Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Halloween Spiced Sugar Cookies

I have never quite got the hang of decorating sugar cookies. I think that I am really just too impatient for the detail-oriented work and the amount of time it takes (including drying time!) to complete. But, this Halloween I really wanted to make good use of my Halloween cookie cutters and give sugar cookies another try. I think they are a great way to celebrate holidays and they are also my guy's favorite cookie-so many reasons to try again!

I decided to add pumpkin pie spice to my favorite sugar cookie recipe to make them even more Halloweeny. It was a perfect flavor and I think that the decorations even came out well. Now I can't wait until the next holiday themed sugar cookies!!

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies
For the cookies (makes approx 2 dozen cookies):
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
For the royal icing:4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean.  Mix in the flour, spices, and salt on low speed until just incorporated.  Form the dough into a ball and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 1-2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll the dough out on a well floured surface to about ¼-inch thickness.  Cut with cookie cutters as desired and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.  Bake 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until fully cooked but not at all browned.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 
To make the royal icing: Combine all icing ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on a low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container.  Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. Tint the icing with gel colors as desired. Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let stand so the icing will set. Keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden. If you are keeping the icing overnight, cover it with plastic wrap and press this onto the surface of the icing to prevent the icing from hardening.
Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. Once the icing has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to spread it. Allow to set overnight. Be sure to leave the cookies uncovered overnight so that the icing sets properly. They will not go stale.
When the icing has hardened, use the remaining icing to decorate the cookies with details as desired.

Cookie recipe adapted from Annie's Eats. Icing recipe from Annie's Eats who has a wonderful royal icing tutorial.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Award-Winning Bacon Pecan Pie

I am spending the evening relaxing after 3 days of very intense work in my kitchen. Let's start at the beginning...I decided to enter a State Fair of Texas baking contest this year. I knew I wanted to enter my pecan pie recipe but I felt like I needed to somehow make it more exciting and unique. My colleague suggested adding bacon to it....brillant! And there just happened to be a dessert class in the bacon category of the contest-perfect!

The next step: to determine the best way of incorporating bacon into the pecan pie. I approached this with an almost scientific discipline and spent the days building up to the competition trying a variety of methods and techniques for producing the best bacon pecan pie. I dreamt about bacon pecan pie, our house constantly smelled like bacon, and my poor guy has had to endure endless conversations on the topic. I finally decided on the best way to incorporate the bacon-sprinkling it on doesn't sound that ground-breaking, but trust me, it is the best way. After one final test run, I was ready for the big day.

The alarm woke me up at 6:30am and I began baking. By 9:30am, I was at the State Fair with my pie and my friends and family were there to cheer me on. The competition itself was one of the tensest experiences of my life. Watching the judges taste and evaluate my baking was kind of nerve-racking. Finally, they announced the winners-I came third!! Whilst I was really hoping for at least second, I was extremely happy, excited, and relieved to get a ribbon.

Overall, I was really happy with how this pie turned out. The combination of flavors is reminiscent of breakfast...a really gooey, yummy breakfast. It is suprisingly delicious and certainly not just for the State Fair competition.

Bacon Pecan Pie

1 ¼ cup plain flour
1 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
8 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp (or more) of very cold water

¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¼ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans *
1 cup toasted pecan halves*
16 oz thin smoked bacon
* Pecans can be toasted on a baking sheet for 15 minutes in a 350*F oven.

To make the pastry: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the largest butter pieces are no bigger than peas. Add the cold water a little at a time and pulse until the dough just comes together. You may require extra water. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough and line the pie tin. Trim the overhang even with the pie rim and crimp the edges decoratively. Refrigerate for 30min, until firm. 

Preheat oven to 375*F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the chilled pie with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake until dough no longer looks wet, about 20mins. Remove the weights and parchment paper and continue to bake 10 minutes more until the crust is lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

To make the bacon pieces: Lay the bacon strips onto a plate covered in multiple layers of paper towels. Microwave on high for approximately 13 minutes until very crispy. Dab the bacon with paper towels throughout the cooking process. Remove the bacon from the microwave and cut into very small pieces. Squeeze out any remaining excess grease with paper towels. 

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 325*F. In a bowl, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, salt and pecans. Pour into the prebaked pastry shell and place pan on a baking sheet.  

Bake for 10 minutes and then remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle with the bacon pieces. Press them lightly into the filling. Return the pie to the oven and continue to bake for an additional 35-45 minutes until the center is slightly soft to the touch and the edges are set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 30minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.