Sunday, November 17, 2013

Marathon Holiday Cookie Baking

I freely admit that I have a baking problem. I love trying new recipes. I love the planning process and shopping for ingredients. It's an obsession. However, one can't just go baking eight varieties of cookies on a weekly basis. I think even my husband's co-workers would be cookied-out eventually. This is why I love Christmas.

I didn't double any recipes for this post so ordinarily there are two more varieties and double the quantity.

Not only are copious cookies fun to make, it streamlines my holiday season quite a lot. While this might seem like a lot of cookies, by the end of season, I always feel like I could have made a few more. Between holiday get-togethers at our house, potlucks at work and church and casual gift-giving, I’ve found that picking a theme and sticking with it makes the holidays a lot easier than when I've tried to shop for neighbors, co-workers and church friends in addition to making a new dish for every social event. So I just bake a ton of cookies and use them for everything. Especially since after eight years of marathon holiday cookie baking, I’ve learned a few tricks.


1. Pick your recipes carefully with a mix of both easy and more interesting choices.

Whether you have a collection of family recipes or you just collect cookie recipes during the year on a Pinterest board like this one, decide up front which recipes you want to use. Since some cookies have multiple steps and can even take multiple days of preparation (like macarons), this will help you plan not only your shopping list, but also help out when it’s time to start baking. Over the years I have amassed a collection of must-make cookies and I always add two more varieties so I can try out something new or include a trendy flavor combination. Consider texture, shape and color in addition to flavor or you might end up with an entire plate full of round, beige cookies.


2. Buy ingredients when they’re on sale.

My grocery store runs three-month long promotions so what’s on sale during Thanksgiving is still on sale in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but if your grocery store has the more common weekly sales, consider picking up your baking ingredients during your Thanksgiving shopping. Flour, sugar, butter, vanilla and other basics might be up to 50% off during a sale. Preparing a list early will also give you time to find more exotic ingredients like black cocoa powder or unusual extracts you might need.


3. Clean the kitchen top to bottom and clear a large space.

Know that you’re probably going to use every bowl, measuring cup, measuring spoon and appliance in your kitchen. It’s much easier to get started if they’re all clean to start with and you have an empty sink. You also need a large space to put the finished cookies and to have space for decorating, if that’s your thing. If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen island or kitchen table, that might do the trick, but I put a vinyl tablecloth on the dining room table and use that since it’s a great space to spread out.


4. Consider having a mixing day and a baking day.

My plan usually involves upwards of 48 dozen cookies, which can make for a pretty exhausting day if I try to do it all at once since the whole process takes about eight hours. A lot of cookie dough requires refrigeration prior to baking so being able to just stash everything in the fridge overnight makes it all more of a no-brainer instead of trying to time chilling timing along with baking time. The only exception I make is for meringues, which are great for using up leftover egg whites, but need to baked right away. It also helps with dishes since the bowls and measuring cups are dirty on a different day from cookie trays, cookie cutters and rolling pins and mats.


5. Storing treats

It you do one marathon baking session at the beginning of the holiday season, you'll need to store cookies for whatever comes up. Luckily, most cookies freeze well. The best method is to cool completely, then put all the varieties separately in heavy-duty freezer bags. When you need to access your stash, just pull out the number of cookies you need and let them come to room temperature on the counter, uncovered on a wire rack, for a couple of hours prior to packaging. Don't use a plate or put plastic wrap over them or they might defrost soggy.


6. Package your treats.

Whether you're planning on giving cookies as gifts or bringing them to a party, the traditional cookie tray is almost never the best way to go. With strong flavors like gingerbread and peppermint, even one day under plastic makes all the cookies taste the same. I like to wrap individual types in plastic wrap first whether I intend to decorate them further or not. Check out my guest post on Persia Lou this week for how I made the cookie packets above or take a look at this post from last year on cookie exchange gift packaging.


Do you do any holiday baking? Have you picked up and tips or tricks over the years? Add yours in the comments below!
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