes everything instantly more wintry and festive. You find it on Amazon and good baking stores.
Lastly, Dorie’s Cookies by the legendary Dorie Greenspan. This is not so much a hack as it is a resource for hacks who no longer want to be hacks. Though Dorie is famous for baking (and in particular her cookies, who remembers her beloved Beurre & Sel in NY?) she’s never put together all her cookie recipes — 300 in all — in one place until now. And we should all be very glad she did. There are Meringue Snowballs, Jam-filled “Little Rascals,” Christmas Spice Cookies, and other A+ holiday options, but there is also the Beurre & Sel collection, and cookies for everyday, including biscottis, bars, brownies, break-ups, and a recipe for Snowy-Topped Brownie Drops that I baked last weekend to rave reviews, and that, come to think of it, would make a nice option for the swap.
It’s Friday and I’m feeling generous! I’m giving away one free copy of Dorie’s Cookies to a lucky commenter. Winner will be selected at random and must live in the U.S. Deadline: Sunday, December 11, 8PM ET. Good luck!