I believe in miracles.
I try to change the world every day.
I love my husband, my friends, and my family.
I plan my next great adventure constantly.
I think most occasions call for a dress.
I write what I know and believe.
When I was a little girl, our holidays were consumed with cookie and candy-making. And let’s be real – there was no such thing as an easy English toffee recipe! My dad loved making peanut brittle. My mom, grandmother and I would decorate Christmas cookies. And my grandparents always hosted a Christmas party filled with goodies (including something that looked like green glass that I have NEVER EVER SEEN SINCE THEN)… so candy-making means the holiday season has arrived.
As I got older, I realized that making Christmas candy was pretty intimidating without my mom, so I put it on the back burner. The problem is, however, See’s Candies are hard to find in Texas and my favorite Greenville shop (Puddin Hill) is apparently closed. So, when I found myself craving English Toffee, I realized I only had one choice… I would have to make it myself. I turned to my trusty pinterest account, which led me to adapt a recipe from Damn Delicious.
Word to the wise, candy-making is highly dependent on temperature – so I hesitate to give exact times – because humidity can really affect your candy. If you don’t cook it enough, your candy will be tough. If you cook it too much, it will burn. The best thing you can do is FOCUS on your candy and whisk, whisk, whisk, and whisk some more. 🙂 This is the yummiest and easiest recipe I’ve found.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheet with silicone baking mat for the easiest clean up ever.
Spread almonds on the cookie sheet. Bake until toasted (took about 8 minutes for me - keep an eye on them!). Remove cookie sheet and set aside.
Combine butter, sugar, vanilla and salt over medium heat. Whisk constantly until butter has melted and is boiling regularly. Mixture will turn caramel in color. This took me longer than I expected, but once it started turning brown, it got brown quickly! You don't want to overcook it because it will taste burnt. The best thing I can tell you is just whisk and watch carefully.
Spread the mixture evenly over the almonds. Add chocolate chips. Using a flat spatula, spread the chocolate chips until smooth. Sprinkle pecans over chocolate
Cool completely, turn candy over on silicone mat and use a knife to break break into pieces.
In true Sara form, my staying on top of blogging could not continue, so let’s just go through a few things/thoughts for this past week/weekend, shall we? (Linking up with B for weekending)
[One]: Many of our kids have received good news. We had two students get into Harvard, two get into Stanford, two get into Yale, three get into Babson, three get into Claremont McKenna, and a partridge in a pear tree. There’s more news to come, but I am encouraged by some of the things that have happened for our amazing kiddos this year.
[Two]: I was asked to join the advisory board at one of the top universities in the country. This will mark my second advisory board opportunity, and I am so excited to serve as as voice for students, particularly those with little access to college counseling. Philadelphia, I will see you in January!
[Three]: Alabama surprised me in the BEST possible way last week. I had such little hope, but I am proud of the people, particularly the black women, who went to the polls. If that doesn’t tell you that your vote, however small and marginalized it may feel, matters, I don’t know what will. #RESIST. If you find yourself supporting a white man who was accused of sexual assault of anyone, let alone minors, you need to examine your beliefs. I am DONE giving people a pass for being single issue voters. Be a decent human being before voting for party.
[Four]: We spent this weekend in Austin at the wedding of one of my dearest friends. I really can’t even tell you how lovely it was to be reunited with her entire family. I cried so much because I was happy. Other than that, the JW Marriott was lovely and Cooper’s BBQ was amazing.
[Five]: I ordered a HUGE print of Cinque Terre for our breakfast nook. It’s gorgeous and I’m obsessed with it. I also finished another Christmas gift on Friday morning that reminded me that I need to book another trip stat.
A couple of weeks ago, I was working from home on a Friday afternoon. I decided to break up the monotony by working on the best snickerdoodle recipe. (In case you haven’t noticed by my recipes, I’m the original cookie monster.) I didn’t want to go to the store, so I needed to use what we had at home. Thankfully, we had just enough of everything on hand.
I wasn’t exactly paying attention though, so I ended up dumping more cinnamon into the dough than usual. (I generally try to follow Lovin’ from the Oven’s recipe.) It didn’t matter. The best snickerdoodle recipe never, ever fails, and the cookies were delicious anyway.
These cookies turn out soft and chewy with an understated cinnamon sugar flavor. I love the way the house smells while these cookies are baking! It smells like Christmas and these tend to be a holiday favorite for me!
Last week I shared my favorite Christmas sugar cookies, along with a note about my how my favorite childhood memory included decorating cookies for Santa. This week I’m going to share how to use royal icing to decorate cookies because if I can do it, you can too!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.
How to Use Royal Icing to Decorate Cookies – The Basics
The first step to flooding cookies with royal icing is to outline the areas you want to fill. You can do this with a stiff royal icing (just add powdered sugar!) or buttercream, but I’ve also used Wilton’s piping gel. It doesn’t dry quite as hard as icing does, but you really just need it to act as a barrier so you don’t have a giant mess when you flood the cookies.
Once you’ve given your outlined cookies time to set, you can make a batch of royal icing. One of the coolest things I learned was that you should flavor royal icing to match the color because people expect things to taste how they look. For example, you could use cherry or strawberry candy flavoring for red icing, lime flavoring for green icing, or even Godiva liqueur for brown icing! (I use gel food coloring to get vibrant, custom colors.
3 oz - milk (water, soy milk, evaporated milk - whole has better flavor)
*Flavor options: 1 tsp concentrated extract OR 1tbsp alcohol or liqueur OR 2-3 drops of concentrated candy oils
In mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the sugar and milk first. The icing should be very soft and have a heavy cream texture before adding the corn syrup.
Add the corn syrup all at once and mix until just combined.
Divide icing into several bowls. Flavor each bowl with extracts, alcohols, or candy oils.
Color each bowl of icing as desired (gel colors work best.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to prevent drying.
How to Use Royal Icing to Decorate Cookies – Pro Tips:
Instead of using an icing bag to flood cookies, buy the squeeze bottles used by hair stylists. You can use a funnel to fill the bottles over a covered surface. This allows more control over flooding, which makes a smoother cookie. I MAKE HUGE MESSES trying to use royal icing in traditional icing bags. When I took the class at ICE, I literally had icing all over my hands, clothes, parchment, and my cookies were REALLY ugly. I felt like a 5 year old in a class of professionals. Squirt bottles = heaven.
To completely flood cookies, start from the edge that you outlined and work your way inside to the center. It’s okay if your lines aren’t completely next to each other – the icing will naturally spread as you go. If you need to, you can fill it in when you’re done or use a toothpick to help cover the cookie.
There are all kinds of nifty things you can do with this icing using different colors (seriously, buy the book!), but to learn how to use royal icing to decorate cookies, I think it’s helpful to start with the basics of flooding cookies. I’ll try and put together some more examples soon, too!
You should let the royal icing sit for at least 24 hours before considering the cookies “done”. When they are completely dry, the icing will have a pretty sheen. (You can also use pearl powder to add a pearly sheen to the icing!)
I’ve been thinking about writing a post on planning a romantic getaway to Florence for awhile. I know that we spent part of our honeymoon in Florence, but it was my husband’s first time in my favorite city, so it wasn’t exactly the same. We’ve been back for the past few years, and this year, we spent a week there. I think our trip this year was my favorite, but maybe it’s just because it’s the most recent trip.
We stay at the St. Regis Florence. (This should be a given by now.) Whether it’s one of their incredible suites or a river view room, each room is beautiful and different. This past trip, our room seemed extra cozy and romantic. I always talk about how much I love the location of this hotel, but I think it’s because I really enjoy the walk along the Arno – in both directions. Whether it’s early in the morning or late in the evening, the river is always beautiful.
The other thing that makes me love this hotel is the staff. Somehow, Stephanie cultivates such a warm and welcoming staff. Viviana’s emails always make me feel welcome and excited to return. As soon as we arrive, Park is always ready to help with any detail. But, truth be told, Andrea always makes our stay extra special. Each year, he leaves recommendations and suggestions based our interests. This year, he directed us to the less busy Bardini Gardens, and I was able to recreate one of my favorite photographs from my study abroad semester (with a much, much better camera). Since he also enjoys photography, he gives me recommendations on where to find the best views! The St. Regis commitment to personalizing each and every single romantic getaway to Florence is something I don’t think we would find anywhere else.
Avoid the Crowds on a Romantic Getaway to Florence
I don’t think you can (or should!) take a romantic getaway to Florence and skip the iconic sights. Whether it’s watching the sunset from the Piazzale Michaelangelo or wandering the Boboli Gardens, you should have those experiences. That being said, there are a few secrets to make it a bit more enjoyable.
Jockeying for a spot at the Piazzale Michelangelo stresses me out. This year, we skipped the piazzale and made our way up to San Miniato al Monte. We had a front row seat for the sunset and way less people to deal with. We might have even been able to sneak a few kisses without an audience. (The year before, we took photos with Facibeni Fotografia near sunset and we had a audience. We definitely made it into some people’s vacation photos.)
Early Mornings are Made for Gardens
I know it can be hard to pull yourself out of bed on vacation but getting to the Boboli Garden before 12:00 ensures that you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. (The light will be softer and more beautiful, too.) We arrived around 9:30, and we had the place to ourselves. (Actually, there was a school group but we went in the other direction and never saw them again.) We found the same to be true at the Bardini Gardens.
The Uffizi and the Accademia shouldn’t be missed, and if you’re not an art person, booking a tour will ensure that you get the most out of it. It also ensures that you can skip lines if you don’t book your museum tickets far enough in advance. We’ve done both early access tours and enjoyed them equally. I think we’re particularly looking forward to visiting the Accademia again since I forgot my camera the first time. (The David really is that impressive.) If you’re looking to just book tickets in advance, I suggest the earlier the better.
Confession: I’ve never stood in line to get into the Duomo. Since my apartment was a block away from the Duomo, I watched the line constantly. There’s a line when it opens (both in the morning and the afternoon), but there’s never a line towards the end of the day. Going in the late afternoon meant that I could spend as much time as I wanted staring up at that dome.
Ponte Santa Trinita vs. Ponte Vecchio vs. Ponte alle Grazie
I’m always confused when I see people staking out a spot before the sunset on the Ponte Vecchio. While it’s beautiful to watch the sunset over the Arno from any perspective, you can’t see it if you’re on the bridge. Personally, I tend to gravitate to the Arno from wherever I am at that moment. If you want to see the sun set with the Ponte Vecchio, you need to be on the Ponte alle Grazie. It’s a little further away, so bring your zoom lens if you want photos. If you want to watch the blue hour descend on the Ponte Vecchio and still be able to appreciate the sunset, you want to be on the Ponte Santa Trinita. (Don’t forget to turn around to see the brilliant colors of the sunset though!)
Unique Experiences for a Romantic Getaway for Florence
Get Out of Town (briefly)
My husband probably has PTSD from the time we did a Fiat 500 tour (and Nico, the most patient tour guide ever, probably does, too). I, however, choose to remember golden hour in the Tuscany countryside, what it felt like to snap this photo (and others) from the side of a hill, and watching the sunset while drinking delicious wine and snacking on tasty prosciutto. The tour departs from the hills outside of Florence, and you’ll be back in time for dinner or a stroll along the Arno.
If driving a double-clutch Fiat 500 isn’t on your bucket list, take the No. 7 bus up to Fiesole and plan lunch with a view of Florence. We sat up there for at least an hour just enjoying the view.
One of the first cooking classes I ever took abroad was in Florence, and I fully intend to take a pasta class. It’s a fun way to spend an evening, and you’re basically bringing home a souvenir that you can always enjoy. Since then, I’ve learned to make pesto in Cinque Terre and apple strudel in Salzburg. It’s a fun and delicious way to spend an morning, afternoon, or evening!