The Best Ohio Sugar Cookie; Hello Cheryl's Cookies Copycat Recipe

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and when I was young, it was a treat to get a Cheryl's Cookie. A couple of decades ago (ahem), walking into a Cheryl's storefront was pretty much like walking into Santa's workshop. The smell was better than any Yankee Candle you'll ever put your nose to. And the long, glass case housed the richest, buttery sugar cookies imaginable. I've been to bakeries from NYC to Paris and have never tasted anything that comes close.
Cheryl sold her company a few years back for alotta moolah. I interviewed her for the magazine once...she's a dynamo businesswoman. Goddess status, in my book.  The company has grown a ton after the sale, but its all different now. No storefronts with bakers smearing thick layers of frosting on cooled sugary disks. Everything now is pre-packaged. Which, for this nostalgic girl, is rather heartbreaking.

Recently I bought our first cookie jar. I have no clue why it took over 15 years, but it did. And because there is now a cookie jar, there is also now a weekly cookie at The Smith Homestead.

This week is my attempt at a traditional Cheryl's sugar cookie. Simple ingredients and method, with stellar results. Make this recipe your own! Its so flipping versatile. Add nuts or zest. Peppermint oil or rose water. Shove the dough in your cookie press and make fancy designs. Get the kids involved. Give them as gifts in a couple of months. You get the idea.

As for me, I'll be keeping it simple and channeling some of those memories of childhood. And getting a massive sugar fix.

Cheryl's Cookies Copycat Recipe

For the cookie:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3cup sugar
  • egg
  • 1teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1teaspoon salt

In mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla; mix well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well.
Form cookies by measuring ¼ cup of batter into the palm of your hand. Shape into a round disk that is approx. ½ inch thick. Place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Alternatively, you can roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter.  Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until set, not brown. Do not over bake! Cool on wire racks.

For the frosting:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2T butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring extract
  • 2 1/2 – 3 tablespoons milk or water
  • Food coloring, optional

Beat together softened butter, vanilla. Slowly add 2 cups powdered sugar, ½ cup at a time. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add milk and beat until smooth. At this point you could add food coloring. I prefer not to….but across the board I have a pretty strong affinity for neutral colors. Baked goods included. 


Apfelstrudel - Traditional Apple Strudel (with photo tutorial)

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels…

I’ve never given much consideration to cream colored ponies. But strudels are a different story. Especially after spending time in the narrow brick lined corridors that make up Vienna’s city center.
Strudel is everywhere in that part of the world. From Hungary to Slovakia and Germany, this pulled-dough pastry can be found, filled with everything from apples to curded cheese, poppy seeds and cherries. I came home from that trip (happily) five pounds heavier and ready to govern a strudel super-pack.

This weekend, the weather changed. And my heart leaped like it has since I was a little girl. Because autumn, as it is for many of us, is my favorite season. It is, perhaps, what deep down I hope heaven will be like; knitted scarves, the babbled tones of game-day football commentators coming from the TV in the next room over, copious amounts of apple cider in pottery mugs, apple picking, bowls of chili, picnics on quilts (I argue that picnics are meant for fall, not summer), boots caked in mud and leaves after a strenuous hike, and…of course…baking.

There are more than a few strudel tutorials floating around cyberspace and sitting on library bookshelves. I did my research, jotted notes from Google translated websites, and landed on the recipe below. A blend of three strudel variations that seemed to need some overlapping on each other.

Don’t be intimidated by what you are about to see. It’s harmless. Enjoyable, in fact.

It’s definitely doable by your lonesome, but it’s more fun with someone else. I happen to have a dashing 12 year old chef as a son…lucky me. 

Apfelstrudel (Traditional Apple Strudel) 


15 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour for this recipe) pinch of salt 2 eggs, room temperature 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 6 ounces (3/4 cup) milk, room temperature

1 stick melted butter

Apple Filling:

2 lb apples (I used Gala)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs (I made my own from a few slices of rustic loaf bread)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
raisins, dried fruit, optional, to taste

1. Melt the butter in over low heat until melted through

2. For the pulling of the dough, you need a large table. Spread a clean tablecloth over the table or kitchen island. Flour the cloth (lightly) and turn the dough from the bowl in which it was resting, out onto the center.  With a floured rolling pin roll it out long and narrow, as much as possible. This should be easy to do and the dough should be soft and supple. Brush the dough evenly with melted butter


3. Now it is time to begin stretching and pulling the dough. Lift and stretch the dough to about double its size. This takes time. No need to rush it – try treating it as an active meditation time.

4. The dough should be thin enough to read a page through. 

5. Lift and stretch the dough (including the middle) until it hangs over all the sides. When finished stretching, remove the thickened edge by rolling it on a hand as it is torn off.

6. Brush the dough evenly with melted butter.

7. On one end of the long edge (about 6-10 inches from the edge), sprinkle with the bread crumbs, then mix the sugar, apples, raisins (if using) and cinnamon in a bowl and pile it, as shown, on your stretched dough.

8. Fold the dough over by lifting the cloth and quickly flipping the dough over onto itself.  Roll up the dough by grabbing the cloth on both ends of the filled side and lifting it so that the strudel rolls gently. 

9. Lift the roll in an S shape into a buttered pan (I buttered parchment paper). 

10. Brush the strudel with melted butter. Bake in a pre-heated 400F oven for about 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350F. Bake until light brown for approximately another 25-35 minutes.

10. Let the strudel cool a bit before cutting it into pieces. Best served when still warm from the oven. Can be frozen and reheated.

11. Gift to friends 


*For full recipe, without photos, for printing continue on here*

Plum Crumble with Vanilla Coconut 'Cream" (Dairy, Refined Sugar and Flour Free)

I have a sweet tooth. It's a manageable one (most days). Usually just a nibble of something sugary at the tail end of a meal is good enough, with no need for secret candy drawers in the studio or late night ice cream binges (although I have considered taking up that practice).

At any rate, I think dessert is a treat we should enjoy regularly. Daily, in fact.

And there went any future I may have had as a nutritionist....

I bought a big heaping pile of plums not too long ago. Some were put in lunch boxes (not sure if they were eaten by the three little bears...I prefer they just not tell me as I also believe ignorance is bliss.) Some were quartered and put on the charcuterie board Mike and I like to construct a couple of times a week (pre-dinner snacks aren't just for kids) and the rest were sitting in a bowl on the butcher block counter - gathering a small contingent of fruit flies.

With a mid-day break at the studio, the usual itch to bake and a fruit fly issue beginning to unfold (there were only like 2 of tolerance is low), I crafted this little diddy. Its actually healthy, which wasn't necessarily my goal. But its so, so, so doable to make healthy desserts that actually taste spectacular, that I find myself doing it without intention.

A word of caution... there may be ingredients listed here that you don't already have. And it may deter you and you will think I'm daft for asking you to consider buying these things for a plum crumble. But before you discount it, let me say that if you don't already have these ingredients, you should consider having them. They are pantry staples for both savory and sweet good-for-you cooking. Most (all) of this should be easy to find. I'll put in notation where I bought stuff and hopefully you have one close. xo

Also another note: This recipe is for a small batch. You can up the quantities for a larger portion. You also don't have to use the ramekins I'm using (pictured). This recipe, as are most of the recipes I develop, are super flexible. I prefer to give common sense instructions that can be manipulated and customized.

*Coconut sugar retains quite a bit more nutrients than refined sugar. Stuff like iron, zinc, calcium and potassium and has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. I buy mine at Trader Joes.

Plum Crumble with Vanilla Coconut "Cream"

4-5 small, ripe plums
3T coconut sugar (you could substitute honey, agave, Splenda. You can also add more sweetener if the plums are sour or under ripe. Adjust levels to your taste     preferences (I like my fruit desserts a bit tart.)

Cut the plums into bite sized chunks. I like some variation in sizing of mine so I tend to have some larger bits and some smaller ones. Mix with the coconut sugar and set aside.

1 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
1 Cup Almonds (preferably raw)
1/4 Cup Coconut Manna (essentially coconut butter. Could also substitute with a good quality coconut oil or even olive oil. Coconut Manna can be found at most health food stores or on Amazon.)

Pulse the almonds in a food processor, a blender or go to town with a sharp knife on a cutting board. Get the almonds to a coarse chop and add the oats, continuing to pulse/chop until you get a good looking 'crumb' for the crumble. The coconut manna is a bit like a hard butter. So it needs to be worked in with you fingertips to make a nice crumb topping for your plums. If you don't have/don't want to get coconut manna (butter), then opt for a binder like olive oil. Taste the crumble and see if you might want to add a bit of the coconut sugar to it. I like to sprinkle a bit of salt into mine. Key here is taste, taste, taste. Let your taste buds help you become a chef!

Divide the plums into small ramekins or any sort of baking dish (ceramic or glass is ideal). Sprinkle the crumb topping over the plums. At this point, you can bake. Or you can wrap your little plum crumble in some saran wrap and store it for a later time. Waiting a few hours gives your plums even more time to soften and sweeten, but obviously, instant gratification is pretty remarkable too.

Baking time is going to range between 35-45 minutes at a temperature of 375 degrees. Keep an eye on it and if you get to the 45 minutes mark and want to see some more browning and bubbling on your crisp...then keep it going a bit longer.

Vanilla Coconut "Cream"

1 Can Coconut Milk
1 Vanilla bean pod (or 1 T vanilla extract)
4 T Coconut Sugar
1 T Cornstarch mixed to a slurry in water

Simmer the coconut milk in a small saucepan until it begins to simmer. Add the coconut sugar and then the cornstarch slurry and whisk to fully incorporate into the coconut milk. Continue to simmer/gently boil the coconut milk until it thickens. If its not thick enough for your liking as a cream sauce, make another small batch of cornstarch slurry and add, simmer, wait, assess. Once the 'cream' is looking lusciously pourable, turn off the heat and add the vanilla. Taste. Thoughts? More sweet? More vanilla? A hit of salt? Again, this is your dessert - so make your tastebuds sing.

When the crumble is browned and the cream is thickened, its time to get those two married on a plate. Both components do really well in the fridge and devoured over the course of a few days afterwards.

bon app├ętit!


And He's Off...

My littlest one started kindergarten last week. He's the one that's almost single-handedly carried Mike and I through some tough stuff over the past three years with his ability to find humor in literally everything. Nothing gets him jazzed more than making us laugh...which isn't hard. This dude is funny.

So off to kindergarten he went on Friday. I cried more than I thought I would. Wasn't nearly as prepared for the final send-off as I imagined I'd be.

The day before school started, Otto and I drove some old country roads. He fell asleep in the car on the way and when he woke up, we were in the woods, off to hike and paint. Then there was ice cream and doughnuts before heading back to the Smith Homestead to brag...of course... to the brothers about the adventure.

The last two pictures are to be credited to Otto Rockand Smith, who takes pictures whenever, wherever he can.


Handpainted Raw Cashew Macarons

When I have to be away from home, either work or play, it never fails that I yearn for time in the kitchen. Even though I didn't start cooking until I was married...and didn't start cooking well until after I had children, the kitchen feels more familiar to me than most any other place on Earth.

So this week, after I had been away for a handful of days, I asked Canaan, "did you miss me while I was gone?". His response was this: "Well I really missed your cooking. And the way you keep everything nice around the house. You're really good at that mommy stuff." I smiled. Partially because that's such a guy response from my nearly teenager. But more than anything, in that moment I felt deeply content with my role in these boys lives. Both the tangible and intangible pieces and parts of bellies fed and the comforts of home.

But lets talk about macarons. They aren't my most favorite dessert to eat...but they might be one of my favorites to make. The headlines you read about macarons being a tricky beast to tame are true. I've had more than my fair share of flat-as-a-pancake macarons emerge from the oven. Still good enough to eat, but definitely not Parisian worthy.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a handpainted macaron and it paralyzed me with some major surges of creative impulse. Despite my love of both art and cooking, I've never had a hankering to sink my teeth into cake decorating or sugar sculptures. But this. This! I could do this...maybe. If I could get my macarons to rise.

So yesterday, girded with gumption and a bit of time, I dove in.

I wanted very 'clean' looking macarons. No flecks of brown skin from almonds. And as a major risk taker in life who often will bet everything on an instinct and belief, I passed over the traditional almonds and went for more visually pure, raw cashews.

The two most time consuming parts of macarons are this: 1. making nut flour  2. giving the macaron batter time to form a crust before baking.

Otherwise, macarons are easy peasy to make. Don't be intimidated!!! Set aside time to do it right and you'll get it right. Promise.

Below, the recipe. Please consider buying a kitchen scale. I know you've read that before and passed right over the advice. But its time. A kitchen scale will cost you about $10 at the grocery store and is not a wasted purchase. The more I bake, the more I have relied on accurate measurements of ingredients to get me the result I desire. And what's the point in buying ingredients and putting in the effort to get a substandard result? Incomprehensible!

The handpainting is totally by choice. It was my therapy after a few tiring days. If you do want to paint your macarons, obviously use food coloring- not art-grade paints. I used a small watercolor brush and only three colors (red, blue and green). They are easy to paint. No real trick to it. But I would suggest you paint it with the macaron on a flat surface, as opposed to holding it between your thumb and index finger. Holding the macaron lends to squeezing the macaron which results in potential cracking. Serious disappointment.

So without further adieu....Raw Cashew Macarons....