Day of the Dead

(Día de los Muertos) Cookies

November 2: All Souls Day

Having lived among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in South Texas, we came to know many as our friends and learned about their holiday traditions and customs. Around Halloween leading up to All Souls Day (Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos), we have seen several homes, churches and other significant cultural places set up colorful ofrendas (altars) as tributes to loved ones who have passed away. Displayed on these altars are framed photos of the dead, cut paper banners, flowers (marigolds), candles and/or incense, religious symbols and icons, food and other toys/trinkets. Some communities have lively parades with people dressed in skeleton costumes. Some families visit the gravesite of the deceased, decorate it and have a feast there.

At first, outside observers find the festivities excessive and even creepy. But in time we have come to appreciate the Mexican rituals that celebrate the lives of the dearly departed so that they are never forgotten! How nice it is to be remembered in a fond and fun way!

We are grateful that our amigos have taught us a little more about the Day of the Dead and invited us to participate in some of their family activities. Learn more about this Mexican holiday from the Inside Mexico website. And celebrate life (not death) with these chocolate cookies decorated with colorful fondant cutouts!

Recipe

(Adapted from Southern Living Incredible Cookies)

For the chocolate cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (we used Mexican vainilla)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, ground cinnamon and chili powder or cayenne pepper. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Beat in the eggs. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture.

Mix until a sticky dough is formed. Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in half or thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour). Roll out dough ¼-inch thick in between two sheets of waxed paper.

Cut out shapes with a skull-shaped cookie cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

For the decorations

  • Powdered sugar
  • White fondant
  • Red fondant
  • Other different colored fondant
  • Colorful edible markers

Directions

On a clean surface dusted with powdered sugar, roll out the white fondant to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out enough skull shapes for all the cookies. Set aside in a covered container so the fondant does not dry out. Lightly brush the chocolate cookie with a little water and position the white skull-shaped fondant over it. Smooth out the edges.

Roll out the red fondant and cut out a tiny heart shape using the mini heart plunger tool. Dab a little water on the red heard and position it upside down in the center of the white skull-shaped fondant. Use different shaped flower cutters on different colored fondant to make the eye layers.

Use the end of a large round tip to make the eyeballs. Attach “eyes and eyeball” layers with a little water. Roll out different colored fondant and cut a small daisy shape. Position part of the daisy shape on top of the skull.

Trim off the three petal parts on top and save this to position on the chin as a decoration, attaching both with a brush of water. Use different color edible markers to draw the facial decorations (we used dots, stitches and swirls). Be as colorful and creative as possible. Arrange on a platter and serve.

Notes

  • We got our skull-shaped cookie cutter at the gift shop in the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas. As morbid as the experience seemed to be, the exhibits and historical information were presented very well. Everything was fascinating and well worth the trip and visit.
  • Pan de muerto (sweet “bread of the dead”) and sugar skulls are foods related to Día de los Muertos. We hope to feature these recipes in upcoming blog posts.
  • Vanilla sugar cookies may be substituted in this recipe. But because chocolate originated in Mexico and has a nice color contrast to the white fondant, we baked dark chocolate cookies instead. We also used fondant to decorate them because we still have not mastered icing (outlining and flooding) our cookies!
  • Search our blog for more Mexican, Tex-Mex and Halloween recipes.

Solar Eclipse Sugar Cookies

August 21, 2017: Solar Eclipse Across the USA

On July 11, 1991, Islander was able to experience a solar eclipse in Hawaii. The path of 100% totality was over the Big Island, but 96% over Oahu was still a good percentage. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that day so the moving rain clouds kept interrupting the views for everyone, even at the observatories with the telescopes. Islander woke up at 6:30 a.m. (okay, NOT a morning person!) and started watching the TV news for coverage about the eclipse. Almost an hour later, she went out in the backyard, put on her sun peepers (79 cents at 7-11 convenience store) and watched the heavens above. At 7:28:48 a.m., the sky became dark gray, almost like dusk. Four minutes later, the sun peeked out again after the moon slowly finished crossing its path and a beautiful morning continued on to become another blessed day.

Today we experience partial totality in Texas at approximately 1:17 p.m. Highlander is working at that time but Islander baked cookies for his co-workers to commemorate the rare occasion that a solar eclipse happens across America. The last time it occurred on the mainland was on February 26, 1979; the next one will be on April 8, 2024.

Along with these solar eclipse sugar cookies, we are snacking on Sun Chips, Moon Pies and Moon Cheese, eating chicken salad “crescent” roll sandwiches, drinking Capri Sun apple juice and Sunny D orange juice and chewing Eclipse gum. These fun foods all make for a memorable meal when celebrating the solar eclipse!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • Sugar cookie dough (we use the recipe from Kitchen Lane)
  • Yellow fondant
  • Black or dark chocolate fondant

Directions

Make the sugar cookie dough. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Use a circle cookie cutter to cut out cookie shapes. Bake and cool.

Decorate the round sugar cookies by rolling out yellow fondant 1/8 inch thick. Use the same circle cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Brush water on the top of a round cookie and place a yellow fondant circle on top. Smooth out the edges.

Roll out black or dark chocolate fondant 1/8 inch thick. Using the round cookie cutter, cut different shapes according to the partial moon shadows (quarter, half or ¾ full crescents). Brush water on the back and position it on top of the yellow fondant. Arrange in phases to show the gradual eclipse movements.

Bonus Recipe: Gold Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • Extra cookie dough
  • White fondant
  • Clear extract (almond, lemon, etc.) or vodka
  • Gold edible powder/non-toxic luster dust

Directions

With the extra cookie dough from above, roll out to ¼ inch thick. Use a small star cookie cutter to cut out star shapes. Bake and cool.

Roll out white fondant 1/8 inch thick. Use the same star cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Brush water on the top of a star cookie and place a white fondant star on top. Mix a little extract or vodka with gold edible powder. Brush over the star cookies. Let dry. Serve with solar eclipse sugar cookies.

Notes

  • Also appropriate for a solar eclipse celebration are cinnamon-pecan crescent cookies and brown sugar shortbread star cookies.
  • We also made some silver crescent moon cookies in the same manner as the gold star cookies above. We just substituted the colors and cookie cutter shapes. Combine these with the solar eclipse cookies for a celestial celebration!

Star Wars Cookies

Star Wars Cookies

December 18, 2015: Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

May the Force be with you…and with your spirit! Fans are literally out in full force as the new movie in the third trilogy of the famous film/space saga, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, opens worldwide in theaters today (although some lucky fans got to see the movie earlier at the Hollywood/Los Angeles premiere). We had to reserve our tickets online a few weeks earlier to get good seats at the movie theater tonight!

In eager anticipation of the long-awaited Star Wars film, we made sugar cookies to share with co-workers and friends to observe the movie’s release date. What an excuse to use some of the cookie cutters that Highlander gifted Islander one year!

Star Wars cookie cutters

We have posted two simple recipes on our blog today: basic green Yoda sugar cookies and dark chocolate-cinnamon Darth Vader cookies. Even though these classic characters are part of the previous trilogies, enjoy these sweet treats for a multi-generational Star Wars celebration or for a unique holiday cookie exchange.

Recipes

For the Yoda Sugar Cookies

(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma)

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • green food coloring (we used Wilton “leaf green” food paste/gel coloring)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg. Add the vanilla.

Yoda Cookies

Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until a dough is formed. Tint with green food coloring to the desired shade of “Yoda”. Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Yoda Cookies

Roll out dough ¼-inch thick. Cut out shapes with Yoda cookie cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

Yoda Cookies

For the Darth Vader Dark Chocolate-Cinnamon Cookies

(Adapted from Southern Living Incredible Cookies)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (we used Hershey’s Special Dark—for an intense color and “dark side” taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt and ground cinnamon. Set aside.

Darth Vader Cookies

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Beat in the eggs. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until a sticky dough is formed.

Darth Vader Cookies

Roll the dough into a large ball, divide in half or thirds, cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour). Roll out dough ¼-inch thick. Cut out shapes with Darth Vader cookie cutter. Place on a lightly greased baking pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to firm up the dough. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for five minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and become crisp.

Darth Vader Cookies

Notes

  • Jedi mind tricks and tips: Roll out the dough between sheets of waxed paper and chill until ready to use. Keep the cut-out cookie dough very cold to retain its shape while baking in the oven. Dip cookie cutters in a little flour to prevent them from sticking to the dough.
  • We halved the Darth Vader cookie recipe for this post.
  • Search our blog for other Star Wars recipe ideas.

Irish Oatmeal Cookies

Irish Oatmeal Cookies 

March 17: Feast Day of St. Patrick

Highlander likes to eat oatmeal for breakfast to begin his workday at the top o’ the mornin’! And sometimes he can’t resist eating oatmeal cookies for a sweet snack to sustain him through the rest o’ the day. So especially in observance of St. Patrick’s Day, we used two Irish imported products to make Irish oatmeal cookies—McCann’s Irish Oatmeal and Kerrygold Butter. The recipe yields over three dozen cookies, which are enough to share with Highlander’s lucky co-workers! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

A wish that every day for you

will be happy from the start

and may you always have good luck

and a song within your heart.

~Irish Blessing

  

Recipe

(Adapted from McCann’s)

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cup (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups quick cooking oatmeal
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ½ cup walnuts, chipped

Directions

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the brown and white sugars. Beat in the egg. Stir in the vanilla.

Irish Oatmeal Cookies 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and ground cinnamon. Gradually add this to the butter mixture. Blend well. Stir in by hand the oatmeal, raisins and walnuts.

Irish Oatmeal Cookies 

Scoop a tablespoon onto lightly greased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly with the ball of your hand. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it sit on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Yield: Approximately 3-4 dozen cookies.

Irish Oatmeal Cookies 

Notes

  • Highlander traced his ancestry to Ireland and is considered an Ulster-Scot. 
  • Search our blog for other Irish-inspired recipes for St. Patrick’s Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Sugar Shortbread Stars

Brown Sugar Shortbread Stars

January 6: National Shortbread Day and Epiphany

“…for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” ~ Matthew 2:2

Guided only by a wondrous star, three kings (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar) from the Orient (east) made an incredible journey leading westward to visit the King of Kings (Jesus Christ). This biblical account concludes the traditional celebration of the 12 days of Christmas on Epiphany.

To celebrate the Feast Day of the Three Kings, which coincides with National Shortbread Day, we were wise to cut simple star shapes from a brown sugar shortbread recipe. We also sprinkled the cookies with sparkling sugar crystals to give it texture and brilliance, like a star with royal beauty bright.

Bake brown sugar shortbread stars and enjoy both Epiphany and National Shortbread Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from Southern Living: Incredible Cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup brown sugar, dark
  • 2 cups flour
  • sparkling white sugar crystals (we used Wilton brand)

Directions

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until well blended. Gradually add the flour. Mix well until a dough is formed.  Roll into a ball and flatten into a disc between sheets of waxed paper. Press down with a rolling pin and smooth out the dough to ¼-inch thickness. Chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Brown Sugar Shortbread Stars

Remove from the refrigerator and peel away the top layer of waxed paper. Cut out star shapes on the flattened dough. Use a spatula to transfer the star cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or a lightly greased foil). Space the cookies about an inch apart. Continue to re-roll and flatten the scraps of dough and cut more star cookies, refrigerating the dough if it becomes too soft. Sprinkle sugar crystals on top of the star cookies. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until edges are golden.  Remove from the oven and leave to set for about five minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Shortbread Stars

Notes

  • We halved the recipe above to feed a small group of friends.
  • We used mini star cutters for this recipe. Other shapes besides stars may be used to cut into the brown sugar cookie dough.
  • Search our blog for other shortbread recipes as well as Epiphany-themed recipes.

Pink Ribbon Cookies

Pink Ribbon Cookies

October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This post for pink ribbon cookies is dedicated to Islander’s cousin, Clara A. (1959-2013), who lost her fight against breast cancer late last year. A brilliant child and family attorney who practiced law in the Philippines and internationally, Clara endured chemotherapy and survived 17 years after first being diagnosed with breast cancer. We last saw her in 2007 during a family trip to the Philippines when her cancer was in remission. She looked happy and healthy—and that is the way we want to remember cousin Clara. May she rest in peace.

For a number of years now, we have been donating dollars and desserts (such as pink ribbon cookies) for bake sales of different charities that help fund research to find cures for cancer. Sometimes the best we can do is pray—pray for those who have cancer, for their families, for the health caregivers and for the researchers.

Although one month is dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness, it should be year-round. Take care of yourselves and get mammograms regularly. Participate and support the events and donate what you can to the cancer societies. Bake a batch of pink ribbon cookies. And please pray for a cure!!!

Recipe

(Adapted from Kitchen Lane

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour (all purpose white)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pink fondant
  • powdered sugar for dusting the surface
  • clear piping gel or water 

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Gradually the flour mixture into the other ingredients and blend well to form a dough.

Pink Ribbon Cookies

Divide dough in thirds and roll into a ball. Then flatten each ball into a disc and place between sheets of waxed or parchment paper. Roll out to about ¼-inch thick (we used ¼-inch thick acrylic sticks as guides). Stack them on a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm (about 30-45 minutes). They may also be frozen for 15-20 minutes. Take one stack of flattened dough out of the refrigerator or freezer. Peel away both front and back to loosen, leaving the dough on one sheet of the waxed or parchment paper. Cut out the pink ribbon shapes.

Pink Ribbon Cookies 

Place on foil-lined greased cookie pan about 1 ½ – 2 inches apart. Refrigerate the cookie pan. Re-roll scraps of dough and cut more shapes, refrigerating if the dough gets too soft. The dough needs to be cold and firm in order to retain its shape. Bake the cookies in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until the sides are very lightly browned. Remove from the oven when done and let sit on the pan for about five minutes. Transfer each cookie on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to decorate.

Pink Ribbon Cookies

Using the same pink ribbon-shaped cookie cutter, cut out shapes on pink fondant (roll out to 1/8-inch thickness on a clean surface that has been dusted with a bit of powdered sugar to prevent from sticking). Use a fondant impression mat, if adding decorative texture to the fondant is desired.

Pink Ribbon Cookies 

Brush water or piping gel on the cookie. Position the fondant on top of the pink ribbon cookie and smooth out the edges with warm fingers. Repeat for all cookies. Set aside to dry, making sure all cookies are dry before stacking. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Pink Ribbon Cookies 

Notes

 

Swedish Heirloom Cookies

Swedish Heirloom Cookies

June 21: Summer Solstice/Midsummer

We blogged before about Mexican wedding cookies (also known as Danish wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes and Hawaiian snow balls). A similar sweet is the Swedish heirloom cookie, which includes walnuts instead of pecans. These beloved wedding cookies are rife with symbolism—white for bridal purity, sugar for a sweet married life and nuts for fertility.

Although these cookies are popular during the holiday season (Christmas and the winter solstice), we make Swedish heirloom cookies for the midsummer season (midsommar in Swedish) and the summer solstice. We also serve them to our June brides and the engaged couples we sponsor through our church’s marriage preparation program.

Coincidentally, the famous “Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn was composed for William Shakespeare’s play titled “Midsummer Night’s Dream”! Summer seems to be an ideal time for weddings. So make these simple and sweet Swedish heirloom cookies for summer weddings and summer solstice celebrations.

Recipe

(Adapted from Saveur)

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions

In a small skillet, toast the walnuts. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

Swedish Heirloom Cookies

Add the flour and salt and blend well. Mix in the walnuts. Form into a cookie dough. Roll into balls between ¾-1 inch.

Swedish Heirloom Cookies

Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet about two inches apart to allow the cookies to expand. Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar. Cool completely and place in mini cupcake papers.

Swedish Heirloom Cookies

Notes