Just what you've been lacking in life: an illustrated primer on tacos, featuring emotive taco illustrations! Learn all about tacos and enjoy the cuteness here.
When the settlers came over from Europe, they didn't just bring a will for freedom and revolution: they brought over their shortbread recipes.
Shortbread is perhaps one of the world's most perfect, and most simple, foods. Consisting primarily of flour, butter, sugar, and salt, it can be prettied up in any number of ways, but is in its essence a humble food.
This recipe takes but one liberty: the addition of cornstarch to mimic the lower-protein flours which might have been used in old-school Europe; but otherwise it is fairly straightforward.
To make it a bit more festive, I reserved about 1/8 of the dough, which tinted red. I then made the majority of the dough into a rectangle, removing a portion from the left hand corner to make the blue portion of the flag. I tinted it after I cut it out; this was how I ensured I had enough dough.
Now, I should tell you that decorating with tinted shortbread is tough because you can't really roll or shape it. So I gathered crumbles and kind of pressed them into stripes, and simply shaped and placed the blue portion where I had removed it initially. I used the leftover bits to form ugly multicolored balls of shortbread. They still tasted good.
It baked up pretty sweet, don't you think? Here's the recipe for shortbread--it's a keeper.
How to make perfect shortbread
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (about 6 ounces)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened (4 ounces)
- ½ cup granulated sugar (about 2 ounces)
- ¼ cup cornstarch (about 1 ounce)
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Cut the butter into pieces. Using a wooden spoon, mix the butter and sugar by hand until pale and creamy.
- Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt into the bowl of creamed butter and sugar, and mix well, continuing to use your wooden spoon. It will begin to come together in a somewhat crumbly dough, but it should very easily clump together if you gather it with your hand. If baking as a large round or as small cutout cookies, transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Place the dough on top. Roll out the dough until it is about ¼-inch thick.
- Decide what shape you’d like the shortbread in (follow the steps above, to flag-ify it). If you’d like it to be a round, shape it into a circle by hand. If you’d like it to bake in a pan, press it into a greased 8″ by 8″ pan. Or, simply cut the rolled dough using a lightly floured cutter. Score the dough if it will be sliced after baking, and lightly prick all over with the tines of a fork.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the sides and bottoms are lightly browned but the top is just set. Step 7: Let cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Don’t get greedy, or you might burn your mouth.
Happy 4th of July! Don't forget to make some pop rocks cookies, too.
Cronuts. Brookies. Donnolis. S'moreos. The world of mash-up desserts, or the "hybrid trend", as it has been called by food consultants and PR peeps, has pretty much gotten out of control. But as annoyed as you may want to be with the trend, the fact is...if some is good, more has the potential to be amazing. And so we continue to--excuse the pun--eat it all up.
A recent dessert hybrid dreamed up by cronut creator Dominique Ansel was the chocolate chip cookie "milk shot"--a cup made of chocolate chip cookie, enforced so that it could hold milk long enough to take it as a "shot" and then eat the vessel from whence it came.
It never hit as big as the cronut, but I still think it's a pretty nifty idea, because how many desserts can actually allow you to utter the words "I'm gonna get milk and cookie CRUNK right now!"...? Seriously. No other dessert I can think of.
And an easy-to-make version hit my radar recently with an email from Pillsbury featuring several of their easy mash-ups (cannoli doughnuts, crescent bagels, etc). Their version included chocolate chip cookie dough baked in cupcake tins, then lined with chocolate, then filled with milk. Here's their version:
Looks yum, right?
But of course, I didn't want to do EXACTLY what they told me to, so I thought "why don't I do a Millionaire's shortbread spin?".
It was quite easy to do: I used sugar cookie dough instead of chocolate chip, then added a layer of caramel (since I think I'm pretty cool sometimes, I made my own) atop which I added a layer of chocolate. These fat cookie confections held the milk perfectly, and after a minute or two it begins to soak in to the rest of the cookie and soften the caramel. You can either drink the milk then eat the cookie, or break it apart and then let the pieces "soak" in the spilled milk for a while longer.
No matter how you decide to eat it, the unrefutable truth is that these things are delicious. I mean, sugar cookie dough, caramel, chocolate, a touch of salt, and milk too? There is no part of this equation that is wrong or bad. The taste is classic, but the method of presentation and the mode of eating is fun. And isn't that what dessert is about, joy and fun?
Here's the recipe.
Millionaire's Shortbread Cookie Cups Filled with Milk (printable version here)
You need: a cupcake tin (jumbo or regular, but not mini), parchment paper, spoons and spatulas
- 1 box Pillsbury sugar cookie dough (or one batch of your favorite type), dough prepared per the package instructions but not baked
- 1 bag chocolate morsels (12 ounces)
- 1 cup sugar
- Preheat the oven to 375. Generously grease the cupcake tin, sprinkle each cup with confectioners' sugar, and place a sheet of parchment along the bottom (for easy removal later). Why not just use cupcake cups? I didn't want the ridges on the sides. You can use the cups if you don't mind the ridges, though. No judgment.
- Grab big fistfulls of dough and press them into each of the cupcake cups. Press a dent in the center. You want the cups to be about half full of dough. My entire batch was sufficient to fill a 6 cup "texas sized" cupcake pan. This is to say, these cups were no mere shot glasses. They were fatties.
- Now, bake the cookie cups. Since mine were so thick, they baked for about 25 minutes--longer than the time you'd bake the dough if you were making mere cookies. My advice? Keep an eye on their progress around the suggested cookie bake time, but then keep them in the oven until they are puffy and golden.
- Once puffy and golden, remove from the oven. They will start to deflate in a matter of minutes. This is actually a good thing for you.
- After 5 minutes or so, approach with a spoon and knife. First, use the knife to loosen the edges of each cookie cup to ensure easy removal later. But keep them in the cupcake tin. Now, use the spoon (or go ahead and use your impeccably clean hands) and press the cookies into a more pronounced cup shape.
- Let the cookies cool for about 30 minutes in the cups.
- Now, make your caramel. Simply put the sugar in a dry saucepan, and put it over medium-high heat. Caramelize it per the instructions in this tutorial. Once liquid, pour a little into each cookie cup and spread using a spoon to ensure even coverage inside of the cup. Let the caramel set for about 30 minutes before proceeding.
- Now, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Once melted, pour some on top of the caramel layer in each cup and spread so it covers the inner cup evenly. Don't make it too thick or you won't have anywhere to put your milk.
- Let the cookie cups set again, this time for 2 hours or so, until the chocolate has become firm.
- Once the chocolate is firm, you're ready to serve! Remove the cups from the cupcake tin. Place each serving in a shallow bowl (just nicer in case the milk seeps out). Fill each cup with milk--pour it right in. And serve!
- It's nicest to let the milk sit for a minute or two before drinking and devouring--this will soften the caramel and chocolate and make it, in my opinion, a more enjoyable experience. But you follow your bliss.
Candy just got more artful. Here's a fantastic tutorial on how to create a candy mosaic inspired by fine art! Mine, of course, is inspired by the work of Andy Warhol...making it, yes, Candy Warhol! Learn how to make this art here.
Curious about how to make beautiful flower arrangements on cakes? Here's a wonderful, whimsical and fun guide to flower arranging on cakes. Lots of beautiful inspiration pictures included! Full article here.
When was the last time you consciously and lovingly treated yourself to a cake date?
I did last Friday at lunchtime, like I do every Friday. It's one of my favorite moments of the week: I call it Cake For Lunch Day. I used to refer to it as my "naughty lunch day", but a beautiful reader comment on my facebook page reminded me that no dessert should really be considered naughty. Well, to be completely honest, I don't mind a little naughty in my life--it keeps things interesting. But I can understand how it might be playing into an unhealthy trend to classify dessert as "naughty", so to make it an accessible day for anyone, Cake For Lunch Day it is.
Important note: Friday is not the only day I eat cake or sweets. It's just the official day I have designated for this ritual. I eat something sweet every day!
Cake for lunch is a political act
Frequently, dessert is strongly associated with guilt. All too often, the presentation of a beautiful cake or pie is greeted with a chorus of responses:
"I couldn't", "I shouldn't", "I wouldn't want to spoil my diet!"
So when do we deserve cake? When we reach our "goal" weight? When it's our birthday? When we get the new job?
Why do we have to wait for "someday"? While it's true that we shouldn't be eating cake all day every day, there is a part of these responses that smacks of sad exclusion: I can't eat cake because I don't deserve it.
Having suffered from a potpourri of eating disorders in the past, I used to be scared of cake. I still am, sometimes. But this fantastic ritual has given me something sweet that I would like to share. It is a pleasure to eat cake for lunch. But it is also a statement: I deserve pleasure.
The unofficial rules of Cake For Lunch Day
On Friday morning, I eat breakfast as usual. Whatevs. Then I go about my duties for the day.
And then when it's lunch time, I go out on a spying mission for cake. It can be any type of cake I feel like; the only real "rule" is that it has to be made by someone else. Not because I can't bake, but because it's a real treat of a whole different level when someone else makes it. I generally like it to be a nice, fat slice of cake.
I then come home with my cake, pour a glass of milk, and eat it for lunch. Sometimes I will eat the whole slice, sometimes half and then eat the rest after dinner. Sometmes I will eat 3/4 of it, take a short break, then finish it off with another mini-glass of milk. Usually, I will accompany my cake for lunch with either a beach-type novel or a fresh issue of In Touch Weekly. Is it still a guilty pleasure if I am proudly announcing it?
The positive effects of Cake For Lunch
Some people might be tempted to start in with the naysaying, with statements like "eating cake for lunch isn't healthy!" or "you should really watch carbs during midday" or "is the cake at least gluten-free?". Probably, I am making some nutritionist somewhere scrunch up their nose. Heck, even my formerly anorexic-leaning self wants to start calculating how many calories were in that slice of cake and how little I can eat for the next week to "make up for it".
But I resist all of these voices. Because here's the thing: when the cake is gone, I always have a feeling of supreme happiness. Look at this wonderful thing I just did for myself! Even though the cake is eaten in less than 20 minutes, the experience has ripple effects of happiness that last all day long. These happy ripples make the following happen:
- I am nicer to people and even to my pug.
- I don't feel like it's a hassle to hold a door open for someone or let someone into my lane of traffic.
- I feel calmer, which makes me feel better if I encounter a long line at the post office or see someone pull out a checkbook in the grocery store line.
- I have just enough of a sugar high that makes me want to turn the radio up and do a little dance.
You can't tell me that these things don't contribute to making the world just a little nicer.
The best thing about Cake For Lunch Day (aside from the cake)
The best part of Cake For Lunch Day isn't the cake itself. It is the fact that I took the time and energy to be sweet to myself. To give myself something that is in the scheme of things unnecessary, and a thing that sometimes society can deem downright devilish.
But I am not anorexic or bulimic anymore. I don't have to just dream about cake, or deprive myself then binge on it in such a dissociated way that I don't even stop to taste or enjoy.
Breaking free of an eating disorder means that I am free to treat myself to, eat, and enjoy cake. On the one hand that might seem a a gift I've always had the ability to give myself...but now, I'm willing to receive and enjoy it. Maybe you could, too.
Make your own Cake For Lunch Day
I urge you to make room for a dessert date in your life. If you want, it can be Cake For Lunch Day on Friday, just like me--it's a day good enough to share, and I like the thought of virtually being a lady who lunches with you.
It doesn't have to be a slice of cake--it can be a brownie, or a cookie sandwich, or even a slice of pie. What it does have to be, however, is something that gives you pleasure.
So go ahead, I dare you--no, I invite you--make a date with yourself to enjoy cake. Because we all deserve to enjoy something sweet.
How do you treat yourself (cake-related or otherwise)?
So you want to learn how to draw unicorns. Well, you've come to the right place. I have been a professional illustrator of unicorns since 2007, and have been an appreciator and collector of these magnificent beasts since long before that. What I'm saying is this: I'm pretty much the best person to teach you how to draw them.
I'm not going to twinkle-toe around it, because I want to get straight to the good stuff. And by that, I mean creating magic with pen and paper. So here we go:
How to draw unicorns
No superior work of art ever resulted from a lackluster state of mind. So before you get started, you have to get inspired. There are a few sure-fire ways: surround yourself with unicorns you love, read this post about hipster unicorns, watch Planet Unicorn on youtube, or rent The Last Unicorn.
Now that you're fired up, grab some supplies. I am demonstrating simply using a sharpie with pink construction paper, but you can feel free to use whatever medium makes you happy. I have yet to discover how a tiny naked baby can assist in the unicorn-drawing process, but I am a believer, so I am sure that one day I will learn.
Oooh, ooh, ooh. Now that we're suited up and insprired, it's time to get drawing!
Now, add little ears on the sides of the horn. You want your unicorn to be able to hear the clatter of cupcake tins that means you're getting ready to bake, don't you?
Add a mane, both as a little puff of hair in front of the horn and between the ears, and a nice cascade of hair down the back of the neck.
Add a swingy tail, too!
Add two assertive dots for eyes. Finally, your unicorn can see your pretty smile! Now, add two lighter dots below, for the nostrils.
Be sure to add a heart near the unicorn's butt. This is a spot from which it draws power and magical love energy.
Enjoy the magic of unicorn art!