Hassle-Free Holiday Baking: 6 Easy Days to Perfect Christmas Cookies
Like many people, I love the idea of making a large assortment of Christmas cookies during the holidays, but I find it difficult to find the time to get it done. As a working mother, cookbook author and webmaster of Christmas-Cookies.com ( http://www.christmas-cookies.com ), I am a very busy woman, but baking Christmas cookies every year is a must. Over the past few years, out of frustration and necessity, I have developed a system for organizing my Christmas baking. This system allows me to make a large variety of holiday treats without taking too much time out of my busy schedule. By dividing the tasks up into 6 days, I can spend a couple hours each day getting this done, and on the 7th day, relax and enjoy giving and eating some delicious Christmas cookies. After all, God rested on the 7th day! You don't even have to do this on 6 consecutive days. Most of the steps can be done days and even weeks in advance, giving you a great head start on your holidays.
Search your books, recipe cards, and favorite Web sites and decide what recipes to make this year. I usually mix my traditional family recipes with a few new recipes for variety. 6 to 12 different recipes makes a nice assortment, depending on how many people you have to feed and how much time you have to spend baking. Write down the name of each recipe on a piece of paper, as well as the source of the recipe so that you can look it up later, such as the Web site URL or page number in a cookbook. Print out the recipes that you find online, and set aside the books or recipe cards you'll need so that you can access them easily on Day 2. Things you may want to consider when making your selection are:
-difficulty of the recipe if you are a novice cook or will be baking with children,
-cost of special ingredients such as chocolate or nuts, if you are on a budget,
-whether the cookies keep well or can they be frozen, if you'd like to do your baking ahead of time.
Consulting your list of recipes, create your shopping list. Calculate roughly how much of each ingredient you'll need in total by adding up cups of butter, number of eggs, and other common ingredients. Include in your list:
-All of the ingredients for the cookies. Check what you have at home for freshness. Nuts and shortening will go rancid after a few months, and baking powder and baking soda lose their effectiveness, so keep this in mind: out with the old, in with the new! Fresh ingredients are the key to good tasting cookies.
-Any baking tools you may need. Consider replacing old worn out tools or adding a new tool to your collection each year.
-Anything you may need for decorating such as food coloring, colored sugars and jimmies, or pastry bags for piping frosting.
-Containers like plastic tubs, cookie tins, or even cardboard boxes to store your cookies in. Make sure you have containers that are large enough to hold a complete batch of each cookie (look at the yield of your recipe if you're not sure). If you plan to parcel them out for gift-giving, make sure you have enough containers for each recipient.
-Organize your shopping list according to store, such as: grocery store, kitchen or home store, cake decorating supply store, etc.
Go shopping! Lay out your plan of action so that you go to the grocery store last of all, so that you can take your refrigerated ingredients home as soon as possible. Of course, if you live in a very cold climate, this is not too much of a worry. When you get home, wash your new baking tools and put all the non-perishable ingredients in one place so that you can easily get them out on Day 4. At my house, I have a designated baking cupboard that gives me easy access to everything I need on days I decide to bake. You can do Day 3 weeks before you plan to bake as long as you:
-Freeze your butter or shortening, and
-buy the perishables such as eggs and cream cheese just before you plan to bake.
Today you will just make the dough for your cookies, but you will not actually bake them! Most cookie doughs can safely be refrigerated for days or frozen for weeks before you need to make the cookies. The reason for doing it this way is because when making several different kinds of cookies at the same time, it's very efficient to make all your dough at once while you have all your ingredients and baking tools at hand. If you do have a particular recipe that can't be frozen, identify it and plan to make it on Day 5.
Remember to bring refrigerated items like butter, eggs, and cream cheese to room temperature before you start to assemble your recipes. Take them out of the refrigerator at least a couple hours before you plan to bake.
To make this process even easier, I've developed a system for making dough assembly-line style, which you can read more about in my article about the Cookie Assembly Line ( http://www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com/assembly.php ). Wrap each ball of dough in plastic wrap, identify it by writing the name of the recipe on the plastic wrap with a felt-tip marker, and refrigerate it or freeze it. If it is a slice-and-bake refrigerator cookie, form it into a log instead of a ball, according to the directions in your recipe. Make sure to keep your recipes in a handy place so that you don't have to search for them on Day 5.
Today is baking day! Check your recipe: if you have to work with dough at room temperature (as recommended for most cookie press cookies) then take your dough out ahead of time and let it warm up to room temperature before you begin forming the cookies. If you have frozen your dough, allow it to thaw in the plastic wrap and only remove the plastic wrap once it has reached the desired temperature. If you remove the plastic while it is still frozen, then condensation will form on the dough and that will add too much moisture.
Start with the recipes that call for the lowest oven temperature and pre-heat your oven to that temperature. Remove dough from the refrigerator, line your baking sheets with parchment paper (no greasing!) and prepare the dough for baking as called for in your recipe. You may have to roll out the dough and cut it with cookie cutters, or fill it with some kind of filling, or place it in a special pan like a mini-muffin pan or a Madeleine mold, or simply slice and bake the rolls you made on Day 4. Once all the cookies that are baked at the lowest temperature are completed, raise your oven temperature to the next highest to bake those cookies, and so on.
Even if you have some of the handy stackable cooling racks, you will surely run out of space to cool several batches of cookies. Placing a double-thickness of aluminum foil on your countertop is a good substitute for a cooling rack when you run out of space. Once your cookies are completely cooled to room temperature, line your containers with waxed paper and place your cookies in the containers one layer at a time, with another sheet of waxed paper in between each layer. Then return the containers to the refrigerator if they will not be eaten for a day or two, or you can leave them out at room temperature until the next day. If they won't be eaten or shipped for several days, you can wrap the entire container in plastic wrap and freeze your cookies for up to 2 weeks. You can freeze them for longer than this if you wrap the cookies in small stacks of 5 or 6 before placing them in their containers. Defrost the cookies at room temperature, leaving them wrapped until they are thoroughly defrosted.
Many of your recipes may be completed at this point if they don't require decorating.
Day 6 is decorating day. For many of us, this is the most enjoyable step in the cookie-baking process. Decorating should always be done no more than 2 days before the cookies will be eaten, ideally the day or even the morning before. Now you will make your various frostings and icings, or prepare your melted chocolate for drizzling, or dust with powdered sugar to decorate your cookies as directed. If your cookies are not to be eaten immediately, make sure that the icing or melted chocolate has thoroughly set and hardened-a process that may take several hours-before stacking the cookies back in their containers, again separating the layers with sheets of waxed paper. Cookies that have been frosted with a buttercream-type frosting cannot be stacked. They should be stored in a single layer with a loose covering of plastic wrap.
Relax and enjoy your holiday, because your Christmas baking is done!
Copyright 2004 Mimi Cummins. All Rights Reserved.
Mimi Cummins is co-author of the book "Christmas Cookies Are for Giving: Recipes, Stories, and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts." This book, "enthusiastically recommended" by Midwest Book Review, is full of baking tips and hints, including nearly 50 recipes each with a full-color photo. For more information visit http://www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com/ or order from your favorite online bookstore.
RELATED ARTICLESAdvantages of Online Greeting Cards Over Paper Cards - Part I
After some recent reports it seems that 90% of all people buy many greeting cards. Only the American people buy 7 billion greeting cards every year.
Losing Weight During The Holiday Season--Can It Be Done?
Thirteen years ago I became quite intrigued with theidea of LOSING WEIGHT DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON. Evenknowing the chances of finding success with this ideawas highly slim I was nevertheless still intrigued.
Wolves, Goats, Martyrs and War: a History of Valentines Day
Valentines Day is one of the most enigmatic of holidays, having appeared in many forms. But all "Valentine's Days" have drawn suspicion.
Valentines Day is NOT only for Lovers
Some people hate to see Valentines Day come around. Some have ended relationships and feel lonely while others have not yet met that someone special.
Holiday Tips & Treats That Wont Play Tricks On Your Waistline
Halloween - so starts the Holiday Season. The average American gains 7-12 pounds between Halloween and New Year's .
Outside the Box Gingerbread Houses
Beyond trees and wreaths, there are few symbols of the holidays so well venerated as the gingerbread house. Throughout the country, gingerbread house displays and contests attract everyone from culinary architects to kids who love to savor the decorations.
Camping And The Right Kind Of Tent
Campers all over the globe prefer to use tents in their camping trips. With so many different kinds of tents available in the market, it becomes very difficult to choose the type of tent which is suitable for your needs.
FIREWORKS--OR, OOH, AAH, How Do They Do That?
One of my earliest memories involves a Fourth of July spent at Annandale, Minnesota, sitting on a hill and watching fireworks. Our family had a cabin on Cedar Lake, a mile and a half away, and we had come to the display with a recently emptied ice cream tub filled with popcorn and a thermos of raspberry Kool-Aid.
The Gift of Failure
During this Thanksgiving holiday, we are reminded to reflect on the bounty in our lives. Most of us have jobs, family, a place we call home and food on the table, and for these things and our ability to obtain them we should be grateful.
Youre How Old?!?
"Well, Happy Birthday! How old are you anyway?""Oh, I'm just 29 ? again."It's a harmless game, denying our age, right? We play sensitive about our age as we get older, as we get further away from birth and closer to death.
St. Patricks Day Quotations
"It's not that the Irish are cynical. It's rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.
Online UK Florist Saves the Day
Here it is Thursday afternoon, and Evelyn sees no break in her hectic schedule for the weekend. She has a presentation due on Monday morning and a meeting on Saturday most of the day with her team.
Home For The Holidays: Happy Times, Right
This time of the year is supposed to be happy. A time when family is warm and welcoming.
Nine Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Head To The Office Party
One thing you can count on during the holiday season is the obligatory office party. No matter what the size of the organization, there is always an effort to bring coworkers together for one more moment of merriment.
Birthday Gift Baskets - The Ideal Gift For Everyone!
No matter how old we are, we enjoy being remembered on that special day of the year that celebrates the day we were born! Birthdays are a time to recognize special people in our lives with joyous celebration. It is a time-honored tradition to pay tribute the birthday gal or guy with a mouth-watering cake decorated with sugar-laden frosting sculptures and a candle representing every year of their life on earth! We bestow on them gifts and cards filled with birthday verses and best wishes for many more birthdays to come.
How Santa Makes Out His Christmas List
How Does Santa Make Out His List?I'll let you in on a secret: I know Santa Claus. And I received a letter from him with his Christmas list.
Ten Tips for a Real Holiday Season
Holidays and the start of a new year inevitably make us think about how we can improve ourselves, and have the life we want in the future. We make resolutions - I must lose weight, I will save more money - and then lose our way.
Christmas Holidays: 5 Ways To Make This Holiday Your Best Ever
For many people the end of a year is a time of increased stress.Instead of relaxing and unwinding from a busy year, the pressures of buyinggifts, travelling or spending time with long lost relatives makes it adifficult time.
Whatever Happened to Christmas?
Remember when no one started Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving?Wisconsin author LeAnn R. Ralph remembers it very well.
Tips For Singles on Surviving (And Enjoying) The Holidays
Here you are, facing the holiday season alone. Have you been thinking about?*how alone and lonely you feel*excuses you can give family members as to why you can't come this year*what friends may be available to spend those long days with*how another year has passed and you are (still) single*how unfair it is that everyone else seems so happy and connected*how you will handle the office holiday party- single, take a friend, not attend*going to a far away (tropical?) place to escape it all*hiding out, alone, in your own homeIf these thoughts sound familiar it is probably time to reflect on your feelings regarding this holiday season.