Friday, June 14, 2013

A nice client testimonial

Thank you so much for making the beautiful cookies!  My daughter and I couldn't resist eating one while running our errands (good thing I ordered extra). They are soooo good!  Exactly how sugar cookies should taste. So delicious and such a nice size! 

I am sure I will be ordering from you again and will recommend you to my friends and relatives!

Thanks again, Jenny! 

Angela. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hello Kitty!

Years ago I created a Hello Kitty head cutter template to produce a couple of orders of cookies.  I have been wanting to find an actual cutter that was the right size so that wouldn't have to use a template again (if ever asked).  Lo and behold, I found the cutter yesterday.  It's actually a little bit bigger than I would have liked, but that's better than being too small (anything under 4" is too small).  This one is about 6" wide.  Big  cookies.  That's the way I like to make them!


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Candy thermometer issues

I was making English toffee last night, and there are telltale signs of when it is nearing being done, like puffs of steam escaping.  So I keep watching the thermometer, and it sort of stalled around 225, but yet the toffee was definitely getting hotter.  Finally when it was huffing and puffing, I did the old fashioned water test - dropping a bit in a glass of cold water, and sure enough it hardened instantly - yet the thermometer still was only at 225.

The only thing I can think is that there was condensation inside and that was throwing it off.  Regardless, I bought a new thermometer today.  I've got the cap off of the other one, and I'm just going to let it dry out for a long time.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Referrals are lovely!

Well, last week I got a referral from the sweet Hollywood Candy Queen herself, Jackie Sorkin.  The client she referred to me for some custom cookies then sent me this picture:

Actually, it was the fully body too but we decided to just do the head with the cape.  Of course, I always get nervous when I have to do a custom cookie, but usually it's the hand cutting around the template that's the worst of it.  Then after I get them baked (and these were all on a stick as well), I develop an "anchor point" for the piece.  In the case of the horse head, the anchor for the entire piece was the line where the mane and cape meet.  using that line, I outlined the mane first and filled it in (all free-hand).  The second anchor point was the insignia with the C.  From there I mapped out the two-toned cape.  Then I mapped out the mask and finally the head, nose and neck shadow.  The details on the nose, the eyebrow and the inner ear were done with food edible pens.  The last part done was the eye, which was iced wet on wet.  The project of 48 cookies was completed over three nights.


Now working on a thank-you to Jackie!  Something sweet, of course!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Character cookies

What do you do to keep yourself entertained while icing 4 dozen character cookies over 3 nights?  Well, I rewatched/listened to all of the episodes of the funny British series SPY, which is on Hulu.  I really love that show, and it's starting to develop nicely.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

New places to find me...

Cookies aren't the end-all of my life! So here are a few other places to find me:

Youtube: MissTruly and Signature Sweet Shoppe

Twitter

Facebook

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The book for home bakers!


Yes, if you haven't seen, or if you have seen the page on the website for my ebook, "The Sweet Business of Cookies," click here.

While certainly no best seller, it has become a great tool for those who have wished to dabble in the art of starting a cookie business from home - for after all, where else would you start a cookie business?

It always amazes me when people ask, "Don't you have to work from a commercial kitchen?" And I think, good grief, you're just starting out, you have two small orders this month, and for THAT you want to rent commercial kitchen space? It's ridiculous.

Most home bakers really just want to earn a little extra cash. They don't want to open a bakery somewhere. It's not their ambition. That's why this book is so appropriate - it's written for the start-up baker, and I know of no other book like it.

So what are you waiting for? In today's economy, get yourself another stream of income by doing a little baking for others.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Truth About Susan Boyle

If by now you haven't seen the Susan Boyle audition from the reality TV show, "Britain's Got Talent," then apparently you've been in a coma since April 11, because it's one of the hottest news items from the last 10 days. One of the Youtube videos alone has garnered more than 35 million hits in those 10 days although I'm not sure how accurate that number is since I think people visit it over and over. I know I've probably seen it 20-30 times, and I've listened to her soulful rendition of "Cry Me A River" at least half that many times.

I think there's a little bit of Susan Boyle in a lot of us, hidden talents that were once developed and had to go mostly fallow because life happened. Susan did sing karaoke locally and did do one song for a limited release charity album in 1999, but otherwise she put her aspirations aside to care for her mother. Her mother's passing did not kick start the dream immediately because she struggled emotionally afterwards for two years before finally getting up the courage to audition for "Britain's Got Talent."

I studied singing for several years, and one thing I can say is that I can hear it in a person's speaking voice if they are singing consistently and properly. The judges should have heard that in Susan's speaking voice right away, and even before she started to sing, her poise and confidence with the microphone should have also tipped them off. Of course, when she did start to sing, they quickly realized that this unassuming package was a hidden treasure.

Susan is not the only one on the various talent reality series who was an undiscovered treasure. I'm not concerned or terribly interested in the very talented kids that come on the show. Their dreams and training are just beginning. They have no where to go but up. I am more interested in the talent that has had to put their dreams aside to deal with life. That's where the Susan Boyle is in so many of us. Her overnight stardom simply illuminated a long standing fact that the teens and twenty-somethings do not own the world of talent and that they can learn a lot from Susan Boyle.

I once dreamed of singing opera professionally, but life got in the way. I have no desire to switch gears and return to opera training, but I would love to get into a recording studio and cut a CD. That option would never have been available to me 24 years ago, but today I can practically do it in my own home at my own computer.

Having a dream does not make the desire come to fruition because sometimes life just gets in the way. Life can blindside you. I wonder how many other Susan Boyles are out there? Men and women who have put their natural talents on hold in order to deal with life.

To me, that's the real truth about Susan Boyle - that sometimes you can finally grab that brass ring, even with life's interruptions, and that even at the age of 48, life can begin again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cookies and Jury Duty...another day at the office!

Some people never get called for Jury Duty and some, like me, seem to be a JD magnet. In fact, I was on Superior Court JD in January 2008, and in August 2008 on a Friday, I got a summons for Federal Court JD followed three days later by a summons for Superior Court JD. One was to start November 3 and the other November 4, and that obviously presented a little bit of a scheduling conflict, so I postponed the Superior Court until April 6 2009. That was this past week. What does that have to do with cookies? When you are pulled from the Jury Assembly Room to be on a Jury Panel (the Jury selection process), the judge will ask all sorts of questions including the general area of the city you live in and what you do for an occupation. I said I made cookies for a living, and there were lots of giggles from the other jurors, and even the judge said, "Oh, I need your number." The cookie lady in court!

One of the other jurors was a caterer. Guess who got my business card during one of our breaks? Then other people came up to me to ask me for my card, which I gladly gave out. Will they ever call me? I don't know, but the point is, I was prepared with my card, no matter where I went.

After two days of jury panel selection, I was excused by the defense team, and that was just fine with me because I had an emergency photo cookie order... it came in Thursday afternoon while I was at the court, and it was needed by Saturday morning. I assured the client it wouldn't be a problem, and it wasn't! Three dozen beautiful cookies went out on time (see above picture)!

Signature Sweet Shoppe tip: I went to Cost Plus World Market yesterday to get a basket for my cookies. The baskets I normally purchase were no where to be seen... um, hello! Easter! So, next year I'll have my baskets stocked well before Easter!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Are your cookies sticking? What to do.

If you make my sugar cookie recipe, the cookies will stick.  However, I don't use any silpat mats, non-stick pans, cooking spray, or even Reynolds Release.  

Keep in mind, I have 120 baking trays, and I don't use cooling racks.  My cookies have to cool on the tray as the tray cools.  So how do I keep them from sticking?  Easy.

As soon as they are out of the oven, I simply loosen them on the pan.  Move their position slightly.  This breaks the seal that had been created, but you must do it when they are piping hot.  If you allow them to cool, they will stick.  

Some cookies, however, should not be moved on the tray, and these include chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter.  These cookies need to firm up by cooling down.  After they are set, you can remove them easily from the tray.

Happy baking from Signature Sweet Shoppe!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What's up with eggs?

CRACKING THE SALMONELLA FEARS
When some people learn that I use raw egg whites to make my royal icing, it sends a "salmonella shiver" (sounds like a dance!) down their spine. In fact, I have never used anything but raw egg whites, and I have no intention of changing that.

Let's look at the facts: Salmonella bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and humans. Salmonella may be found on the outside of the egg shell before the egg is washed or it may be found inside the egg if the hen was infected. It is estimated that one egg in 20,000 eggs (some estimates are as low as 1 in 30,000) may contain Salmonella which is a 0.005% contamination rate. Eggs contain natural antimicrobial substances in the egg white, and all eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed.

Salmonella is present in more than just eggs, of course, but eggs get a really bad rap for it. More likely, if you do get symptoms of food poisoning, it was from another source, and a pro-biotic will help clear up the issue within a few hours.

In fact, consumption of raw eggs is actually encouraged in many diet plans since eggs are an excellent source of protein and many other enzymes in their natural state. All the necessary ingredients are in an egg to make a baby chicken, but cooking an egg destroys many of those benefits (just so you know when you're chowing down on that scrumptious omlette).

Real egg whites make the best royal icing. It is creamy and very smooth, and meringue powder just can't match it in quality or texture.

To avoid salmonella in your kitchen, make certain you go through your refrigerator once per week and throw out any food items that have not been eaten (especially any leftovers with meat), and keep your counter tops, sink and equipment bleached down. Keeping your refrigerator cleaned out regularly also helps you to avoid contamination.

If you have pet birds, reptiles or amphibians, always wash your hands thoroughly after handling, and always keep their cages clean and sanitized. Turtles especially seem to carry salmonella bacteria, so if you have them as pets and have small children handling them, make sure your children thoroughly wash their hands afterwards.

QUESTION OF THE DAY
Q: How do you make black royal icing?

Okay, believe it or not, I've been asked this a couple of times, even though the answer seems obvious - "with black food coloring," but it turns out some brands are better than others. In fact, there are more colors available in food coloring than you would think. I recently needed some fuchsia - and I couldn't get it locally, but there was a slot for it in the store!

The brand I use and recommend is AmeriColor. Their black is coal black and stays that way. If you can't find it locally in a cake or candy supply shop, you can always order it online from Sugarcraft.com.

TIP OF THE DAY

Never buy the tiny little jars of Cream of Tartar that you find in the grocery store. Why? They are horribly over-priced and will run you broke. If you have a cookie business and are going through a lot of COT for your royal icing, buy it online in bulk at a fraction of the cost.

All the best,

Jenny Arata
Signature Sweet Shoppe

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Photo cookies - the basics!

People are always asking me to do a video on photo cookies, and I've been putting it off. It isn't that the process is complicated, but perhaps I'm just trying to explain it in too difficult a way due to the programs I use. So, here's the basic thing:

Adobe Photoshop
I use Adobe Photoshop for my tweaking my images. If you don't have that program, you will still need a competent photo editing program. For example, I have found that my printer prints the photo cookies darker than they appear on screen. I have had to lighten the original photo up to 50% just to get it to look right when it printed out.

Sometimes I will receive a color photo that has yellowed with time. I don't mean turned sepia. I just mean that the colors have faded out some. Photoshop has an autocolor function that when applied automatically corrects the photo back to its original colors. It's really wonderful.

I like to go the extra mile with photos that need a little help - either getting rid of scratches or dust speckles. I honestly don't do that for the client so much as I do it for me - I enjoy the challenge of photo restoration!

Sometimes too the client will sent a photo that they scanned at a really high resolution - so it's absolutely enormous. I then have to resize it and save it at a smaller size even before I can lay it out in...

Adobe Illustrator

I use Illustrator for laying out my photos. It has a grid function, and with that you can precisely lay out your photos and know how to resize them. When I say resize, I don't mean in the same way you would in Photoshop. For example, on an icing sheet that is 8-1/2 x11 (also called a 1/4 sheet or "quarter sheet" since it is a one fourth the size of a sheet cake pan), I know that I have a 1/2" unprintable border all the way around (on the sheets from Kopykake), leaving my printable area only 7-1/2" x 10". I want to make the most of my printable space. I might have a 3x5 cookie, but how many 3x5 cookie images can I get on the sheet? well, you could say 3, but there's a lot of wasted icing sheet that way. Instead, resize your image (you can keep the proportions by holding down the shift key as you drag a corner in and out to make the photo either larger or smaller), and think of having two images side by side that are no more than 3.75" wide - that way you can get 8 on a page. Remember that your cookie will have an icing border.

So my dilemma becomes, how do I do a video on photo cookies and explain the intricacies of all this? If I had Camtasia, perhaps I could show it on the screen what I am doing, but I don't. This is why I haven't made a photo cookies demo. The actual printing of the photos and the application to the cookies is the easy part! You just cut the photos apart, remove them from their backing (some fun tricks for getting that accomplished), and then you apply them to the wet icing, which in my case means royal icing.

Because the photo absorbs the moisture from the icing, it must be allowed to dry thoroughly, and I give my photo cookies 24 hours to dry. once the icing outside of the picture forms a crust, you can go ahead an pipe on your border, and then the border and the photo can be drying simultaneously.

If the photo is not completely dry (it can fool you!), and then you try to wrap it, any residual moisture will eventually cause it to stick to the wrapping...and it will peel up... not necessarily the entire photo, but it's not a good look for the final product no matter how much comes up.

I hope this helps with a few questions on photo cookies and will tide you over until I can actually get a video made.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Great photo cookies means fixing the Canon printers

The perils of a new printer... the Epson Workforce 30 has proven to be a lemon of a printer as well as a terrible ink hog, so I am not investing any more money into it but have instead found a local Canon authorized repair shop and have taken both of my Canon IP4000 printers in. One would only print black and the other only color. I had bought a replacement head for one of them recently, but even after installing it, I still couldn't get it to print and I was sure I'd just wasted good money. Well, the print heads DO need to be replaced, but the new one wouldn't work because the machines needed to be cleaned so badly. They have been cleaned and I'm assured they are working properly now. I am just waiting for one more print head to arrive, and I pick up my units on Friday.

Lesson learned: if you like your machine, repair it. The Canon IP4000s are great machines for Signature Sweet Shoppe. Real workhorses. After all, one of them got me through over 1000 icing sheets for the 8000+ Showtime Networks photo cookie job and it had already been in service for a year or more before that.

And I do promise to make the Youtube video on photo cookies BUT I have been handicapped with my computer for a few months - that has to be repaired too. Right now I'm just working on a little laptop, and it hardly has the power to render video, so all my Youtube subscribers will just have to wait!

Sugar Substitutes in Baking - Pt. 1

Many times people will ask me about making sugar-free cookies. My initial response is... whatever for? To be fair, I have used Spenda in my photo cookies but with disastrous results. Of course, I know that some people cannot tolerate sugar. However, the alternative is worse.

Before you click on any links in this article, be sure to read it thoroughly, then go investigate the links.

Aspartame

Aspartame, sometimes called Equal, NutraSweet or Canderel, is an artificial, non-saccharide (no sugar!) sweetener, aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester. It is an artificial sweetener made by chemical giant Monsanto. If you haven't seen the documentary, The World According To Monsanto, I suggest you search for it and watch it as soon as possible since it is a real eye-opener about the intentions of that company and the food supply in the world... but I digress.

It is not by weight or volume a substitute for recipes. To remove three cups of regular sugar from a recipe means that the volume has to be replaced with something else. Aspartame in that volume is deadly, so as a volume replacement, it is unsuitable.

When I say deadly, let me point out that it is deadly in small doses too. It is a common artificial sweetener found in over 6000 products, including diet sodas (people, please stop drinking these!). It breaks down inside the body into highly toxic chemicals including formaldehyde (since when is that supposed to be in our food chain?). It is approved by the FDA - but what does that mean? Anything that is approved by the FDA means there is a toxic chemical in it that has gone through trials to find out how much is deadly and how much is "safe." In toxicology, this is called the median lethal dose, LD50 - what is lethal enough to kill 50% of the test subjects (lab animals). For a drug or chemical made for human consumption, the LD50 is then backed down to a "safe" level for small doses - in other words, it's still toxic but at a small level won't kill you (but there are side effects! I will post about this in my blog soon!)...although you can overdose on it. This is true of aspartame.

Do you really want to put a "sweetener" into your body and recipes that is owned and developed by the company that creates the Round-Up pesticide and who also created Agent Orange? If you are consuming large amounts of apartame, especially in "diet" sodas, stop immediately and go on a detoxing program for your body - and watch your thinking and health begin to improve!

While I sympathize with diabetics who want to have something sweet, Aspartame-laced products are not the answer. If you are struggling with diabetic issues, check out the documentary, Raw For 30 Days and speak to your doctor about a raw foods plan and try it UNDER PHYSICIAN SUPERVISION.

In the meantime, I also suggest reading the book, Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Dr. Joseph Mercola (pictured left). Again, a real eye-opener.

What about sucralose - also known as Splenda? I'll get to that in the next newletter, so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Epson vs. Canon for photo cookies

I did the 8000+ photo cookies for Showtime using my Canon IP4000 printer, and I kept wondering all the way through the job whether or not the Canon would survive. It wasn't new when I started the job, and I printed at least 1000 icing sheets. It did survive the job and a little beyond, but then the heads became clogged, and I wasn't able to clean it out using the normal clean function, and at the last minute I had abandon it in favor of a new printer.

I purchased the Epson Workforce 30 printer in February 2009, and I immediately contacted Kopykake and got the cartridges for it (note: I had already confirmed by their website that they supported the Workforce 30). Well... things have gone downhill with the printer since then.

1. It didn't want to pull the "ink" through the printheads - so it wasted almost the full five cartridges (at $90!!) before it finally printed! So after that I got about 3 or 4 icing sheets printed and then it was out! And I had to spend another $90! I changed them out today and then it didn't want to recognize them because they weren't Epson cartridges (it took a while to get over this issue).

2. It makes a terrible racket just feeding through each sheet of paper or icing. I'm glad I didn't have to listen to that when doing the Showtime job.

So... now I am taking my two Canon IP400 printers to be repaired - which probably just entails a profession deep cleaning of the print heads.

Canons are work horses and last longer, are quieter, and they are not ink hogs. The Epson is a terrible ink hog.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New videos

People are always writing to me asking when I am going to make a new video, and I do promise to make more videos as I really enjoy teaching and sharing. I can't promise that all the videos will be on making something sweet as I may do other cooking videos as well. Videos of this nature take a lot of planning, preparation, and editing, so I don't make them too often.

I also know that I have been promising a video on photo cookies. Now that I have become a Youtube partner on that channel, I now have the freedom to make videos longer than 10 minutes, which a video on photo cookies would be simply because there are many facets to the task other than just putting the image on the icing. For example, sometimes the photo needs to be cleaned up, color-corrected, trimmed, etc., before it can even go into the layout mode for printing. I've been using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for at least 15 years, so I can do the editing and layouts very quickly. I know what space I have to work with and how best to manage the printable area of the icing sheet. That has come from years of experience. Putting that experience into a video is more complicated although i do have some parts of it filmed already.

I wish you all the best Christmas and a happy start to 2009!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Not all butter is created equal!

Sometimes on my Youtube videos I get people saying that the cookies they've made using my sugar cookie recipe have spread too much and lost the design of the cookie. I've had this happen too but not for a very long time.

I didn't realize what difference there was between butter and butter, and at first I was using a brand name butter whose name escapes me at the moment. They all say 100% butterfat, but some butterfat is a lot richer than others. This is especially true of the "European" butter versions. Don't use them in this recipe. Don't use Plugra. Very, very rich butterfat.

Here in California and a few neighboring states we have a series of stores called Smart & Final which help with a lot of bulk restaurant supply - and NO membership fees like Costco. I use their "First Street" brand butter (their own brand) in all my cookies and in my English Toffee. It seems to have just the right richness of butterfat.

So what I'm suggesting is this - use the store brand of whatever your grocery store is. No brand names. Leave the brand names for sauces and gravies, but leave them out of cookies and candy making!