Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mulled Wine--Glowing Wine for Warmth and Good Cheer

It's quiet here now. And peaceful.
Yesterday, the grandkids, my son and daughter-in-law, and their exuberant eight month old Westie puppy blew in, and for about six hours of  controlled chaos we opened presents, feasted, and then, in teams, competed in a boisterous game of scrabble. (Well, the puppy and our mini-poo skipped the scrabble game; they concentrated on trying to tear up their new chew toys.)

Today, the empty boxes  and wrappings are dispensed with, and the china is now washed and stowed away. As a reward for the tidying, I'm curled up on my sofa in the den, watching the snow flakes drift down and sipping a warming mug of Glühwein--German-style mulled wine.

Like ginger cookies, this brew is almost worth making just for the aroma--the intoxicating scents of red wine, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and citrus swirl up and fill the entire house. And like ginger cookies, this libation is almost impossible to resist.

I first sampled Glühwein (it means glowing wine in German) in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps while on a family vacation nearly thirty years ago. Nominally, it was summertime, but due to the Alpine altitude and three dark days of drenching downpours, we were shivering and damp in our flimsy, inadequate rain gear. Even our huffing and puffing up the steep, winding road to the famous Neuschwanstein castle (it was the prototype for the Disney Magic Kingdom castle) at the mountain summit hadn't chased the chill from our bones. 

Then, around  a bend, we spied a kiosk selling hot, steaming cups of Glühwein, an offering at least as welcome as an oasis to parched travelers in a desert. The combination of heat, spice and alcohol was a nearly instant tonic, quickly reviving our spirits and raising our body temperatures. We finished our climb to the top with renewed energy and enthusiasm. (Yes, of course Ludwig's castle was worth the climb! Both the ornate decor and views of the region were spectacular.)

I have never come upon a better warmer-upper than Glühwein, and in fact it's still my beverage of choice on a cold winter's night. I'll be serving it at a family party this weekend. I'll also be fixing it to enjoy while we watch the Super Bowl. (And maybe I'll fix these gluten-free parmesan wafers, too.)

A German dry red table wine was what I used to make this recipe when I lived in Germany, but here in the U.S. an inexpensive Chianti, or California merlot or cabernet are much easier to find and will do equally well. Note that depending on the dryness of the wine and desired level of sweetness for the drink, the amount of sugar used may vary greatly. Start with the smaller amount; stir in until dissolved; and then taste and add more if desired.

Tip: For a slightly less potent libation, create a  punch by adding up to a quart and a half of apple juice to the brew.

1 1.5 liter bottle of dry red table wine (or use two 750 millimeter bottles)
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks, broken into short pieces
2 teaspoons whole allspice berries 
1 teaspoon  whole cloves
3 or 4 1/2-inch wide and 2-inch long strips of fresh orange peel, plus several whole orange slices for an optional garnish

Combine the wine, 1/4 cup sugar, the spices, and strips of peel in a 3-or 4-quart stainless steel or other non-reactive saucepan or pot over medium heat. Heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot but not boiling, stirring occasionally.  Taste and stir in more sugar, if desired. Adjust the heat so the mixture mulls but does not come to a boil; let it heat for 15 minutes. Then let stand for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours for a fuller spice taste.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a serving pot, discard the spices. Reheat to piping hot. Garnish the top with several thin orange slices if desired. Serve with a ladle directly from the pot, or heat a pitcher under water to pre-warm it, then immediately serve the mulled wine from it. Makes 12 half-cup servings.  Recipe may be doubled if you like.

Other similar posts to check out-- Arizona Sunset Cocktails (left) and ratafias (right) :


Or perhaps you'd like to prepare some homemade Limoncello using a recipe I brought back from Italy?
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Dye-Free Confectioners' Sugar Icings, Plus Kudos for Simply Sensational Cookies

 I'm pleased to share with you this recipe from my Simply Sensational Cookies book that was featured in the   The Washington Post. It ran on December 12, 2012, in the Food Section holiday cookies issue.  (Note that the photo at left was shot by Deb Pearlman for the Post.  The cupcake photo below is mine.) 
Reprinted from the Washington Post:

 'Au Naturel' Confectioners' Sugar Icings
Cookbook author and cookie maven Nancy Baggett is proud of this icing, which doesn't rely on commercially made food dyes for its colors. "Simply by relying on the gorgeous natural colors of frozen (thawed) fruit juice concentrates from the supermarket . . . you can create a whole rainbow of tempting and tasty cookie icings," she writes.

She's also proud of the colorful homemade sprinkles that can be made from the same recipe. The sprinkles deteriorate in high heat and are best applied to cookies as they are being iced.
The optional meringue powder or dried egg white powder helps set the colors so contrasting shades don't bleed together as the icing hardens. Meringue powder is sometimes sold with cake decorating supplies; many supermarkets stock Deb El Just Whites or another brand of pure dried egg whites in their baking aisle.

This recipe makes enough icing to generously decorate twelve to fifteen 2 1/2-to-3-inch cookies.
MAKE AHEAD: The icing can be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 1 week. If it has thickened, thin with a small amount of water, stirred in thoroughly. The sprinkles can be stored in airtight containers for up to 6 months.
Makes about 1/2 cup icing

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring, if lumpy, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon commercial meringue powder or pure dried egg white powder (see headnote; optional; omit if preparing sprinkles)
  • 1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons frozen (defrosted) cranberry, orange, Concord grape, raspberry-white grape or cherry-grape juice concentrate (or a combination), plus more if needed
  • 1/2 to 3 teaspoons unsweetened natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder or Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted after measuring, if lumpy (optional)


For each color of icing you want to make, vigorously stir together the confectioners' sugar and the meringue powder, if using, in a small, deep bowl. Stir in the corn syrup. Add the juice concentrate (or a blend of concentrates) and stir until completely smooth. If a brown color or tint is desired, stir in cocoa powder as needed. You want a uniformly colored icing that's thick enough to coat the cookie but not so thick that it's hard to spread. Adjust the texture as needed by adding confectioners' sugar, juice or cocoa powder, stirring to combine thoroughly.

Use a table knife, pastry brush or artist's paintbrush to spread a thin, even layer of icing on the cookie. This is your base color. To add details, stir in more confectioners' sugar so that the icing has some body. Spoon the icing into a small cone of parchment paper with just the tip of the pointed end snipped off, or into a plastic food storage bag with the tip of one corner snipped off. (Don't fill a bag more than half full.) Use the bag to pipe accents onto the cookies. If you want the accents to blend into the existing icing, pipe when the icing base is still wet; if you want them to stand out and hold their shape, wait until the base has dried.

To make homemade sprinkles, omit the meringue powder from the icing. Pipe very fine lines of icing onto a sheet of parchment, spacing them far enough apart so they don't run together. Let the icing dry for at least 12 hours, or at least 18 hours if the weather is humid. Slide the parchment onto a cutting board and use a large knife or pizza wheel to cut across the piped lines, creating sprinkles that are 1/2 inch long or shorter. Let stand for at least 4 hours, then transfer to airtight containers and store in a cool spot, away from bright light, for up to 6 months.
Recipe Source: Adapted from "Simply Sensational Cookies," by Nancy Baggett (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).

Another post you might like:
  Use the same icings to make your own decorator sprinkles to use on cookies, cakes, and other sweet treats, too!  Or perhaps you'd like to check out my short video on the BEST way to roll out cookie dough; it's been very popular.

For another all natural icing, my green tea icing, go here.

News: My new Simply Sensational Cookies has been featured in a number of stories on holiday cookbooks and baking lately.  I'm particularly proud to tell you that it made the TOP TEN 2012 cookbooks list of National Public Radio, as well as the Washington Post top cookbooks list, and many others around the country.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Green Tea Icing for Naturally Beautiful (Dye-Free) Cookies

Welcome to “au naturel” Cookie Decorating 102.  I say au naturel because the colors shown here all come from culinary ingredients, and not a single one is from synthetic food dyes.  I say 102 because natural decorating 101. was already covered in a blog post recipe  here (as well as in a really fun article that just ran in the Washington Post.)  A post on how to create the patterned "marbled" look shown on the star, stocking, and candy cane at left is here.  A short, helpful video on the best way to roll out cookie dough is here.

This post spotlights another naturally colorful, healthful decorating ingredient that I recently began experimenting with and just love—powdered Matcha green tea.  Lots of people now enjoy these teas for their anti-oxidant power, but for me the main appeal is their soothing all-natural green hues that I can incorporate into icings and frostings. Note that these natural colors are fragile--they will gradually fade and soften as the cookies stand, though the colors will stay fresh looking if you freeze the iced cookies.
As the pics show, depending on the brand, powdered green teas can range from a fairly vivid spring green to more muted, moss and gray-sage shades.  So, if possible, examine the powders closely before you buy. The brighter, prettier tea shown here is the Teavana Imperial Matcha, which cost about $20 for a 1.4 ounce can.  (The good news is that it will last a long time; as little as a couple pinches can tint a recipe of icing. Keep the container in the freezer.) The less vibrantly hued variety, labeled only “Japanese Green Tea” in English (the brand name was in Japanese) I picked up in a local Asian grocery store for about $7 for a 1.05 ounce can.  Another brand that is often recommended but that I haven’t yet tried is Stash.

I actually like and use both of the teas shown for decorating, since the shades are quite different from one another and expand the overall palette. (The gray-green hues can be quite arresting when teamed up with other complementary colors, as the image at right reveals.) On occasion I combine the  teas in an icing to make a color that is somewhere between the two.  Also, it’s fun and very effective to create the same icing shade in different intensities—a small amount of powder yields a pale, creamy green, while ½ to 3/4 teaspoon produces a more saturated, bolder look.  As you can see, using the two together, one as a background color and one to pipe on accents, adds instant drama and impact.  To create a smooth surface where the piping blends in, add the icing while the bottom layer is still wet.

As for flavor, both of these are pleasing, though in fact I actually prefer the slightly more pronounced tea taste of the less expensive brand. However, my grandchildren don’t really care for the vegetal character of green tea, so the mildness of the Teavana version suits them much better. They also stick with the paler colored icings because they contain the least amounts of tea! BTW, I’ve heard that the taste of some low-end brands of green tea can be “off,”so bargain hunters beware when you shop.

Green Tea Powdered Sugar Icing
You’ll notice this recipe calls for only small quantities of corn syrup and meringue or egg white powder, but they are necessary for good results, so don’t leave either one out. The corn syrup promotes smooth flow and yields a glossy finish. The purchased meringue powder or dried egg white powder is important because it sets the colors and also keeps shades from bleeding or fading together as the decorated cookies stand. Many discount department stores stock the Wilton brand of meringue powder with cake decorating supplies. Supermarkets and nutrition stores sometimes carry the Deb El “Just Whites,” product or another brand of pure dried egg whites in their baking aisle.

The almond or vanilla extract is entirely optional, though I think it adds a pleasant accent note to the green tea. Also, use either water or frozen (thawed) orange juice concentrate, as desired; the orange juice will produce a slightly more yellow-green shade.

This recipe yields enough icing to decorate about 12 medium-sized cookies; if you prepare three or four batches in different colors, you'll have enough to generously decorate a forty to fifty cookies. Of course, you can double the recipe for a larger quantity.  (A good sugar cookie dough recipe is here.)

Tip: The same recipe can be used to create a white icing; simply omit the green tea and vanilla (almond extract is colorless so can be used).

Tip: If you create a shade of green tea that you decide should have a more intense color, thoroughly dissolve the extra green tea powder in a little warm water, then stir it into the bowl of icing.

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted after measuring if lumpy
1 teaspoon commercial meringue powder or dried egg white powder
1/8 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon colorful, good quality Matcha green tea powder, or enough more to produce the shade desired
1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract, optional
Scant 2 tablespoons water, or more as needed

For each batch of icing, thoroughly stir together the sugar, meringue or egg white powder, and green tea until thoroughly combined in a small deep bowl. Add the corn syrup, extract if using, then gradually stir in enough water to yield a fluid icing. Stir until very well blended, adding in more tea powder (blended with water first), water or powdered sugar to produce the color and consistency desired. Use the icings immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a week (or freeze for up to a month. Let warm to room temperature before using, then stir well. Very thoroughly stir in a little water if the icings are too stiff to spread.

For dye-free decorating in other seasons, see the Easter bunnies here and the Valentine's heart cookies here.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Baking Blitz--Making Goodies, Having Fun

All over the country and around the world, avid home bakers, including me, are happily gearing up for the holidays. We're pulling out favorite recipes, assembling ingredients, and already our kitchens smell sooo good! We simply have to bake this time of year.

The oh-so-charming sugar cookies at top right are the creations of my cookbook colleague and friend, Sandra Gutierrez, author of The New Southern Latino Table. Look carefully and you'll see amongst the angels and gingerbread people some pretty iced jalapeno-shaped cookies; Sandra says they've been in the family repertoire since her girls were young. (The cookies just below and at the bottom feature only dye-free fruit icings recipes here and green tea icing here, and are ones I'm preparing for my grandchildren. They are from my Simply Sensational Cookie book available on-line here.)

The gingerbread houses were fashioned in the kitchen of my baker friend Maria Springer. She specializes in the rightly famous Viennese pastries of her homeland and hosts a huge make-your-own gingerbread cottage class for kids and their parents at her home every year.

The biscotti, below right, are from the kitchen and blog of my cookbook author friend Domenica Marchetti. Yes, of course, she's Italian! And her latest book is The Glorious Pastas of Italy. 
The chocolate brandy balls below left are the work of Bunky Cooks, Gwen Pratesi .
(She made them from a recipe from my Simply Sensational Cookies.)

For all of us baking is an integral part of  our holiday celebrations. For me personally, rolling, cutting out and decorating sugar cookies brings back vivid recollections of getting ready for Christmas in my mother's kitchen.  For my husband and son, the heady aroma of my mother-in-law's family famous spiced Lebkuchen call to mind the many dozens she lovingly prepared for them over her eighty plus years. Continuing to bake their treats helps us keep our memories of them strong.

Simply Sensational Cookies
This year I'm mostly baking from my new book Simply Sensational Cookies. I'm proud to tell you that it has been on number of this season's cookbook gift lists, including the Washington Post's "Cook the Best Books" roundup and NPR's "Top Ten Holiday Cookbooks" list.

I've also published several helpful blog posts on making and decorating cookies here; and you may want to see my popular video on the best way to roll out dough go here; for a good sugar cookie recipe, go here.)   

If you are now in the mood for more cookies, you can hear NPR's All Things Considered host Melissa Block talk and eat heirloom molasses cookies  and with me and a guest listener here; two recipes including one of my faves from Simply Sensational Cookies, my Glazed Double Ginger Molasses cookies, are posted with the story.

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