I’ve just finished phase one of the annual Cookie War 2009 on the edge. I want to share my divide and conquer strategies for surviving the surge and making several batches without going stark raving mad.
1. Pick the cookie menu-granted that isn’t rocket science. You will have family or your favorites, to nut or not, to roll, cut and ice or just squeeze from a spritz. The key is to have a balance of color, textures, and flavors. Don’t do all white, vanilla flavored; powder sugar coated balls even if they are flavored with different nuts. My go to book is Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum. She has a good take on any type of cookie you need. I like to pick the cookies early in December and mull over the variety and execution. Our family’s favorites are peanut butter thumb prints filled with jam and candy canes. A few years ago, when Gourmet was alive…they did a cookie issue. I found a recipe for a cocoa/bittersweet chocolate cookie. Dense, intense, and outrageous, a new must eat. When I was a little girl growing up in Iowa my mom made spritz cookies. They were an easily decorated white cookie. This year they have been omitted for an orange/cointreau flavored roll out that will be tripped up with royal icing. Another cookie that has been replaced is the ginger thin from the Joy of Cooking. Heidi Swanson offered a recipe for a triple ginger cookie that rocked my socks. I omitted the star anise (can’t stand it). Replaced the crystallized ginger with ginger preserves and a jack more flour. If you are into a SPICE cookie these will burst your buds! (RECIPES UPON REQUEST)
2. Make sure you have ALL of the ingredients! Double check the extract shelf, top off the spices, and buy butter, butter, butter (it freezes). Do you need chain saw to break the brown sugar? Deal with it early so it’s ready. Just because you have a jar of food coloring doesn’t mean it weathered the year.
3. The Day of Dough- I break up my cookie manufacturing into at least two days. Day one is the doughage, day two or in increments is the baking. I happen to have a ludicrously large kitchen and can use one of the counters for assembling ingredients and another counter for doughage. If you have limited space I still would suggest assembling all of the raw ingredients in one area. The kitchen table? Or a tray on the stove top (which you will not be using.) You get the picture. I mean everything. Remember Julia Child used to put a tray in front of her before she started cooking w/everything on it that she needed for the dish. Trust me this is key. Also gather your spoons, spatulas, measuring utensils, next to your mixer.
4. Recipes organized from white to dark cookie variety start the dough dance. Why? Because you are not going to fumigate in between each dough. Starting light means there won’t be color cross contamination. I started with the roll outs, then candy cane, peanut butter, ginger, and chocolate. After each cookie I smashed (formed) the dough into a disk and wrapped it in saran wrap. I rinse the utensils and bowls after each use but don’t use the full soap deal until I am completely done with the dough’s then the whole mess of utensils goes in the dishwasher (or bubbly soapy sink) to remove the sugar/flour/butter coating.
5. DON’T FORGET TO LABEL THE DOUGHS!!!! In a few days your eggnog induced memory will become fuzzy and the only way to remember what do is what will be to taste a nugget (not such a bad idea but it eats-bad pun-into the stash to give.
6. I’m exhausted and my kitchen is a mess. But the dough’s are done and ready for the oven.
7. When ready to bake. Pick a generic temperature or if one of your cookies takes an extreme temperature do the low one first or high temperature last. Otherwise its 350° all the way. Have at least 2 cookie sheets that are the same and use a baking sheet or if you’re old fashioned like me parchment paper. Don’t do the old butter the pan unless you want to scrub your fingers to a nub in-between each dough. Life’s too short.
8. Follow the white to dark order again. Saves on parchment paper.
9. Make sure you set up a designated cookie cooking area and have adequate cooling racks. A few years ago I bought from King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com) a really neat cooling rack that lays flat but pops up to hold 4 trays at once. Granted it isn’t a must have for every cook but the once a year that I need it is a trés fabu tool. Also think ahead to container for the millions of little sugary treats you have created.
10. Plod through the baking process As soon as they are cooled pop the cooks into labeled containers otherwise the elves in the house will arrive and start eating the stash with abandon. Ideally if you have a cavernous freezer, use it. Otherwise I’m partial to the garage or basement. Somewhere that makes you think before you munch and cooler than the main living area.
11. Decorating. If these are ice jobs or to be decorated après baking gather a gaggle of gals, your piping bags (don’t be lured into the RR plastic bag routine~ you’ll be sorry I’ll know if your naughty or nice) sprinkles, icing dyes and go to town. Now you can sit down and depending on the day and volume lean toward coffee or cocktails. Go wild.
So what do you do with a mountain of cookies? Aside from gorging yourself and sending the family into sugar shock I find them a wonderful economical (ooh I hate the word cheap!) seasonal gift. They are a present of love and celebration.