Originally posted 12/19/2010
Of all the things that I do at Christmas, my favorite is baking cookies. I love the joy it brings my family and friends and use them as a personal gift to my colleagues. I have tried many things over 32 years and have developed these secrets. That it saves me time is the icing on the cookie!
Plan with the end in mind. Why are you baking? Is it to have cookies to share at home with your family and friends? Do you need to package them and travel? Do you want to do this as a family project? Do you want to bake and share (this is what I do)? Whatever your reasons, determine them now because it will determine the kinds of cookies you should make.
Picture your cookie tray. When you decide what kind of cookies you want to bake think about color and shape. While I love chocolate, try to bake cookies that have a variety of color.
Less really is more! Decide what to bake. There were years when I would bake 15-20 different kinds of cookies. Was I nuts? Perhaps, but I was also not employed outside the home at that time. I have a Christmas cookbook from the year I was married. I continue to use recipes from there along with those I have clipped or downloaded throughout the years. Since I went back to work fulltime, I ask my family to identify their top three cookies from my repertoire. I do not include cut-out cookies in their list because that is a family favorite and is the only cookie I do not share. This year I am making 8 kinds.
Plan twice, shop once. I get laughed at all of the time when I go to the store with my list but not having to go back to the store to buy a key ingredient allows me to have the last laugh. I make a spreadsheet which has all of the ingredients on each row. The columns are for each cookie and the totals determine how many pounds of flour, bags of chocolate chips or containers of colored sugar I need. When I say I list everything, I mean everything including the storage container. I take an inventory of containers prior to shopping and fill in as needed. I love the new plastic containers which won’t break my heart if not returned. When else do you even think about Cream of Tartar except at Christmas?
Mix all cookie dough and refrigerate before baking. If you are making any bar cookies, mix and bake those while you are mixing all other cookie dough. I cover each bowl with Press and Seal Wrap so that I can write the kind of cookie on each bowl. I do not use my mixer again until I make frosting. This saves a tremendous amount of time. Even if you do not have the entire day to bake, bake one type of cookie before you go to work.
Choose a size and stick with it. Early in my cookie baking career I decided to make all my cookies the same size. This makes packing easier and presentation prettier. I used a melon ball gadget until it snapped on the rock solid chilled dough. Plan B! I bought a small sized heavy duty cookie scoop at a gourmet store. It is a great investment and I highly recommend making that purchase. Making your cookies small gives you more bang for your buck, especially if you give many away.
Invest in 4 heavy cooking sheets. I purchased half sheet pans from a restaurant supply store. They were “marked” meaning they had a few scratches. I figured that I would scratch them as soon as I used them so saving about 50% seemed like a good plan.
Use parchment paper. Before my cookie baking marathon, I measure a whole roll of paper, cutting and folding it so it fits the sheets. I put them between several pans to keep them flat. I change the sheets as needed but you can bake more than one batch on them. This assures your cookies will not stick to the pan as well as allows you to reuse pans without washing them during the baking process.
Buy about 6 inexpensive cooling racks. I cover my table with foil then line the racks on top. I cool sheets on top of my stove for a few minutes before moving the cookies to the table racks.
I bake two sheets at a time. Have one rack on the low setting and one just above. Set one timer for the entire baking time and the other for half way. At the half way mark, switch racks and bake for the remaining time.
Bake cookies that need to be frosted last. This way, as you bake you can store the cookies and get them out of your kitchen. Living up north gives us an advantage because we call our garage our outdoor fridge!
Over the next few weeks I will post my favorite recipes.
Have a yummy day!