The baking weekend is not over until the tins have been assembled with care, so this morning I enjoyed some quality tinning time, which special attention to layering and cookie distribution. (Fudge, almond bars, and gingerbread men bring up the load-bearing bottom, for example.). There not too much left over, either, which is good news!
Good progress was made yesterday, as we got the hang of the internal oven temperature and made a meaningful dent in the repository of supplies and the pile of recipes. With the excellent Sirius XM Holiday Pops channel providing the essential Christmas carol soundtrack, I was able to prepare some old favorites and one of the new recipes from this year. The crucial taste testswere positive, too.
We are well-positioned to finish up with the baking today and get the tinning done today, too. And once that happens, I have checked the box on my last Christmas to-do list item!
All of my holiday duties have been fully and faithfully discharged, with one exception: holiday baking. So this weekend we will be working on some serious cookie creation and fudge making. We’ve got all of the ingredients (at least, until I inevitably realize that I have forgotten something) and I’ve got the Sirius XM Holiday Pops channel to give me some musical accompaniment. Let the baking begin!
Continuing with my 2022 resolution to try baking some cookies with an international flair, I ran across a recipe from the Taste of Home website for reganadas, a traditional Mexican cookie that sounds like a perfect complement to an array of different kinds of Christmas baked goods. The recipe requires the use of multiple bowls, but other than that the cookies sound relatively easy to bake, which also is a crucial consideration.
Coating: 2/3 cup sugar; 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon or confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, beat lard until creamy. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, then gradually beat into lard. In a third, smaller bowl, beat egg white on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently whisk in sugar and egg yolk, then gradually beat into lard mixture. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead gently ten times.
Divide dough into 6 portions, then roll each portion into a two-foot-long rope on lightly floured surface. Cut the rope diagonally into one-inch pieces, then place them one inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are light brown, then cool on pans for two minutes.
Coating: Mix sugar and cinnamon and roll warm cookies in cinnamon-sugar mixture (or confectioners’ sugar, at your option). Cool on wire racks.
Now that December is here, and the Thanksgiving holiday is well behind us, it’s time to start thinking about holiday baking. This year, I’m going to try some new recipes to with some of my traditional favorites. I’m interested in adding a bit of international flair to my baking efforts, and in doing some poking around the internet I stumbled across a recipe for sequilhos, which are a traditional Brazilian cookie made with cornstarch. So, the cookies not only have a South American lineage, they also will be gluten-free for our gluten-intolerant friends. Even better, this recipe only has four ingredients and sounds simple to make.
Ingredients: 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature; 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk; 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt; 2 1/4 cups of cornstarch
Combine the butter, sweetened condensed milk and salt in a large bowl and use a spatula to mix everything until the butter is incorporated into the condensed milk. Slowly add the cornstarch, mixing first with the spatula and then, as the process gets harder, using your hands until a smooth dough forms. (The website indicates that judgment should be used in this process, because you might not need every grain of cornstarch and don’t want to overdo it if the dough looks right.)
Roll the cookie dough (about 1 teaspoon per cookie) into balls and press each ball with your thumb. Place the balls on a two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Using a fork, slightly flatten the cookies, then refrigerate the cookies for 30 minutes to avoid them spreading when baking.
Preheat oven to 350ºF with a rack in the middle. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until they begin to gain some color on the bottom but remain pale on top. Cool the cookies while still on the baking sheets for 15-20 minutes, then move them to a rack to finish cooling.
These cookies are supposed to be fairy light and addictive. Sounds like a good Christmas cookie to me! I’ll probably add some colored sugar to some, and perhaps some jam to others, just to put the cookies into the proper holiday spirit.
The Google American Christmas cookie map is based on searches. The USA Today article explains: “The map shows Christmas cookies that were over-represented in a state compared to the country as a whole. It includes searches from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6, as Americans were baking some of their first batches of holiday desserts.” You can see some of the “over-represented” cookies on the part of the map above, and USA Today helpfully lists them, by state, at the end of the article.
You’ll be pleased to know that, according to Google, Ohio and Michigan (improbably) share the same apparent interest in “snowball cookies,” whereas Maine is one of many states that is keenly interested in gluten-free Christmas cookies. Texas is focused on “Christmas cookie ice cream,” which seems like it is out of step with the rest of the country–but then, it is Texas. No one who watched Fargo and listened to the accents will be surprised to learn that North Dakotans want to know more about “Norwegian Christmas cookies.” And whereas states like Alabama, Nebraska, and Kentucky are all-in on “Christmas cookie fudge,” people from a number of other states are evidently already worried about their waistlines and want to know more about “Keto Christmas cookies.”
It’s nice to see the diversity that still prevails in the U.S. in the important Christmas cookie category. That’s why it’s so darned inexplicable that Ohio and Michigan are both focused on snowball cookies, of all things.
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!
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.
Today was a full day of baking, and good progress was made. There is more to be done, of course, but the baking period is off to a good start. I’ll do more over the next few days, but for now it’s time to do the dishes and de-flour the countertops.
This year I’ve decided to resume baking, and sending out, Christmas cookies to family, friends, and clients. Last year I reluctantly took a year off, breaking a long-running tradition, because of the COVID pandemic. Although the coronavirus is still with us, the CDC says–after more than a year of experience and testing–that there is no evidence that COVID can be transmitted through food or food containers, so long as basic precautions like washing your hands are followed. So, this year I’ve decided to get back to normal and return to my holiday baking efforts.
If you’ve got some good cookie recipes that you don’t mind sharing in the comments, I’m all ears. And I’ve reprinted, below, links to blog entries from prior years that provide links to some of the recipes for the cookies I’ve baked and posted in the past, if you’re on a recipe hunt yourself. The links below will take you to blog entries with recipes I tried in the prior years and, at the bottom of the entry, links to other new recipes I tried that year.
So far I’ve taken the initial steps to prepare for the holiday baking frenzy: finding my old recipes, and (thanks to Kish and The Container Store) laying in a supply of very festive looking silver cookie tins, some of which are shown in the photo above, that I’ll be filling with the baked goodies. The next step will be to figure out which specific cookies I’ll be baking, and then preparing my shopping lists to pick up the ingredients. I haven’t quite decided for sure, but I think this year I’ll get back into the swing of things by focusing on some tried-and-true favorites, like iced sugar cookies, Dutch spice cookies, and cranberry hootycreeks. I’ll probably try a few new ones, too, because experimentation is good for the baker’s soul.
As regular readers of this blog know, my annual tradition is to bake holiday cookies for clients and friends as a humble token of my appreciation. At this time of year, I would normally be scouring the internet baking websites, old cookbooks, and ethnic recipes for new Christmas cookies to bake and add to the mix.
This year, regrettably, I’m going to break the tradition.
There are several reasons for my decision, all of which stem from the coronavirus scourge. Many of my clients’ offices are closed, and people are working remotely. Part of the idea of the tradition is to send a batch of cookies that can be put out at the office coffee station that everyone could share and enjoy as a small pleasure and little taste of the holiday spirit. Thanks to COVID-19, those office gathering points simply don’t exist this year.
I also think there are safety questions about baking and then shipping handmade cookies. The health care authorities carefully say there is “no evidence” that coronavirus is spread through cooked food, and I take them at their word. But there’s more to the issue than that. The cookie exercise requires getting the ingredients at the store, buying tins, baking the cookies, and then having them shipped and delivered. In an era where we are being urged to reduce our contacts with people, that’s a lot of points of contact that could be avoided by not baking the cookies in the first place.
And I’ve also come to realize that there is a pretty broad spectrum of personal reactions to the ongoing pandemic. At one end of the spectrum are people who are still largely isolating and won’t go to restaurants, at the other end are fatalists who think we’ve overreacted and are willing to take their chances in doing just about anything, and there are lots of different points of view in between those two poles. I don’t know whether the recipients would feel uncomfortable about getting some home-baked cookies delivered to their door–and potentially causing that kind of reaction would be inconsistent with the whole point of the exercise in the first place.
So, I’ve reluctantly concluded there will be no cookie baking this holiday season. It makes me wistful, but a lot of traditions have been interrupted this year. Next year, the fates and vaccine manufacturers willing, maybe I’ll do a double batch to compensate for the Cookie-Free Christmas of 2020.
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.
Today was another full day of baking and fudge preparation, and I’m almost done. Tomorrow night I’ll ice the sugar cookies and fill up the tins. For now, though, it’s time to rest my aching feet, drink a beer, and watch the Browns gag away another game.