Adventures in Homemade Cookie Wedding Favors

My sweet sister got married last month! I made the wedding favors, but initially spent some time waffling over the decision to do so. I knew I'd want to make a homemade treat that would reflect my sister's and Victor's tastes, but also wanted to make absolutely sure that the packaging would keep the favors fresh for a few days and, of course, be aesthetically pleasing. Since the favors turned out pretty well, I thought I'd share some tips for anyone who might also want to make wedding favors of her own.

The first thing is to pick a baked good that is delicious, but will also stay fresh for a few days and can take a little handling. It should also be something that can be prepared in advance: either the unbaked dough will keep well in the freezer, or the end product can be stored in the freezer with no ill effects. For these reasons, I decided to make sugar cookies and brownie cookies. I initially wanted to make chocolate chunk cookies, but the chocolate chunks take so long to set that it would slow things way down on the day of baking.

I made all the cookie dough about three weeks before the wedding, and froze the formed cookie dough balls. Cookie dough will last in the freezer for about three months, which affords you the ability to do all the mixing and forming well in advance. The only thing you'll have to do the day of the wedding (or a couple days before if you need to travel for it) is bake and pack!

My sister's wedding was on a Saturday, and I had to bake all the cookies on Wednesday in order to accommodate family and wedding party obligations at the actual venue (and to have plenty of time to lounge around at the hot springs!). I needed to make sure the packaging would keep the cookies fresh for a few days. All the packaging I saw for homemade favors on wedding blogs and Pinterest looked ineffectual; very frequently people used plastic bags tied together with string, which definitely do not create an air-tight environment. So down a food packaging rabbit hole I went, and I emerged victorious and armed with these food-grade bags and this trusty heat sealer. I highly recommend both.

Some websites that sell in bulk (quantities starting at 100) will also let you buy a few samples before making a large purchase. For instance, below is the very first iteration of the packaging, which I liked all right but was gently talked out of by a friend. Around this time my sister brought back from New York a few Milk Bar cookies. The cookies were terrible, but the packaging gave me some inspiration for the wedding favors. Luckily I do not have 99 of these white bags (and problems) lying around.

Another thing I did to test the freshness, longevity, and durability of the cookies was mailed them to friends all over the country. This worked out very nicely because the USPS priority shipping timeline mirrored my bake-on-Wednesday-eat-on-Saturday schedule. This is a great way to see how the favors hold up in less than ideal conditions, audition different recipes, get friends to be taste testers, and make someone's day!

The day of baking, just bake your cookies, wait for them to completely cool down to room temperature (very important! you don't want there to be condensation in the bag, and then mold), and then pack and seal. For anyone wondering about the stickers, I purchased them from this etsy shop, which was a pleasure to work with. 

Anabel

P.S. Homemade favors are definitely not just for weddings!

Introducing Lil Boo Industries!

Ta da! Introducing Alyna's new art print shop on etsy, Lil Boo Industries. If you're like us and fervently believe that Mad Men is one of the most exquisite TV shows of all time, then the shop's current offerings will be sure to delight you. A sneak peak below:

Peggy strutting into the McCann offices to take what's hers. Print available here.

Peggy rollerskating into the future (organ-playing Roger not included). Print available here.

Alyna is very modest and decidedly not the self-promoting type, so I've taken it upon myself to announce the opening of her art print shop on our blog. This must be what it feels like to be the proud parent of 20 honor roll students.

Why don't you just put on Draper's pants while you're at it,
Anabel

Mexican Chocolate 'Babkallah'

I was very amused and delighted by Anabel's 2015 new years resolution to eat more waffles.  It was a refreshing idea that a resolution could be about embracing something you love rather than depriving or attempting to reform yourself. 

Now before I get to talk of dreams for 2016, let me say, if I were going to describe my 2015 holiday season with a catchphrase, it might go a little something like this:

While I recognize that gluten is not for everyone and am all for eating healthy, I decided that rather than begin the new year with reduction, I would continue my gluten bender full force and welcome 2016 with some babka!

Initially smitten with the notion of babka, I was quickly drawn to challah recipes as they are less finicky and lighter.  And so, "babkallah." Brainstorming fillings, I asked the big question: could there be another babka option than chocolate?  

This Mexcian chocolate Babka melds the traditional cinnamon and chocolate versions and also brings in a little heat with some cayenne.  While reading up on Mexican chocolate recipes, I kept coming across the term "Mexican cinnamon," which I found curious as I'd only ever known there to be one cinnamon.  Further investigation revealed-gasp!-another cinnamon?

Mexican cinnamon refers to Ceylon cinnamon, which originates from Sri Lanka and is more pricey and less common than Cassia cinnamon (from Indonesia and China). Ceylon cinnamon has recently come into vogue as the "safer" cinnamon since Cassia has been found to contain a naturally occurring compound called coumarin that can cause liver damage at high doses in sensitive people.  It appears Cassia cinnamon still offers health benefits, however you may want to take a page from the Danes and limit your portions.  I found some reasonably priced Ceylon cinnamon at Whole Foods and was pretty amazed at the taste difference.  It reminds me of these cinnamon mint candies I used to love back in the day.  While I'm not too worried about any cinnamon-related health risks, I would advise checking out Ceylon cinnamon for it's quite wonderful and distinct flavor.

Gluten or no gluten, I hope 2016 is a year of abundance, filled with more of the good things!

-Alyna

Freezing dough logs before slicing to braid is a key move!

Mexican Chocolate Babkallah

Styling and methods inspired by Alexandra's Kitchen, recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 2 standard bread loafs

Quick starter

1 C all purpose flour

1 C warm water (1/4 hot water, 3/4 tap)

2 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast

Dough

The starter

3 1/2 C flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/3 C honey

1/4 C olive oil

2 eggs + 1 yolk (save egg whites for egg wash)

Filling

2 discs Mexican chocolate (I used one package of Taza Chocolate)

1/3 C coconut oil

1/4 C coco powder

1/4 brown sugar

1/2 -3/4 tsp cayanne 

1 tsp Mexican cinnamon

Cacao nibs, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, and cinnamon to sprinkle over filling (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

First, make the quick starter, mixing all the ingredients and allowing yeast to rise for about 45 minutes.  Next, combine the starter with the rest of the dough ingredients and mix (I did this by hand, though you can also use a mixer or bread machine if you've got the tools).  If dough is sticky, add more flour.

Set dough in bowl greased with oil and cover with table cloth or plastic wrap.  Allow to rise at least 1.5 hours or until the dough has doubled in size (I let rise in fridge overnight).

After dough has risen, place on a floured service and kneed again for approximately 7 minutes.  Break the dough into 2 equal balls.  Roll each ball out, and coat with filling.  Next sprinkle seeds, cinnamon, chocolate chips, and cocoa nibs (if you please).  Roll up into a log.  Wrap both logs in parchment paper and allow to set in freezer for approximately 20 minutes (this will making braiding the bread easier!)  

After 20 minutes, remove logs from freezer.  If the logs are longer than your bread pan, you can trim the excess at the ends and bake these in a mini loaf or muffin pan. Cut each log vertically down the center.  Braid the logs and place in bread pans lined with parchment paper (I used the same parchment paper from setting the logs in the freezer). 

Brush the bread with egg whites and place in oven.  Bake for 20 minutes and then cover with foil and bake for approximately 10 more minutes, checking intermittently.  If you are baking the ends in a smaller dish, this will cook faster and should be done around 15-20 minutes.