Julia Usher is the former owner of AzucArte, a boutique bakery known for its one-of-a-kind wedding cakes. Usher’s work has been featured in Vera Wang on Weddings, Modern Bride, Brideâ€™s, and Elegant Bride.Now a freelance food writer and stylist, working from part-time residence in Stonington, Maine and also from St. Louis: Usher’s work has appeared in Bon AppÃ©tit, Fine Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, Mary Engelbreitâ€™s Home Companion, Gastronomica, and several other regional/local publicationsJulia dropped by our studios to tell us about her new book “Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year.” She shared some upcoming events, and a couple recipes!For more information check out Julia’s website: www.juliausher.com”Cookie Swap” Events:Blue Hill Library, Blue Hill, Aug. 6, 6:30-8:00pmStonington Farmersâ€™ Market, Aug. 7, 9am-12pmgShermanâ€™s Books & Stationery, Bar Harbor, Aug. 7, 7pm-9amBlue Hill Farmersâ€™ Market, Aug. 8, 9am-11:30am Bookstacks, Bucksport, Aug. 8, 1-2pmThe Good Table, Belfast, Aug. 9, 2-4pmShermanâ€™s Books & Stationery, Camden, Aug. 10, 1pm-3pmLeft Bank Books, Searsport, Aug. 11, 3-5:30pmRecipes:Top Dogs with Coffee Cream Filling Makes 2 â€“ 2 1/2 dozen 2 1/2-inch sandwich cookiesHereâ€™s another backyard barbeque look-alike that will make your summer party sizzle. To streamline the preparation, you can mix and bake the meringue â€œbunsâ€ up to 1 week ahead: then fill them right before youâ€™re ready to dig in.Note: Though I think the bitter espresso powder in the filling is a necessary foil to the sweetness of the meringue â€œbuns,â€ kids may not agree. For a more kid-friendly filling, increase the vanilla extract in Italian Buttercream to 1 tablespoon and substitute 2 ounces melted, cooled semisweet chocolate for the espresso powder in Step 6, below.Cookie Key:Complexity: MediumActive Time: 2 hoursType: Piped: sandwichPrep Talk: Store unfilled meringue â€œbunsâ€ in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks. Once filled, the cookies must be refrigerated. (The filling is perishable.) Store in airtight containers in the fridge up to 2 â€“ 3 days. For best eating, serve at room temperature. Note: The â€œbunsâ€ will be quite crunchy to start. If you prefer a softer texture, allow the cookies to sit for 1 -2 days in the fridge before serving.Hazelnut Meringue â€œBunsâ€1 cup granulated sugar, divided3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts (with skins)2 tablespoons cornstarch4 large egg whites, room temperature1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar1/8 teaspoon salt1/2 teaspoon pure hazelnut or vanilla extract Coffee Buttercream Filling2 cups (about 1/2 recipe) Italian Buttercream (below), divided15 – 20 drops yellow liqua-gel food coloring 15 – 20 drops brown liqua-gel food coloring, divided 1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon boiling water 1 – 2 drops red liqua-gel food coloring1. Prepare hazelnut meringue â€œbunsâ€: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 300Â°F. (If you have two ovens, position racks in the middle and preheat both ovens. The cookies will bake more evenly in this configuration.) Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.2. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, the hazelnuts, and cornstarch in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the nuts are finely ground, but not pasty.3. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip attachment. (Note: The bowl, whip attachment, and all mixing utensils should be completely free of fat, or the egg whites will not stiffen.) Beat on medium speed until frothy and add the salt. Continue to beat to firm peaks: then turn the mixer to medium-high speed and gradually add the remaining sugar. Quickly scrape down the sides of the bowl: then resume beating on high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 1 â€“ 2 minutes.4. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the reserved nut mixture along with the hazelnut extract. Turn the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Pipe 2 â€“ 2 1/2 dozen small (3/4 x 2 1/4-inch) â€œbunsâ€ onto each of the prepared cookie sheets, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart. Smooth any peaks in the meringue with a barely damp fingertip. (Note: There will be leftover batter: but if it isnâ€™t baked immediately after piping, it will quickly lose volume.)5. Place both cookie sheets in the oven at the same time and bake 25 â€“ 30 minutes, or until the cookies are crisp and lightly browned. To ensure even browning, rotate the cookie sheets from top to bottom rack, and vice versa, midway through baking. (Alternatively, place one cookie sheet in each of two ovens.) Immediately transfer the cookies to wire racks and cool completely before filling or storing.6. Mix the buttercream: It is best to make the buttercream just before youâ€™re ready to assemble the cookies so it is at the ideal working consistency. (If made in advance, it must be refrigerated and then softened at room temperature to working consistency.) Mix 1/2 cup Italian Buttercream with the yellow food coloring and a drop of brown coloring to make the â€œmustard.â€ Combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups Italian Buttercream with the dissolved espresso powder (or 2 ounces melted premium semisweet chocolate for the kids) and whisk well. Deepen the color to a hot dog hue by adding the remaining brown and red food coloring. 7. Assemble the cookies: Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch round tip and fill with the brown buttercream. Fit another pastry bag with a 1/8-inch round tip and fill with the yellow buttercream. Turn half of the cookies flat-side up. Using the first pastry bag, pipe a short (1/2 x 1 3/4-inch) â€œhot dogâ€ along the length of each cookie. Top each â€œhot dogâ€ with another â€œbun,â€ placed flat-side down, and gently press together. Turn the sandwiches on their sides so that the â€œhot dogsâ€ are clearly visible from the top. Using the second pastry bag, pipe a squiggle of yellow buttercream on top of each â€œhot dogâ€ to mimic a squirt of â€œmustard.â€Italian ButtercreamMakes about 4 1/2 cups Unlike classic American buttercream, which consists primarily of butter and powdered sugar, this icing starts with whipped egg whites and ends up fluffy and light â€“ ideal for cookie toppings and fillings.Notes: 1. Though the egg whites are heated in this recipe, pasteurized whites can be substituted to minimize the risk of food-borne illness associated with raw eggs. Use about 2 tablespoons pasteurized whites for every large white.2. If a recipe calls for any fraction of Italian Buttercream, it is best to make a full batch and portion off what you need, as the ingredient quantities below are too small to practically mix in any smaller quantity. Unused icing may be frozen for later use, as described below.Cookie Key:Complexity: MediumActive Time: Â½ hourType: N/APrep Talk: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or in the freezer up to 1 month. Once refrigerated or frozen, the icing must be softened to room temperature and re-beaten before use. 4 large egg whites, room temperature (or about 9 tablespoons pasteurized egg whites)1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar2/3 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon light corn syrup 1 2/3 cups (3 sticks plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (increase to 1 tablespoon if you do not add other flavorings)Additional flavorings, as desired1. Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip attachment. (Note: The bowl, whip attachment, and all mixing utensils should be completely free of fat, or the egg whites will not stiffen.) Beat on medium speed to firm peaks.2. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and corn syrup in a large nonstick skillet and stir to evenly moisten the sugar. Place the mixture over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring as needed to make sure the sugar completely dissolves. Continue to boil approximately 30 seconds, until thick, syrupy, and bubbly through to the center.3. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and gradually add the hot sugar syrup in a slow, steady stream, with the mixer running. Once all of the syrup has been incorporated, quickly scrape down the sides of the bowl, taking care not to scrape any hard, crystallized sugar into the meringue. Resume beating at high speed until the meringue has cooled, about 7 â€“ 10 minutes.4. Add the butter 2 tablespoons at time, beating well after each addition. (Note: The icing will initially deflate and look grainy, but will get quite thick and glossy as more butter is incorporated.)5. Add the vanilla extract and additional flavorings, as desired, and mix well.