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Butterfly Sugar Cookies

April 14, 2017

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These butterfly sugar cookies are stunning to look at but deceiving easy to create. They feature basic royal icing techniques that you’re probably already familiar with.

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Look at that beautiful blank canvas–doesn’t it make you a little giddy?

The supplies you’ll need are incredibly basic: cookie, royal icing, and a scriber tool of some sort. If you don’t have a scriber needle, you can use a toothpick or a cake tester. I’ve used both and they work just as well (even if they aren’t as fancy). I am using bags and tips today because I didn’t feel like making parchment bags. But I usually prefer parchment bags for royal icing because I can get a much smaller tip. If you have never used a parchment bag, then I seriously suggest you try it a few times. It can be tricky folding them, but once you get the hang of it, it will save you money in the long run. Plus, they’re just as easy to use as piping bags, but you don’t have to wash tips and couplers after you’re finished.

What I’m using is a basic royal icing made with meringue powder. (I use egg whites when I don’t have any meringue powder on hand, but egg white royal icing always seems to take longer to dry. Keep that in mind if you decide to go that route.) I have a consistency somewhere between flooding and outlining, mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to mix up two different consistencies. Now, when it comes to icing colors, many butterflies in nature feature a lot of black. But, anyone who has eaten black icing can tell you, it can taste bad and stains your mouth. For these butterflies, I decided to use navy blue instead. I also mixed up royal blue, turquoise, orange, and yellow. Contrasting colors add to the beauty of these butterflies, but obviously, any color combo will work. You’ll still need a little black and white for the bodies, but that won’t be too overwhelming.

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The first step is to outline and flood the bottom wings. This doesn’t need to be perfect as you’ll be dragging your scriber through the icing.

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We’re using a wet-on-wet technique. So, pipe some lines. Look at pictures of butterflies for inspiration. Play around with thick and thin lines. Don’t be afraid to overlap them. It takes trial and error to find out what works for you.

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Next, drag your scriber from the center of the butterfly out toward the edges. Make sure to include the ends of your lines, keeping your segments evenly spaced. Wipe your scriber tool clean between each swipe. Shake and tap the cookie to even out the icing.

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Finally, it’s time to add dots. Many butterflies have “eyes” on their wings to psyche out predators. To mimic this effect, make a large dot. Then, use a contrasting color to add a slightly smaller dot inside the larger one.

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Let your bottom wings dry a bit while you work on other butterflies, repeating the process for each one.

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By letting the bottom wings set, you create definition between the wings. After your bottom wings have dried a little, you can repeat the entire process for the top wings. I like to use a different color as the base color. I also mimic similar lines to what I piped on the bottom wing. Feel free to experiment and see what suits you.

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Ignore the really fat butterfly. He’s trying to lay off the sweets, but life is hard, man.

As you can see in the above photo, my technique has improved a bit with practice and experimentation. These butterflies look pretty, but the wings lack definition. I was too impatient to wait between piping the bottom and top wings. Which, really is fine. I simply prefer defined wings. It’s all up to personal preference.

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It’s important to let the wings dry for an hour or so before you begin piping the body. This is also a two-step process. If you look at butterfly pictures, you’ll notice they have segmented bodies with specks or lines on them. I pipe every other segment, adding white details, and let it dry before repeating the process for the remaining segments.

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Let the cookies dry thoroughly before storing them in an airtight container.  That’s all there is to it! Below, you’ll see cookies I made to represent actual butterflies found in my area. They were a gift to a science teacher. I used reference photos to copy the markings, but ultimately I used the same techniques (or slight variations) that I explained above.

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It’s a Pumpkin, Folks!

September 23, 2015

It’s the first day of fall! Fall is that wonderful change in Ohio weather when warm skies fade into crisp, chill air. It’s my favorite time of year (until winter comes) and I always hope it will last a little bit longer. But it’s just not fall until the trees change and pumpkins start popping up everywhere.

I wanted to give the season a little nudge, so I spent my day crocheting a little pumpkin out of jute twine. I’m really pleased with how it turned out! I’ve never crocheted with twine before, and while the consistency fluctuated, I think my little pumpkin has a lot of character. I found the pattern for the pumpkin on Crafty Jenn’s blog. (You can find it here.)

It’s a great pattern! The only difference is that I skipped rows 1-8 of the pattern and glued on a wooden stem instead. (Did I mention that I used a table saw to cut a stick for the stem? Power tools always get my blood flowing!) I used a size H hook with the jute twine that I had. Other twine may need a different size hook, but the pattern is not dependent on gauge. Just keep the stitches tight so that the filling doesn’t poke out. The final pumpkin measures approximately 5″ wide and 3″ tall. I may make a taller, more round pumpkin by adding about 10-15 more rows of single crochet after row 27 in Jenn’s pattern.

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Candy Corn Peanut Brittle

September 8, 2015

Whether you love that sweet, chewy goodness or despise those colorful stripes, no one can deny that we’ve entered candy corn season! It’s interesting how so many people are on opposite sides of the candy corn love-hate spectrum. I would like to try to join these two confectionery factions with a snackable peace treaty. I give you: Candy Corn Peanut Brittle! While I used the traditional and humble peanut, it could easily become almond, pecan or cashew brittle. Now, I know that this excludes those with nut allergies. You can’t win ’em all.

I only have a little experience with candy making. Not all of it has been successful. But, this recipe comes together easily with or without a candy thermometer. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can consult this guide to calculate your candy temperature.) If at first you don’t succeed, eat all the evidence and try again!

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Candy Corn Peanut Brittle

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 c. candy corn
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1-1/4 c. salted peanuts (or any nut of your choice)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tbsp. butter

Directions:

Grease a large baking sheet and the backs of two spoons and set aside. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, bring the candy corn and water to a boil. You may stir this occasionally to help dissolve the candy corn. When the mixture reaches 240°F, stir in the peanuts (or nut of your choice). Allow the mixture to come back to a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure that the nuts don’t stick to the bottom and scorch. When the mixture reaches the hard-cracked stage (about 305°F), stir in the butter and baking soda. It will bubble up and lighten quite a bit. Once combined, carefully pour the mixture onto the buttered baking sheet. Spread and pull the mixture with the backs of the spoons to even it out. The thinner you pull your brittle, the crispier it will be! Let it cool completely and break into pieces. Enjoy!

Lil’ Zombie: Love Bites

February 9, 2015

My 12-year-old sister, Azileigh, and I have been watching a lot of The Addams Family recently. We joke about arranging rose stems and raising man-eating plants like Morticia or stretching ourselves on the rack like Uncle Fester. But our favorite character is Wednesday Friday Addams: that clever, yet practical, bundle of macabre. Since Valentine’s day is coming up, we started thinking about valentines that Wednesday Addams might send.

“Nice knife. Can I play autopsy with it?” -Wednesday Addams

They naturally morphed into zombie-themed greetings. (We’re still working on something about a kidney: “I’m not kidney you, urine great!” We’ll get there eventually…) Being the tech savvy genius that I am, I opened up Paint on my laptop and started creating the cutest (and most simple) zombies I could. So, to celebrate a day of eternal love, I present to you, our “Lil’ Zombie: Love Bites” Valentine Collection! (Click on the images below to see them full-sized.)

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zombie_valentine3zombie_valentine8

zombie_valentine5zombie_valentine12

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zombie_valentine6zombie_valentine7

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How to Rock a Piñata

April 14, 2011

To celebrate my cousin’s 9th birthday, she’s having a Taylor Swift birthday party. Since no birthday party is complete without grade-schoolers beating something with a stick, I volunteered to make a guitar-shaped piñata.

The first thing I did was find an actual guitar to use as a template. Since I was short on time—and the few days I had were primarily rainy so I wasn’t sure the paper-mâché would dry in time—I opted to form the piñata out of cardboard. Not traditional, but according to some message boards and blogs that I looked at while preparing this project, some folks prefer a cardboard piñata to one made of paper-mâché.

I used the guitar as a pattern for the front and back of my piñata. I made sure to cut a hole out of the front (to later be covered with black paper) as a natural way to fill the piñata with candy. After I had the front and back pieces cut out, I cut cardboard to the width I needed for the sides. To make the curves of the guitar, I removed one layer of paper from these strips. This made the corrugated paper bend much easier. Then it was all a matter of using masking tape to secure the pieces together. I used the guitar as a template to form the handle. I taped it to the rest of the guitar with masking tape . Once it was all together, I added the ribbon guitar strap and glued crepe paper and tissue paper to the piñata.

For more on how to make a piñata, check out this article from How Stuff Works: How to Make Toys.

Valentine Ideas for Slackers

February 13, 2011

Between fighting off bronchitis and Bieber fever, I haven’t had much time to prepare for Valentine’s Day. So, I’ve had to figure out some last minute Valentine ideas.

1) SAY IT WITH CANDY: HOMEMADE CANDY BARS

Okay, I haven’t actually done this (yet) but it seems fool-proof. My idea: mix up some peanut butter cookie dough and squash it into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Press some peanuts into the top and bake according to recipe directions. Cool.

Next, add 3 cups of peanut butter chips and one can of sweetened condensed milk to a 2 qt. sauce pan. Heat on low, stirring constantly until all of the chips are melted. Stir in more (salted?) peanuts and spread immediately over the cookie bars. Cool and cut into candy bar size strips. What we’re looking at here is basically peanut butter fudge over-top peanut butter cookies. How can we go wrong? (I mean, unless your beloved has a peanut allergy, of course. Oh, boy, wouldn’t that be a fiasco?)

Lastly, melt some milk chocolate over a double boiler and dip each candy bar, making sure to let it set completely before wrapping.

As for packaging, I would suggest wrapping each with parchment paper or heavy duty aluminum foil. Then, put the right side of your brain to work by designing a paper strip to wrap overtop the parchment. Secure with a swipe of a glue stick. I would probably do something like this attached to a strip of coordinating paper:

2) VALENTINE FILL-IN-THE-BLANK

Mad Libs™ came out with a sendable Valentine. If you can’t get your hands on those, make your own. Use a love poem and replace the adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc. You may have to tweak it, but it’s easier than you think. It’ll work best if you keep it in the fill-in-the-blank style that’s so iconic. I made this one as an example:

When given the task, my 8-year-old sister came up with this:

Sonnet 130 – William Shakespeare

My mistress’ toes are nothing like the garbage bag;
swords are far more sticky than her finger:
If mints be stuffed, why then her knees  are slippery;
If hairs be socks, cold yarn grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her phalanges;
And in some chicken is there more shine
Than in the breath that from my mistress runs.
I love to hear her speak,–yet well I know
That pillow hath a far more furry sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she rocks, plays on the maze;
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

3) PAPER FLOWERS

There is a wealth of information online explaining how to make any kind of paper flower you can think of. From using tissue paper to cardstock, there are tutorials available to make a one of a kind bouquet for someone you love. One idea that I think is especially cute is making a rose bouquet using the pages of an old romance novel.

Tipnut offers a nice assortment of designs along with tutorials. You can find them here: http://tipnut.com/paper-flowers/

If you’re looking specifically for roses made out of paper or cardstock, I do a combination of these two styles:

Craft, Life & Laughs: http://meholder.blogspot.com/2009/03/paper-flower-tutorial.html

Technique by Tanya video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spO_hR1eFso

I do not use a flower punch to cut my petals, I have a raised ink pad that I use to brush the edges of my paper and I don’t dribble glue on the finished rose. Honestly, though, the ink pad isn’t necessary. It just adds that something extra. So go ahead and give it a try! You’ll be surprised how quickly it comes together.

Death to Gummy

January 18, 2011

I’d been promising my kid sister for months that I would, one day, make a giant rainbow gummy bear for her sugar-filled delight.  Well, that day finally came.

Things I used:
An empty honey bear container
20 oz. pack of gummy bears (although any gummy shape will do)
Cooking spray
Small, heavy sauce pan (mine has a spout)
Stove

The first thing I did was gather my supplies and sort my gummies by color. I had a classic 5 color assortment: red, orange, yellow, white and green. I decided to nix the white and focus on creating a rainbow gummy. Good thing I did—the white gummy bears provided just the right amount of sustenance while I melted down their bolder counterparts.

I tossed the red gummies into my sauce pan and melted them slowly on low heat. Now, anyone who has ever worked with sugar before will tell you that sugar gets Hot. Capital “H” hot. Don’t touch it. Don’t try to stir it, either, because the gummy will just stick to your spoon. I swirled the pan when I thought it needed it, but otherwise, I just left it alone.

The gummy liquefied within 10 minutes. I took this time to mark my bear with a permanent marker into four equal parts. That way I could ensure that my color distribution was kept pretty even. I had a bear-shaped baking dish (sprayed with cooking spray) handy to pour any extra molten gummy into. (I didn’t take a picture of this, but it was a 3” by 2 ½” non-stick metal baking mold.)

I also gave my honey bear a quick spray with cooking oil. I set it upside down to drain the extra oil and focused my attention once again on the molten gummy. When it was transparent (all melted and glassy), I carefully poured the liquid gummy into my bear, stopping at my first mark. I poured the remainder into my extra bear.

Since I was making a rainbow bear, I didn’t bother washing my pan between colors. I didn’t think that the small amount of red gummy still in the pan would affect the orange. So I tossed the orange gummy bears in and started the process all over again. If you feel more comfortable washing the pan between colors, really hot water helps to dissolve the gummy.

While the orange gummies melted, I prepared an ice bath for my bear mold. Just like using a Jello mold, the first color has to be set up enough so that the next color sits nicely on top, but at the same time, it can’t be too set up or the two colors will pull apart after it’s out of its mold. Sugar is a delicate medium.

I kept an eye on my bear, and when the gummy was solid enough, I pulled it out of the ice bath. I don’t know how to explain when it’s ready—it’s just something you’ll have to experiment with. Once the orange was transparent, I poured it on top of the red. I repeated this process with yellow and green, pouring my extra molten gummy into my spare mold each time.

When I had repeated the process for all four colors, I screwed the lid on and put it in the fridge. It was set up within a few hours, but could have been left overnight. I used an X-Acto knife to cut the honey bear into two pieces and pulled the gummy free.

The integrity of the gummy remained—it wasn’t too tough and the flavor was clean and sweet—but Papa Bear did not want us carving any part of him. I tried sawing through it with several different types of knives and kitchen gadgets, but ultimately settled on ripping pieces off. It’s very stretchy. My sister decided to start with the bear butt (get it?) and leave the disembodied head for last.