The Cake Therapist: How to Kickstart Creativity

Cake doesn't always mean big layer cake.

"Cake" can mean cupcakes, cakelets, a snack cake, or the soft and cake-like texture of a tender sugar cookie, madeleine, or brownie.

Whatever size or shape you make it, "cake" is a great vehicle for adding a little color and flavor to your life.
In The Cake Therapist, my debut novel, the main character Neely uses flavor--and her baked goods--to propel her bakery customers and wedding cake clients through the year. 

Take-charge coffee and chocolate at the start of the new year, blood orange and raspberry that together create a romantic and aromatic coral color in February, and so on.
Flavor, color, and aroma can also be wonderful ways to kickstart creativity. 
(And I needed every iota of creativity I could muster, writing a novel, a barbecue cookbook, and a baking cookbook that are all out at the same time!)
Here's how I discovered the secret.

“There has to be a better way!” I said to myself. I was at a brainstorming meeting. To help us along, the group brought out a plastic tray full of pallid sugar cookies that tasted as uninteresting as they looked. One tiny bite and I was all out of ideas. 
I went home and took out my little bottle of Aura Cacia “Creative Juice,” a blend of non-culinary essential oils that includes bergamot, citrus, and cardamom. I opened the bottle and sniffed its wonderful aroma. The light bulb went on, and the result is these soft sugar cookies, flavored with cardamom and topped with an orange glaze and a sweet gremolata of citrus zest, fresh mint or orange mint, and natural sugar (which has a larger crystal than granulated sugar). 
The Cake Therapist would definitely approve.

Creativity Kickstarters

The final touch to this soft, glazed sugar cookie is an aromatizing gremolata with citrus zest, orange mint, and natural granulated sugar that practically shouts “fresh and new.” The cardamom in the cookie itself follows and then lingers on the taste buds a bit. If the ideas don’t flow after that, it’s not my fault.

Adapted from Bake Happy (Running Press, 2015) by Judith Fertig.

Makes about 36 cookies

Soft Sugar Cookie Dough:
23/4 cups (335 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (121 g) sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground cardamom

Orange Glaze:
1 cup (120 g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice

Sweet Orange Mint Gremolata:
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh orange mint or mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup (50 g) natural granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

For the cookies, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the sour cream, butter, and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in the egg, vanilla, and cardamom. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients, a third at a time, until you have a smooth, soft dough. Pinch off a 1 tablespoon-sized ball of dough, roll gently in your hands and flatten into a 1-inch thick disc. Place each disc 11/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until just firm to the touch and slightly golden at the edges. Let cool in the pans.

For the Orange Glaze, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, orange zest and juice together until smooth. Turn each cookie upside down and dip the top in the glaze. Turn upright and place on the baking sheet again to dry. 

For the Gremolata, muddle the orange mint , citrus zests, and sugar with a muddler or with the handle of wooden spoon in a medium bowl until the sugar is suffused with color and aroma.  

Sprinkle the gremolata on the glazed cookies and leave until the glaze has set, about 30 minutes.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Recipe from Bake Happy, where many more recipes with flavor, color, aroma, and more await!

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