Salt Dough Easter Ornaments

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Hey there, Hackers!

As the Easter holiday comes upon us, I wanted to share with you one easy and homemade decoration you can use to spruce up your home for the festivities. Now I know that Michael’s and Joann Fabrics tend to have really awesome and beautiful decorations and that they are usually quite inexpensive. However, the downside to this is that everyone and their mother probably also goes to those same stores and buys all those same decorations. All the houses on the blocks become Stepford Easter houses. Wouldn’t you like to add a little unique flair to your abode? Here’s how you can!

Salt dough is a time-honored holiday decoration technique and is great if you have kids in the house. It’s like playing with playdoh! It’s also really easy and cheap to make. All you need is the items listed below:

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

1/2 cup salt

1/2 water

Items Needed:

rolling pin

spatula

straw

Easter cookie cutters

parchment paper

baking sheets

Acrylic or spray paint

Paint pens (optional)

Directions:

Mix flour, salt and water in a bowl until it makes a dough. Kneading the dough helps to make it smoother so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Once your dough is mixed thoroughly, you will want to roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Use your cookie cutters to cut out your ornaments. Using the straw, poke a hole near the top of your cut-outs (make sure it’s not too close to the top or it will break when you try to hang them later).

Cover your baking sheets with the parchment paper, lay out the cut-outs and bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours. Once thoroughly baked, allow to fully dry and cool. Then you get to paint however you want! Make them colorful and vibrant or light and pastel. Or both! The sky’s the limit.

Once the paint has fully dried, you can use ribbon or twine to loop through the holes in the ornaments and hang around your home.

Happy Easter, all!


Tips on tips: Piping tutorials that really help

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Good morning, crafty folks!

Have you ever seen those really adorable cakes and cookies in the bakery and thought, “Those are the coolest, I wish I could do something like that.” Chances are, YOU CAN. Just like everything, learning how to do something requires two things; desire and hard work. A lot of the time, the hard work part is just finding the right teachers to help you learn. So today, I’m going to share a few things that I’ve done in the past to learn and further hone my cake and cookie decorating skills.

I feel like I had a bit of an unfair advantage over a lot of people. My mom worked in a Hy-Vee bakery and as such, taught me some of the more basic techniques at quite a young age. But if you are starting from scratch and have no idea what to start with, your best option is to start with a decorating class. Even if you don’t learn your best in a group setting, this is the best way to get a strong base for your technique. The teacher is not only going to be knowledgeable but also probably have done this for years already. And if you live near a Joann Fabrics or Michael’s, both of these craft stores offer cake decorating classes for reasonable prices. Check with your local bakeries as well, some offer small group classes to the public and this can be a fun way to find a local bakery to support also. Groupon is especially helpful in this endeavor and you can get some really great discounts on the classes. This also will give group ticket options so if you and a friend or family member want to do something new and fun, this is a great (and delicious) option. (You get to keep the items you make/decorate). This is also a fun birthday or bachelorette party idea.

In our internet era, another really fabulous resource at our fingertips (literally, because you can do it on your phone) is YouTube. All sorts of wonderful and easy to follow tutorials are uploaded to YouTube and the best part of this (that you can’t do in a class setting) is the pause button. Having trouble figuring out that one little flick to end a buttercream leaf? You can rewind and re-watch as many times as are needed to get it is just right. This resource is the best for those of us who are very visual learners.

Then there are books and magazines. Wilton Baking Company puts out a number of step-by-step guides that are cheap, easy to follow, and you can own for repeated reference. There are also a number of popular bakers from TV shows (think the Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes’ Chef Duff) that put out cookbooks that contain great tutorials and tips.

But one of my favorite things to do is to watch the TV shows I referenced above. Things that air on The Food Network and PBS are a great way to see different techniques and get ideas for your own piping adventures. I personally always loved Ace of Cakes but they aren’t on the air anymore. Cake Boss was another great one but sometimes the best way to learn from these shows is to watch the competitions. Things like The Great British Bake-Off are wonderful teachers because they are inspiring as well. The contestants aren’t always professional bakers, which I always found to be really motivating to others who may really want to bake but think that they can’t. YOU CAN. These people are proving you can do it if you want it bad enough.

I hope that these suggestions help anyone who is on a baking journey to learn strong technique and try new things. Remember, take chances. You may end up inventing a new piping technique of your own.

~Scribe Sarah~


Baking Tip: The Importance of a Trial Run

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Good morning, Crafty Hackers!

This week I wanted to focus on my love of baking. Last week, my office had a pre-Valentine’s Day Bake-off Contest. I love contests like this for two reasons; first reason, you get to eat a bunch of yummy treats that you might not have otherwise had the opportunity to try. Second reason, you have an excuse to try new recipes.

I sat down with a stack of my newer cookbooks, flipping through to find the recipe I wanted to enter to our contest. I decided on a recipe for “Unicorn Poop Cookies” from Rosanna Pansino’s cookbook, Nerdy Nummies (of which you can obtain a copy here if you are interested). I thought it would be a fun and funny entry to the contest (would make people laugh and would stand out), but more importantly, it appeared to be a simple, easy recipe. Well, while it wasn’t a difficult recipe to follow, it did remind me of why it is always important to do a trial run of a recipe first.

To start, this recipe was a simple cream cheese sugar cookie recipe so it wasn’t hard or expensive to make. What it was, though, was TIME-CONSUMING. Having never made cream cheese sugar cookies before, I didn’t know that the dough was not as tough as a roll-out cookie dough. Had I just been making the standard, base recipe, this would not have been a problem. But to craft these cookies into “unicorn poop,” there were several steps that required multiple rounds of chilling in the refrigerator. Had our contest been on a Monday, I could have used all the Sunday prior to make these and would have had plenty of time for all the steps. But, alas, our bake-off was on a Tuesday and I didn’t get home from work on Monday night until around 5:30 pm. Long story slightly less long, the cookies didn’t even go into the oven until about a quarter after 10 pm. I had pre-read the recipe but didn’t put together in my head how long the process might actually take.

Secondly, the recipe only ended up making 12 cookies. TWELVE. For an office of about 35 people. A trial run of the recipe would have shown how big those cookies ended up being and that minimizing the amount of dough used in the “shaping the poop” step would have yielded more cookies. They also would have baked better if smaller. I noticed that a number of the cookies were still just a bit doughy in the center.

Finally, while the cream cheese sugar cookies were tasty, they were also rather blasé. A test run would have given me an opportunity to taste-test first and decide on little tweaks to the recipe. For example, next time I make this recipe, I’d like to try adding a touch more vanilla extract and some nutmeg to add a little more flavor and pop.

When it comes right down to it, this whole thing was a learning experience but I could have had the lesson, applied what was learned and still won that contest. So next time, I plan to plan ahead and make a test batch first. Who wants to be my taste-testers?

“Piece” out, Crafty Bakers!

~Scribe Sarah~


Delicious Gifting

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Happy Sunday, all!

Last week we started a journey into DIY edible gifts and this week I am continuing it. These ideas involve quite a bit of one of my favorite things: SCIENCE. I love the fact that baking/cooking is essentially chemistry in the guise of a fine art. You take all of these seemingly unrelated ingredients, add them together in the correct proportion, do something to change their composition (chopping/mixing/heating/cooling), and then add your own flourish to make it look good. It’s simply amazing to me and always has been. I assure you that none of these are very complicated and most do not involve any specialty items. First up is a tasty, tangy, citrus based treat that is fantastic when also dipped in chocolate: candied citrus peel.

Without the chocolate dip, they are simply like your favorite citrus gummies.

It’s as simple as boiling the peel to remove the bitterness from the pith and then simmering in a simple syrup to get these beautiful and tasty treats. Packaged in cutely decorated canning jars or even in holiday themed cellophane would make a great little stocking stuffer. Next up, let’s continue in the fruit flavored realm and whip up some homemade curd!

Though the tutorial specifies limes, this can be made in practically any flavor.

If you’ve never had some sort of fruit curd (most often sold as lemon or lime), I would highly recommend buying or making some. This delicious tart/sweet fruit butter-like confection is perfect on toast or as a component in other cookies and cakes. Once again, the simple ingredients are cooked together to get a silky smooth topping. Packaging it to look festive in cute little jars to go with our peel? Brilliant. Ok, so now that we’ve seen something akin to a fruit butter, how about a walk on the wild side? My father loves hot peppers and one year he decided to use some leftover jalapeños from the garden to make hot pepper jelly. Yes, you read that right, HOT PEPPER JELLY.

Spicy and satisfying.

What, you may ask, can hot pepper jelly be used for? Any number of things, foremost for us, though was spreading a thin layer of cream cheese in a shallow dish and slathering pepper jelly over it just to scoop it up on crackers. Soooooooooooo good! It’s already so festively colored, too. You can always dial up the color with a couple drops of food coloring for effect, too. The one ingredient you may need to seek out is pectin but most grocery stores carry it in the baking aisle. Alright, moving on to some of the sweeter side items, with that cocoa mix we put together in last week’s list how about some homemade marshmallows?

Light, fluffy, and oh so yummy!

These amazing little lumps of chewy flavor are just so neat to me. I never knew how easy it could be to make them from scratch in any flavor you want. It just takes  some gelatin and corn syrup to start the process (with a lot of powdered sugar added in, of course). It think some more of those cello bags or even in stacking jars with that cocoa mix would be perfect. Finally, last but certainly not least, is my current homemade obsession: caramel. In this case, creamy, chewy fleur de sel caramels:

Just so we are clear, the fleur de sel is really just a specialty salt.

I’ve been making lots of whiskey flavored caramel sauce to put in and on things and these little beauties feel like the next big step. Burning sugar is the height of coolness for me in terms of kitchen science. They are gorgeous and would be so cute just packaged in little twists of waxed paper, then strewn over the bottom of a big gift basket containing our other homemade goodies. I don’t know about you but I’m going to have to “test” a little bit of everything before it goes to it’s eventual owners just to make sure it’s good.

Well now that I’ve gone and made us all hungry, it’s time to say farewell until next week when we will start our annual romp through some holiday decorating ideas.

Stay crafty!

~Laura

 

 


Winter Warmer Gifts

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Happy Sunday, all!

I know I promised a bit more on the host/hostess gift front but found myself under the weather last week so it shall happen today. This is all rather timely since one of the best cures I know for a nasty sore throat is the first item on the gift list: homemade syrups, specifically ginger syrup. Ginger is a fantastic natural throat and stomach soother. When turned into a syrup, it can be added to soda water for ginger ale or tea for those singers/cold sufferers or even into your morning bowl of oatmeal. This lovely tutorial from The Herbal Academy has a great recipe as well as more info on the health benefits of using ginger syrup.

Spicy and effective.

Bottling it up and giving as a gift with instructions seems like a great start to a homemade holiday season. Now what if you’d like to branch out from just ginger? Well then this syrup recipe tutorial from How Sweet Eats is just the thing.

Let’s be honest here, that last one is too pretty NOT to make.

Between vanilla bean, blackberry, brown sugar cinnamon, and almond flavoring syrups I’d be well set with my morning drink additions because coffee isn’t the only thing you could add it to. Again, add some pretty packaging and you have a set of syrups tailored to your host’s tastes. What about something geared toward the baker or even a way to make that last tutorial even more from scratch by making your own vanilla extract? I’ve always wanted to do this and Akshayapaatram has not just a recipe for vanilla but citrus ones as well.

There also seems to be ideas for making your own version of lemon or raspberry liqueur as well.

Using some of that vanilla extract to make the vanilla syrup? Brilliant. Add a little carrier, some instructions for refreshing the liquor base every once in a while and another great gift ready to go. Finally, how about something to add our syrups to? As I am lactose intolerant, I often have to search out non-dairy cocoa mixes around this time. Lo and behold, they make soy milk powder! Who knew? Therefore, this year we can turn that into a delicious gift by making hot chocolate mixes in different variations from this tutorial by My Darling Vegan.

Definitely find out if your giftee has any kind of soy sensitivity, too, of course.

If your host/hostess has no known allergies, feel free to use regular powdered milk instead. You could definitely package up some of the cocoa with some of the flavored syrups for a grand tasty gift basket. Next week, lets take a look at some cooked and baked gift ideas.

Stay crafty!

~Laura

 


For the Host with the Most

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Happy Sunday, all!

Since the holidays are coming up and most of us are forced to interact with people we don’t see often, I thought an opportunity to bring the host/hostess a little handmade gift would be very appropriate. Some of these take longer than others to make and some make multiples at a time so if you have plenty of parties/get-togethers or just want to get a head start on some stocking stuffers or secret Santa gifts this may be the time to start! First up, for those that already have crochet implements, this crochet rope trivet is super sturdy, cute, and serviceable:

For those hot tea pots or even candles (especially if you include those in the gift, too).

It appears to be simple crochet but may take a little bit of muscle to get it through the loops. Next up is an idea for making their table a little prettier, some quick and easy sewn reversible napkin holders:

There’s also instructions on the site for a matching bias tape table runner.

If you have a little more time on your hands and are comfortable with the corner to corner method of crochet, then this Thanksgiving themed pillow set CAL that just released it’s last part of the pattern is for you:

So super cute and perfect for the season!

If you’d rather not assume their decorating style or give them something they are more likely to use, how about one of these neat little tea trees:

This is also a chance to get creative in finding tea bags in several colors.

Or even trying your hand at making these dip mix filled ornaments:

Whichever you choose or if you want to brainstorm on your own to suit your particular host/hostess, we all just want them to feel appreciated. Next week we’ll continue with some ideas for cooking/baking based host/hostess gifts that I’ve really wanted to try out!

Stay crafty!

~Laura


The Great Experiment: Pie crust edition

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Good morning, beautiful crafty people!

Yesterday, our fabulous Laura and I got together to test a recipe we’d been discussing. Now, I’m a big-time baker. I love to bake confectionery treats and goodies but I have only made one fruit pie in my life (and I cheated there and bought the pre-made dough that you just lay into the pan). Pie dough is quite daunting to me. Laura has made many and was kind enough to help me in working with this new-to-me medium.

I thought it would be fun to share with you all what I learned in my first real foray into making pie dough. Pie dough is not like cookie dough. My first moment of “Oh dear, am I doing this right?” was when I was mixing the butter into dry ingredients. The recipe called for cubed butter and I just sliced off the stick into rectangles, thinking that would be ok. Laura suggested actually cubing the slices as well, stating it would make the hand-mixing much each and would blend more thoroughly and easily. She was right. We had also discussed the use of a pastry blender, since this recipe specifically called for hand-blending/kneading. As I worked the ingredients together, I felt that the reason this recipe called for hand-kneading was so that you have a real feel for when the dough is blended enough. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying it with the pastry blender though, if for no other reason than it may be a little easier on my upper body muscles. (Also, I’m short and Laura’s counters are tall, LOL.)

Next, Laura talked me through the roll out process. This recipe called for you to roll the dough out to about 8 x 13 and fold like a business letter. Then you roll it out again to 8 x 13 and fold like a business letter again. At this point, you wrap the dough and chill it for 30 minutes. This was the next point where I got confused. The roll out cookies I’ve made in the past didn’t require chilling. It was especially nerve-wracking when we took the dough out and I tried to roll it out again. It was tough & required a bit more effort than a cookie dough to get rolled out. I recommend definitely only chill for the suggested time in the recipe. Laura and I left ours in longer (we had to break for dinner, we were starving) and she thinks that may have contributed to the difficult roll out.

The next thing I discovered is the thickness of the dough. This recipe called for me to roll out the dough to 14 x 14. I’m used to cookie recipes saying something like, “roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness.” I think for the next time, I will gauge my roll out this way. We found after baking that the crust was a bit thick along the bottom. I also noticed it was a bit more difficult to slice venting slits in the top through a thicker dough. However, unlike with cookie dough, I noticed that the dough did not get consistently tougher as I re-rolled. And adding flour didn’t dry out the dough.

We also discovered that we had a little awkwardness during the crimping edge process. Laura and I exercised a little trial and error and eventually felt that the following method seemed to work best. We started off pushing the edges down and then, as you pressed the fork around the edges to crimp, you put a finger over the top of the fork as you press down. However, for next time, we also want to try putting  a little of the egg wash around the bottom edge before covering and crimping to see if that helps seal it a bit. 

Overall, the recipe/experiment was a resounding success, resulting is a light and flaky dough, and I learned a lot about making pie dough from scratch. I hope that these little tips and lessons we learned help you all in your future baking journeys!

Have a delicious Monday, Hackers!

~Scribe Sarah~

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Galaxy Teas

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Good morning Thursday Crafthackers.

I have a small business to introduce you to. If you love tea, and I know many of you will, then this is an interesting business for you! I work a couple conventions with this gentleman, and he is the first person I have met who can make you your own custom tea blend. May I introduce the very steampunk Galaxy Teas.

Galaxy Teas sells loose leaf tea off the rack at conventions – with super cool names and flavours – and does offer to make a custom flavour for you if you’re looking for a special blend.

Whether you’re looking for a unique flavour blend for a gift for a friend, or whether you’re looking for favours for a wedding or a shower, these teas are beautifully packaged in metallic, colourful little packages with awesome labels for the awesome tea names. We have flavours like Robyn Hood’s Black Forrest and Emma Frost Vanilla Chai.  There might seem to be limited flavours available online, but don’t let that deter you. Send a message to Galaxy teas, as they have many more available that you can buy at conventions or request via email.

You can keep up to date on the shows that Galaxy Teas will be at by following on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy Crafting!

~ Megan


Halloween-Themed Snacks

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Hello my Halloween-y Hackers!

One of my very favorite things to do each Halloween is to make yummy treats. Well, I like doing that year-round but it’s most fun at Halloween. To me, there’s something deeply satisfying about making a hot dog look like a bloody finger. So this week, I wanted to share some fun recipes and tips for making your Halloween party treats the talk of the night.

One thing I make every year (both at Halloween and Christmas) is soft sugar cookies with either a buttercream or royal icing. My recipe for the cookies is from my Hy-Vee Employee Cookbook (courtesy of the lovely Linda Myers of Mt. Ayr), included below, and the buttercream icing that I favor is Wilton’s recipe, found here. Royal icing can be whipped up from a box mix from the store (Michael’s will almost always carry it). This recipe is best for rolled & cut-out cookies. Decorate how every you like. A big tip though is that royal icing works best for cookies you’ll need to transport. Royal icing will harden and your designed cookies will not get destroyed in transit. Buttercream pairs with the soft sugar cookies better because the frosting does not harden. So really, it’s a choice for you which would work best for you and your situation.

Another fun and easy thing to put out for a party is a party mix. This is easy and inexpensive to make (or if you really have a time crunch, you can buy bags of pre-made Chex Mix). Then it’s as easy as adding a little Halloween themed candy to the mix. I prefer candy corn or the pumpkins but you can also use orange and brown M&M’s or Reese’s Pieces. Harvest Hash Chex Mix recipe on Pinterest can be found here.

Other fun finger foods to try out are Deviled eggs, Halloween pretzels, Rice Krispie treat pumpkins, and Ghost Strawberries.

If you are having a smaller soiree with a sit-down dinner, a wonderful dish to serve is Eyeball Pasta (recipe found here). You can also find some fun and frightful ideas for dinners here.

If you want something to set out that is of the healthier snack variety, a simple veggie tray can be set out and arranged in fun designs. There is a Jack’O’Lantern pattern found here and a lovely owl design found here.

As always, imagination is key in your food creations. See that can of black olives? So easy to turn it into black spiders that can be put on top of a pizza with just a few slices of a knife. Those pretzel sticks? A little white almond bark drizzled across them makes them mummy sticks. With that imagination, your Halloween party can be filled with feisty food and tantalizing treats.

~Scribe Sarah~

 

Soft Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 c. margarine

1 egg

1 c. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 c. thick sour cream

3 1/4 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

Cream margarine, egg, sugar and vanilla for 2 minutes. Add sour cream and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Do no chill; roll out and cut. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 minutes.


A Quirky Cup Collection

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Since I can taste tannins, I’m not a big coffee. To even enjoy tea I have to add sugar and milk to it. Which is why I think I covet all my tea mugs so fiercely. I hardly get to use them so when I do they need to be something unique. Figuring I wouldn’t be alone in my mug pursuit I wanted to share my latest cup discovery.

Sydonie Baldissera of The Quirky Cup Collective is a 23 year old South Australian artist that loves painting her own custom teacup/mug designs. I’m a sucker for all things Alice in Wonderland so they immediately caught my eye, lol. She of course makes designs that cover a wide range of tastes but it was the exquisite attention to detail that really drew me in. Her line work is wonderfully clean and unless you knew going in, you likely wouldn’t be able to tell they were hand painted at all! I recommend giving her shop a view, as well as looking in her past sales history to see all the amazing previous designs she’s done. 🙂