A Christmas Tradition
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is to bake tons of cookies to share with my family, offer them to guests, and give them as gifts to people who do not bake. The attractive shapes, sparkly sugar, cute designs, and different textures and tastes make a lovely addition to the dessert table at parties and family gatherings.
Some types of cookies appear only during the holidays. They seem special because they are special. But after years of slaving in the kitchen to produce so many kinds of cookies, I began to dread the ordeal. Face it; homemade Christmas cookies are best eaten fresh, so the week before Christmas used to be a messy and time-consuming ordeal. And I refuse to freeze cooked cookies or dough.
Finally, I came up with a plan to make my cookies—and lots of them—without the aggravation. Now, I make all my cookies in one day. A friend and I decide on a day no more than five days before Christmas Eve. Then we turn her large kitchen into a cookie factory. It's messy, and it's hard work, but it's all over in one day. We wind up with tons of Christmas cookies, all while sharing our time and ingredients.
Here is how to create your own maniac Christmas cookie extravaganza!
How to Plan a Cookie-Baking Extravaganza
A week or two before the holiday, decide on your recipes based on popularity, affordability, and past success. Reject cookies that hung around until they became stale last year, as well as cookies that did not turn out well, did not store well or broke easily.
- Choose a variety of cookie types for visual impact and taste.
- Don't get carried away with cookies that look great but take a lot of work or have too many steps in production.
- Ingredients can be expensive, so choose recipes with a maximum wallop and minimum work.
- Make a list. Check it twice.
- Purchase ingredients. Buy a bit more than you think necessary. There is nothing worse than having to run out to the store.
- Buy the best high-quality ingredients: real butter, not margarine; real vanilla, not vanilla flavor.
- Toast nuts to bring out their flavor. You can do this a day or so ahead of time. (Spread nuts on a cookie pan. Toast in 350˚F oven for 5–10 minutes, stirring once or twice to optimize even browning. Cool before using.)
- Gather equipment and place it in a tote bag. If you are going to someone else's house, you want to make sure you have everything that you need, including cookie pans, cooling racks, cookie tins, and all the essentials to make the job go quickly and efficiently.
Making the Christmas Cookies
- Start early in the day. Remember, you are combining several days of work into one day.
- Set out butter to soften and eggs to bring up to room temperature.
- Have your recipes handy.
- Rewrite the recipes. If you double a recipe, it's much easier to have it on paper right in front of you than to double the ingredients in your head during the cookie-baking frenzy.
- Cookies that take several steps to make (say baking, cooling, dipping in chocolate, cooling again) should be made first so that you have the time to complete all the steps.
- Arrange all the ingredients in some semblance of order so they can be quickly located.
- Set out cooling racks on a table, ready to use.
- Divide the work, so you don't get in one another's way.
More Tips for a Christmas Cookie "Factory"
- Clean up as you go. That way, you always have clean equipment and avoid a disorderly workspace.
- Play Christmas music to establish a celebratory mood.
- Always use a timer.
- Don't cry over burnt cookies. Throw them away. Standing around staring at them wastes time.
- Wear an apron.
- Don't cut corners by rushing steps. Creaming butter and sugar is best in a standing mixer. Let it go! Make sure the butter and sugar mixture is really creamy with no sugar crystals (do a taste test).
- Don't eat too many of the ingredients!
- If you find that you don't have the ingredients for a favorite type of cookie, forget about it and move on.
- Take a break for a healthy lunch and drink plenty of water for energy. Sit down while you eat. Take a load off your feet.
- Don't answer the phone. If you have to answer the phone, keep it short.
- If you are working together on some kind of shaped cookie, make sure all the cookies are the same size and thickness for optimum baking.
- If melted chocolate is involved, you can cool the cookies outside if it's not too cold.
- Wait until cookies are totally cooled off before placing in tins. Line cookie tins with wax paper.
- Keep tins in a cool place to maintain freshness.
© 2012 Dolores Monet