This is the icing we used on all our sugar cookies at the bakery. It is versatile and takes color very easily. (I always use gel colors.)
When icing cookies, decorators rely on two basic techniques: Piping and flooding. Piping is about “drawing” outlines and details; flooding is about “coloring in” the shapes you’ve outlined. Each technique demands icing of a different consistency.
If you make this recipe exactly as shown, your icing should have roughly the consistency of toothpaste — yet still will flow out of a pastry bag without breaking. This is the right thickness for piping.
For flooding, you’ll need to thin my recipe with water until it has a consistency closer to honey. If you run a knife through icing that’s used for flooding, the resulting line should disappear in about 10 seconds.
If the line is gone sooner, your icing is too thin. If it takes longer, too thick.
Experienced cookie decorators use all sorts of consistencies besides “honey” and “toothpaste,” but only the most hardcore home bakers need to care about such subtleties. (And many do, of course — check out Cookie Con!)
It’s not my aim here to give a big tutorial here on how to ice cookies, either. I think the ingredients of good cookie decorating are clear:
Good sugar cookies
Good royal icing
For tips, watch some YouTube videos: Many have excellent advice on cookie decorating, which is a skill that most people can master if they devote some time and effort.
Don’t worry if your early tries look a bit goofy: It’s perfectly natural. Plus if you use my recipe, your family and friends will be happily munch on all your “rejects.”
A couple of years ago, an out-of-town fire truck — from Alexandria, maybe? — pulled up to our bakery after a local call. The guys came in relaxed, happy, and hungry, and we all enjoyed chatting with them. (One employee especially! You know it.)
Fire fighters cook and have appetites — and they know from bakeries. These guys wondered if we had any Nutella Scones. We didn’t, but they left laden with our other great flavors. Still, even before their big red truck pulled out of our parking lot we were plotting a Nutella recipe because:
Great idea; and
Maybe we could tempt these guys back?
I tried a recipe right away, but it had the wrong texture and spread too much. I adapted it and tried again: No luck. I wanted the Nutella flavor to come through, but to keep that classic scone form. Then the bakery got very busy and I had no time for such experiments.
Over several months I returned to the recipe whenever I had a spare moment. Progress was slow, but my staff and kids loved each “failure” — they urged me to sell them, but I held out. I was sure they could be better.
Finally, after taking time away from the project and returning to it fresh, I think I’ve got it: These are the scones you’re looking for.
Firemen, if you’re out there: These are for you. And even though that one employee has a great guy now, she can always keep this recipe in reserve — in case of fire.
These are surprisingly light considering that they are made with Nutella.
8½ oz. unbleached all-purpose flour (~2 cups)
1.5 oz granulated sugar (~1/4 cup)
1 oz unsweetened American process cocoa powder (~1/4 cup )
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
⅓ cup Nutella
1 large egg
½ cup heavy cream (add a touch more if needed)
Roughly ⅓ cup semi sweet chocolate to melt for drizzling on top
Roughly ½ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped—to go on the top
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and run it on low speed until butter is broken down.
Stop the mixer and add the Nutella. Stir again until just combined.
Stir together the egg and heavy cream in a separate bowl, then add these to the mixer. The dough should be moist, a bit sticky, not dry. If you need to add another tablespoon or so of cream then do so. Just be careful not to overmix at this step.
Now use a spatula to scape the dough out of the mixer and off the paddle, patting it into a ball a bit as you move your dough onto a lightly floured surface.
Pat the dough gently with your clean hands into a cylinder or log shape about 7" long, then cut this in half and flatten each into circles about ¾" high. Use a dough dividing tool or a sharp knife to divide this into wedges and make 6 scones.
Place the scones on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake on the center rack for about 22 minutes. The bottoms should be just starting to brown and a cake tester will come out clean.
Once they've cooled a bit, drizzle them with melted semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top.
This is more than a cookie recipe: It is the story of the recipe and, because they are intertwined, it is also the story of Lola’s.
I made my first batch of ginger chocolate cookies more than a decade ago, in my KitchenAid mixer at home. I had seen a recipe that wasn’t quite right in my view, and instinctively knew what I wanted to do with it. Right out of the oven these cookies were winners — soft and slightly puffy when warm, artfully cracked on the surface, with a deep molasses chewiness. Not at all like a ginger snap. I loved the thickness, the texture, and the chocolate. Especially the chocolate.
My husband and young kids were the next big fans. I had talked of entering my baked goods in the Virginia State Fair, and they urged me to add these to the roster. Nervously, I filled out the competition form, unsure how these would do in an open category.
That September, our whole family drove to Richmond with a batch of cookies I’d baked at the last possible moment. We stayed overnight in a hotel, then drove to the fairgrounds on opening day.
The judging hall was full of hardcore home bakers — people who compete at the fair every year. Many knew each other, but I was an outsider who had never even attended this fair before. I felt sure I had no chance.
That morning we wandered around the State Fair checking out the farm animals, the BMX bike show, the hog races. Finally we dared to return to the judging hall. I found that I’d won multiple prizes, including a blue ribbon — first prize! — for my ginger chocolate cookies.
High on that win, I became more serious about my dream of starting a real bakery. I traded up to a bigger mixer and sold more of my home-baked goodies at local farmers’ markets. I experimented: Mini cakes, breads, biscotti, special cookies of all sorts.
My customers’ favorite never changed: Ginger Chocolate, always.
Before long, I opened the Lola bakery. We branched into cupcakes, and lovely custom cakes. And yet for seven years, when people talked about Lola’s they never failed to mention the Ginger Chocolate Cookies.
These cookies have made many people happy. They make me happy still: I never get tired of baking them, of smelling that wonderful cinnamon and ginger aroma coming from the oven and serving them to an eager audience.
Would you like to bake some yourself? I’ve scaled this recipe back down to its original size, just right to fit in your home mixer when you want to bake up a couple dozen. Enjoy!
P.S. I’m sure you noticed the amazing photos included in this post. They were taken my my talented photographer friend Jeanette. Her web site is here.
2 sticks plus 2 Tablespoons butter, cut up into chunks
9 oz light brown sugar
7 oz molasses
16 oz all-purpose flour
7 teaspoons American cocoa
5½ tsp. ginger
2¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
2¼ tsp baking soda
14 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
extra granulated sugar for finishing
Put the butter, brown sugar and molasses in the bowl of a small stand mixer and run it on low speed until the butter is broken down completely and there are no visible bits of butter left.
In a separate bowl, stir together then flour, cocoa, spices and baking soda. Add these combined ingredients to the mixer bowl and run it again on low until the dough is almost --but not completely-- combined.
Now pour in the chocolate chips and stir them until everything is fully combined (about one more minute).
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the mixer blade. If you see any unmixed parts, run the mixer again. If it looks good, go ahead and start scooping. I use a yellow #20 (2 oz.) scoop for these cookies to make a nice big soft cookie.
After you've scooped the cookies, roll them just a bit between your clean hands to smooth out each ball and roll each one in a shallow bowl of sugar. This will give them their glistening and lightly crisp exterior. Put them on a baking sheet and pat them down lightly so they don't roll and so they'll spread just right.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 14 minutes until the tops begin to crack a bit.
To their fans at the bakery, these cookies went by many names: Mocha Madness. Moonlight Mocha. Mocha Mania.
We just smiled at the alliterative misnomers, knowing that by any other name they would taste as sweet.
Mocha Midnights is what we actually named them, because of the espresso: It makes the chocolate taste deeper and darker, for a potent hit that goes a long way. These are smaller than most of the cookies I bake, but they’re just as satisfying.
The biggest fan of these cookies is my father. You might have met him at Lola’s: He was there on opening day in 2006, helping give away free cookies to an enormous crowd, and he worked alongside me during our final week before closing in 2013 — our busiest week ever, as it turned out.
What a champ! To say Dad was overqualified to wash dishes and run the register is a huge understatement, yet he worked with his trademark cheer and requested only an occasional break for cookies. I was happy to see him get a few Mocha Midnights fresh from the oven.
So here they are, for Dad and for anyone else who needs a Mocha Delight — a Moonstruck Mocha — a Mocha MMmmmmmidnight.
2 tsp instant espresso powder (available in most supermarkets)
3 oz all-purpose flour
2 oz cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1¼ tsp baking soda
10 oz semisweet chocolate chips
Nonpareil chocolate candies for decoration
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate together. I do this in a metal bowl in the oven: Put it in for about 5 minutes, then stir it around til smooth, pop it back in for another minute, and stir again. (You can also use a plastic bowl in the microwave: Just microwave in short bursts, stirring between each zap until it's fully melted. Be careful not to cook past the melting point, however: No bubbling.)
Let your melted chocolate cool slightly as you complete the next steps.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar on low speed until the butter is broken down. Then increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl.
Add two eggs and beat them in for about 20 seconds.
Reduce the speed and add the vanilla extract and espresso powder, then slowly mix in the melted chocolate.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Add this mixture to the chocolate batter and run the mixer on low speed.
Add the semisweet chocolate chips and stir until combined.
Now scrape down the bowl and the mixer blade. Turn over the batter thoroughly and then run the mixer one more time to make sure any lumps are worked out.
Scoop this dough onto a cookie sheet with a small (0.75 oz) #40 scoop.
Bake for about 9 minutes at 350 degrees. The tops will just begin to crack when they're done.
Set the cookie sheet on a heat-safe surface and, while the cookies are still hot, press a nonpareil chocolate into the top of each one.
Note: These cookies are VERY soft when they're warm. Don't try moving or serving them until they've cooled off.
This is my new favorite holiday cake — and I love the creative process that inspired it.
It started last year when a former Lola’s employee made a paper snowflake with “Ho Ho Ho” cut into it. It looked great, so this year I urged my daughter to make something similar for our windows. And when she did, I realized this wasn’t just a snowflake: It could be a powdered-sugar stencil, too, perfectly sized to cover … a cake!
I chose to make a Gingerbread Cake because — well, because Christmas! At the bakery we used this same recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes, a huge holiday hit. I like lemon cream-cheese icing because citrus brings out the flavor of gingerbread: I always add lemon to the royal icing for gingerbread men, too.
A few details on this cake:
I baked mine as two 6-inch layers, each of which I trimmed flat and sliced horizontally for a four-layer cake. That looked great and allowed me to boost the icing-to-cake ratio — (important, since there’s no icing on top or sides as I did it “naked” style). If you want to try this, use a long serrated knife and a rotating decorating stand (a must-have for cake bakers) and get yourself at eye level with the cake. Or just use two trimmed, unsliced seven-inch layers, so they’re thinner, and be generous with the icing.
Using the powdered-sugar stencil isn’t hard, but you should practice a few times on the counter top to get the hang of it. Make a snowflake or stencil of whatever you like and check it for size. I laid the stencil — just regular paper is fine — directly on the uniced cake-top, then used a sifter to spread a very light coating of powdered sugar over the design. The tricky part is removing the stencil without disturbing the sugar. If the paper overhangs both sides, just lift very slowly from two sides at once. Otherwise, use two sets of tweezers to pick it up carefully from the edges.
Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set on low. Run the mixer for a minute or two until the big chunks of butter are broken down a bit, then switch the mixer to medium speed and run it for 3 minutes. The butter and sugar should be light and fluffy now, with no chunks of butter left.
Scrape down the bowl, then add the molasses and stir in at low speed.
Add the eggs one at a time to the mixer, beating for ten seconds after adding each one, then stop the mixer.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, and baking powder. Add one half of this to the mixer and stir it in on a low speed. Once it is fully incorporated, pour in the water and stir again. When that is mixed in, add the rest of the flour mixture.
Scrape down the bowl, then run the mixer one last time.
Now you can scoop the batter into either two prepared 6-inch cake pans (for taller cakes that can be cut into four layers) or 7-inch cake pans (for wider, thinner layers) -- or into cupcake pans (will make about 24 cupcakes).
Either way, bake at 350 degrees. Cupcakes will take about 24 minutes, cakes will take about 45 minutes. Always use a cake tester to determine "done-ness." :)
Over the years I’ve become best known for a few recipes in particular. Several are the treats for which I won my very first baking awards, back in the early days of Lola’s. These Pecan Bars are on the list, as are my Belgian Fudge Brownies (recipe here) and my Ginger Chocolate Cookies (recipe coming, I promise).
In each case, fans were smitten on their first bite — and stayed smitten. It was like a relationship where you meet someone new and instantly know they’re special.
For myself, I love Pecan Bars because they’re an update of pecan pie, the Southern classic. When you add caramel and put it in bar form, it’s more modern and casual — and even more delicious.
Another reason this recipe is special: It comes with a bonus video tutorial featuring … me A few years ago I worked with Monkey See on videos demonstrating how to make a couple of Lola recipes, including this one.
Want to see me make Pecan Bars in the old Lola’s bakery? (I felt seriously nostalgic seeing the place again!) The tutorial is broken into five short segments that total less than 14 minutes, and it uses the same recipe I share below. The segments link to each other on the Monkey See site, or you can click on each one separately:
This is the fresh caramel/pecan topping to spread on top of the pecan bars base (see separate recipe). Chill the base before you start making the topping.
4 cups pecan halves
½ cup chopped pecans
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
⅔ cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Toast the pecan pieces and halves: Spread on a baking tray and place in a 350-degree oven until they are fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. Let them cool as you make the caramel.
Put the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and place on a burner set to medium. Stir occasionally until the mixture turns a medium caramel color. This will take roughly 20-25 minutes, but it varies -- go by the color.
Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in cream and vanilla. This will produce a lot of steam, so be careful.
Stir caramel until smooth, then mix in the toasted pecans.
Working quickly, spread this warm mixture over the top of your cooked and chilled pecan bar base.
Put tin foil over the finished bars and chill again so that you can slice them neatly before serving.
To slice, carefully remove entire base from pan (including parchment paper), peel off paper, and place onto large cutting board. Slice into triangles or rectangles.
Among my bakery staff, these handfuls were known as “Pumpkin Yum.” I bake ‘em Texas size, which means — in case you didn’t already know — BIG.
Like my Pumpkin Scones, this is another recipe that works great as breakfast or in a seasonal bread basket on the dinner table.
The muffins are versatile in other ways, too: You can make the batter ahead and store it in airtight Tupperware. In the fridge the mixture keeps for days — so you can bake muffins warm whenever you like. (Let the batter reach room temperature before baking, or add a few minutes to baking time.)
In the freezer the batter will last even longer: Several weeks at least. You can make it right now and save it for Thanksgiving breakfast, for instance. Just thaw out the batter beforehand, and bake it when you need.
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks of about 1 Tablespoon each
1 tsp salt
8 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 oz pumpkin purée
3 lbs 2 oz confectioner's sugar
Put chunks of butter with salt in the bowl of stand mixer and run on low speed until broken down, then increase speed to medium and beat it until 100% smooth and creamy. (This will take a few minutes.)
Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl.
Stir vanilla into the pumpkin purée, then add half of mixture into the mixer. Stir on low speed.
Add half of the confectioner's sugar and stir until combined.
Add the rest of the pumpkin/vanilla mixture; stir it in again.
Add the rest of the confectioner's sugar; stire it in again.
At this point you need to asses if this icing is thick enough for your use. If you'll be applying it with a pastry bag, you don't want it to be too "loose" — you need it to hold its shape. You may need to add just a bit more confectioner's sugar to get your ideal.
Another trick: chill the icing a bit before icing with it.
I ♥ pumpkin. As a child, I once pleaded for pumpkin pie instead of birthday cake (wish=granted). And my birthday is in July!
My love isn’t limited to pie: Pumpkin scones, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cupcakes — love ‘em all. Savory dishes, too: Pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry … I’d better stop before I sound like Bubba Blue.
For bakers, what’s awesome about pumpkin is that it’s moist, flavorful, and makes every recipe come out great. Want to try? These scones are a great place to start. They work for breakfast, as a snack, or in a seasonal bread basket at dinner. They’re perfect for a Thanksgiving feast.
For the best results, refer to my tips for baking great scones. I use a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar to give these scones sweetness and crunch, but I don’t use glaze or drizzle. That’s gilding the lily, in my opinion.
(If you must have a glaze, don’t go all Starbucks: Mix one cup powdered sugar with about two tablespoons of half-and-half for a simple glaze, or try my Caramel Sauce for a more flavorful finish.)
These are just mildly sweet, not super-sweet. They're suitable for a seasonal breakfast, and work great in a bread basket.
1lb 2 oz all-purpose flour (~ 4 cups plus 3 Tablespoons)
⅓ lb granulated sugar (~3/4 cup)
3 Tbsp buttermilk powder
½ tsp baking soda
2½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ginger spice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
1¾ sticks unsalted butter, cut up into chunks
½ cup tepid water
½ lb pumpkin purée
Turbinado ("Sugar in the Raw") for sprinkling on top
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, sugar, buttermilk powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
Drop in the butter chunks and run the mixer on low until the butter is broken down into bits that are pea-sized or smaller. (Don't overmix or your butter will get too warm and the scones won't rise up as much in the oven.)
In a separate bowl, stir together the water and pumpkin purée. Add this to the mixer and run it on low speed until just combined.
Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and pat it gently into a shape like a log.
Use a dough divider or knife to split the dough in half, then pat one of the halves into a circle about 7" in diameter.
Cut the dough circle into 6 triangles, as you would cut a pizza. Arrange the triangles on a baking sheet.
Do the same with the second half of the dough.
Sprinkle generously with coarse sugar before putting the scones in the oven.
Bake for about 22 minutes until the edges start to turn golden brown.
Caramel apples are a wholesome symbol of fall, timeless and delicious. But it’s murder finding a good one: The apple must be fresh and crisp; the caramel must be soft but not drippy; the coating must be smooth and even.
Homemade caramel apples are no cinch, either. I tried to make them years ago and found it surprisingly difficult. The caramel must be just so, or it won’t coat well. Very frustrating!
My solution: Caramel Apple Cupcakes.
I remember the day I invented these beauties. I was at the bakery making Apple Spice Cupcakes — another fall classic — and I realized I could put Salted Caramel Buttercream on top. It was my Edison moment, resulting in one of my all-time favorite cupcake recipes. Lightbulbs went off for my customers, too: These cupcakes were instant best sellers.
(P.S.: Ideally you would make your own applesauce from local apples; it’s the perfect time of year. Alternatively, buy local applesauce at the farmers’ market. At Lola’s we finished these off by drizzling them with our amazing Caramel Sauce. Give it a try. )
This recipe takes a little extra work, but it is so worth it. It is seriously amazing.
4½ sticks of butter, cut up into chunks
2¼ tsp salt
¾ cup fresh-made caramel (ingredients and instructions below)
2 lbs 9½ oz confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar) — about 10½ cups
FOR FRESH-MADE CARAMEL:
3½ oz granulated sugar — about ½ cup
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
⅓ cup heavy cream
1½ tsp vanilla extract
First off, you'll need to make the fresh caramel: Put the granulated sugar, light corn syrup, and water in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally as it heats up.
Bring the sugar mixture to a low simmer. Let it bubble gently as it simmers for 15-20 minutes. Don't wander off: Keep an eye on it!
After about 20 minutes the mixture will turn a nice caramel color. When it does, add ⅓ cup heavy cream (some steam will billow up, which is fine) and 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract; stir until smooth.
Let the caramel cool to room temperature before using it in the icing — it should still be pourable, but no longer hot.
Meanwhile, start the icing: Put the butter and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and run it on low speed until the butter bits are broken down.
Now turn the mixer to medium and keep beating. When the butter looks pretty smooth, stop the mixer, scrape it down, and beat it some more. You want that butter to be completely smooth. The whole process may take up to 7 minutes.
Once you're sure the butter is really smooth, slowly add ¾ cup of your fresh-made caramel and stir it in at low speed.
Now add the powdered sugar, a bit at a time, while the mixer runs at low speed.
When the powdered sugar is all incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl to make sure you got all the lumps. Then run it again briefly.
Now you're ready to use a pastry bag to apply this frosting to your cupcakes. This batch size should work well for Caramel Apple Cupcakes.
From 2002 to 2013, Lola's was an award-winning, all-scratch cookie and cupcake business. In 2006 we took a few small rooms in an old Victorian building in historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia, and turned them into the bakery of my dreams. We baked everything in our open kitchen using no preservatives and no artificial flavors -- because that's how it tastes best. We were featured on The Rachael Ray Show and Fox 5 TV; in Washingonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine; and on the cover of Loudoun Magazine. Now I'm sharing my recipes with our wonderful customers and fans.