Friday, July 1, 2016

52 Weeks of Cookies: A Year in Review

I did it!  52 weeks is up and 52 new cookie recipes were made!

What did I learn?
  • Baking cookies every week helped me understand the basic cookie recipe - ingredients, measurements, and methods.  I know so much more about what different ingredients or methods do to the final outcome.  I could almost create a recipe without out looking - maybe.
  • I really enjoyed learning as I went through each week and seeing my knowledge grow by simply practicing baking so often.  
  • I learned, or maybe relearned, that I do well with rules and goals and really enjoy having both outlined clearly.  Along with that, I feel guilt easily, often self-imposed by my own rules/goals/expectations.  
  • Also, I learned just how happy cookies make people!  My goodness people love cookies.  More than I even thought.  It really is the simple things.

What tools did I already have that were helpful?
  • Good cookie sheets
  • A sturdy, grid cookie cooling rack
  • Silpat mats
  • A great rubber spatula to scrape the bowl
  • A thin, flexible spatula to lift cookies
  • Cookie scoops
  • a trivet (for setting the hot cookie sheets on to cool quicker between batches - good tip)

What did I buy?
  • Kitchenaid Stand Mixer (I've always wanted one, this just gave me the excuse to buy one when I found a good deal.  LOVE IT.)
  • A sifter - the kind you spin the handle, not squeeze because that's too much work
  • An extra large cookie spatula to move several cookies to the cooling rack at once
  • A zester, so much easier than a basic grater
  • round biscuit cutters
  • some other cookie cutters
  • gel icing, so fun!
  • plenty of extract, butter, sugars, flour, cream cheese, citrus, chocolate, and other required ingredients!
  • Gallon size bags for shipping and gifting and storing
  • Lots of postage!
  • I was gifted a nice non-stick mat for rolling out dough

What do I miss?
  • Making people happy
  • Cookies!
  • The therapy of baking
  • feeling accomplished each week
  • having a specific goal to complete

What makes me glad it's over?
  • Having a clean kitchen!
  • Measuring cups/spoons are put away in the cabinet
  • I don't have to plan something all the time
  • I don't have to shop for baking ingredients
  • I can do other things with that time and not feel as busy

My top 10 (not in ranked order, because I can't pick that)
  1. I Want to Marry You Cookies
  2. Twix Cookies
  3. Soft and Chewy Cinnamon Cookies
  4. Brown Butter Salted Caramel Cookies
  5. Lemon Bar Cookie Cups
  6. Orange Zested Cookies
  7. Flourless Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
  8. Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Filling
  9. Pretzel Cookies with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chips
  10. Chocolate Chip Cookies

My most common cookie tasters' cumulative top 5 - sort of, because they were all so different.
(This group is Brian, my mom, grandma, Ron, my dad, Barbara)

  1. Twix Cookies
  2. Strawberry Lemonade Cookies
  3. Chocolate Chip Cookies
  4. Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Filling
  5. Lemon Bar Cookie Cups

What's next??
First, a break!
I feel the need to ease out of this adventure.  So.

I am going to try to continue to make a new cookie recipe, maybe one a month?  We'll see.  No limitations, rules, etc.  I want to keep up the baking at a much slower pace.

I have always loved baking.  I will always love baking.  Baking once meant out of a box or a simple recipe for a special occasion.  I started to venture out and try some ideas once I found Pinterest.  Now I have tried so many new things.  This year has vastly expanded my confidence, willingness, and love for baking cookies and sharing with others.  Cookies make people happy.  I love cookies.  I love making people happy.  WIN!

Peace, love, and cookies!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cookie Progress: Weeks 46 - 52

It's over!  I'm done!  No more cookies!  At least not weekly.  Thank you for coming on my journey with me.  So. Much. Fun.    
A final look back and overall review coming soon.  Stay tuned!

Week 46:
Cookies - French Toast Sugar Cookies
Event - Dad's birthday
Review - These cookies were to celebrate my dad's birthday.  My dad has always been the best french toast chef so I could think of no better cookie to celebrate him with.  He likes about anything so the french toast was more in celebration of giving to him what he so wonderfully gives.  These were yummy.  I especially liked the extra sprinkle of cinnamon on top for both aesthetics and taste.  I realized I didn't have a square cookie cutter (and I didn't trust myself to cut decent squares) so I improvised with a small Tupperware container which worked perfectly!  The blog I found these on describes them as "insanely delicious pillowy clouds of cinnamon-y, maple goodness" and that is exactly what they are.  I borrowed my mom's sifter for these since I didn't have one.  She has one that you squeeze and is about a 2 cup size.  Suffice it to say I went out a bought myself a sifter after this batch.  The recipe calls for maple extract but I used more pure maple syrup instead since that's what I had on hand.  Verdict, so delicious.  It also made plenty of cookies for all to enjoy.

Week 47:
Cookies - Chunky Chewy Snickerdoodle Cookies
Event - Laura's birthday
Review - I felt like I was cheating on these and I feel like I don't have a choice but to tell you that.  I didn't realize that this recipe called for using a bag cookie mix until I was ready to make it.  I contemplated the idea of using a snickerdoodle cookie recipe but convinced myself (fairly easily really) that I needed to follow the recipe I had given myself.  I felt guilt, I promise you, even in week 47.  Nonetheless, these were so delicious.  Snickers mixed in with snickerdoodles?  Genius.  This gave me all sorts of ideas, using other candies, using it with other base cookie doughs, mixing candies, all kinds of different possibilities!  The work on these cookies came with the unwrapping and cutting of mini Snickers.  I figured these would be a good option for the mail since I was sending them to my sister-in-law for her birthday.  I was lucky enough to keep a few for myself.  I think Brian liked these quite a bit, or maybe he just enjoyed the leftover Snickers I had lying around (not for long).  

Week 48:
Cookies - Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies
Event - Donald's birthday
Review - Yum!  Donald requested white chocolate macadamia or oatmeal chocolate chip.  When I told him I had neither, I let him pick from a list of remaining recipes I didn't have a plan for and these sounded like the most fun since there was a surprise!  It was basically making peanut butter balls and wrapping them in chocolate cookie dough.  They turned out both beautiful and delicious in my opinion.  Look at that gorgeous cracking around the edges!  I especially liked the extra sugar from the sugar coated glass used for flattening the cookies.  Most people agree that you can't really go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter.  I'm not sure there is much more to say about these.        

Week 49:
Cookies - Butterscotch Pudding Triple Chip Cookies
Event - Rachel's birthday
Review - These are some of my favorite that I will certainly make again!  My new favorite cookie recipe - anything with pudding mix added in.  The pudding adds a perfect softness and keeps the cookies plenty moist!  This is a fairly basic and simple chocolate chip cookie recipe otherwise.  The addition of both the white and butterscotch chips adds loads of flavor to otherwise generic (though delicious) cookie.  These were my last cookies to mail away!  I learned my way around the self-service kiosk at the post office and was able to pack quite a few cookies securely in the flat rate boxes.  I will be keeping this recipe handy to make when I am in a pinch.  I can customize it so easily as well, depending on what I have on a hand.  It is an easy and simple base recipe.  If I only wanted chocolate chip they would still be delicious, and they might be good with pecans added in as well.    

Week 50:
Cookies - Meltaway Cookies
Event - Geoff's birthday
Review -   Not my favorite recipe (sorry Geoff!), but certainly an appropriate name for these cookies.  They weren't bad.  They had a nice smooth buttery flavor and soft of crumbled around the edges.  The icing was tasty and could've been any color which is easy for a variety of celebrations.  The addition of the icing wasn't too bad with these because they cookies were so simple.  I definitely enjoyed the cookie better with the icing.  I liked that the cookie only had 4 ingredients, and things you likely always have on hand.  So if you needed a good homemade cookie last minute this is certainly a good option for whatever you may need.  Mine didn't turn out quite as pretty as the ones from the recipe, but they weren't bad.  I think sifting powdered sugar when making cream cheese icing is always a good idea.  It makes the icing much more consistent and pretty.     

Week 51:
Cookies - Lemon Bar Cookie Cups
Event - Difficult cookies at the end
Review - Oh. My.  Goodness.  These were some of my favorites.  A secret - I was actually planning on making these earlier in the year, but had come home from vacation that week and decided to switch the one recipe to give myself a bit of a break.  That's fine, I left these to challenge myself near the end of my journey.  These were similar to lemon bars, but I think better.  The cookie itself was so perfectly simple and delicious.  Add in the homemade (!) lemon curd and the extra sprinkle of powdered sugar and I was done.  So.   Good!  You have to love lemon, but I love that these weren't overpowering.  The curd by itself was something I just wanted to eat spoonfuls of, but was much better combined with the sugar cookie cup.  These were a great size as well, a few small bites and it's gone.  I didn't have a specific occasion for these and I didn't plan soon enough to come up with something.  Several family members and friends were able to eat more of these than normal, including me.  I typically only eat a couple of my cookies unless it makes a ton.  I ate my fair share of these... :)

Week 52:
Cookies - Pinata Cookies
Event - Cinco de Mayo/Graduation
Review -  These win for the most difficult. Hands down.  I could've told you that week 1.  This was the plan all along.  I was terrified of these.  I had to worry and fret about them for 52 weeks.  I am incredibly proud of how they turned out, especially after seeing some other reviews online where they failed miserably (these are funny, though so you may want to check those out).  Even during the baking I was sure they would be my biggest disaster.  I was afraid I would end on such a sour note and be ashamed of my cookie making skills.  Alas, they (sort of) came through for me.  Although I only got 4 real pinata cookies out of this, I got 4 real, decent, legitimate pinata cookies out of this.  They were a challenge and I felt accomplished in completing it.  Particularly with the limited instructions.  I mean, click on this link.  It's a picture tutorial with very little specifics.  I made it work for the most part.  I found a donkey cookie cutter online.  It was 4 inches which I thought was large, but figured it would have to do.  I found a pretty good sugar cookie recipe to use as a base.  I also ordered gel food coloring online.  The mini M&Ms I found at easily Target, where I also found the cute mini pinata I decided I needed to take pictures with.  I put my mom on assignment to find me good Tupperware containers to layer and freeze the dough in.  She succeeded, luckily at the dollar store.  Side note - these were some of my more expensive cookies.  Anyway, the layering was so freaking difficult and I barely had enough dough.  The container needed to be that wide to accommodate the donkey cookie cutter, but I didn't have enough height.  I ended up making some dog bones since they were shorter and then stacked two slices of dough together for the donkeys.  That's why it made even less than it would've.  They stayed together surprisingly well.  I think I lost one leg on each donkey.  Overall, I was incredibly proud of these.  The leftover cookie pieces were yummy, too.  The cookie dough was certainly delicious and the bright colors were fun anyway.  I will enjoy having the gel food coloring in the future.  They look so cool and got a good reaction on facebook, because isn't that what life is all about?!  (sarcasm)          

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Cookie Progress: Weeks 41 - 45

This was a calm 5 weeks of cookie making as only one week had a true occasion and recipient.  I can feel that I am nearing the end and I am looking forward to not having to plan around when to make cookies and what I need from the store.  I am starting to reflect back on the last year in the kitchen and I am honestly amazed that I've almost made it.  It is still fun, but I have definitely felt the difference when the cookies aren't for someone specific.  I don't have the same motivation or excitement when they are just cookies to make cookies.

Week 41:
Cookies - Cherry White Chocolate Pudding Cookies
Event - Valentine's Day and President's Day
Recipe -
Review - I made these after Valentine's day and President's day for the pink color and the cherry flavor.  There was no specified recipient for these so Brian and I both took some to work to share with others.  The recipe includes white chocolate pudding mix and cherry jello mix, so a bit like other jello cookies.  I liked the flavor of the cherry jello but also the color!  The cookies were pretty and smelled delicious as well.  I think everyone enjoyed these, some went back for seconds or thirds.  They were certainly easy to mix together and make quickly.  I never know what to do with the leftover cherry jello mix, but I'll come up with something. I did use sugar free jello in an attempt to cut back on the sugar since you also add plenty of sugar to the recipe and there is pudding and white chocolate as well.  I don't think you could notice the lack of extra sugar.  I thought about chopping up white chocolate rather than use the white chocolate chips, but I didn't because I had the chips and I was feeling "lazy".  I should bake with pudding more often - it makes the cookies so soft with just the right amount of chewiness. These were definitely a fun pink cookie to add to the list.

Week 42:
Cookies - Soft Maple Cinnamon Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese Maple Frosting
Event - Just because
Recipe -
Review - I didn't have an occasion for these cookies so they went to work as well.  I enjoyed using my new baking mat to roll out the dough.  It did help the cookies not stick as easily as they do to floured counter top.  I also used my new circle cookie cutters.  I actually got biscuit cutters because they are thicker and have handles!  How handy.  I do enjoy kitchen tools.  The cookies were light and simple.  They were tasty but I thought they were a bit dry by themselves so the frosting was likely necessary to fully enjoy these cookies.  The frosting turned out to taste delicious, but was lacking in the appearance department.  Maybe softer cream cheese or sifted powdered sugar would help, but nobody seemed bothered by the look because they tasted so good.  A few ladies at work told me these were some of the best cookies they've had.  I had to tell them they weren't my best and they were upset I hadn't brought more in!

Week 43:
Cookies - Lemon Raspberry Cookies
Event - Brian's birthday
Recipe -
Review - Happy birthday Brian!  Brian definitely had a favorite cookie from previous weeks which was his request for his birthday cookies - Strawberry Lemonade cookies.  Unfortunately, I don't repeat cookies to count for my weeks.  :)  However, I thought these would be a great alternative to get similar flavors.  Let me tell you, my mom came to the rescue on these.  I was short on time and she brought me a few ingredients.  I thought the recipe called for frozen raspberries.  When she brought them to me I realized the recipe actually called for freeze dried raspberries!  So she went back to get some for me - going to two stores to find them.  Phew.  I think it was worth it, though, as those freeze dried raspberries really do provide these cookies with something special.  These cookies were the perfect combination of crispy but soft (and stayed that way) and tart but sweet.  I'll say I know Brian enjoyed these close to as much as those strawberry lemonade cookies, so I call that a success.

Week 44:
Cookies - An Even Better Snickerdoodle
Event - Nothing, an easy recipe
Recipe -
Review - Time for a secret confession: I had a different cookie planned for this week and switched it for this recipe because it was easier.  We got back from vacation and I still had the weekend to make the week's cookies, but didn't end up accomplishing it until Monday night.  Oh. Well.  That's where I'm at.  :)  These were perfect because they were so simple, I had everything I needed already in the pantry, and it was a smaller batch.  Since I didn't have anything in mind for sharing these cookies it was nice to have a smaller batch and be able to give the normal taste testers a few extra cookies each.  Snickerdoodles might just be my favorite go-to "normal" cookie due to my love for cinnamon.  These were quite delicious and a perfect snickerdoodle texture of crisp, soft, and chewy.  They were a cookie that I probably would've eaten a dozen out of the oven if I didn't have self-control.  It was tempting.

Week 45:
Cookies - 5 Ingredient Raspberry Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookies
Event - St. Patty's Day and March Madness I guess
Recipe -
Review - These were yummy.  I have never made jam thumbprint cookies, so it was fun to do.  I shared these at a March Madness watch party on St. Patty's day.  They were gone before a few of the late-comers even showed up.  I didn't have raspberry preserves at home, but I did have strawberry preserves.  Then I had to go to the store anyway so I caved and bought raspberry - it sounded so good!  Although I think strawberry (or any other flavor you prefer) would be tasty as well, I am pleased with myself for using the raspberry preserves.  They went so well with the light and yummy cookies.  The dough included cream cheese, thus the cheesecake.  It wasn't overwhelming, just enough to give it that creamy decadent texture and flavor.  They were a perfect amount of sweet.  I followed the timing fairly exactly and it was wonderful to have the just cooked edges to keep the texture perfect.  Yum.  I will make these again and again.  The dough was easy to pull together besides having to remeber to give yourself time for it to chill first.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Cookie Progress: Weeks 36 - 40

Another 5 weeks of bringing people joy through cookies!  I truly love how excited people get for cookies.  Baking for you is completely my pleasure.

Week 36:
Cookies - Raspberry Cream Cookies
Event - Greg and Mike's birthday
Recipe -
Review - Yum!  I wanted to make a cookie that would travel well since these had to go to two different cities, both several states away!  I was excited to use fruit in a cookie, especially with white chocolate.  It was a tasty combination.  I think I should've let the dough sit out longer after being chilled.  The last couple of batches out of the oven were a little better looking than the first couple.  The first few were more lumpy I guess, while the warmer dough cooked more evenly.  Next time I may use chopped white chocolate as the recipe calls for as opposed to the white chocolate chips that I used.  I also may use fresh raspberries that I freeze rather than frozen bagged raspberries.  I'm not sure it would make a big difference, but maybe in the amount of whole raspberries that were in the cookie rather than pieces.  I was excited to send the McCauley twins some cookies for their big birthday.

Week 37:
Cookies - Chocolate Chip Cookies (NY Times rated best)
Event - Casey's birthday
Recipe -
Review - Casey wanted plain chocolate chip cookies, lucky for him I had a recipe that has been rated the best chocolate chip cookie recipe by the NY Times.  Unfortunately for me, it was a little more complicated than most plain chocolate chip cookie recipes.  I have never used bread flour or cake flour prior to these cookies.  I also hadn't sifted out all the dry ingredients before.  Plenty of time and hand cramps later I could start the actual mixing of the dough!  These also had to chill for awhile, so I had to plan it out more than usual.  However, they were amazing and Casey and others enjoyed them.  They got a great reaction.  It made a very large batch of cookies, so if I make these again I would either freeze some of the dough or cut the recipe in half.  Casey said these tasted "like Chips Ahoy!" - I know he meant similar in taste and texture but much better!!

Week 38:
Cookies - Soft and Puffy Peanut Butter Coconut Oil Cookies
Event - for Jon
Recipe -
Review - Brian's friend Jon was very interested in my cookie journey and wanted to get in on it.  So when I had a free week with no events, Jon got a spot!  I was excited that he chose this recipe out of a few choice because I wasn't sure who would be interested in these since they are just a little different.  I loved how these turned out.  I honestly couldn't taste the coconut oil in the cookies.  I did tast the soft and puffy peanut butter, though!  I think Jon may have enjoyed them all in a short timeframe, so I'd say that's a success.  I liked the texture of these quite a bit.  They were a little greasy on your fingertips with the coconut oil and peanut butter, but didn't taste greasy.  I really like how they looked, it was a good dough to use with the cookie scoop.       

Week 39:
Cookies - Soft Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies
Event - Kevin's birthday
Recipe -
Review - When we were in Wisconsin for Jess and Doug's wedding, Kevin wanted to make sure he got in on this cookie adventure and let me know when his birthday was.  He said chocolate chip may be his favorite, and Loretta helped me pick this recipe of a few different varieties I had to choose from.  I was also very excited about these, because baking with Nutella always turns out delicious.  I know these were enjoyed, I just hope they didn't cause an argument in the Coccetella home!  Not only were these delicious but they were very straightforward and simple to bake.  I did use semi-sweet chocolate chips as opposed to bittersweet chocolate chips, but I think it'd be fun to make it both ways and see which I preferred.

Week 40:
Cookies - Twix Cookies
Event - Jessica's birthday
Recipe -
Review - These were perhaps the most talked about cookies that people seemed most excited about.  I suppose they are unique.  The cookie is a shortbread, then it has melted caramel and melted chocolate on top.  Each layer required cooling before moving on to the next.  I made these while I was getting my internet upgraded and the technician said, "Yum, cookies!  Someone will be lucky."  Oh if only he knew how lucky so many people have been!  They were a sure manual labor of love for my best friend's birthday.  We both love Twix so it was awesome to make these for her.  She was more excited than just about anyone so far.  That is by far my favorite part of baking cookies; it's all to give people something to smile about and enjoy. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Cookie Progress: Weeks 31 - 35

And the journey continues - a whole blog full of BIRTHDAYS!  I'm getting closer.  I'm enjoying it, but I'm getting to the point where I will be ready for a break.  Thank you for your continued excitement and interest, as that is a major motivating factor for me.

Week 31:
Cookies - Homemade Oreos
Event - Mom's Birthday
Recipe -
Review - Mom enjoys Oreos so I thought these would be fun to make for her birthday.  They were fun, I really enjoyed making these and eating them!  I wasn't convinced they would actually turn out as a hard crunchy cookie with a set filling inside.  I thought they surely would turn out more like whoopie pies.  They proved me wrong, they were a harder cookie with a perfect filling.  It was interesting to see these come together.  The cookie was a good cocoa flavor without being too rich and overpowering and the filling was a great balance without being too fluffy and sweet.  Although they weren't quite like Oreos, they were certainly closer to them than whoopie pies.  They were a little tedious to make since you had to roll out the dough and cut them out to bake, then make the filling and assemble.  I also gave a few to my friend Jessica's mom, Chris, who shares a birthday with my mom!

Week 32:
Cookies - Caramel Stuffed Soft Gingerbread Cookies
Event - Barbara's Birthday/my birthday
Recipe -
Review - A winter cookie as a gingerbread, but with the caramel they were a bit different.  They didn't turn out to look like the picture at all, that seems to be happening a lot lately.  They still tasted good, though.  I liked that these were soft and chewy instead of hard and crunchy like I normally think of gingerbread.  They weren't overpowering on the ginger, but had great spice flavors.  Again, I cheated and used caramel bits instead of unwrapping individual caramels.  They may have melted a little better but it was so much easier this way.  It still took plenty of effort to roll out two balls of dough and roll them around the caramel in the middle.  Since the caramel was in the middle, these tasted best right out of the oven or better in the microwave for a few seconds so it wasn't hard in the middle.  I think everyone really enjoyed these, which is really all that matters.

Week 33:
Cookies - Fairy Bites: Tiny Shortbread Cookies
Event - Cora's 5th Birthday
Recipe -
Review - These didn't turn out quite like I wanted them to or how they looked on the recipe, but still yummy and fun.  Tate was in town so he got to help me make these.  We both had fun.  The dough was still crumbly for me and never turned into real dough which I was worried about.  You pressed it into a pan and then cut it up to bake.  It was a challenge to get full pieces from the pan to the baking sheet without falling apart, so they were misshapen and a bit crumbly, but actually mostly stuck together.  They were a delicious light shortbread and the sprinkles made it fun.  Even though it was supposed to be crumbly, I think it was meant to stick a little better than mine did.  I triple checked the recipe so I'm not sure what went wrong.  Other than the fact that they didn't come together too well, they were super easy to make.  The best thing was that Cora really didn't care.  She still enjoyed them and was nice enough to share them.    

Week 34:
Cookies - Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies
Event - Jessica's Birthday
Recipe -
Review - Gluten free and delicious with the dark chocolate, these were more winners.  I get the special privilege of always trying a cookie straight from the oven.  In this case in particular it was a real treat to have this hot and fresh with the gooey dark chocolate.  I had never tried almond butter before so that was fun.  The recipe said you could substitute peanut butter but I wanted to try it as it was and try something new.  If I made them again I may use peanut butter just because the almond butter is so darn expensive.  These were easy to make and stayed together better than other gluten free cookies I have made in the past.  I got these mailed quickly so Jess could enjoy them as fresh as possible and she did!  Success!  She had several people offer to help eat them.  I also put up my new kitchen decor from Donald!

Week 35:
Cookies - Flourless Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Event - Regina's Birthday
Recipe -
Review - These were delicious and probably some of my favorites I've made.  Regina said it really made her day, so that's the best part of all!  These were the best gluten free cookies I think I've made.  They stuck together so well and were chewy and soft.  Although, if I were giving these to someone with a severe gluten allergy I may be in trouble with the potential for trace amounts of gluten in the oats since I didn't buy specifically gluten free oats.  Thankfully that wasn't the case with these.  They were so easy to make.  The combination of peanut butter and chocolate is always a win in my book.  These were another cookie I was extra lucky to test straight from the oven with the warm and melted chocolate chips.  They weren't quite as beautiful as the picture in the recipe, but still pretty good looking cookies.  They were bite size which is my favorite so you can have just one for a small treat, or a few for an indulgence.