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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The Cheap Dye That is Surprisingly Decent

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Dying things can be a long and expensive process sometimes. Not to mention all the steps you have to go through to prepare it so that it’ll stay. Thankfully, the internet has come to our rescue once more! Today I’ll be sharing the secrets of using the cheap drink brand Kool-aid as your all purpose dye.

I first started looking into this when I can across a post were a leather user talked about how they decided to try this just for laughs while making a drink:

I was making a drink while cutting the snaps off some new straps for my pauldrons and I got curious, so I tried it, thinking, “ok even if this works, it will just wash out.”

Nope.

It took the “dye” (undiluted) in about 3 seconds. After drying for about an hour and a half, it would not wash off in the hottest tap-water. It would not wash out after soaking for 30 minutes.

They then go on to talk about how it took boiling the dyed leather to even slightly remove the dye. O.O That’s some pretty powerful stuff there. So, what can we learn from this and apply for ourselves? Well, after some experimenting and reading on my part, I’ve found that Kool-aid as a dye works pretty well for a variety of natural fiber mediums such as leather, wool, cotton, hair, flax, jute, silk and so on. You’ll also need to make sure that you’re not just making Kool-aid proper and then adding your items to it. It needs to be the flavor only packet/liquid as the pre mixed once have sugar. The sugar will make your end product sticky and unusable down the line. That’s no good for anyone

Also, you’ll want to heat the dye water up, just like you would with commercial dyes. This helps stimulate the molecules and ‘activate’ the dye to help the color permeate. Once it’s set for 20-30mins, let it dry and then rise in cold water to remove the excess. 😀 Several people have even made charts to help others achieve desired colors! A quick google search gave me this one, but there are loads more, including yarn results which very much so appeal to me, lol.

So there you have it. Never think that dying something it out of your budget as long as you have access to Kool-aid. ^_^


Prioritizing and You

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So this is a subject that I often struggle with in my daily life. Figuring out how to prioritize what to do and when to do it when you feel you’re overwhelmed/stressed. Typically I use a weekly planner to map out my work schedule for myself, but what about everything else? Where do I fit in my house hold chores? Doctor’s appointments (for me and family)? Cooking/Meal prep? Work for Craft Hackers? The sheer amount just overwhelms me mentally sometimes. Well, in case any of you out there are feeling buried under stress, here’s a handy chart/suggestion I found online to try and help you get a hold of things. This comes from a very helpful blogger and is no way my own idea.

Take a deep breath, because this is a boot camp in prioritization.

  • Make a 3 by 4 grid. Make it pretty big. The line above your top row goes like this: Due YESTERDAY – due TOMORROW – due LATER. Along the side, write: Takes 5 min – Takes 30 min – Takes hours – Takes DAYS.
  • Divide ALL your tasks into one of these squares, based on how much work you still have to do. A thank you note for a present you received two weeks ago? That takes 5 minutes and was due YESTERDAY. Put it in that square. A five page paper that’s due tomorrow? That takes an hour/hours, place it appropriately. Tomorrow’s speech you just need to rehearse? Half an hour, due TOMORROW. Do the same for ALL of your tasks
  • Your priority goes like this:
    • 5 minutes due YESTERDAY
    • 5 minutes due TOMORROW
    • Half-hour due YESTERDAY
    • Half-hour due TOMORROW
    • Hours due YESTERDAY
    • Hours due TOMORROW
    • 5 minutes due LATER
    • Half-hour due LATER
    • Hours due LATER
    • DAYS due YESTERDAY
    • DAYS due TOMORROW
    • DAYS due LATER
  • At this point you just go down the list in each section. If something feels especially urgent, for whatever reason – a certain professor is hounding you, you’re especially worried about that speech, whatever – you can bump that up to the top of the entire list. However, going through the list like this is what I find most efficient.
    • Some people do like to save the 5 minute tasks for kind of a break between longer-running tasks. If that’s what you want to try, go for it! You’re the one studying here.

So that’s how to prioritize. Now, how to actually do shit? That’s where the 20/10 method comes in. It’s simple: do stuff like a stuff-doing FIEND for 20 minutes, then take a ten minute break and do whatever you want. Repeat ad infinitum. It’s how I’ve gotten through my to do list, concussed and everything.

You’ve got this. Get a drink and start – we can do our stuff together!


Proper Piping Techniques

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Not a subject you might expect to see on a craft blog, but hear me out. A crafy design technique that has been growing in popularity the past few years is decoden phone cases.

No, those aren’t made from standard frosting either, but the techniques used to make the final designs require similar control so I am here to provide such a resource at craftsy.

Their article goes over not only planning and practicing, but also things like the best way to hold the bag while working to make sure you get an even consistancy. It’s a great resource no matter your skill level and a good read even for those of us that aren’t using it for crafts. 😉

~Nicole


Cosplay Hacks

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In true form with our group name, today I would like to present some cosplay hacks for all you crafty costume creators out there. It’s only 2 so don’t get too excited, but -as someone who doesn’t sew well- they seem like fantastic tips for those who are new to costumes.

See this stuff right here? FROG JUICE. What’s it do? Well, it’s designed to help protect outdoor vinyl signs. How does this help your cosplay? This stuff has a nice shiny look to it once it applies so your foam sword? Metallic looking and awesome now. Those Crystals you wanted to look real? Also shiny and beautiful. Really, the possibilities could be endless. Bonus points? It’s weather proof and flexible. Meaning your foam sword won’t get all stiff and will pass cosplay security requirements. Also means it won’t lose that kick ass paint job you put on it either. One can of this stuff is less than $8 and will likely last you a long, long time. Definitely worth the investment if you are serious about your cosplay props.

 

The second hack comes courtesy of Inus-Dream Cosplay and is extremely helpful if you don’t know how/can’t do embroidery designs on your sewing machine while still providing you with that high polished look. While they use a 3D printer gun to draw the design first (Allowing some height so that the embroidery doesn’t look flat) You could certainly use some good old hot glue or puff paint to achieve the same effect. Simply draw your design onto the fabric with the material of your choice and then hand sew your thread over it. Continue until finished. Not as time saver sure, but certainly a cost saver. You can find her post about it here on her facebook page, as well as the comments and suggestions added to it.