On a whim, I took a cupcake decorating class, and was hooked!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

It's not easy being cheesy

I decided to make a batch of spice cake cupcakes today, and give cream cheese icing a try.  The cupcakes were fine, but the icing was a bit of a dud at first.  I used Alice's buttercream recipe and substituted 4 ounces of Philadelphia cream cheese (is there any other kind?) for one of the sticks of butter.  It was ... okay.  Not spectacular, by any means.  Just okay.  So I tossed in the other 4 ounces of cream cheese, added more powdered sugar and another slug of vanilla.

Aside:  I've been having problems finding a vanilla extract I like (#FirstWorldProblems).  The first bottle I bought was McCormick's, and it was fine.  I started looking for other kinds, thinking there might be a difference - boy, was I right!  I bought a bottle of organic vanilla extract, and it was almost flavorless.  I bought a bottle of Wilton's Madagascar Vanilla thinking it would be more flavorful, and ended up using about twice the recommended amount.  I need good vanilla!

Once I added the other half of the Philly, the icing really seemed to come together.  It's extra creamy, and has that lovely tart Philly flavor.  I think I did a pretty good job making it better than it started out being.  I love that Alice has made it so easy to make a good icing: If it needs to be stiffer, just sift a little more powdered sugar into it.  If it's too stiff, add a little more milk.  No stress, just tweak it until it's how you want it!


I used a 2D tip instead of trying the new one I got at the bakers' supply shop, because the icing was so creamy. 

I made one regular batch of 24 cupcakes, and a batch and a half of icing, and I still had 5 cupcakes left when the icing ran out!  My husband said I might possibly be putting too much icing on the cupcakes.  Philistine!  Does he not know that the cupcakes exist only as a delivery vehicle for the icing?  :-)

Lesson learned:  Next time I'm going to do cream cheese icing, I think I'm going to leave out the butter and just use Philadelphia cream cheese.  And I'm going to make a double batch, because that stuff is pure yum.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Monthiversary?

It's so hard to believe that I've only been cupcaking at home for one month.  I brought Myrtle home exactly one month ago today.  I've acquired so much cupcake gear in that time that it is now housed in a Sterilite bin on the pantry shelves.




Quite a difference from the first picture of Myrtle, taken a month ago:




Mission Accomplished!

Moaning Myrtle is now ready for her debut appearance on Pimp My KitchenAid.  What do you think?



I wipe Myrtle down with a damp cloth right away after every batch of buttercream, so I don't anticipate any problems with the polka dots on Myrtle herself.  However, I'm not quite as optimistic about the dots on the hopper for the slicer-shredder attachment.  I think that's going to need more cleaning than a damp wipe, so probably the polka dots won't last as long.  But it's cute as all hell now! 

I used a couple of different punches to get the polka dots.  1" EK circle, and a mini 2-in-1 punch from Recollections for the smaller dots.  I'm generally pleased with how the punches worked on the contact paper, but the large punch didn't cut cleanly all the time, and I had to discard quite a few that were damaged. 

No baking this weekend.  I've been decorating Myrtle, and don't have it in me to do any cupcakes.  Lemon cupcakes will have to wait.  I think we'll live.  :-)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Happy Hostess House

I visited my first baking specialty shop today.  I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of flavorings, decorations, and such were available, and I was definitely not disappointed.  First, let me attest that Happy Hostess House has just about every cookie cutter known to mankind.  Tiny bitty ones, big giant ones, and everything in between.  And they have candy-making supplies and molds, too.  And wedding cake decorations, and all kinds of shaped cake pans (including some really tiny loaf pans that are just adorable), and oh, my gawd, they had so many kinds of colorings I had no idea what to do with them. 

I had to tear myself away from tiny little jars of sparkly glitter.  One of the ladies who worked there says she likes to use a horsehair brush to dip in the jar, then tap over the cupcake to make the glitter fall on the cupcakes.  And they had all manner of sprinkles and candy to put on top, too.  This will most definitely require further investigation at a later date.

The ladies at Happy Hostess House were helpful and happy to help this noob with her shopping.  I picked up six flavors of LorAnn Oils to try out.  At $1.45 each, I figured why not?  So I got Natural Lime Oil, and Caramel, Key Lime, Chocolate, Eggnog, and Bavarian Cream flavors.  They're so concentrated, you should use an eyedropper to add the flavors slowly, tasting as you go.  You can see the eyedropper on the left of the picture.


I'm looking forward to trying some of these in my buttercream!  Doesn't Key Lime buttercream sound yummy on lemon cupcakes?

I also got a new decorating tip, an Ateco 108.  It's a nice, big tip, and it'll be interesting to see how the swirls will look with this.  Maybe I'll practice some flowers, too.  Successful shopping accomplished!  $12.50 for the lot, too.  :-)

Polka-Dotting In Progress - Opinion, please?

The Contact Paper has come!  I've punched out my dots, and am busily applying them to Moaning Myrtle.  Question for my friends:  Do you like Myrtle with the big dots only, or with the little dots mixed in?




I think I like with the little dots mixed in.  What do you think?  Comment here or on Facebook.  :-)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Myrtle's Polka Dots

I haven't been able to find ready-made polka dots, so I'm going to make my own.  On a whim, I stopped by Michael's this afternoon to see what kind of cupcake goodies they had.  (Ohhh, the cupcake papers I saw!!  So darn cute.)  And then it occurred to me that they had all kinds of punches for scrapbooking, and sure enough!  I found some round ones in different sizes.  No contact paper, though - I ordered that from Amazon.  So when it gets here, I'm going to punch out red polka dots and stick them all over Moaning Myrtle.

The trip to Michael's also yielded some very cute sugar sprinkles, a couple new decorating tips, and a Decorating Nail Set.  I'd been wondering about having something to practice with icing techniques, and this, I think, will fit the bill nicely.  I can scrape off the icing back into the container, and scraping off a cupcake only works a couple of times before the cupcake is irretrievably mangled.  Also considering getting a tub of their ready-made decorator icing; I'm very sure it would be cheaper than making buttercream for practice!

On the wish list:  a baking pan with very, very small cupcake recesses.  The bonbon sized cupcake papers are too small for the mini cupcake pans I have, and if I can find a way to make adorable TINY cupcakes, maybe folks at work would eat them!  So the holes would need to be about an inch in diameter, and the resulting cupcakes would be about the size of petit-fours.  Won't that be cute?  I'm finding some possibilities in silicone. 

Also on the wish list:  Drip-cut batter dispenser - although this might be more trouble than it's worth. 

Fangirl link of the day:  Alice's chocolate ganache

Sunday, March 18, 2012

OMG!! Alice has a book

OK, I'm officially a fangirl.  Look!!

Savory Sweet Life cookbook

Must. Have.  And Alice will be going on a book tour, too!  Alice's buttercream recipes made me feel like I could make yummy stuff.  Me, with no skills at all. 

Fangirl!!

Alice makes it look so easy...

Just look at these adorable mini cupcakes!  Alice is my hero... or is that SHEro?
Making buttercream flowers

This is WAY outside my skillset, but one of these days, maybe... it speaks to the "cool" factor, without being too "froufrou."  Can't explain better than that, but look:
Making gum paste leaves
Is that not just awesome?

Here's Alice's instructions on frosting a cake.  She makes it look almost possible!  ;-)
How to frost a cake

Alice IS awesomesauce.
Am I too fangirl?

Too Many Puppies

I offered to make cupcakes for a co-worker's birthday, and she requested chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing.  Can do!!  But chocolate cake can be kind of blah, so I decided to make a batch of the perennial favorite, yellow cake with chocolate icing, as well.

Made a double-batch of chocolate buttercream, and it was a moderate fail on several different levels.  First, I finished off my bottle of McCormick's vanilla extract, and started on the bottle of Organic Vanilla Extract that I'd picked up on sale.  Organic has to be good, right?  Not so much.  It had almost no vanilla flavor.  I had to add more of it, and still, it just didn't flavor the icing as much as I wanted.  So I added more cocoa powder to bring the flavor up a little.  It's extra fudgey icing!  I'm not going to finish the bottle... must get a different kind STAT.  So that was moderate fail #1.

Moderate fail #2 was the decorating bag.  I used a 16" disposable bag with 1M tip, and the icing was a little stiff because of the extra cocoa powder (sifted, of course, per Alice's instructions!), which isn't necessarily a bad thing; stiffer icing makes prettier swirls.

BUT.

Stiffer icing also requires more hand strength to pipe out.  And hand strength isn't my strength, if you'll pardon the pun!  Not only that, but the bag seam split a little.  <sigh>  So I cut off the end of the bag, dropped the tip into a 12" bag, and squeezed the icing from the big bag into the little bag.  Cut the end off the new bag and we're off to the races.

Only, there's another fail.  I didn't push the tip down far enough, and when I squeezed the bag, the tip came out.  Bag #3, coming right up.  Finally finished the chocolate cupcakes, only to have a batch of yellow cupcakes waiting cheerfully for their icing.  Naptime.

After a brief nap, I came back downstairs to find that my house elves had NOT finished the icing job.  So I loaded my bag again and hit the second batch of cupcakes.  They're pretty standard, not worth taking pictures of.  Not to mention I'm pretty tired of looking at cupcakes.

My hand is sore, my shoulder is aching, and I've got way too many cupcakes in the house.  I sent some home with a friend, will take a dozen to the birthday girl, and another dozen for the folks at my day job (who are all on Weight Watchers, so they won't get eaten), and another bunch will go to VOICEcorps tomorrow afternoon.

Too many lessons learned today!  Stick with the vanilla you know, or find one that has been reviewed well.  Don't overload the piping bag, and don't forget the details when reloading bags.  Most of all, only make ONE batch of cupcakes at a time until the hand strength is better.  And you know what?  I don't think I like Betty Crocker cake mix.  Too crumbly.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Alice's Buttercream is fantastic!

Have you ever had lemon frosting out of the plastic tub at the grocery store?  I love lemon, so tried making a batch of lemon cupcakes once, using the lemon frosting.  The cake was fine, but the frosting tasted like Lemon Pledge.  Bleurgh!

So, I was intrigued when the recipe for SavorySweetLife's Classic Buttercream mentioned that you can use lemon extract instead of vanilla.  Never having used lemon extract before, I was naturally concerned that it would taste like furniture polish.  So I made a batch of lemon cupcakes, and then made a scaled-down batch of buttercream, with lemon extract.

YUMMMMMM!!!  It was fantastic!  Bright and sweet, without a hint of dustrag anywhere.  Full steam ahead!  Finished out the rest of the batch in Moaning Myrtle, iced the cupcakes using my current favorite tip, 2D.  And, to add the final lovely touch, finished them with a sprinkle of yellow Cake Sparkles:


Success!!!  They are terrific.  :-)  Anyone want a cupcake?  I say again, I will never, ever buy frosting in a tub again.  Buttercream is SO easy in a KitchenAid, and it's just so darn good.  Not to mention the ingredients: Butter, powdered sugar, salt, milk, and whatever flavor you want.  Pretty simple stuff.

Lessons learned:  Make a little batch when trying a new flavor, so that if it does turn out to taste like cleaning supplies, you haven't wasted half a pound of butter and 4 cups of powdered sugar.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ann Fisher is looking forward to my cupcakes tomorrow!

I emailed All Sides this morning:

Hello, All Sides!
The holiday cookie show from last December has launched quite an odyssey for me. I went home the evening after listening to this edition of All Sides at work, energized to bake for the first time. The first entry in my new blog, "Kimberly Can Has KitchenAid?" starts off: "It's all Ann Fisher's fault." I put a link to this show in your archive in the blog as well.
Here's the blog's address, in case you want to have a look. www.kimberlyskitchenaid.blogspot.com
I can't launch Blogger from this computer, or I'd give you a link directly to the post where I talk about All Sides. I'm also a volunteer reader at VOICEcorps (formerly Central Ohio Radio Reading Service), and am told that Ann used to do that as well.
 
I got a reply from Ann today, saying that she enjoyed my blog and was looking forward to cupcakes tomorrow!  Yay!!  I hope she likes them!  (I recommended the chocolate birds' nest ones.)

What could be better than Chocolate Buttercream?

Chocolate buttercream with Cadbury Mini Eggs on top.  (Cue Vector's "Oh, yeah!" from Despicable Me.)

I made the flower cupcakes last night, using vanilla buttercream colored blue for flower petals.  Tonight, I wanted to make chocolate swirls, with Mini Eggs on top as cute bird nests!  Well within my skillset, back to the chocolate buttercream that I love so much, and I could be secure in knowing that the 1M was just the tip for the job.  Ready, set, GO!



How cute is that?  I thought it was adorable, and so did the folks at VOICEcorps when I delivered them.  Amy even liked the flower cupcakes!  They'll be put out for the celebrity readers tomorrow morning, and any leftovers will be taken care of by staff and volunteers.  I fully expect to have empty pans to pick up when I go to read The Week Saturday morning for Sunday broadcast.

Delivery complete!

Amy had asked me to bake a couple dozen cupcakes for the Celebrity Read-In, which is tomorrow!  I started baking early so I'd have time to get the cupcakes made and iced in time to deliver tonight.  I made regular yellow cake cupcakes, and iced some with vanilla buttercream and the rest with chocolate buttercream, which should be its own food group. 

I had a vision of coloring the vanilla buttercream blue and making the hydrangeas we learned about in Cupcakes 101.  Made the buttercream, and put a good-sized blop of it (~2 cups, probably) into its own little bowl, and put another blop into a second bowl, leaving some in the mixer for emergencies.

First step:  Wilton gel coloring! I read the instructions on the box:  Dip a toothpick into the color, then swirl it into the white icing.  Toothpick?  I have a whole lot of icing here.  Dip a toothpick?  Really?  So I dipped a toothpick, and swirled it into the white icing.   BOY, is that stuff concentrated.  As I stirred it in, the icing just got bluer and bluer.  Amazing!  Made the other bowl a little darker, and then put alternating blops into the icing bag.


The first colored icing


I had the tip connector thing in, the star tip on, and the bag ready to go.  Upon piping my first cupcake, I realized that I had chosen the wrong tip.

Aside:  Having the tip connector thing should have enabled me to swap out the wrong tip for the right tip in a jiffy.  But.  There are (at least) two sizes of decorator tip.  Regular ones, like the one on the bag above, and ones with a larger diameter at the base, like the 1M and the 2D.  I'm pretty sure I should have used the 1M, but I told myself, "That's the one I use for big swirls.  It can't be the one to make little flower petals" and I picked a little star instead.  This meant that once I recognized the error, correcting it would be a fairly major undertaking.  On hindsight, I realize that I could have gotten a new large icing bag, dropped the right tip in it, and just squeezed all the icing into the new bag, supplementing with blops from the color bowls if it got too homogenous.  But it was late, I was tired, and all I could think about was what a mess it would be to reload that icing with the right tip.  So I soldiered on.

Pour le chat


I read somewhere that the first crepe out of the pan is called "Pour le chat," or "For the cat."  That's surely what that first cupcake was!!  Bad, bad cupcake.  Scrape it off into the blue icing and try again.


Better.  Wrong tip, but better.





As I progressed, I made better flowers.  And by the end of the night, I had made a panful:



Lessons learned:  Use the big star tip for flower petals.  And fer gossakes, don't be afraid to change the bag if needed!


Moaning Myrtle

I think I'm going to name my sparkling new KitchenAid "Myrtle."  She moans.  Really! Does anyone know if this is 'normal' for a KitchenAid at low speed?

video

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cupcakes in a what?

In the never-ending quest to find people to eat my cupcakes, I've been reading about Cupcakes In A Jar.  You can either bake directly in the mason jar, or bake the cupcakes in muffin pans (without the cupcake liners - prettier that way) and then put them in the jar with frosting.  The upside to baking them right in the jar is that you can put the lid and ring on the jar while it's hot, and then it'll seal itself.  You have to send the icing separately, though, because you can't put icing on hot cake.  Well, you can, but it won't stay icing long!  The downside to baking them in the jar and sealing it is Clostridium botulinum.  OK!  We will skip the baking in the jar and go directly to Plan B.  Do not pass go, and definitely do not go to the hospital with botulism.

I have 8-ounce wide-mouth canning jars, because who needs 16 ounces of cupcakes-n-frosting?  First obstacle: The regular-size cupcakes are too big to put in the jar.  I could sit the little jars right down in the muffin pan.  So it had to be mini-cupcakes.  I used yellow cake mix, and sprayed the muffin pan with Pam.  (Mess!!  Next time I'll spray it on a paper towel and wipe each of the cups down.)  While the cupcakes were baking, I started the Chocolate Buttercream.  Same recipe as last time, except I tried one of the variations that Alice suggested.  Instead of using one tablespoon of vanilla extract, I used one TEASPOON of almond extract.

Alice WAS NOT KIDDING when she said that a little almond extract goes a long way.  I really should have started with half a teaspoon, mixed that in, and tasted it before deciding whether to add the rest.  It was very almondy, though, and it definitely added a bit of the unexpected to the cupcakes.  When the baby cupcakes were out of the oven and cooled, I popped one into the bottom of each jar, then used a 1M tip to make a nice swirl of icing, put in another cupcake, and topped it off with another swirl of icing.



After I finished putting the cupcakes together, I put the lids and rings on, and then boxed them up for mailing.  Half a dozen went to my cousin Jenny in New Jersey, and five went to Riane, an internet friend in North Carolina who was willing to take cupcakes from a stranger.  Jenny raved about the frosting, and said that she might end up keeping them all instead of sharing with my other family.  Shhhh!  Don't tell!  Riane had mixed reviews from her family on the icing.  There really was too much almond flavor, although Jenny loved it with her coffee.

That accounts for about two dozen of the baby cupcakes.  Remember that I said that a box of cake mix makes about fifty?  Well, I had a BUNCH of baby cupcakes to find homes for.  Instead of using the 1M for a big swirl, I used a 2D to do nice little stars with non-almond chocolate buttercream:


See how those cupcake papers are kind of peeling off some?  It got even worse the next morning. 



No idea what caused it, but I had to do triage before I brought any cupcakes to work.  I couldn't possibly serve them all flapping open like that.  Even after paring down to about a dozen and a half cupcakes, I still had a few left after work on Monday, so stopped by VOICEcorps after work to drop off the survivors.

And while I was there, I got an amazing request:  Amy (the director of volunteers) ASKED me if I'd be willing to bake cupcakes for the Celebrity Read-In fundraiser kick-off!  Local celebrities and elected officials are coming in to read on Friday, as the annual Care-Athon on-air fundraising week starts.  Someone actually wants my cupcakes!  And local celebs will be noshing on my yummies while they read!  I am so excited!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What could be better than Vanilla Buttercream?

Yep.  Chocolate buttercream.

So intoxicated with the successes of my first batch of icing, I couldn't even wait until the next weekend before I tried again.  On Leap Day, I searched for recipes for Chocolate Buttercream, and Savory Sweet Life came to the rescue again.  I had the devils food cupcakes all ready to go, and was itching for a challenge.

ASIDE:  These cupcakes cannot stay in the house.  Each box of cake mix makes about two dozen regular cupcakes, or close to fifty baby cupcakes.  Jim and I have approximately zero willpower when it comes to eating yummy things (you have only to behold us, and this becomes very clear!), so they simply must leave the house.  Where to take them?  Everyone at my day job is on Weight Watchers, and since each batch of buttercream calls for half a pound of butter, I have to work hard to push the cupcakes.  Jim's work doesn't allow food on the floor, so he can't give them away at work.  Gretchen's on a diet (she only got one from the first batch), Dick and Judy are on Weight Watchers, so only got one each from the celebratory first batch with the new KitchenAid, and I'm having too much fun to stop making cupcakes now. 

Inspiration struck!  I'll drop them off at VOICEcorps.  I'm a volunteer reader, there's a snack room, and staff and volunteers can be targets for my cupcaking.  So the ones I couldn't give away at my day job were joyfully consumed at my volunteer gig.  Which is fantastic!  I have an outlet.  Whew!

So I carefully followed Alice's instructions on the Chocolate Buttercream recipe, and just about fainted when I had my first taste.  Never again shall I buy the plastic tub crap!  I can't believe how fantastic that icing was.



Baby cupcakes... somewhat easier to get folks at work to eat tiny mini-cupcakes than it was to get them to eat full-sized cupcakes.  I shared with the cafeteria staff, and asked everyone I know at work if they wanted a cupcake.

Lessons learned:  Needs a little more powdered sugar to make it set better (Alice said to add that last half a cup if needed... and I didn't discover until a little later that yeah, it was needed), and you must work fast!  Holding the bag warms up the butter and can change the consistency of the icing.

The First Batch

Annette was right.  There are eleventy gazillion recipes for buttercream icing on the internet.  Some call for Crisco, some for butter.  I eliminated the Crisco ones for the time being, and settled on this recipe for my first attempt: Classic Vanilla Buttercream

Step-by-step instructions!  Terrific!  I can do this!  With my new KitchenAid, I can do ANYthing!  I loved the helpful pictures and warnings (Sift your powdered sugar! Do not microwave your butter!) and, armed with this guide, I set off to make buttercream.

Butter had been sitting out, all the other ingredients had been purchased and laid aside, nice batch of cupcakes ready to decorate, and one KitchenAid, ready for her maiden voyage.

I popped the butter into the mixer bowl, put on the paddle attachment, and turned it on low.  Watched it go around for a couple of minutes, then realized that the butter was clumping up in the paddle.  So I turned it off and poked the butter out with a spatula, and turned it back on.  Went away for a few minutes, came back and said, "Oh, my God!"  Stepson looked up from his homework and asked what happened... I told him that a miracle had occurred.  That butter had NO IDEA what had happened to it.  It was the creamiest, smoothest butter I'd ever seen.  So I started adding (sifted!) powdered sugar, and turned the mixer back on to low.  It looked kind of like a train wreck, so I let it go on low for a while, then when it seemed safe, I bumped it up a couple of levels, and went away again.

ASIDE:  I have a damaged rotator cuff on my smart side.  So I'm really limited as to the amount of holding, reaching, etc I can do without pain.  Couple of minutes, tops, then I'm aching too badly and have to hand it off.  So without having this stand mixer to do the work for me, I would never have been able to do this icing... couldn't hold my hand mixer for the amount of time it would have taken it to make this buttercream.

I came back, and it was another miracle.  You have no idea how amazing butter and powdered sugar can look when it's been beaten up by a KitchenAid.  I added the vanilla and tiny bit of salt, little tiny bit of milk, and there was my first batch of buttercream!  Amazingly, fantastically, terrifically yummy, too.  I was delighted with it, and couldn't believe that I had done it!!

Loading the buttercream into the decorator bag is actually the hardest part of the whole process.  And what a mess I made!  But here's the first cupcake with my first buttercream!


That was February 25.  I had tasted victory for the first time. 



Lesson learned:  If you think that loading the decorator bag is messy, try re-loading it.  Buttercream everywhere!

Hey, this looks like it could be fun!

Anyone wanna go?

That was the gist of the email I sent to my girlfriends when I got a social coupon offer from Faveroo.  Half price for Cupcake 101 Icing Class at Our Cupcakery. Cute little bakery, specializing in - you guessed it! - cupcakes!  Gretchen took me up on the offer and we went to the cupcake decorating class in late February 2012.  It was only an hour or so long, but I was inspired!  Look at the cupcakes I got to take home:


I swirled those!  And starred them, and sprinkled them with Cake Sparkles, which are full of win.  Annette, the instructor at Our Cupcakery, was a lot of fun, full of joy for cupcakes.  And she shared it!  Annette also told us the difference between icing and frosting, which I never knew.  I thought it was a regional dialect: the sweet stuff on top of cupcakes was icing in some places, and frosting in others.  The difference in a nutshell is that no matter what you do to that stuff in the plastic tub next to the cake mix at your local Kroger, it will never stay in nice swirls like that.  Plastic tub = frosting.


Decorator buttercream icing, on the other hand, is awesomesauce.  And there are approximately eleventy bazillion recipes for it on the internet, said Annette.  Hm.  You can do this yourself, at home.  You can get the decorator tips at any craft store, like JoAnn's, or even grocery stores like Meijer. And after the class, with my little brain full of cupcakey inspiration, I drove myself and my half-dozen experimental cupcakes home.

And what was waiting for me in the mailbox when I arrived home?

A sale flyer from JoAnn's.  I shit you not.  So that very weekend, loaded with funds from our tax refund, my darling husband and I went shopping.  We went to Meijer and bought a KitchenAid (all the promotions that day got the price down to $150!!  It's not red, but for that price, white is just fine!!)  And we went to JoAnn's, where I spent the first of several dollars on decorating supplies.


This was my first proud KitchenAid picture, on February 25.  Two days after my first decorating class!  Isn't she lovely?  Just wait until I spiff her up a little.  :-)

Baking? Me?? Sorry, wrong number

It's all Ann Fisher's fault.  Really.

I listen to our local public radio station throughout the day at work, and on December 1, 2011, the topic on All Sides With Ann Fisher was Christmas cookies, and cookie memories.  Here's the program archive in case you'd like to listen.  Be warned, though.  It seems to have turned me into a wannabe-baker!  Ann was interviewing Robin Davis, the food editor for the local daily, and they were asking for listeners to tell their stories about holiday baking.  I sent this email (can't call in from my work phone):

My Aunt Wanda raised two of her younger sisters after their mother died in the '40s, and was the hub of our family. She used to bake Christmas cookies, and would turn out a COUPLE THOUSAND cookies every year. She'd give them to her friends and neighbors, her Ladies' Auxiliary members, and (hallelujah!) would pack them in tins and mail to family far and wide. Aunt Wanda would make butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, no-bakes, apricot bars (my favorite!), thumbprints, and dozens of other varieties.
She has Alzheimers now, and hasn't baked in many years, but getting that tin of Christmas cookies in the mail was one of the high points of the season for me, for many, many years. My friends, too - I'd share them out, and it got to the point that people would ask me "Have the Aunt Wanda cookies come yet?"
A few years ago, I took her spiral notebook of recipes and had copies made and bound for close family, so we all have her recipes now, in her handwriting.

After sending that email, I was struck by a bolt from the blue.  I have her recipes.  I can bake her cookies!  I. Must. Bake. Cookies.  That's the first event.

It turned out that my favorite apricot bar cookies were a little daunting for me, but the pumpkin drop cookies were very do-able!  For me, anyway.  The pathetic electric hand mixer?  Not so much. In making the first batch, I burned out the motor in my mixer.  (As a testament to my near-total ignorance of things kitchen, I asked my husband, "Will it be OK if I just let it rest?"  He said, "No, when they smell like that, they're dead forever."  So into the garbage with the Hamilton Beach, and onto the phone to ask Judy to borrow her KitchenAid.

Well, that KitchenAid completely and thoroughly kicked the ass of the pumpkin cookie dough, and I immediately put one (OK, I put TWO) on my wishlist at Amazon.com.  That's the second event.

The third event was that I finally got my bachelors degree!  Yes, I'm really and officially BS now.  You know what college graduation means, don't you?  Presents!!  My darling husband said I could get a KitchenAid of my very own for a graduation present!  Even though Judy would let me borrow hers any time (really - she is just that nice!), there's just something special about having your own KitchenAid sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for blastoff at any moment.

The fourth unrelated event was a decent-sized income tax refund, and the clincher that has led me to the state I'm in today is worthy of a post all its own.