Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Baking with Tammy: How to Make Cookie Stamps and USE them! (Cookie Recipe included)

Today I want to share with you how to make cookie stamps and the best type of cookie recipe I've found to use them on. If you don't know, cookie stamps are literally stamps (like the ones you would dip in ink) except you use them on cookies. They're generally made out of plastic and can be found at most places - craft stores, grocery stores, etc. The hard part is finding one with a design you want! Ebay has a great selection and I actually purchased this letter cookie stamp for super cheap and it works perfectly well. But of course, sometimes you want to make your own special design right? For me, it's Game of Thrones cookie stamps. Hopefully you all know what that is, but if not, Game of Thrones is a TV show on HBO and it's kind of.. intense (ie. blood and lots of nude people) but it's a really great show (story line wise). I've been reading the books (half way through the latest one!) and I'm loving it. But anyways, I'm part of a school club and we're having a bake sale so we decided to make it Game of Thrones themed so I needed cookie stamps to make cookies with the House symbols engraved (or stamped) onto them. That being said, on Etsy, someone IS selling Game of Thrones (as well as some other themed) cookie stamps but they were more than $10 each and would be shipped from Australia, so with my small budget and lack of time, I decided to try and make them myself.
I looked up a ton of cookie stamp tutorials and found this page to be the most useful and was the one I followed. The author is pretty vague about their recipe that they used to make the salt-dough, which is what I used to make my cookie stamps. You can use clay, which was my original plan, but the author, and from what other people online were saying, said it might not be safe even if the clay is said to be non-toxic. Honestly, I don't know but I thought it wouldn't hurt to try using salt-dough and it worked out fine. The webpage recipe calls for "one part hot water, one part salt and two parts plain all-purpose flour". I also looked up other recipes for salt dough and they were all about the same so I ended up using this one. A tip that I think is an obvious one, but still a good one to mention, is to start off with less if you're not sure. I mean especially for me trying out the cookie recipes, I'm glad I wasn't making giant batches because if they didn't turn out well, well then I'd be the one eating all the cookies which, as much as I love my cookies, would not be a good thing. Or I'd have to throw them away which my sister does when she isn't happy with her baking results but I can never do that. Hm maybe that's why I'm so much fatter than my sister (LOL). Ok back on the topic, what I used to make my salt dough was:
  • 1/4 cup of hot water
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of all-purpose
That gave me just enough to make 5 cookie stamps as shown below. The salt dough was great, way better than cookie recipes - probably because there's no butter. But anyways it was totally not sticky and easy to roll out. It takes a while to harden completely so you have a lot of time to mess up (like me) or to spend forever making a design (also like me). I had to free draw out all of the designs and I used a combination of tooth picks and pencils. If you're into nail art and have dotting tools, I think those would be really great too (I didn't have mine at the time). Free-hand drawing is super hard but my mom did come up with the idea to use saran wrap and trace out the designs onto the saran wrap using sharpie and then put the saran wrap over the salt-dough and sort of poke holes to get the basic outline of the design into the dough. Then we removed the saran wrap and finished tracing/filling in the gaps of the design on the salt dough. It wasn't a perfect method but it did work a bit so if you're struggling, you can give that method a shot. Once you're satisfied with your designs (and make sure you make them deep enough with sharp defined edges or else the designs will not stamp into the cookies very well), you cut them out. I used a circular glass cup from my local Japanese Daiso (cheap dollar store basically) and it worked perfect. That's also what I used to cut out my cookies, which you'll see later. I left my salt-dough cookie stamps to dry for about a day and a half (overnight) and then baked them at 275 for who knows how long. The webpage I was looking out wasn't specific about the temperature or time for baking them but other sites said about that temperature and I started off with 20 minutes. I flipped them over and then did another 10 but they still didn't feel ready so then I did another 20. I would keep a good eye on them if you're worried especially since what I'm giving you isn't an exact baking time.

Now once I had my cookie stamps all baked and hardened, I set off to find the perfect cookies for stamping. Since I've done cookie cutting before, I know that cookies spread when you bake them so I wanted to find a recipe that spread the least and would hold my design the best. Looking back at the page that I got my salt-dough recipe from, the author links you to this sugar cookie recipe and says they just didn't add baking powder. I didn't use that recipe though because I forgot about it and first tried this sugar cookie recipe from Allrecipes. I had a lot of trouble with it, but the one thing I like about Allrecipes is that you adjust the measurements to change the serving size to how you like. That original recipe makes 60 cookies and since I was just trying it out, I changed it to only 10. I'm glad I did because it definitely wasn't the recipe for me. Not that it was bad because hey, there are so many reviews on that recipe saying how good it is but for me, I'm not sure what I did wrong but I left it in the fridge for over 6 hours and when I came back and tried to roll it out, it was way too sticky. So I used powdered sugar and flour to try and make it firm enough to roll out and stamp. I didn't use precise measurements or anything like exact weight or exact leveling off the flour, but I never do and usually my stuff turns out fine LOL but perhaps that's why this recipe didn't work for me. Nevertheless, the cookies did taste good but they just didn't hold the design very well. As you can see from the picture, the design is there, but it's faint. That picture is also of one of the better cookies that turned out. Some of the other ones just completely did not show up. I should mention that I didn't leave out the baking powder and that most likely contributed to the rising/spreading of my cookies.
So the next recipe I used, and had successful results, is from Food Network. This recipe is a shortbread recipe because after my fail with the first sugar cookies, I decided to look up some tips on how to prevent the design from fading. From what I read, most people recommended using a recipe without baking soda or leaveners which cause the cookie to rise. Many other sites also recommended shortbread cookies rather than sugar cookies so that's how I stumbled upon the Foodnetwork shortbread recipe. The recipe said it makes 20 cookies but called for 3 STICKS (I know it says 3/4 lbs which is important because some people in the reviews said they had thought it was 3/4 cup which is WAY less butter haha) of butter and I didn't exactly want to use that much butter on a recipe I'd never tried. So I chose to 1/3 the entire recipe allowing me to only use  1 stick of butter, equivalent to 1/2 cup of butter. These are the measurements I used:
  • 1 stick of butter (ie. 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup of white sugar
  • 1/3 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1.17 cups of flour
  • 1/12 tsp salt
Now as you can see, some of the measurements (aka the flour and salt) are a bit wonky. But like I said earlier, I'm never too precise when baking (which I know isn't a good thing) and since I'm lazy about washing dishes, I just re-used my 1/3 cup that I had used for the white sugar and did 3 scoops of flour (=1 cup) leveled off by shaking the cup so that it was about 1/3.  Before I ramble on further, I did follow the instructions from the Food Network recipe meaning I did this:
  1. Cream butter and sugar 
    1. I say cream meaning I used my sister's kitchen aid and used the white paddle mixer instead of the standard stainless steal whisk. Most people say not to over do this step so I just had it on low and continued to mix it about 20 seconds after the butter and sugar had came together. My butter probably wasn't at room temperature since I had taken it out of the fridge while I got the rest of my ingredients so it was probably only out of the fridge for about a minute.
  2. Add in vanilla extract and mix.
    1. I mixed for about 20 seconds before moving on to the next step
  3. Add flour and salt
    1. Like I mentioned earlier, I used my 1/3 cup from the sugar measurement and added in the flour in thirds while mixing. Because a lot of people in the reviews had said the dough had been too crumbly, I wanted to make sure each flour addition mixed together before adding the next spoonful of flour so that I didn't add too much flour. I'm not sure if it made a difference to add it in in thirds rather than all at once, but after my 3 1/3 cup spoonfuls, I added a little (about half a tablespoon) more of flour and let it mix together. I then used a rubber scraper spoon to mix in any flour on the sides of the bowl and it easily formed a nice dough ball.
    2. I want to mention that the dough wasn't crumbly or sticky at all. It was seriously perfect. A little oily feeling from the butter but it didn't stick to my hands at all. It was kind of awesome *__* 
    3. Oh and another side note, the original recipe says to mix the flour and salt together in a bowl before adding but obvi, lazy me didn't do that and just sprinkled (hey that's like what 1/12 a teaspoon is right?) a dash of salt in with my second addition of flour. 
  4. Shape dough into ball, roll out, stamp, and cut!
    • At this step, I split my dough in half and rolled out one half and put the other half in the fridge. The original recipe says to roll out the dough and put it in the fridge for half an hour but many people said they hadn't needed to do that and my dough felt perfectly fine so I though it'd try half without putting it in the fridge and both of them worked out fine.
    • Note, I rolled my dough to about 1 cm thick. I did it a little thicker (about 1.5) in the beginning because using my stamps, I would press down so the dough would thin out.
    • A tip I found while researching is to roll your dough out on your parchment paper so that you don't have to ruin the cookies by transferring them from wherever you rolled them, to your cookie sheet. By rolling them on the parchment paper and stamping and cutting them there, I could just take the parchment paper and plop it on the cookie sheet and bake. I would HIGHLY suggest doing this because, especially for my thinner cookies, when I tried to pick them up because they were too close to another cookie I had stamped, they would slightly deform.
     5. Bake until edges start browning at 350 F.
    • I know, annoying, I'm not giving you an exact time right? But that's because the original recipe calls for 20-25 minutes but I was using a toaster oven and only baking 4-5 cookies at a time (I made 3 batches) so I only baked my cookies for 10 minutes, 11 minutes, and 12 minutes (respectively for each batch). I was keeping an eye on my cookies and they weren't even browning at the edges very much so I probably could have kept them in longer. 
Okay I think that's a detailed enough instruction guide on how I got my cookies to turn out nicely. Some other tips I want to mention that really helped me get nice cookies were:
Finished result~! Super happy with them :) As you can tell, the letter stamped cookies are definitely more prominent but I think my cookie stamps fared pretty well for what I was expecting.
  • Lightly flour your cookie stamps before stamping. I made the mistake of not doing that for the first cookie I stamped using the shortbread recipe and the dough totally stuck to it so I had to like scrape/peel it off. Flouring helps SO MUCH. I can not stress that. I filled up my 1/3 measuring cup with a little bit of flour and would use that to sprinkle and rub onto my stamps. I then tapped off the excess on my surface (aka cutting board lol). Some people also use powdered sugar instead of flour.
  • Make sure your oven is properly heated to the right temperature. I read this helps prevent spreading if it's at the right temperature the moment you put in the cookies. Also don't open the door to peak at them, apparently this ruins them. Now I'm not a super expert but I follow those two rules and my cookies didn't spread and turned out great so it doesn't hurt right?
  • I would suggest putting some the dough you're not using in the fridge if you can. Since I was using my letter stamper, it actually took me some time to form out my letters and put them into the bar to stamp so I would put the dough I wasn't working with in the fridge while I was stamping out a portion of the rolled out dough. While the dough isn't sticky, it does get a little mushy (not like banana mushy!) and soft so putting it in the fridge doesn't hurt in my opinion.
  • For sugar cookies, people say to stamp & cut your cookies and then leave them in the fridge before baking. I tried that with my original recipe and I don't think it did much. I didn't do it for my shortbread cookie recipe and they were fine. Obviously that could be due to differences in the ingredients I used and it makes sense to put them in the fridge before you bake them so they don't spread as much BUT for the shortbread recipe I used, I think you'll be fine if you don't do this :)
So that's it for this incredibly long post. Let me know if you try out this recipe or if you have any other cookie recipes that worked for your cookie stamps. I hope this advice/my notes help you along. Definitely go read up some other sites and other people's reviews because everyone has a different kitchen (ie. oven, temperature, climate, butter softness levels) and I'm sure all of this factors in to whether or not you have a successful result. So just try little batches so that you can adjust ingredients or methods if the first attempt doesn't work out and don't give up! Good luck and have fun baking~!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

LUSH Dark Angels Facial Cleanser Review

Hey everyone! Today I'm going to talk about the LUSH facial cleanser called Dark Angels. Can we first start off by appreciating how cool and mysterious the name Dark Angels sounds? Okay maybe it's not that cool but I still like the name! Anyways, I'm going to start off by saying this is the first LUSH facial product I've ever gotten for myself besides their Coalface which I only used a little bit because I had actually gotten it for my boyfriend. I've seen people on Youtube talk about this before so I was intrigued and wanted to try it out as part of my daily routine. If you don't know, my skin type is more on the dry-combination side. It's not so dry that it gets flaky or anything, but it's definitely not oily. However, I do get a little oily in my T-zone occasionally which is why I would classify myself on the combination side. My face tends to feel more tight and smooth rather than the sort of sticky, soft supple feeling that some other people have and I think that's just because my skin isn't as moisturized as that, but I prefer it like this so yea! Sorry if that's wasn't the greatest explanation but I just wanted to give a description of my skin type first because everyone has different skin types so one type of facial product may work differently with your skin - this is just my opinion and how it worked for me. Take it with a grain of salt and enjoy~!
On the website, the description claims:
"Black sugar and charcoal gently exfoliate and absorb excess oils to leave dull, oily or acne-prone skin feeling fresh and matte. Even oily skin can be sensitive, so we've made this one soft and soothing to calm redness and irritation, too. Its rhassoul mud base deep-cleanses to help prevent breakouts while vitamin rich cold-pressed organic avocado oil nourishes skin to leave it soft and lightly hydrated. Use all over for perfectly smooth, bright skin. An angel indeed!"

So what does that all mean? Basically it's good for oily skin and exfoliates, smooths, and brightens skin.

On their site, it's rated a 4.4 (but all of their products are like a 4+) and there's a lot of great reviews about it. Some of the pros mentioned in the reviews include it smelling good, controlling oil, exfoliating, and being good for acne-prone and oily skin. Some cons are that it can be messy and leave a dark-ish residue on those with fairer skin. As you can see below, it's a bit pricey, but all LUSH stuff is pricey so you gotta keep that in mind if you're considering shopping at LUSH in general.
Price: $31.95 for 8.4 oz.
Where to buy: LUSH website

Okay so enough of the boring information, let's get on with my personal experience. I don't mind that it comes in a tub and that you have to scoop out the product. I can see this being a little unsanitary and especially since there's no preservatives, I feel like dipping your hands in it multiple times might speed up the "going bad" process. I really don't know how you even know if you're cleanser goes bad but mine actually passed the "best used by" date last week or so, so I'm furiously trying to use it up. I did read that you can use it on your body as a body scrub and lots of the reviews mentioned people using it on their body as well as their face. If you're doing it like that, I can totally understand how you would use up the whole product, but for me, well I'm barely halfway done and I've had it for over 3 months. That being said, I don't use this product every day. I did initially use it both day and night to cleanse my skin but one day I noticed my skin had a ton of little scratches and I realized it was from the cleanser so I decided to cut down and only use it maybe once every one or two days. 

In my opinion, Dark Angels is more of an exfoliant to be used a few times a week, not daily as a cleanser. My skin is definitely not sensitive and it's pretty good at taking harsh products. For example, the St. Ives apricot scrub, my skin can take that daily nbd. I actually think that's less rough than Dark Angels. I know there's a lot of controversy about the St. Ives apricot scrub with people saying it's really bad for your skin and causes micro-scratches and tears your skin, but honestly, I don't get that. I like the way St. Ives makes my skin feel really clean and I don't feel like it's harsh at all. Dark Angels is made with black sugar to give it that exfoliating property and Rhassoul mud (charcoal I think) to absorb excess oil. Since my skin was never super oily to start with, I can't really say if Dark Angels controls my oil production or not. I guess it does but who knows. *shrugs* Many reviews talk about how it controls their oil so if you have oily skin, this could work for you. But back on the topic of sensitive skin - if you have sensitive skin, I don't think I would recommend this for you. Especially if you can't stand St. Ives apricot scrub. The black sugar component of Dark Angels makes it pretty rough in texture and after seeing those tiny scratches/red lines on my face, I don't think it's a good idea to press too hard when using that. But my problem is that if you don't press the cleanser into your face, it won't stick on your skin and will just drop off into the sink/shower/wherever you wash your face and dude, that's like 10 cents right there! (Lol oh the stingy side in me comes out). 

With regards to people commenting on the scrub being messy, I don't think it's that messy. Sure some bits drop off, but if you're careful, like me, you shouldn't have too much fall out and all you have to do is use water to wash it off the sides of the sink/wherever it dropped and it's gone. Not that big of a deal right? The instructions say to only grab a pea size amount and then rub it in your palms with some water. What I do is grab about a pea size amount using my knuckles. This is a trick I learned when I had gotten gel nails and lotion kept getting stuck underneath my nails (#thestrugglewasreal ;D). Using your knuckles to get out lotion or the cleanser is a great trick if you have longer nails or just want to be a little bit more sanitary (somehow I think it's better than using your fingers). Then I rub it in my damp/wettened palms and rub together onto my face. I don't always do this though. Sometimes, I take it off my knuckles and just directly place it on my "freshly-water-splashed" face and rub it in. I wash my face by holding my face above the sink (looking downward) and catching water with my two palms and splashing it up against my face. No not like those commercials where the water splashes against the models face and goes everywhere but yes I do cup the water in my palms and bring it up to my face. I then use my hands to rub off and of the excess product still clinging to my face (kind of necessary for any cleanser really). I repeat this until all the product is washed off. I'm telling you this because not everyone does this (which surprised me when I first found out) but I think it's one of the best ways to efficiently wash your face. 

Okay so all in all, I don't think I would repurchase this cleanser. I like it and I don't mind the smell but it's definitely on the pricier side and since it has an expiration/best-use-by date and I can't use it that often (or choose not to), I don't think it's the best product for me personally. I do think it'd make a great body scrub but it's also one that I feel like I could make on my own (oh the multitude of DIY sugar scrubs you can find online) for much cheaper. My body skin isn't oily either (who's is anyways?) so I don't know how good of a use it would be to use Dark Angels as a body scrub (seems like a waste of money but at the same time, if my cleanser is past the use-by date.. I might have to resort to using it up on my body). I think this is a great exfoliating product that should be used occasionally, especially if you have sensitive skin. Maybe you can try pressing with less force, but even then, I feel wary about recommending this to anyone who's skin is generally pretty sensitive. I would follow up with a good moisturizer (I use my aloe gel because that's just what I use everyday and I would HIGHLY recommend everyone and anyone to use aloe gel if you aren't already. Seriously the bomb for any type of skin). The cleanser can be a bit crumbly and strange if you're not used to using products out of a tub (plus unsanitary) which are a few cons I might bring up if you're considering purchasing Dark Angels. So I suppose that's it for my review on Dark Angels. It's not bad and if you want to try out a new cleanser or exfoliating product and have the money to spend, you can definitely try it out. Just make sure you have a friend who you can share it with or give it to if you don't like it or don't want to use it that often but need to finish it before the best-by date! 

What other LUSH products have you guys tried and what would you recommend? I love their Bath Bombs but can never get myself to buy one but let me know what you think is worth the splurge!