COOKING: How I manage my holiday cookie baking extravaganza
People in my network (professional and personal) always look forward to my Christmas cookies. I have to admit, I do too. It is not that I am a glutton for punishment, but that I truly love baking. Seeing all the different kinds of cookies I can manage, baked to golden perfection and put into pretty tins for gift-giving makes me really feel I have accomplished something special, and I am sharing something special for the season. After all, that is what Christmas is all about. It gives me an excuse to stop by the neighbors during the cold when we barely see each other. It gives me a way to thank the mailman, the cleaning lady, the sitter, the teachers in the school lounge, and my clients at work. It is a very personal thank you that people really appreciate. I include a designed cookie "cheat sheet" with each tin or plate, using one of my clip art styles I have developed as an art director. This adds a special touch to the cookies and also alerts people to an ingredient they love or might be allergic to.
So why am I bringing up Christmas baking in August? Because it is almost time to start again. I am sure you are surprised. But the secret to baking 9-11 different kinds of cookies for Christmas gifts is to start in September. I make a plan the end of August, make a list of my cookies, and a rough grocery list that I keep on the fridge. Every weekend I try and make 2 batches to freeze. Cookie dough lasts 3 months in the freezer, perfect timing for Christmas. Also, many slice and bake cookies work better when slightly frozen. Some cookies I even pre-shape and then freeze in one layer on wax paper, then after 24 hours, peel them off, wrap in saran, then pop in a freezer ziploc and label the bag. I then put them back in the freezer. If it is a rolled "slice and bake", I make the cookie right up to the "roll part", wrap the log or rectangle in saran, then in tinfoil, label and freeze. SO come December, our downstairs freezer is full of labeled cookie dough.
What I do then is choose two days in December, usually the Monday and Tuesday one week before Christmas, and I take them off as vacation days. Traditionally, I take Sunday and Monday and bake traditional Italian cookies with my Mother and sister. This does not have anything to do with my cookies in the freezer, because as my mother points out with slight aloofness, "They are American." But Tuesday is the day for MY cookies. The night before I pull out the drop cookies and let them defrost in the fridge overnight. The others I pull out as I go and bake them off all day. My Breville convection oven (see previous post) as well as my main oven are cranking. And as I pull them out, I let them cool on the dining room table. By evening, I have 9-11 batches (some batches I double) waiting to be put into tins and plates for gift giving the next day. I box the rest and use them through the week for parties and other gift needs that come up. By Christmas, whatever is not used, I wrap in saran and freeze. Cookies, once baked, have been still delicious defrosted in the summer if wrapped well enough. And thats how I do it. Preplanning, prework, a second freezer, lots of saran wrap, discount plates and tins from JoAnn Fabrics and a day off in December and you have a holiday baking extravaganza.
Some other suggestions I have is buying butter when on sale and freezing so you save money and have it on hand when you need it for baking. Also, have a rough list of who you plan on giving the cookies to, so you know how many plates and tins to buy when they go on sale. Your recipient list can also help you gauge if you need to double certain batches. I have some "Lime Cremes" that make a very small batch but are delicious. SO I always double that one, as well as some "Nutella Drops".