The Cookie Plate: Cookie Tips and Fails

Choice Christmas cookies of lovely variety

I know what you're thinking, and I'm thinking it to. Enough with the cookies. Well I successfully baked over 40 dozen this year. I managed really well. And wanted to throw down some of my notes for posterity.

A) Plan: It sounds obvious, but its the only thing that makes it happen for a busy person. You can freeze cookie dough for about a month. You can and should just start making Christmas cookies after Thanksgiving. Making the dough in advance also gives you greater focus when its time to shape and decorate cookies. Its a lot of work, so planning this step in advance makes everything else easier. I usually keep a written list of what I'm making, the amounts, and on what days of the month I think I should do the baking.

B) Ingredients: Buy all new flour, butter, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and butter. Flour can get stale, baking soda and powder lose their oomph, butter starts to taste like the freezer/fridge. Just do it.

I use about 10 lbs of flour, 8 lbs of sugar, 4.5lbs of butter. Related to point a, planning, I decide how many cookies I should bake (18 per person and 3-5 dozen for groups) in advance, decide how many kinds of cookies and what quantity I will make of each, and then add up the amount of ingredients I will need. I know down to the stick of butter what I'm using. Always have a few extra bars of butter just in case you need to chuck some cookie dough. This weight to volume website is really helpful for determining how many cups are in a 5 lb bag of something.

You may want to take stock on your molasses, cinnamon, vanilla extract and other baking ingredients just to be safe. Throw some waxed paper and freezer bags in there too. You will need them. If everything is in place then you can just wake up at 6 am and bake 4 dozen cookies before you go to work without worrying about running out of nutmeg or some dumb thing.

c) Own a Standing Mixer: Its expensive but you need it if you want to power bake. You can actually walk away from a standing mixer, which allows you to multitask. I made a ton of my cookie dough while I made and ate dinner. It saves a lot of time, and gives you the power to really whip your cookies together. Plus you can make pasta dough or stuff sausages with the attachments if that's your jam. I use a second hand Kitchen Aide. Check Craigslist.

d) Screw Brown Sugar: That's right! Forget it. Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses in it that gets rock hard in your cupboard. I don't care about the tricks for keeping it moist, or softening it. You don't need it. Just add molasses. How much? Usually a gob, which is maybe 1 1/2 teaspoons per 1 cup. A big gob if it calls for dark brown sugar.

e) Pre-shape and Freeze Cookie Dough: This was my most brilliant idea ever. This year I made the dough in advance, chilled it, and then shaped into bars/balls/logs or whatever. Then I froze the shaped dough on cookie sheets (otherwise they would clump together) and stored in freezer ziplock bags. When it was time to bake I just plunked frozen shaped dough on baking sheets. It was really fast. I didn't try it with cut out cookies. That doesn't seem like it would work to me.

f) Don't Eat all the Cookies Yourself: This is a legitimate problem for me. Not good. Very bad. I have tried defensive tactics to prevent myself from eating the cookies such as duct taping cookie bags closed. I have no shame. The best idea is to do bake a day or two in advance. Even though cookies are perfectly fine for about a week in the freezer they will probably get eaten before its time to hand them out. The other tactic is to allow myself a few. I set aside all the broken, half burned and wonky cookies for myself.

Here are a handful of such misfit cookies, and a few reasons they went wrong.

Star cookie burns on the edges. Its not my fault, it's the cutter I swear. Those thin points are out there on there own uninsulated from heat. I found no way to prevent this, and have stopped using this cutter. Too bad. Its nice.

Smooshed sesame cookie. I put the pot holder over the edge of the cookie sheet and right on top of this guy while rotating sheets in the oven. Otherwise very tasty.

I made these fab fig bars this season. Instead of throwing away trimmings I decided to re-roll them. The filling became part of the bar crust. More fig taste, but ugly. Anyways I sent these to the hungry people I know who wouldn't judge a cookie by its gross color.

It's really hard to make the figs bars square. More trimming means more waste. I eventually started shoving the scraps together to make this scrap cookie. Again, ugly but no less delicious for me.

The Pistachio-Apricot Shortbread Icebox Cookies were really good. Perhaps the best cookie I made? The log of dough I cut the cookies from was a little less than perfect and provided me with more misshaped cookies to snack on.

I also had trouble with the hyper sweet apricots burning (over-browned in better cases) on the bottom of the cookies. After experimenting with cookie thickness and cookie sheet color and quality I determined that the dried apricots have much more sugar than the cookie dough. Can't stop the burn. Again no one but me seemed to notice. The cookies won many praises.

There you have it! More cookie knowledge. The more you bake the more you know. Happy New Year reader. Thanks for making it this far! It was great year. I promise more savory delights in 2012.

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