Where to Find Cutters

UPDATE: This post was originally published in January 2014. Since that time, I’ve discovered new sites for cutters and added those below.

While posting images of my holiday baking for 2013, I started thinking about cookie cutters.

It probably comes as no surprise that I have a pretty big collection of cookie cutters. The makers include WiltonFredCopper Gifts, R & M, Nordic Ware, and Fox Run.

Gingerbread men with “bites” in the head, or intentionally missing limbs are cute and funny surprise to find in a cookie gift box. Fred has taken gingerbread men to a whole ‘nother level–they have Ninjabread, Undead (zombie) men, and ABC (Already Been Chewed) men. Every year, they come out with new ideas; their catalog is really funny to peruse. They do not just make humorous kitchen gear.

Are you a collector, an avid baker, or both? Do you know a cutter collector or baker?

Then check these sources out:

  • Stores You Already Go To For Groceries, School Supplies, and Household Basics: Walmart and arts and crafts stores like MichaelsJoAnnAC Moore, and Hobby Lobby, are good places to pick up Wilton cutters and big jar sets of plastic cutters. World MarketDollar General, Publix, and Target also carry some plastic sets, especially in November and December. Target carries some Fred products too, especially in July and August for the college crowd. All of the above also allow you to do some shopping online, or if you must find a store they say so. Sandwich cutters can also double as cookie cutters; they typically are hanging in the aisles of grocery stores near the nut butters, jellies, and sliced breads.
  • Discount stores means serendipitous shopping encounters: You never know what you will find at Ross, Marshalls, Marshalls Home Goods, TJMaxx, Tuesday Morning, and Big Lots.  They have websites, but the websites don’t feature e-commerce functionality. They want to motivate shoppers to visit a local store. These sites typically don’t compete with stores by offering online shopping.
  • If you buy traditional printed paper Birthday and Anniversary Cards: Occasionally, Hallmark has an individual steel cutter in a gift box. I picked up a high heel a few years back. I have had my eye on a martini glass they have carried in the last year. [UPDATE 3/30/14: Got it!]
  • If all else fails: Amazon or Etsy. Etsy has a lot of 3D cutters of pop culture characters from the 1980s­–present. So if you are buying for a gamer, or someone born after 1960, check there. Also, Thinkgeek carries a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, and gamer-themed cutters.
  • Do you have a 3D printer? You can make your own cutters that way. Check out Etsy to see what other people have done.

If I make new discoveries in this area I will make followup posts to this one. In the meantime, Happy Baking and Happy Shopping!

Sugar Cookies for Christmas 2013

Sugar Cookies for Christmas 2013

I also made some sugar cookies this year, including a leg lamp from “A Christmas Story.” This cutter is available here. It has the cookie details on the inside of cutter. This only works if your dough is rolled out to about 1/2-inch thick (the height of the cutter) though. Mine was not, so I went back in and added fishnet details with a fork.

Dinner At My One of My Favorite Restaurants: Home

I guess I am spoiling the glamorous mystery of this food writer’s life, but, surprise! I cook at home quite a bit, both weekdays and weekends.

On weekends and days off, we start the day with sauteéd bacon or sausage, over-medium eggs, pancakes or biscuits. I admit I use Pioneer Pancake Mix and frozen biscuits. For more unique flavors in the pancakes I’ve added sliced bananas and cardamom spice, or unsweet applesauce. Occasionally I will dally into omelettes or poached eggs.

For weeknight dinners, we regularly have:

Burritos: Seasoned ground turkey, diced tomatoes with chiles, and shredded cheese. The tortillas are warmed in foil in the oven. Sides are refritos (with a little greek yogurt and cumin added for taste), or rice. A great ready-made sauce for turkey is Frontera by Rick Bayless; it’s a a quick alternative to using dry or fresh herbs.

burritos

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Better Butter Chicken from Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo blogs and books, over a bed of cooked spinach. A ready-made sauce for this dish is here.

Chicken Florentine. I make a lighter version using chicken broth based sauce instead of the usual cream sauce.

Porkappleshallots

Pork Chops sauteed with shallots and granny smith apple slices is another quick-dinner favorite.

Now that it’s Fall, more oven-intensive meals are more inviting option. For instance, bringing homemade chili back into the lineup. I use 3 ground meats (pork, beef, chicken or turkey), kidney beans, diced tomatoes, diced yellow onion, chili powder and other herbs, diced white onions, and unsweetened cocoa. It’s all simmered for most of an hour in a big Dutch oven pot. More seasoning is added to taste. I serve baked cornbread on the side. One thing that’s great about chili is there are plenty of leftovers if you are a small family. It’s waiting to be warmed up for lunch or dinner for the next few days.

chili

I may also bake a whole chicken with lemon and garlic cloves in it. Rice will probably be on the side.

At least once a month, I mix and bake up a double batch of egg cupcakes, based on another recipe from Sarah Fragoso. Each time I make them, we’re covered for 2-3 weeks of a great go-to weekday breakfast in the microwave. Otherwise I enjoy greek yogurt with muesli on top, or cottage cheese.

If you are disappointed by cable networks’ personality-driven recipe books being tasty but not very healthy, I recommend Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo series, Julie S. Mayfield’s Paleo Comfort Foods, and Tosca Reno’s Clean Eating series. I am also very excited about books from PBS’ chef personalities, ‘especially the ethnic cuisines–Alamelu’s Indian, Ming’s Pan-Asian, Lidia’s Italian, and Newscancook’s Scandinavian foods. And that’s just four of many more shows that are on PBS. And if local caterer Brazilianuts ever writes a recipe book, I would pick that up as well; in covering regional charity dinners in Charleston on two separate occasions this year, I’ve learned there is so much more to Brazilian food than steak, and there’s so much more to learn about it. And I really love learning about foreign foods, especially when it manages to be tasty and healthy at the same time.

I am closing this post because I need to get cooking…

UPDATE: This post was originally created on 10/11/13. When I wrote it, I could only remember the name of the book and that the author was a really tall auburn-haired chef named Julie. Fast forward a month later, I discovered Julie Mayfield’s books had a blog so I updated that part of this post on 11/5/13.

Here It Is

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A key lime, honeydew frozen pie, with a Yoda theme. I was told the ears should be shorter and have more of a paisley shape/waviness to them. I used a diagonally split bread pan for this go round. Next time, I could use a half-size bread pan.

There are other things I would do differently, including:

–use cream cheese in addition to sweetened condensed milk

–simmer the key lime and honeydew juice down to a thicker consistency, for lots of flavor, but far, far less water. I am storing the pie in the freezer because anything less is far too warm here in the steamy South, even a 38 degree fridge.

–I would really like to find Oreo crumbles for the crust. Chocolate grahams are okay, but Oreos would be preferable.

I was happy with the color and the flavor of honeydew with key lime.

Usually I post the recipe but since this one is still under construction I will hold off. I used a 6″ springform pan for the middle circle, and as I said before, a diagonally split bread pan for the ears.

Turmeric Ginger Kookys

The recipe:

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup) diced

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon ginger

1 egg

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

I baked them for 8 minutes at 350°F. They seemed too soft and not brown enough, so I baked them an extra 4 minutes. If I were to bake them all over again, though I think 10 might be interesting–to keep the color at its brightest.

After allowing them to cool, I sampled the results and so did my husband. The taste starts sweet but ended bitter. I thought I’d made a Kooky, but it’s really more of an eastern-influenced digestive biscuit.

Uh what-now? you may ask.

In British English, a cookie is a biscuit. And a digestive biscuit is a pragmatic after dinner cookie. It is made with bran, wheat, or other grains. it’s the practical matter of aiding digestion and I would think, preventing indigestion.

Turmeric and ginger are herbs that aid flavor or color, but both are beneficial for your stomach and digestive system. Turmeric can color your yellow rice for paella–it is much cheaper than saffron, and it doesn’t take much to deliver the hue. It can stain plastic and silicone kitchen tools, not to mention your clothes.

Anyway, my recipe had a flavor problem. I wanted to counteract or diminish the bitterness in these Kookys I made, and I had wanted to layer them from the beginning, too. This is the layout:

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To keep with the warm color trend, I chose marmalade for the filling. All the Kookys were placed on parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

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I just put a 1/4 dollop in the center of the smaller Kooky, then flipped over on top of the larger Kooky of the same shape. I didn’t spread the marmalade to the edge–once the smaller Kooky is placed on the larger Kooky, the compression causes it to spread more. If I had spread the marmalade to the edge, then placed it on the larger Kooky, the marmalade would seep beyond the dimensions of the smaller Kooky; it would look oozy and sloppy.

Once I had put marmalade on all the Kookys I could, I put them in the fridge for at least 3 hours so the marmalade would re-solidify and be less runny.

I sampled one and the bitterness seems to be less present. So all the Kookys that weren’t part of a pair were topped with marmalade as well.

Not all White Chocolate Melts…

As a followup to Spring Kookys, here’s a behind the scenes explanation of what I used for decorating, and why, with some photos.

With this batch I wanted to decorate the Kookys with more fluffy realism, have great flavor, using sweet but ‘nutritionally straightforward’ ingredients. I think I achieved that, but if I find something better I will try again. I also want to give umbrella Kookys another try and not have them fall apart at the handle.

But here’s what I have learned:

White Chocolate As Frosting/icing:

chipsvsWchocbar

I used melted Godiva chocolate bars flecked with vanilla beans as the base icing for these kookys (see glass on the right, above.

Why didn’t I just pick up white chocolate chips (see glass on the left, above)? Well, I’ve been burned by them in the past. Literally.

I order to achieve melted chocolate with the ideal consistency–fluid, glossy, yet quick to dry with a matte finish, you must have cocoa butter as an ingredient. This is true with traditional brown chocolate as well.

As I was saying, I learned this the hard way. I would buy white chips, and try to melt them in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, 30 seconds to one minute. First they weren’t melted after one rotation, then they were crumbly and turning brown in the second rotation. I recreated my results for this post. They didn’t burn this time, but they still look nasty after multiple rotations in the microwave; stirring doesn’t help (see image below):

nastywhitechipsmelted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first I thought adding butter or water might help, but it just made a bigger mess.

I researched the issue, and I learned that cocoa butter was the crucial ingredient. Then I went to multiple grocery store’s baking aisles to see if there were any white chips containing cocoa butter. Store brand, gourmet brand, it didn’t matter–none of them had it:

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And there is a product called CandiQuik and a White Bark Covering, but it’s a poor man’s fondue. It’s intended for dipping pretzels and such, like candy melting disks I used to see more frequently. [I am suspicious of any candy product that says “vanilla flavored candy” or “chocolate flavored candy”. If it’s not truly chocolate and had to be flavored that way, just what is it? What am I potentially eating or serving here?]

CDQingred

whitebarkingred

So I walked to the candy aisle, and along the top shelf there were white chocolate candy bars. Their label indicated they contained cocoa butter.

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So I bought it and gave it a shot. It worked like a charm, see below:

whitechocwithcocoabutter-beautiful

Not only does it look much better, but it does a job that the chips couldn’t.

This isn’t to say white chips aren’t good for chunky chocolate pieces in brownies, blondies or cookies; it is just to say, without cocoa butter, you can’t completely melt them for use as a liquid. It will not happen.

 

From what I’ve found, these chocolate brands have cocoa butter ingredient 100% of the time:

Green & Black; Hershey’s Bliss, Nuggets and Kisses; Dove; Perugina; Taste of Inspirations; Godiva; Lindt.

Chocolate brands that only sometimes have cocoa butter–basically it depends on the product type:

Ghiradelli, Nestle, ScharffenBerger

I did notice that Ghiradelli had “baking bars” that look like large candy bars and they contained cocoa butter;  Ghiradelli white chips do not. At the same time, Nestle had a white “baking bar”, but it nor the premier white chips contain cocoa butter. The only way to know for sure how packaged chocolate can be used for your next baking project is to check its ingredients list before buying it. Gourmet branding, the price, and vague product names don’t follow any consistent logic.

Prepared Frosting

Prepared frosting, whether it comes in a canister, a box, or a pouch, is really convenient and simple to use.  So are gel food colors. Unlike melted chocolate, frosting/icing it can thicken up and get a sugar crystalled skin on it, but it won’t harden like chocolate does unless its Cookie Glaze in a tube (like a runny fondant; when the cookie is chilled or left to set for an hour at room temperature, the glaze will harden).

But these products, Cookie Glaze included, have a lot of mystery chemical ingredients, like partially hydrogenated ‘schmeckle-zoink’ (thanks Mike Myers Coffee Talk) and other oddities in them.

Here’s some images of labels:

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These additives aid the color, the consistency, and the shelf life of the product, but they only hurt the health of the consumer, the more they are consumed over a lifetime. Think about all your birthday cakes, others’ birthday cakes, wedding cakes, job change cakes, anniversary cakes, romantic dessert cake. That’s a lot of artificial sweeteners and chemicals going into your system–and who knows, maybe they never really leave, they just build up over a lifetime.

Sugared Coconut

While I’m on the subject of baking aisle atrocities, store bought sugared coconut found in the baking aisle is not healthy either. The bags I see sold in stores are practically ‘sweating’ sugar and high fructose schmeckle-zoink. UGH. You can’t taste the coconut anymore.

Here’s some ingredients lists for those:

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SWTcoconut

I would swear propylene glycol is also used in hairspray. Wikipedia mentions its role in the dispersants used after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There’s nothing sweet about the idea of eating that.

So I walked to the granola/organic foods/dried fruit aisle and found plain dried coconut for my Kookys.

organiccoconut

Below is an ingredient list I could get used to!

organiccoconutingreds