A Baker’s Reward

I think holiday baking is a lot of fun. You have to follow the recipes, and pay attention to time in the oven to make your cookies don’t get burned, but even a failure means you can just start over without terrible consequences. In the meantime, it’s a great time to listen to your favorite holiday music. And baking requires enough attention that it inevitably takes your mind off of your “work work,” and you get to do fun stuff like rolling out cookie dough and cutting it into shapes and then decorating what comes out of the oven.

In a lot of ways, baking Christmas cookies is kind of like an updated kindergarten class for adults. To be sure, you’re working with cookie dough, not Playdoh, but you’re still cutting stuff out, using rudimentary tools, and adding color to things. The main difference is that, at some point in the process, you don’t have a teacher instructing you to roll out your towel onto the floor and take a nap with the rest of the class–although that’s not a bad idea, come to think of it.

But for me the best thing about holiday baking is the aftermath, after you’ve cleaned up the kitchen and boxed your cookies and sent them off. It’s when you start to hear from your family and friends who received the cookies, telling you how much they enjoyed the cookies or–even better–asking for the recipes of their favorites. Knowing that you helped to make someone’s holiday season a bit more tasty and festive and merry is a baker’s best reward.

Tin Time

I’ve distributed my cookies and fudge and am glad to see that I was on point in calculating volumes: the cookies and fudge are gone, the tins are filled, and there is nothing left over. I’ve tried to allocate cookies to have each tin feature a range of different colors, too.

Thus ends the 2021 holiday baking frenzy.—and it’s only December 8, which has to be a record!

Baking Day —2021 (II)

Tonight I powered through the last of the baking and cookie decorating. As always, it was fun.

Tomorrow morning it’s tin time. I’ll be glad to get the cookies and fudge out of the house and on their way, to remove the nibble temptation. For now, though, it’s time to kick back with a glass of wine and watch some TV while the icing hardens.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2021 (II)

The first step in holiday baking, for me, is taking stock of what I’ve got, figuring out what I need, and then preparing my shopping list to ensure that I’ve got all of your ingredients and don’t get caught short and need to make an emergency run to the store for a missing item. (Of course, that typically happens, anyway.) That means pulling out what’s in the cupboard, in terms of spices and other essentials, then going through my stack of recipes to determine which cookies I’l be baking this year, and then matching up what’s on hand with what’s needed as I assemble my shopping list. It takes some time, so I’ve decided to get an early start this Saturday morning and, I hope, beat the rush at our neighborhood grocer.

I always like to try baking some new cookies, and this year one of new efforts will be White Velvet Cookies, using a recipe suggested by Webnerhouse reader Betty. Thanks, Betty! It’s her grandmother’s recipe, and the cookies get Betty’s highest recommendation. You can find the recipe, in her grandmother’s excellent handwriting, at the link above, along with a photo of Betty’s grandma and the cookies, too.

As a general rule, handwritten recipes are good recipes. I’m an admitted exception to that rule, however: my handwriting is illegible to everyone except me, and sometimes even I can’t read it. Fortunately, Betty’s grandmother has excellent penmanship.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2021

Stay-At-Home Cookies

Normally I don’t do much baking after the holidays end, but if a pandemic isn’t a reason to depart from the norm, what is? We’ve taken our daily walk and want to be safe and respectful of social distancing and sheltering in place, and cookies seem like a good stay-at-home activity.

But what to bake? Unlike the holidays, I haven’t gone on a special shopping trip for unusual supplies — and an extended trip to the besieged grocery store for random baking supplies doesn’t seem wise under the circumstances. I’ve examined the cupboards with care, and figured I could make what we’ll call “Stay-At-Home cookies” in honor of our fight against the coronavirus.

Stay-At-Home Cookies

Ingredients: 1 1/4 cup margarine; 1 cup regular sugar; 1 cup brown sugar; 2 eggs; 1 tsp vanilla, 2 cups all-purpose flour; 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon; 1 tsp baking soda; 1 tsp salt; 3 cups uncooked oatmeal; 1 cup chopped nuts; 1/2 cup peanut butter

Combine margarine, sugar, and brown sugar and cream until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. Add in flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; beat until combined. Add in oatmeal, nuts and peanut butter and try to keep your spouse from eating the batter. Try some yourself and admit it is pretty tasty. Drop heaping spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment, then bake at 385 degrees for 12 minutes. Have some more of that tasty dough. Drink a beer or other adult beverage of your choice while baking; preferably while listening to ‘60’s music. Let cookies cool on baking sheet while you enjoy another beer and find yourself dancing to Woolly Bully.

How many cookies this generates depends on how much dough you consume during the batter/beer/Woolly Bully steps.

Tin Time

The cookies and fudge have been carefully — and more or less equally — distributed to their respective tins, in the last step in the holiday baking process. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I baked just the right amount to fill up our tins, without a lot of tempting cookies left over or an egregious shortfall.

This year we’ll be sending out 24 tins to friends, family, and colleagues– the most ever. And I can fairly say that, after the last few days, I will be perfectly content not to see a cookie for a while.

Baking Day — 2019

We’ve been baking all day and making good progress on this year’s batch of holiday cookies. So far we’ve baked the cranberry hootycreeks, the peanut butter and almond cookies, the Dutch spice cookies, the sugar cookie cutouts, and the lemon ricotta cookies. I’m having some fun experimenting with some new toppings– like maraschino cherries — and have managed to resist spoon-licking temptation (for the most part, anyway).

Tomorrow we’ll tackle this year’s new cookies, make some fudge and bar cookies, and try to show some decoration flair with icing the sugar cookies.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2019 (II)

The internet is a wonderful thing — at least, some of the time — but sometimes sifting through the mass of available information seems overwhelming.  Run a search for Christmas cookie recipes and you will get an avalanche of hits that leaves you no method, aside from random chance, to pick which website to review.  They all promise to offer favorite recipes that people will love.

That’s where the use of finer search terms become necessary.  I realized this when I happened across a website post that featured the best soft Christmas cookie recipes — just in case you’re baking for the toothless among us who must gum their holiday delicacies.  So this year I did a search for Christmas cookie recipes from the 1960s and ran across a treasure trove of options, including this gem, which is described on yellowed print as “Easy-to-make cookies for those who like a not-too-sweet dessert” that are “good keepers and shippers.”  I’m pretty sure Mom made these, by the way.

Swirl cookies

2017-11-18-holiday-pinwheel-cookies-coloradjusted-7Ingredients:  1 cup soft butter; 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 2 1/2 cups unsifted flour; 1/4 teaspoon salt; red and yellow food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until light.  Stir in flour and salt until well blended, then divide dough in half.

Color one half with 1/4 teaspoon of red food coloring and 7 drops of yellow food coloring.  Leave other half uncolored.  Chill the dough.

Press together one level teaspoon of each color.  Roll into a pencil shape, then form in a coil on the baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2019

Taking Stock And Getting Ready

The holiday baking season is rapidly approaching, which means its prep time.

Prep time involves taking stock of what’s in the cabinet and what I’ll need to get from the store before the baking begins in earnest.  After I check on that’s in the cupboard, and how much is really left in that bottle of vanilla or that container of nutmeg, I’ll prepare a comprehensive list and then make a big trip to the store.  Prep time also means checking on the continuing functionality and status of the KitchenAid mixer, the Cuisinart, the cookie sheets, the mixing bowls, and the other implements that are a key part of the baking process.  And where are we on cookie tins?

Since I like to try to make a few new recipes every year, the prep process also means checking out cooking and baking websites to look for some interesting new recipes.  I’ll be doing that over the next few days, too.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

Tin Time

Last night I finished baking and icing the sugar cookies, and this morning I got up extra early to put all of the cookies into their holiday tins for delivery. Then — and this is especially important, because baking and frosting cookies is of necessity a highly messy, creative process (for me at least) — I cleaned the kitchen and returned it to its pristine, pre-cookie frenzy state.

There’s a certain glow of satisfaction in finishing up, and I will enjoy a cup of coffee and some orange juice while I fill out my address labels. I’m ready for Christmas!

Baking Day — 2018

We’ve gotten an early start on Baking Day this year. The necessary ingredients were purchased yesterday, I’ve got my baking/chilling/mixing plan laid out, the Dutch spice cookie mix is ready to go into the refrigerator to chill, and the Christmas music playlist is in full swing on the iPod. (I ‘m listening to Burl Ives’ bouncy Holly Jolly Christmas as I write this.)

I always really enjoy this day. Baking cookies is just fun.

Summa Cake Laude

Some stories are just too silly and delectable to ignore.

Take the story of the South Carolina family that wanted to celebrate their son’s graduation, summa cum laude, from a Christian-oriented home schooling program.  They ordered a cake from the local outlet of a large national grocery store chain to celebrate the feat, and wanted a sheet cake decorated with a mortarboard and faux diploma and icing to recognize that accomplishment.

publix-cakejpg-8caef864034a07fbAlas!  When the cake was retrieved and viewed at the party, the large national chain had edited out the Latin word variously translated as “with,” “along with,” or “together,” because it also is modern slang for a notorious bodily fluid.  So the cake came out saying “Congrats Jacob!  Summa — Laude Class of 2018” — even though the Mom who ordered the cake explained that the requested phrase was Latin and meant “with highest honors.”  Poor Jacob is quoted as saying, no doubt ruefully:  “The cake experience was kind of frustrating and humiliating because I had to explain to my friends and family like what that meant. And they were giggling uncontrollably. At least my friends were.”

Can it really be that a major grocery story chain that regularly bakes congratulatory cakes doesn’t know what “cum laude” means?  Maybe we all need to get our minds out of the gutter and onto a higher plane of baking.