Bite-size apple cider snickerdoodles

I’m done with sticky, sweaty summer days. Done. It’s already gone back to being dark when I wake up in the morning for work, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s fall. No matter what the thermometer says.

I can’t wait to make hearty soups and pumpkiny things and apple desserts and various of eats and drinks infused with cinnamon and nutmeg and all the other spices that make you think of sweater weather.

So, you know, why not start now? I decided I’m going to will autumn into being. With some cookies.

apple cider snickerdoodlesI went to a wedding yesterday that was inspired by the couple’s tradition of making an apple crisp together every fall. I mention this for two reasons. 1) This put me in the mood to make an apple dessert of my own. 2) I really want to show somebody, anybody, everybody the awesome present my partner and I made for them.

apple crisp aleApple Crisp Ale, brewed by the mister, bottled by the two of us, and labeled and packaged by me using some of their engagement photos.

Okay, okay, back to the program.

I wanted to make an apple dessert. To narrow it down, I needed something not too messy to eat and easy to transport to my board game happy hour this week. I considered apple hand-pies… but all that assembly, whew. Cookies were definitely a better bet. But how to infuse them with apple-y goodness? I’ll be honest, 90% of the reason I decided to use apple cider is because that meant I wouldn’t have to do any of the coring, cutting, and peeling prep necessitated by using whole apples. This really (sorry) appeeled to me.

I poked around to see kind of apple cider cookies were already out there on the old internets. What presented itself over and over again was this strange recipe using an apple cider flavored just-add-water drink mix. I had no idea such a thing existed… and I was certainly not interested in purchasing any. The handful of recipes I found that used actual apple cider called for a few tablespoons, maybe a third of a cup at most. This didn’t seem like it would impart the concentrated apple cider flavor I was looking for.

I reflected on the lovely apple cider caramels I made last year from smitten kitchen. The whole recipe starts with four cups of apple cider boiled into oblivion to create a half cup of sweet and sticky apple syrup. This syrup is then used in place of some of the sugar to bring a natural, apple-y flavor and sweetness to the table. Bingo.

apple cider snickerdoodlesThis makes a looooot of bitty cookies, which is perfect for a party where you want people to get cookies in their mouth instead of crumbs on your floor. If you’d prefer, feel free to roll the dough balls a little bigger and bake longer as needed for fewer, larger cookies.

Bite-Size Apple Cider Snickerdoodles
Adapted from Snickerdoodles by Joy of Baking

Makes approximately 12 dozen mini cookies

4 cups apple cider
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

In a medium saucepan, boil apple cider uncovered over medium high heat to reduce. This will take 40-60 minutes depending on how high you keep the heat and the size of your pot. Stir occasionally, then more frequently as it starts to boil down. Keep it bubblin’ until it’s reduced to between 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup of thick syrup. Transfer to a heatproof, oiled bowl or measuring cup and let cool in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar and cooled apple cider syrup until integrated. Add butter and beat again until fully combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add dry ingredients, then beat again on low speed until the dough comes together. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a shallow bowl mix together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch round balls. Roll each ball in the spiced sugar coating, then place on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart (I fit 20 cookies per half-size baking sheet). Use the bottom of a glass to gently flatten the dough balls.

Bake the cookies for 7 to 8 minutes — until they are firm around the edges but still soft in the middle, and just turning light golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frosting

My dad’s 50th birthday was on Friday. I emailed him to ask what his favorite cake was.

His helpful response: “I never met a cake I didn’t like.”

Given free reign like that, I decided to do something a little different. Something he’d never order in a restaurant or ask for someone to make him, but that would still knock his socks off.

I also wanted to make something summery because of his late August, dog days of summer birthday. S’mores cake? Eh, I’ve made it in cupcake form before and wanted to try something new. Chocolate-orange? Nah, that seems like more of a cold weather one to me. I thumbed through All Cakes Considered for ideas. I hemmed. I hawed. I pondered.

Eventually I got stuck on my favorite thing about summer: figs. The rest came together pretty quickly after that. A fluffy white cake with a fig jam in the middle. A light, whipped honey meringue buttercream on top. Not too heavy, but certainly tooth-achingly sweet. Good for the kids.

But I wanted to slightly temper the sugar rush for the adults. Something herby. Which of course led to my favorite fig accompaniment, thyme. It’s piney, but not too piney like rosemary sometimes is. It doesn’t overpower the delicate honey flavor in the frosting, but it does effectively counter the sweetness while adding a little flair of its own.

Of course, the best part of this flavor combo is that I can say that I made my dad a fig-tieth birthday cake, on account of him being alive for a long thyme.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry!

I cut plain slices for my niece and nephew, then said to my dad, sister, and brother: “I didn’t think the kids would like this, but if you’d like I can put some fresh thyme over your piece of cake.”

Sister: “What’s thyme?”
Brother: “That sounds really weird. But usually when you try to get me to eat something weird, it’s good, so okay.”
Father: “If you say so.”

I sprinkled a few leaves over each piece of cake. I could tell they didn’t trust me one bit.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingThen they tasted it. “I can’t believe that’s… actually really good.” Well gee, thanks for trusting my judgement, folks. But I knew I had a winner when my sister and dad both took tiny slivers for seconds, and chose to add thyme to them completely of their own volition.

My dad knows I post my recipes on the internet. He saw me taking my photos and figured (correctly) that they were for a post. He said, “People aren’t going to think that’s good when they read the recipe. It’s too weird. They’re not going to realize how good it tastes and they won’t make it.”

It’s not that weird. Prove him wrong.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingFig and Thyme White Cake with Whipped Honey Frosting
Adapted from Whipped Cream Cake by Melissa Gray in All Cakes Considered and Brown Sugar Meringue Buttercream from Sky High Cakes as posted on Completely Delicious

Serves 10 to 12

Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Frosting:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
9.6 ounces (about 19 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into chunks

Garnish:
scant 1/2 cup fig jam, at room temperature
fresh thyme leaves, stripped from woody stalks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8-inch pans, then line with a parchment paper circle. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, beat eggs until thick and pale yellow. Set both aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip cream on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Add beaten eggs and beat again until fully integrated and foamy. Add sugar and extracts and beat again for about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed until barely combined — there should still be some visible flour. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients the rest of the way to avoid over mixing.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, removing when a toothpick comes out clean. If your oven heats unevenly, swap positions of the two layers about 10 minutes into the baking time.

Place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, then flip out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and let cool completely.

For the frosting, there’s a little bit of timing involved in making this all work. Start by combining the water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Do not yet put it over the heat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Put sugar solution over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. Once it is boiling, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer. Book without stirring until it reaches 238 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Turn the mixer with the egg whites back on medium speed. Carefully pour the hot (seriously, really really hot, be careful) sugar mixture in a thin stream into the egg whites. Try not to hit the beater or the side of the bowl.

Once the sugar syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is down to room temperature (touch the side of the bowl to check). This will take several minutes.

With the mixture still running, add the butter cubes a few tablespoons full at a time. Once all the butter has been added, continue to beat until smooth. The mixture may start to look curdled at one point, especially if your butter was a little too cold or too warm. Just let the mixer keep running and it will work itself out. Once the frosting is smooth, creamy, and light you’re good to go.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate or pedestal. I’m no expert cake decorator by a long-shot, but the best tip I can give for tidier looking cakes is to line the plate with strips of parchment paper tucked under the cake before you frost it. Try this! It really helps your cake look better to not have frosting smeared all over the plate.

Spread the fig jam evenly over the first layer. Then using an offset spatula, spread a small layer of frosting on top of the fig jam. Go almost all the way to the edge. Top with the second cake layer, then frost the top and sides to coat.

Sprinkle fresh thyme over the top of the cake, then serve.

Twelve days of food gifts: vanilla sugar

twelve days of food gifts 2012: apple cider caramels | basil vodka | lemon sugar | lime sugar | Old Bay vodka | orange sugar | peppercorn vodka | rosemary salt | salted maple caramels | vanilla extract | vanilla sugar | zesty salt’n'pep

Okay, this is the last infused sugar, I swear.

For those of you just joining, this is my Twelve Days of Food Gifts series. I post recipes and printables, you use them to make gifts. Simple as that. This is day nine. Almost there. Mother of god.

Anyway, this is the easiest infused sugar, because the vanilla beans don’t need to be peeled and they don’t make the sugar all weird and clumpy. Also, if you find that the sugar is not vanilla-y enough and you need to wrap it up and get it under the tree, just put a vanilla bean piece or two inside the bottle with the sugar and pretend you meant to do it that way the whole time. I won’t tell if you don’t tell, because that’s what I did.

What would I use vanilla infused sugar for? Well, what doesn’t taste good with a hint of vanilla? Exactly.

vanilla sugar

Vanilla Sugar

Makes 4 jars

heaping 1 2/3 cup sugar
4-8 vanilla beans (scraped is fine)

Slice vanilla beans in half lengthwise. If desired, scrape out caviar to use in another recipe. Put beans, scraped or not, in a glass jar. Cover with sugar. Shake shake shake.

Let sit in a cool, dark spot for 1 to 2 weeks, until fragrant. Shake at least twice a day.

Remove vanilla beans. Then pack scented sugar into spice jars, adding a vanilla bean (or half of a vanilla bean) to the bottle if desired.

For Gifting:
J.K. Adams 2 ounce Flint Jars
full-sheet inkjet adhesive
printable (single 5.25″x2.75″ label)
printable (3 5.25″x2.75″ labels per 8.5″x11″ adhesive sheet)
clear contact paper (optional)

Print labels onto the full-sheet adhesive paper. Make sure you are printing them at 100% — your PDF software may try to automatically resize them. Trim away white edges (a paper cutter really comes in handy for this part). Remove backing, center over a filled jar, and press firmly in the middle of the label. Then smooth both edges around the back.

If desired, cover the labels with clear contact paper before you cut them out to protect the label from running if exposed to steam or moisture. But really, who are you kidding. This won’t last long enough in someone’s kitchen to have the label run, because vanilla sugar goes on everything.

Twelve days of food gifts: orange sugar

twelve days of food gifts 2012: apple cider caramels | basil vodka | lemon sugar | lime sugar | Old Bay vodka | orange sugar | peppercorn vodka | rosemary salt | salted maple caramels | vanilla extract | vanilla sugar | zesty salt’n'pep

Another infused sugar! I know. But they’re nice and easy so I made a few. There’s only one more. I swear.

For those of you just joining us, this is my Twelve Days of Food Gifts series. I’m making some edibles, packin’ em up, slappin’ some labels on there and putting them under the tree. And… posting everything here for you so you can do the same.

The orange sugar ended up being my favorite, which I didn’t expect. It infused the fastest, got the least clumpy and annoying, and the flavor is delicate but very distinctly orange.

What would I use orange infused sugar for? Sprinkling on top of cookies or muffins before baking (either chocolate or vanilla would be divine), and sweetening oatmeal.

orange sugarOrange Sugar

Makes 4 jars

heaping 1 2/3 cup sugar
1 orange (organic recommended)

Scrub your orange very well.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the orange in strips. Put in glass jar. Cover with sugar. Shake shake shake.

Let sit in a cool, dark spot for 5 to 7 days, until fragrant. Shake at least twice a day.

Pour sugar onto a baking sheet, spread out, break up clumps with a spoon, and let dry. Once dry, sift sugar to remove orange peels and break up any lasting clumps. Then, pack scented sugar into spice jars.

For Gifting:
J.K. Adams 2 ounce Flint Jars
full-sheet inkjet adhesive
printable (single 5.25″x2.75″ label)
printable (3 5.25″x2.75″ labels per 8.5″x11″ adhesive sheet)
clear contact paper (optional)

Print labels onto the full-sheet adhesive paper. Make sure you are printing them at 100% — your PDF software may try to automatically resize them. Trim away white edges (a paper cutter really comes in handy for this part). Remove backing, center over a filled jar, and press firmly in the middle of the label. Then smooth both edges around the back.

If desired, cover the labels with clear contact paper before you cut them out to protect the label from running. You’re a better person than I.

Twelve days of food gifts: lime sugar

twelve days of food gifts 2012: apple cider caramels | basil vodka | lemon sugar | lime sugar | Old Bay vodka | orange sugar | peppercorn vodka | rosemary salt | salted maple caramels | vanilla extract | vanilla sugar | zesty salt’n'pep

Somehow, I have managed to not fall behind on this… so here’s another installment of my Twelve Days of Food Gifts series. I post recipes, links to packaging materials, and printable labels so that you too can give your friends and family awesome goodies.

Today… well, I told you it wouldn’t be the end of the infused sugars, right?

This lime sugar takes a little longer to infuse than the lemon sugar. Perhaps I should have posted this one first, huh? But besides that, it’s very similar in that it’s low-maintenance — just let it sit and do its thing.

So what would I use lime infused sugar for? Making mojitos, rimming margarita glasses, giving a kick to lemonade, and sprinkling on fresh fruit.

lime sugarLime Sugar

Makes 4 jars

heaping 1 2/3 cup sugar
2 limes (organic recommended)
additional lime (optional)

Scrub your limes very well.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the limes in strips. Put in glass jar. Cover with sugar. Shake shake shake.

Let sit in a cool, dark spot for about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks, until very fragrant. Shake at least twice a day.

Dump sugar onto a baking sheet, and break up clumps. Let sit for several hours to let dry. To speed up the process, put in the oven on the lowest setting, and let bake with the door propped open, stirring frequently. Bake for 15 minutes, let cool, and then repeat as necessary. Sift sugar to remove lime peels and break up clumps.

If more flavor is desired, zest in a small amount of lime peel to leave in (rather than sifting out), and let dry. Once completely dry, pack scented sugar into spice jars.

For Gifting:
J.K. Adams 2 ounce Flint Jars
full-sheet inkjet adhesive
printable (single 5.25″x2.75″ label)
printable (3 5.25″x2.75″ labels per 8.5″x11″ adhesive sheet)
clear contact paper (optional)

Print labels onto the full-sheet adhesive paper. Make sure you are printing them at 100% — your PDF software may try to automatically resize them. Trim away white edges (a paper cutter really comes in handy for this part). Remove backing, center over a filled jar, and press firmly in the middle of the label. Then smooth both edges around the back.

If desired, cover the labels with clear contact paper before you cut them out to protect the label from running.

Twelve days of food gifts: lemon sugar

twelve days of food gifts 2012: apple cider caramels | basil vodka | lemon sugar | lime sugar | Old Bay vodka | orange sugar | peppercorn vodka | rosemary salt | salted maple caramels | vanilla extract | vanilla sugar | zesty salt’n'pep

Have you always wanted to give homemade gifts for Christmas, but not sure where to start or how to get it all done?

This year, as part of my twelve days of food gifts series, I’m showing you what all of my friends and family are getting under their trees this year. Not only that, but I’m going to try to help you duplicate it, quick and easy! I’ll provide the recipe, links to where I bought any specialty packaging supplies, and printable labels to slap on your delicious vittles and libations before sending them out the door.

So, we’ll see if I actually finish all of these. I can be a little too ambitious sometimes. Maybe it’ll be like, seven days of food gifts. We’ll see.

We’re starting with lemon sugar!

Scented sugars are really easy to make for gifts, as they require very little active work. You need some time to let the sugar infuse, but you don’t really have to do much besides shake the jar a few times a day. This is not the last infused sugar you’ll be seeing in this series, is what I’m saying.

So, what would I use lemon infused sugar for? Rimming cocktail glasses, sweetening tea or lemonade, and sprinkling on top of cookies.

lemon sugarLemon Sugar

Makes 4 jars

heaping 1 2/3 cup sugar
1 lemon (organic recommended)

Scrub your lemon very well.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the lemon in strips. Put in glass jar. Cover with sugar. Shake shake shake.

Let sit in a cool, dark spot for at least one week, until very fragrant. Shake at least twice a day. You will notice some of the sugar sticking to the bottom of the jar from the oils — that’s okay, just shake the best you can.

Wash and dry your jars and lids at some point, so they are good to go when you’re ready to pack.

Remove sugar mixture from jar and spread in a baking pan and let sit, uncovered, to dry out for several hours. To speed up the process, put in the oven on the lowest setting, and let bake with the door propped open, stirring frequently. Bake for 15 minutes, let cool, and then repeat as necessary (if you bake for too long you may accidentally melt the sugar). Sift sugar to remove lemon peel and break up clumps.

Pack scented sugar into spice jars.

For Gifting:
J.K. Adams 2 ounce Flint Jars
full-sheet inkjet adhesive
printable (single label)
printable (3 labels per 8.5″x11″ adhesive sheet)
clear contact paper (optional)

Print labels onto the full-sheet adhesive paper. Make sure you are printing them at 100% — your PDF software may try to automatically resize them. Trim away white edges (a paper cutter really comes in handy for this part). Remove backing, center over a filled jar, and press firmly in the middle of the label. Then smooth both edges around the back.

If you want to go the extra mile, cover the labels with clear contact paper before you cut them out. This will protect the label from running if it is exposed to steam or liquid.

I, uh, did not go the extra mile.