I woke up early this morning to tackle the second day of my 2016 Baking Weekend. With careful management of my two ovens, I was able to finish everything except icing my sugar cookies — which I am going to save for later this afternoon. Right now, I need a break from the flour dust.
The holiday baking is done, the cookies have been iced, and the tins and boxes have been filled. Whew! This weekend has been more like a workend!
Today is the first of back-to-back baking days, so I can get my cookies baked and sent to friends and family far and near before Christmas comes. We’ve made good progress, and I must admit that the new KitchenAid stand-up mixer is a . . . freaking godsend! With the ability to run the mixer while I’m attending to other baking tasks, as opposed to having to stand over the bowl using the hand mixer until my shoulder cramps, I feel like I have a doppelganger helping me in the kitchen. How did I ever function without it?
Lately, when I go into our kitchen, I am drawn to the shiny, aluminum-clad appliance in the far corner, next to the outside wall. I look at it, and think about possibilities. Happy, hopeful, heated, holiday possibilities.
It’s the double oven, of course.
A double oven may not be a big deal for those who’ve always had one, but I’m not in that category. I’ve only had a single oven, which has been . . . sufficient. There aren’t many times when you really need two ovens. But the holiday season is one of those times. And now, with Thanksgiving only two days away and the Christmas cookie season right behind it, I think of what I might be able to accomplish with deft use of the double oven.
For Thanksgiving, the benefits of a double oven are obvious. The turkey can be cooking away in one oven, perhaps with one or two other dishes, and the other oven can be used for warming pies, candied yams, rolls, a green bean casserole, and on and on. No more desperate attempts at oven space management, trying to jam every course into the nooks and crannies around the turkey in a doomed bid to get everything hot and ready to serve at the same time. In short, the double oven affords the luxury of ample space.
For Christmas cookie baking, the potential benefits are different. The double oven should allow me to maximize efficiency and eliminate the down times, when I’ve got a sheet of cookies ready to bake but I’m waiting for those in the oven to finish. I look at the shiny aluminum facing and I think of Dutch spice cookies turning a rich golden brown in the top oven as I’m loading a tray of Cranberry hootycreeks into the bottom unit. An efficiency expert would undoubtedly be able to calculate how much time I might save by deft use of the double oven options. It will require careful planning and sequencing, of course, but I’m eager to tackle the challenge.
And now I wonder — do I have enough counter space for all of these cookies?
Nothing kick-starts a weekend quite like going to Williams-Sonoma to be awed by the abundance of shiny cooking and baking devices, appliances, utensils, supplies, and assorted food-related bric-a-brac.
We desperately need new cooking supplies, so this is definitely the place to come . . . but it IS pretty overwhelming.
Imagine my dismay when my mother told me that she had not eaten any of the platter of Christmas cookies I baked for her this year. Apparently they were distributed to staff and friends at Mom’s place, and Mom didn’t get a crumb.
That’s just not right, so today I set about to remedy the situation by baking some of Mom’s favorites — sugar cookies with icing. And, while I was at it, I figured I may as well bake some cookies for Richard and Russell, too. After all, Richard will soon be starting an internship in Pittsburgh, and Russell begins the new semester at Cranbrook tomorrow. They could use some sustenance, too. For them, I added some heartier, oatmeal and mincemeat fare for the cold Midwestern winter.
After two days of marathon baking, my work is done. I’ve listened to countless Christmas songs, worked my way through several bags of flour and sugar, and filled many plates and cookie racks. As is always the case, some of the efforts worked out better than others, but I’ve tried some new recipes and I’ve been happy with the results. Whether the recipients of my baking agree has yet to be determined, of course
This year I’m sending my cookies off to a few more people. They’ll be heading to Mom, Richard, and Russell, to Savannah, Akron, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Marysville, and the house next door.
Now that the baking is done and the tins and boxes have been filled, it’s time to sit back, eat a light dinner, and drink some red wine. After a long day, the wine tastes awfully good.
Recently Kish got me some cookie stamps so that I can produce cookies with a design stamped on top. This recipe came with a box of four stamps from Williams-Sonoma, and I’m going to give it a try today. The recipe is simple, but the trick will be making dough that holds the pattern of the stamp design.
Lemon Butter Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar together until light yellow, then beat in the egg. Add lemon juice, milk, and vanilla extract and beat. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and blend well. The last of the flour must be kneaded into the mixture, producing dough that is stiff.
Roll dough between your hands to form round balls that are one inch in diameter, then lightly roll balls in flour and place on buttered cookie sheet 3 inches apart. Dust the patterned surface of the cookie stamp with flour, shake off excess, then press the balls of dough flat with stamp. Cookies should be thin, with just enough dough to fill the indentation of the pattern on the stamp. Bake for 10-18 minutes until golden brown on the edges.
Williams-Sonoma suggests testing the dough first by doing one or two cookies to make sure that the pattern stays sharp during baking. If it doesn’t, more flour should be kneaded into the dough.
Today will be another holiday baking day. All of the ingredients have been purchased, the countertops are groaning with flour, sugar, nuts, shortening, food coloring, chocolate chips, spices, dried fruits, and cookie cutouts, and the dogs are prowling and primed to snatch any stray bit of cookie dough that may be hurled to the floor by the electric mixer.
Fittingly, I’ll be beginning the day with a visit to the dentist, for a cleaning and undoubtedly a lecture on the paramount need for better dental hygiene. What better way to get ready for long hours of creating sweet treats?
As every faithful reader of the blog knows, I like to try at least one kind of cookie each year that is a little bit . . . different. Why not mix things up for the holidays? This particular cookie combines the classic taste of peanut butter and jelly with elements of Chinese food. What could be more of a mix than that?
Peanut Butter-and-Jelly Chow-Mein Noodle Squares
Ingredients: 3/4 cup flour; 3/4 cup crushed chow-mein noodles; 1/2 cup sugar; 3/4 teaspoon baking powder; 1/2 cup softened butter; 1 egg, beaten; 3/4 cup peach jelly; 1 cup peanut butter chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease nine-inch baking pan.
Combine flour, noodles, sugar, and baking powder. Blend in butter. Stir in egg. Press half of mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Spread peach jelly over mixture, then sprinkle half of peanut butter chips on top. Crumble remaining flour mixture over the contents of the pan, then top with remaining chips.
Bake for 30 minutes, let cool, then cut into squares.
I like blogging. I’ve always enjoyed writing, which I think is fun and mentally relaxing. Blogging helps to satiate that nagging creative impulse brooding just below the surface. I feel good when I hit the “publish” button after I’ve finished a piece, and I really appreciate it when one of my postings receives a positive comment.
Sometimes, however, the rewards of blogging can be more tangible. My recent posting about purchasing new cookie sheets and getting ready to bake Christmas cookies apparently caused Aunt Corinne and her long-time friend, our Loyal Akron Reader, to reach out to Kish with ideas for an early Christmas gift for yours truly. Yesterday Kish presented me with two first-class cookie sheets, some reusable parchment paper, the King Arthur Flour cookie and cupcake decorating set, and the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, the Essential Cookie Cookbook. The book includes hundreds of cookie recipes, as well as tips on cookie preparation, ingredients, and baking tools.
When baking time rolls around after Thanksgiving, I’ll be diving into the Cookie Companion for new concoctions and helpful guidance. Thanks to Aunt Corinne, the Loyal Akron Reader, and my lovely wife for their thoughtfulness! With this influx of equipment, recipes, and advice, this is shaping up to be the best holiday baking season ever.
Yesterday when I went to visit Mom one of the assistants asked if I was “the cookie baker.” Paraphrasing Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I humbly acknowledged that I was a cookie baker, not the cookie baker. “So, when are we going to see the first batch of Christmas cookies?,” she asked.
Hmmm. It’s only November 9, but I suppose it is about the time to start thinking about my annual foray into holiday baking, and those flour-dusted, sugar-crusted Saturdays and Sundays spent with measuring cups and rolling pins, teaspoons and sifters, bowls and blenders, chopped nuts and brown sugar. I’ll need to lay in some new cookies sheets, check my supplies of cinnamon, nutmeg, and food coloring, and scour the internet for some new treats to try along with the old standbys.
So, I guess it’s time to issue my annual call for Christmas cookie recipes and at the same time share a few of my own. For those of you who new to the Webner House blog and have missed our annual cookie postings, I’ve linked to the last postings for each year below. Clicking on them will take you to a posting that lists all of the recipes shared and discussed for that year. I’ll start posting some of the new recipes after Thanksgiving.
Mom has issued another call for cookies, and she’s also made it plain that — with all due respect to my interest in baking experimentation — she wants iced sugar cookies, thank you very much. No other cookies need apply!
So, with my recipes strictly limited, I have to let my creative juices flow with the icing and toppings. This is why confectioner’s sugar, food coloring, and colored decorator’s sugar were invented.