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posted: 12/22/2013 8:11 AM

Cook of the Week: Baker rolls through the holidays with thousands of cookies

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  • The kitchen of Laverne Hall's Elk Grove Village home overflows with cookies this time of year. She creates lavish cookie trays to give to family and friends.

       The kitchen of Laverne Hall's Elk Grove Village home overflows with cookies this time of year. She creates lavish cookie trays to give to family and friends.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Laverne Hall is happiest in her kitchen, especially when she's mixing up batter and decorating holiday cookies.

       Laverne Hall is happiest in her kitchen, especially when she's mixing up batter and decorating holiday cookies.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 

By Sally Eyre

Daily Herald Correspondent

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Twenty-five varieties times 200, or 40 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of sugar and 18 pounds of butter -- anyway you do the math -- that's a boatload of cookies! For Laverne Hall of Elk Grove Village that's just how she enjoys rolling out the holiday season.

It all started when she was a little girl with three siblings.

"My mother would always bake cookies at Christmas. We grew up to be dough-eaters; we would eat the dough as fast as it came out of the cookie spritzer!" she laughs. "After I got married and I started baking on my own, my son would sit next to the mixer. He was in charge of dumping and quality control." (He is a dough-eater, too.)

Through the years Laverne made several of her family's favorite cookies for the holidays and began to collect new recipes.

"Now I'm up to about 25 varieties -- my friends howl and laugh -- because I'm totally out of control!"

But Laverne does have a method to her madness. The process actually begins in September when Laverne tests out new recipes.

"I look for recipes everywhere. I am one of those people who will tear out the recipes in the doctor's magazines. Whenever I look at a recipe I'm always asking, 'how can I change it?'"

Laverne then enlists friends and neighbors to act as tasters to determine if a particular recipe will make the list. To pass muster, the cookie has to both look and taste good. In September, she also begins to squirrel away her supplies, so that by the time Thanksgiving arrives it all won't be a shock to her budget.

Then, there are the Christmas Cookie Rules. To begin with, Laverne's cookies are small. Laverne decided she was done with Martha Stewart when she heard Martha calling bakers who made small cookies "stingy."

"My philosophy is that five different cookies are better than one giant cookie. What if you don't like the big cookie?"

Next, the official cookie baking begins no sooner than the Friday after Thanksgiving. Third, just three cookies can be eaten on the day they are baked and then the rest are packed away until the reveal of all the cookies around December 20.

Once the baking stops Laverne assembles beautiful trays of exquisitely decorated cookies to give to family and friends. There are intricate gingerbread people, carmelitas, chocolate-dipped corduroys and sugar cutouts decorated with sprinkles in every color and shape you can imagine.

"I reach a point when I need to stop!" Laverne says. "You can only get so much butter and powdered sugar in your head!" By New Year's, every trace of the 3,000-plus cookies are gone.

This year has been a particular challenge because Laverne is recovering from knee surgery. She has had to use a cane or a rolling chair to navigate the kitchen. Her son has been there to help get the cookies in and out of the oven. His fee? Cookie dough, of course.

Laverne also enjoys the savory side of the kitchen, but admits she's less creative in those endeavors.

"I'm a basic cook, a meat and potatoes and vegetables kind of cook. I'm not one to experiment a lot -- I don't do anything crazy like using basil! But I consider myself a good cook and people seem to like my cooking."

For Laverne baking is what she loves best.

"My outlet has always been baking. At the first sign of trouble out comes the flour! There are some phenomenal bakers who aren't good cookie bakers. This is what I do -- it's my gift to people -- I bake."

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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