Thirty one years ago this week I was married to my college sweetheart. I was a very young woman with good culinary intentions and very little experience. I had barely made sauce once and made most of my dinners with some form of cream of something soup.
By the way, I’m not putting down cooking with cream soup. As a matter of fact, I have a few go-to recipes which call for it that are warm and fuzzy comfort food. Tuna noodle casserole is my favorite one of all.
Anyway, I come from a long line of cookie bakers having had two very accomplished grandmothers who could stare down 10 pounds of flour and see all of the possibilities.
My mother enlisted me and my sister as soon as we could belly up to the kitchen table to do the little chores which take time away from the mixing and baking. Had I known what a pastry sous chef was I would have included it on my resume.
One year, I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, my job was to crack the nuts. Mom gave me several bags of nuts along with a nutcracker and little metal pick which you use to remove the stubborn meat from the shell. The shells went onto newspaper which lined the table and the nut meat went into the designated bowl. One for me, one for the bowl until my mother had to rush me to the hospital in severe allergy anaphylactic shock. Oops…guess I am allergic to tree nuts! Bummer!
My mother’s cookie platters were beautiful, strategically set with cookies of all colors and shapes. I did not know then but realize now there was nothing haphazard about her baking as she planned with the precision of a military general. Over time I have created my own holiday traditions for my family. Baking cookies for Christmas remains my favorite and the one thing I do whether time is short or spirits low.
There is something about sharing my cookies with people I care about that makes me happy. I give away about 80 percent of the cookies I bake. I think people actually look forward to my gifts of cookies and candies. I have collected beautiful platters over the years which remind me very much of the ones my mother used.
Over the next few weeks I am going to share with you some specific strategies I use to make Christmas cookies. These have been learned over time, with trial and error. Many of you may already employ some or all of these and I hope that along with sharing recipes you can share your strategies, as well.
You may think I’m crazy to present you with this column two months before Christmas, but part of my success is using time to my advantage. This also can save you a great deal of money. You can certainly buy flour today to use later. Things like chocolate chips and coconut can be put in the freezer.
The first thing I do is make a list on my computer of all of the cookies I intend to bake. The rows are all of the ingredients. You may want to put things like flour, sugar, butter, etc. at the top as most recipes call for them.
Don’t forget to include any icing or toppings on the cookie in the ingredient list. The columns are the cookie recipes and the yield. One column may say “Sugar Cookies” on one line and 36 on the next. Here is a quick sample: Once you have decided what to make and listed all of the ingredients on the spreadsheet you can determine your shopping list based upon the totals. There are plenty of websites which do conversions to let you know how many pounds 8.25 cups of flour is.
Click here for a helpful site.
For those of you who have a recipe file filled with old and new favorites I am proposing a recipe swap. Think of your very best recipe (just one) and share it with me. I will summarize and e-mail all of the participants.
With the recipe (ingredient list, yield and description) please include where you got it and why it is your favorite. By sending this recipe we have your permission to print it.
The deadline for submission is: Tuesday, Nov.15
Please e-mail: BTF.TheFoodie@gmail.com and put Virtual Recipe Exchange in the subject.
If you are a new cook and want some great ideas, please send an e-mail to BTF.TheFoodie@gmail.com by Nov. 20 and I will send you the first annual http://www.BelowTheFalls.com Virtual Christmas Cookie Recipe Exchange.
Coming up next week: Tools of the cookie trade