Olive's Birthday Surprise: Sugar Cookies!

The craziest thing happened to us last year. My husband got this amazing offer to work for a highbrow advertising agency in Richmond, Virginia of all places. I had only vaguely heard of Richmond, Virginia prior to this agency's hardcore pursuit of my so-very-talented husband, but, after much consideration and a brief weekend trip during August that dazzled with green, green trees, cobblestone streets and brownstones, we decided to make a go of this new place. And thank goodness we did because even though the job ended after 8 months and we moved right back to Southern California, I found my friend-soulmate Leigh. She's that friend you feel like you've always known. The friend you can totally be yourself with - bodily functions and all (just being real). In fact, it was sort of like we'd known each other all along. I'd even go as far as to say that my family met our soulmate family. You know the family you want to travel with? Whose kids get along really well with yours? Even your husbands fall in friend-love? (Plus, they both happen to be named Jeremy.) That is this family. And we miss them every single freaking day.

Today our friend (and Leigh & Jeremy's oldest daughter) Olive turns six years old. Six! She's so smart and loves to play piano. She's an incredible big sister to her 3 year old sister Delilah and an all around sweetheart. I adore this child. Now that you know me a bit, you know that when I adore someone, I bake for them. It seemed like a fun idea to put a care package together, so, I got out my favorite sugar cookie recipe and made a few variations: jam sandwiches, ganache sandwiches and sugar cutouts that spell "Happy Birthday Olive", of course! The cookie recipe, adapted from Alison Boteler's book The Great American Bake Sale which is out of print but worth buying used, is foolproof. Simply delicious any way you make them, we'll find out how they travel a little later today. Stay tuned!

Sugar Cookies
1 C butter (2 sticks)
2 C sugar
2 eggs
3-1/2 C flour
3/4 t kosher salt
1 t vanilla
1/4 t almond extract
Yields 4 dozen 3-4" cookies
Oven to 350
Bake 8-10 minutes each batch

1/2 C powdered sugar
1 T water (or cream or milk)
1/2 t vanilla 

1 C heavy cream
1 C best-quality chocolate chips
1/2 t vanilla

Colored sugar
Mini chocolate chips
Smaller candies
Really anything you can think of!

Make the cookie dough. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 minutes or so. 
The butter and sugar should be pretty light in color, too.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in flour and salt. Add in vanilla. Divide the dough, roll into balls and flatten into discs.
Refrigerate at least one hour or as long as overnight.

When you're ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350 and take the chilled dough out of the fridge. Once the oven is pre-heated, 10 minutes or so, flour a board or large counter space and roll the dough out to about 1/8".
The floured board.

Lulu helping make cookies for her friend. Using the shapes is the perfect task for a little one.
Using your cookie cutters, cut shapes and place onto a cookie sheet.
Ready to go into the oven.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until very lightly browned.

While the cookies are cooling, you can assemble the decorations and make the glaze and filling. 

Make the glaze. Pour one cup of powdered sugar into a bowl (I used a 2 C measuring cup) and add the vanilla and water. Whisk until blended. Set aside.

If you want to make the most scrumptious vanilla chocolate sandwich cookies ever, make the ganache. Place the chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl. Heat one cup of cream just until boiling and pour over the chocolate chips.
Let sit 5 minutes and add vanilla. Whisk until blended. Let cool on the counter at least one hour or in the fridge, whisking every 5-10 minutes for 30 minutes or until thickened. Set aside.
The decorating station.
Sugar row.
Once the cookies are cooled and you're all set up, paint the glaze onto the cookies and dip into your toppings.
That's an actual Crayola paint brush.
Dipped and decorated!
Set the decorated cookies aside and let them dry and set for at least one hour. Longer if you can.

To make the chocolate sandwiches, drop a dollop of ganache onto the backside of one cookie and place its mate on top. Press them together and let them set for an hour or refrigerate them for 20 minutes or so.
One more thing. Because I have biscuit cutters and now own the letter O cutter, I decided to make a sort of pressed jam cookie dropping about one tablespoon of jam onto the circle cookie and pressing the O into the top. Have a look.

Magically delicious.
 Okay, everything has been mixed, baked, decorated, pressed and cooled. Start boxing it up!
The wrapping station.
I layered the most breakable cookies on top of the strongest cookies with layers of printed waxed paper in between each layer.
All loaded up!
 I wrapped the box in 2 layers of plastic wrap.
This idea shamelessly stolen from another friend Stacy who did this last year with her daughter Georgia's paintings at Christmastime. Brilliant, isn't it? She's good like that.
And then wrapped the box in my paper of choice -  a beautiful Lulu painting!
The finished prezzie.
Tying it all up with bakers' twine, I added a hand made card I bought in Virginia. The girl on the card looks a little like Olive, although maybe more like Olive when she was four.

I packed it all up and took it to the post for overnight delivery. I cannot wait to hear if anything (dare I hope, everything???) was in tact. I know it'll taste okay either way, but I want it to look good, darn it!

Happy Birthday, my sweet girl. We wish we were there to sing to you and squeeze you.



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