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.
This year’s Christmas cookie baking process will present a new challenge. After years of working with a double oven set-up, we are back down to a single oven. Part of the preparation for the annual baking frenzy therefore will involve thinking through the logistics of which cookies should be baked in what sequence, in order to maximize the efficient use of the standalone oven.
Double ovens are a luxury, because there is always an oven ready to receive the next sheet of cookies ready to be baked. The rotation and preheating decisions therefore were a snap, and the option to rely on the very existence of the second oven admittedly encouraged less precise baking and timing techniques. The use of only a single oven eliminates that safety valve and will demand careful advance analysis of order of preparation, preheating needs, and other important considerations. Because I will be baking cookies where the dough needs to be refrigerated, for example, I’ll need to make sure that other cookies are baking while that dough is being chilled, and I’ll have to time the decorations as well.
There’s another issue with ovens: until you’ve done some heavy duty baking, you aren’t quite sure whether to trust their heat readings. I knew the idiosyncrasies of our old, double ovens, which tended to take a bit longer to bake than recipes specified. I can’t make that assumption with our new, unfamiliar single oven, or I’ll risk burning batches of cookies–so the logistics planning will also have to account for regular checks of the oven contents to avoid such mishaps.
Bakers are, by nature, focused on logistics–planning, assembling ingredients, and making sure that all of the necessary tools and implements are at hand–but also are ready to improvise in a pinch. The single-oven challenge will just be part of the fun this year.
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.
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!
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.
Last night I iced and decorated the sugar cookies, and then I got up early this morning to finish putting the cookies into festive tins and writing notes for the recipients of this year’s holiday baking — who I hope will enjoy the new recipes and the new twists on old favorites.
And, because no job is truly completed until the clean-up work is done, this morning I also stashed the baking implements and remaining supplies and wiped down the countertops, so there’s nary a sign of a marathon baking effort. Now, I can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee . . . and, admittedly, a warm feeling of accomplishment, too.
Every successful holiday baking day starts with a carefully prepared shopping list. Preparing the list is, and should be, an involved process. You need to sift through your recipes, decide which ones you’ll be making this year, and take inventory of what you’ve got in the cupboard already — and whether you’ve got it in sufficient quantity. If you’ve made a good list, you won’t be caught short on a particular recipe and have to make an annoying one-ingredient dash to the store midstream.