Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Posts tagged ‘baking’

All good things

tcg_10

I can talk about this here now because the news is public: due to budget cuts, WoW Insider has had to let much of their feature and columnist staff go. That includes me and all of my columnist friends at the site. I’m glad that many people will still be writing there, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad on my own behalf.

Writing for WoW Insider has been a great experience for me. I was able to write for a much wider audience as well as having to be much more critical when it came to my writing in terms of both content and length. Voss says I’m long-winded, which is probably not untrue. I tend to get rambling and then before I know it I’ve written three essays instead of one. Staying within the word constraints (1000-1500) was a great exercise in restraint for me. It’s forced me to be more concise and also to make calls about what is really necessary and what isn’t.

I’ve also had to reconsider the rambling structure of what I write. Overall, I think it’s made me a stronger writer and I’m incredibly grateful for that experience. Of course, another effect of writing there was that Manalicious suffered in terms of updates and I do regret that. Between the pressures of updating a weekly comic, a personal blog and a bi-weekly article about mages, this place has collected a bit of dust.

The future

Now that I will not be spending the time writing for WI, I intend to redirect that passion back into this site. I’ll be posting much more regularly as well as possibly overhauling the layout and updating some things. (My least favourite part of maintaining a blog, if I’m being honest with you. I’m not very technical).

But the fact of the matter is that I still want a venue to talk about mages, my favourite class and the thing that really keeps me logging into World of Warcraft along with the awesome people in my guild. I will, of course, still write about the old standbys here too: whatever is going on with Business Time (still recruiting, by the way) as well as art and personal anecdotes where applicable. I also talk about baking things. This isn’t WI and it has a much smaller audience and is part personal blog as well. I may also post fiction from time to time, though I’ll be tagging it so people can skip it if they like. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

On a related note, as I’m losing a bit of my income I would like to step it up with the business side of art – commissions, etc. I’ll have more info about that for you soon. I’d love to do another set of Blizzcon badges for anyone who is planning to go this year. Those were so much fun and I loved doing them!

In terms of what am I going to actually be writing about: I have my third article about challenge modes more or less written. It didn’t fit well within the word limits and is mostly my personal notes about each CM, but I think it’ll fit very nicely here. I’m also eagerly awaiting news about our talent changes that is bound to drop anytime now. Celestalon’s hinting has me in great suspense!

So if this is your first time dropping by Manalicious, hello, welcome, have a cookie, pull up a chair. Things are a little more conversational here and I try to respond to comments when I can. I also have a strict “don’t be a jerk” comment policy and I will lay the ban down on someone really quickly if they come here and get out of line. Be polite and you are welcome. I’m Canadian, after all. To folks who’ve been reading here for years, even when content was a bit sparse, thank you. Without you I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write for WI at all and I am so glad that I did.

cake

Here is a picture of the cake I baked the day that I heard The News about the layoffs. It’s this yellow cake recipe that Sally (Sarah Pine from WI) gave me. What’s brilliant about it is that it’s an old-fashioned, one bowl affair. You sift the dry ingredients into the bowl and then just toss in the milk and butter and let it mix. I set a timer and let the stand mixer go to town on this bad boy. The end result was delicious, very flavorful and moist. I frosted it with a chocolate sour cream frosting from another recipe book I had. It was the perfect cake for a bad news day. Here’s hoping that things will start looking up from here on out, though, and best of luck to my former and current colleagues at WoW Insider. It was fun working with you. I wish we could have some cake and beverages in person. Instead, just know that I raise my glass to you all!

Sugar Draenei Cookies How-To

 

Millyawithcookies

I saw that these little “person” cookies are an Azeroth tradition! But I don’t want little human person cookies, I want draenei cookies. With a few simple changes, you can also make little draenei cookies.

You will need:
1 batch of your favourite cutout cookie recipe (Gingerbread or sugar cookies work well, for this demo I used sugar cookies).
1 “gingerbread man” shaped cookie cutter preferably with rounded feet as shown below.

Cutters with rounded feet.

Cutters with rounded feet.

Other cutters look like this, and because of the shape of their feet/legs they wouldn’t work as well for these cookies. The one on the far left MIGHT work but has a more pronounced heel than I’d prefer. The other ones, no.

Don't ask me why I have so many little person cutters, or why the last one looks like a chalk line incident.

Don’t ask me why I have so many little person cutters, or why the last one looks like a chalk line incident.

A bit of flour in a small bowl
Rolling pin
Sharp knife (like a paring knife)
2 parchment paper lined baking sheets
Small spatula for moving cookies

For decorating:
Batch of either buttercream or royal icing
Candies, sprinkles, etc. Specifically for these cookies I used confetti for the eyes/buttons, white sanding sugar for outfit cuffs, and red sanding sugar for the bodies.
Food coloring – if you want really intense colours you will need the paste type colouring such as Wilton makes. I used Cornflower Blue, Red Red, and Black.
Paper plates (if you’re going to use sanding sugar)

The next part of what you’ll need depends on how you intend to decorate. If you are going to use Royal Icing, I highly recommend you use little squeeze bottles (found at Michaels or other craft stores). You’ll also need meringue powder which you can find in a kitchen store or at Michaels, and a little icing spatula for spreading the icing. I’ll have a section specifically about Royal Icing later on.

If you’re just using regular buttercream, you’ll need a piping bag and at least one round tip. You can do the whole “sandwich bag with the tip snipped” trick if you’re in a pinch, but it’s not going to give great results for detailed decorating.

Okay, now comes the fun part! You’ve got your area all ready:

Note the little bowl of flour.

Note the little bowl of flour.

Your baking sheets are also ready to go:

This sugar cookie recipe didn't make very much dough.

This sugar cookie recipe didn’t make very much dough.

Great! So flour your rolling surface, also flour your rolling pin a little bit, and roll out your dough to 1/4″ thickness. Use your cookie cutter to cut out a little person shape.

cookiecutting

Have Voss take a photo that turns out blurry because you are as fast as lightning.

Okay, so you’ve got your little person shape. Ordinarily this is the part where you’d just drop it on the baking sheet, but you’re not going to do that yet. Take your sharp knife that I mentioned before. Now cut a triangle out of the bottom of the cookie’s feet. Like so:

Repeat on the other side.

Repeat on the other side.

Now you have to make a decision. Are you making a lady or a dude draenei cookie? If you are making a dude, take your sharp knife and cut just a sliver of cookie off the top of his head so that it forms a point! If you are making a lady, move your cookie to the baking sheet for the next step.

Lady is on the left, dude on the right.

Lady is on the left, dude on the right.

This is what your cookie will look like if you are making a lady draenei.

This is what your cookie will look like if you are making a lady draenei.

Okay, so you’ve got your draenei cookie onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look great on the surface (like mine, which had a weird ugly bit. This dough was dryer than other sugar cookies I have made. Icing hides a multitude of sins). If your cookie is a lady, she’s still missing something! You have an option here: 1) Use the triangles you cut from her feet to make the horns, or 2) cut shapes from scraps to make the horns. I’ve done it both ways, and either way is fine. If you cut them, it’ll look like this:

You can cut round shapes too if your knifework is good, or you can just gently round the triangles.

You can cut round shapes too if your knifework is good, or you can just gently round the triangles.

Now attach your horns gently to your draenei’s head by setting them alongside in the appropriate place, and gently smoothing between the two pieces with your fingers. Gently round them if desired, or leave them straight if that’s the style of horn you’d prefer. At this stage your cookie should look like this:

It doesn't matter if the horns aren't exactly perfect, as they should smooth out a bit while baking.

It doesn’t matter if the horns aren’t exactly perfect, as they should smooth out a bit while baking.

Bake your cookies at the temperature and for as long as your recipe directs. Watch them carefully, especially sugar cookies are pretty delicate and the small parts (like horns) will tend to brown very quickly. Here you can see two of my cookies after baking. This was a new recipe for sugar cookies I was trying, and they browned a bit more than I would’ve liked.

Lady draenei on the left, dude on the right.

Lady draenei on the left, dude on the right.

Hooray! Your cookies are baked. Let them cool on the baking sheet for awhile. You don’t want them to be at all warm when you go to start decorating. While they’re cooling, you can make your icing and get your decorating stuff ready! Now, you have some choices here as outlined above. I’m going to show you some examples of how I have decorated these cookies before we get into the step-by-step.

gingerdraenei

IMG_0036

These are the gingerbread draenei I made a few years back. I used a plain, white buttercream icing to just draw them on there. You can see this method requires some drawing ability. If you aren’t confident doing that, this might not be the best method for you. BUT, you could use buttercream icing to still make a really nice cookie, just simpler. I’ve never done that personally because I like to make my life complicated, but here’s an example of other, non-draenei cookies I have decorated:

gingerbreadmen

See, there’s no reason you couldn’t take this and apply it to a draenei cookie. Do a simple little smiley face, use icing to cement some M&M’s in place, and you have a cute, festive little draenei cookie. So don’t let the elaborate decorating methods intimidate you! The next part of this demo is what I would consider “advanced.” It isn’t for the faint of heart, and you should have some decorating experience if you’re going to do it. Or you’ll tear your hair out and be mad at me (please don’t). Here’s what the cookies look like when decorated with royal icing.

DSC_2700

They aren’t perfect (I’d never used this icing before either!) and I have learned a few things I’d do differently for next time.

Decorating your cookies with Royal Icing
Royal icing is a very different beast from regular, buttercream icing. It’s runnier, and the best way to apply it is using little squeeze bottles rather than a piping bag. The advantage of it is that it gives you that puffy, smooth icing look that you can’t really get from another kind of icing. The method behind using royal icing is actually pretty simple – you first outline an area you want to be a specific colour. (Looking at my cookies above, one hand would be an area, or the faces). Then you fill the area with icing, and use a small spatula to smooth it out. At this point if you want any special effects or decoratings (like the sanding sugar on the draenei’s cuffs) you sprinkle that on. Then you let that colour dry and move on to another cookie. By the time you come back to the first cookie to add a second colour, your icing is dry and won’t run together. There are wet-on-wet ways of using the icing too but I didn’t employ any of those. If you want to see some demos in action, Sweet Dani B has some good ones on her Youtube channel. I also linked to her royal icing recipe earlier.

If you’re using royal icing, I’d recommend after you mix it up (one batch makes a lot) put it into bowls and make the colours you know you’ll need. Then, take a sandwich bag and put it over a mug. Scoop your coloured icing into the bag and then seal the bag. Snip a tiny tip of the icing bag and put the tip in an empty squeeze bottle. Slooowly squeeze to get the icing into the bottle. Then use the provided bottle tip to cover it. I had some issues with my icing by the time I was finished in terms of consistency – you can see that the grey parts on the cookies are not as smooth as they should’ve been. This is because it had dried out somewhat and I should have thinned it. Live and learn! But if you put your icing in the bottles all at the beginning, that should keep it from drying out.

The hardest part of decorating the cookies this way is planning out where areas of colour will be. Don’t be afraid to draw yourself a diagram beforehand if that helps. I’m pretty confident just winging it but you don’t have to do it that way.

Smoothing out icing with the spatula.

Smoothing out icing with the spatula.

I skipped a step for this photo. For the first step (to make cookies like mine) take plain white royal icing and squeeze it onto the areas you would like to be the sparkly cuffs of their outfits. Holding the cookie over a paper plate, liberally sprinkle it with white sanding sugar over the areas you iced. Shake it a little bit or brush it with your fingers to remove excess sugar. Allow to dry.

Once the white on your cookies is dry, start with the “skin” or blue! Be sure to have your candies ready if you are using them for any facial features (eyes, etc.)

Outlining.

Outlining.

Now pipe the outline of the area you want to ice. I left a chunk empty across her head because I want to put hair there.

Fill.

Fill.

“Fill” or flood the area you outlined. This is just a rough step, you don’t have to literally fill the entire surface area. Just enough so that when you smooth it out with your spatula, it should look nice.

Smoothing.

Smoothing.

Now smooth the icing. Once you’ve done this with all of your draenei, they’ll look something like this:

Getting there!

Getting there!

I waited until the blue was mostly dry before adding a bit of white to make mouths. That part was tricky, which explains why some of them look like they are making faces. At this point I could move on to their outfits, because there wasn’t any place where blue would be touching (except for the one draenei who had face tentacles, I left him for last just for that reason.

icing06

Proceed just like you did with the blue to do the inner red part. Outline, fill, and smooth. I found that getting the right red colour was really hard, so I also added red sanding sugar at this stage to make their outfits a bit redder. My mistake here was that I did it after I’d added buttons, so some of the buttons got a bit covered by sanding sugar. The neat thing though is that as long as your other colours are dry, the sugar will not stick to either white or blue areas. So you can have different sections with different effects very easily!

I stopped taking progress photos at this point because it was getting late and I was tired. But all I did was proceed to add grey/black hair to each hoof area and each head. Except the male draenei, I guess they are bald in this case because I didn’t leave room to give them hair!

DSC_2705

Worth noting for this guy – I made his tentacles rings by just squeezing a bit of white icing in a line and then sprinkling with golden sparkles. All of the other colours were dry, of course!

DSC_2710

So in the end, this was a worthwhile cookie experiment. I already knew I could make draenei cookies from previous years, I just wanted to make them better. If you’re going to do these, keep in mind that making them draenei does add some time. I didn’t keep track of how long I spent doing this, but the decorating was probably at least two hours.

Now I don’t know what to do with these cookies. I can’t bring myself to eat them. (This happened the first year I made them, too). You could probably adapt any of these instructions to make your favourite WoW race – cut a triangle out of the feet and then round it and you have a troll’s two toes! Change the type of horns and use brown sanding sugar and you could have a Tauren. If you make these or any type of similar WoW cookie, please let me know! I’d love to see them. Also, if you have any questions or if something is unclear, please comment to let me know and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

Revelations (That Are Not Actually About Cookies)

Just over a week ago now, Canadians were preparing for our version of stuffing ourselves silly and being thankful about it. Thanksgiving! (Yes, it’s the same holiday as in the U.S. pretty much, except ours is a little earlier). We’d acquired a turkey, friends were due to arrive, and as with any major holiday – I happily took a welcome excuse to do some baking. The centerpiece of my endeavour was to be pumpkin cupcakes. Voss, who doesn’t especially like pumpkin, asked if I could perhaps bake something else on the side for him. Some cookies, maybe? (Insert big pleading eyes here.) Chocolate chip cookies, maybe? It doesn’t usually take much to get me to do more baking, so of course I agreed.

And here I paused. For years now, I’ve been experimenting with lower fat baking. It’s possible to do and still have recipes taste good. My low-fat chocolate chip cookies are pretty decent – but they tend to be a bit harder, definitely “dippers.” You have to be so careful with the dough not to overmix it. I hesitated. Did I want to make the “healthy” recipe – or did I want to go back to my tried-and-true?

I haven’t made this recipe in years. It was faithfully copied from my Mom’s recipes when I first moved away from home a decade ago. I looked at that recipe, carefully written out. It has twice as much butter as the other recipe. I know they aren’t as “healthy” (if any cookies can be considered healthy). The thing is, butter serves a specific role in baking, just like all the other ingredients do. It helps with texture, establishing both moisture and crispness. It’s possible to make things with much less of it (I hardly use it at all in “regular” cooking) but in baking it’s a tough thing to do away with.

I made my Mom’s recipe. They weren’t as pretty to behold as their low-fat counterparts. I watched them cooling on the rack a bit uncertainly – they’d flattened out more than I’d expected. I wasn’t sure how they were going to be.

I took one bite of that first cookie and the taste of it exploded in my mouth. It tasted of a hundred happy moments mixing with my Mom, adding vanilla, adding eggs. It tasted of licking the beaters of the electric mixer (raw egg be damned! I came through childhood just fine). It tasted of the time that our old, long-departed cocker spaniel opened a container of cookies and helped himself (one by one, at his leisure!) It tasted of home. It just tasted right, and in that moment I didn’t care that the cookies had twice as much butter as the other kind. They were perfect.

I have to admit, I’d been having a tough time getting into the Thanksgiving mood. For awhile now, I’ve been labouring under an indecisive funk. I wrote all about how I felt playing retribution all the time. I’d even planned to write a “Thanksgiving” Warcraft post that never materialized because I just felt like I was going through the motions. The thing is, I have a lot to be thankful for (both in and out of game) but I wasn’t feeling up to expressing it. I’d begun playing my paladin at the start of this tier because I felt that it was how I could best help the guild. I felt that it was best for the guild. What I didn’t consider deeply enough was whether it was what would be best for me.

For years, I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies as a treat that are “better for me,” but they aren’t RIGHT. I’d rather eat them half as often but enjoy them twice as much. Or actually, what I’m trying to say – in an extremely roundabout and cookie-based way – is that last week, I took Millya into Firelands for the first time. (It’s appropriate if mage metaphors include baking, you know).

The first raid, I was really nervous and I definitely didn’t play my best. There’s an element of wanting to “prove I’ve still got it,” and focusing on that led to a few bonehead maneuvers. But it was okay. The second raid, I was feeling more comfortable, and I really let myself exult in the feeling. I love being a mage. I love everything about it. I love blink, I love firing spells off like a deadly turret, I love conjuring cakes for everyone and seeing my mirror images sprinting all over the place and even my stupid flame orb wandering off on its own to explode and attack, seemingly, nothing. I love my serious little goat woman and her wild hair and earnest horns. I love wearing a dress. I’m crazy about it. I always have been. I missed it when I was a priest, and a druid, and now a paladin. I missed it because it was the right thing for me to be and I never should have lost sight of that.

“You always preferred your mage,” a few guildies have told me gently. I’ve received more than one whisper from people saying they’re happy to see my mage again, and that it feels “good” to have me be a mage. It does feel damn good. I am still feeling pangs of guilt, as our discussions about two versus three healing came to an uneasy commitment, and I know that me leaving that team leaves us one healer down and bloats the DPS roster. If we need to, we’ll have to recruit another healer in the next tier. It is selfish of me – I’ve admitted I was wrong to switch characters. Not because I can’t do it. I think I was a pretty good paladin, and a pretty good healer. But it’s not what I love the most, not like my esteemed paladin friends – who live and die on paladin news and are really, some of the best folks I know. I was proud to be among them, and it has nothing to do with the class. I don’t want to attribute too much meaning to a video game, or a virtual persona, but there is a thin line between what you play and who you are.

I don’t want to have to write another entry like this in one tier, or two. No matter how much I think “I could help out” as a healer, I shouldn’t do it. When I stepped into that second raid, my eyes actually momentarily stung, I was so happy. The familiar sensation rolled over my finger tips as I spammed two like my life depended on it. This character is home. I regret the inconvenience it causes my guild and my guildies, but I need to be selfish about this. It was silly of me to think I could be as happy playing anything else. Every time I’ve switched has been to try and fill a niche or role we’re lacking, but I’m no good to anyone if I’m playing something but secretly and sadly miserable. Thursday’s raid was an absolute blast, and I don’t know if it’s because good moods are infectious or what but it felt like everyone had a better time. We have a secret paladin turned warlock going back to his paladin and I think he’s as happy as I am to trade his robes for plate. (He probably didn’t tear up about it because he’s far too stalwart for that, but I’ll bet he sang a song). I remember that this is the right thing to do every time I wonder what reputation grind I need to be working on (re-doing) now and then I remember, I don’t need to be re-doing any of them because I’ve already done them. This is my main we’re talking about. I’m baaaaack.

Oh, and P.S. – The cookies are going to be a rare and occasional treat, but when I make them, you better believe I’m going to make my Mom’s version.

P.P.S. – I used eight images in this blog post, but I probably had twice that many I could have used. More evidence.

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