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~


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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