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updated: 11/30/2010 12:15 PM

A spin on traditional cookies and what you need to make them

On Baking

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Gifting homemade cookies for the holiday season accomplishes two worthwhile goals. First, bakers save money by crafting culinary treats in their kitchens. Secondly, and equally as important, recipients enjoy unique presents that leave delicious memories long after holiday cookie tins ring empty.

This year I offer two interesting takes on the classic holiday cookie. Almond Clouds play upon the bold nutty notes of marzipan without monopolizing your precious kitchen time. Holiday Honey Trees branch out from the usual rolled cookie recipe by layering honey and spices into each bite.

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Before the flour flies at your cookie bake-a-thon this year, follow these helpful tips for stretching your baking budget while creating memorable cookies. As a bonus, you'll save valuable time this holiday season.

Plan ahead: Think realistically about preparation, decoration and packing time. Limit yourself to three different styles, such as cutouts, hand formed and scoop/drop cookies per weekend.

Pantry rules: Always replace baking soda, powder and yeast for holiday baking. It's cheap culinary insurance against dough that fails to rise. Last year's spices, unless heat damaged, can be utilized. Boost the spicy flavors by increasing the recipe amount by 25 percent.

Making a list: Review all recipes and check against ingredients on hand. Don't overlook cookie decorations, sanding sugars, food colors, cutters, platters, tins and packaging materials. Doubling or tripling recipes? Keep that in mind.

Bargain shopping: Look for good deals on butter, nuts and extracts. These ingredients top the list for price increases this year. Purchase the largest bags of sugar and flour. See an irresistible 2-for-1 spice sale? Share costs with a fellow baker.

Prep like a pro: Make all the cookie doughs at one time and chill or freeze until ready to use. For fast prep, set ingredients on a cookie sheet. Items can easily be found and moved if necessary. Also, set up work stations for rolling, decorating and cooling. Enlist helpers and assign specific tasks. Change it up to keep them interested.

Gadgets and supplies: Visit kitchen supply stores (GFS or Schweppe) for these professional must-have items:

Parchment paper prevents burned cookie bottoms and makes for fast pan turnover. Lift edge of parchment after baking and slowly slide pan away, resting cookies on parchment to cool on rack or table.

Scoops portion dough quickly and consistently. No more sticky fingers or uneven cookie shapes. My go-to favorites: 1- and 1-inch diameter scoops.

Noteworthy: Keep secret recipes under wraps, but include a complete ingredient list with all cookie packages.

This may be the year to pass on your family cookie recipes to the younger generation. Recipes offer ingredient suggestions; we provide the secrets behind the art of baking.

• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate lives in Villa Park. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.

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