Baking for the Festive Season
The past few years I have gotten on to the holiday cookie train. Mainly, this is an excuse to make a ton of different types of cookies and not feel totally guilty about it. At no other time of the year can I make 6 batches of cookies in a week and not feel the weight of all that butter. There are a few that I make every year (gingerbread of course) but each year is an opportunity to try out new recipes and experiment. I love it!!!!
This year because of everyone staying home I didn't even feel the need to get them out to people before Christmas day. My family and friends are home and having smaller holidays and I thought getting cookies in the mail later on would actually be a wonderful surprise!
I don't have any recipes that are handed down but I have a few trusted sources for all my baking fundamentals: namely King Arthur Flour, those guys know their stuff. My favorite cookbook and the one I reach for the most is theirs, also check out their whole wheat flour cookbook, equally amazing!!!! Martha Stewart is another tried and true source of inspiration. I sometimes find her cookies on the blander side so I usually bump up the seasonings with her recipes. Check out her cookbook of just cookies recipes, you will definitely be inspired to bake. Two years ago my mother gave me an amazing cookbook: The Great Minnesota Cookie Book. This is a collection of winning cookies from the Star Tribune's Holiday Cookie Contest and all of them are winners in my book!!! Three of my cookies this year came from this cookbook.
This years cookies were: Iced Gingerbread, Linzer, Alfajores, Chocolate and Vanilla Logs, Viennese Wafers, Cardamom Crescents ,and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. Here is my criteria for my cookie selection: obviously gingerbread. One cookie that is slightly savory. This year it was the Viennese Wafers that are flavored with lemon zest and thyme from my garden.
At least one sandwich cookie. I love Linzer's with tart current jam (couldn't find any this year so it was four fruits instead).
Last year I made maple sandwich cookies (sooo good) but I ran out of maple syrup so I turned to Alfejores. I lived in Uruguay for a year, my first job out of college, and this is their quintessential cookie. Also, it was pretty fun to make my own dulce de leche.
Of course you need a beautiful cookie. This year's contender was the stunning shortbread log cookies. And of course one nostalgia cookie. For me it was the pumpkin chocolate chip. My mother used to make these as fall treats and I have a vivid memory of eating them in 1st grade and falling in love with this cookie. Even though I love these cookies I have never made them but I happened to have a can of pumpkin hiding in the cupboard so this was a perfect excuse to bake a childhood memory.
I also like to make at least one cookie featuring a different spice blend. Cardamon crescent cookies fit the bill. They are heart warming and crumbly full of almonds and deep cardamon flavor.
I am no where near an expert baker but this is the internet so I feel totally justified in giving tips and advice regardless. Even though the recipe always says softened butter this was the first year that I actually pulled the butter out of the fridge hours before I made the cookies and it was well and truly softened. WOW, what a difference. It took no time at all to whip up the batter. Second tip, making your cookies when it is cold out is a perfect excuse to not clean the fridge. You can chill the dough, and freeze the finished cookies (it was 9 degrees for quite a few days) until you are ready to send them off. Third, baking with duck eggs make things a little trickier though super tasty. Our neighbor gifted me a dozen duck eggs for returning her roaming rooster and I was pumped since I didn't have to go to a grocery store for eggs!!! Down side was that my doughs were pretty sticky (thankful for that super cold outside "fridge") but the tasty richness was worth it. Fourth and final tip is pure baking sacrilege but I hate dishes so... pfft. The first step in all recipes is combing the dry ingredients in a bowl. I get why this is a step but it means that cookies use two bowls instead of one. And besides having an extra dish to clean I don't have the counter space to put a second bowl, almost tiny house and all. Here is my tip: skip this step. Cream the butter, add the eggs, then with a sieve add in your raising agents (baking powder and/or soda) give that a very quick stir and then sift in your flour. Viola!!! Saved you a dish. I used to not bother using a sieve, just dumped it in, but I now buy my flour in bulk and it can get lumpy and compacted. Sieving helps keep things light.
The festive season is all about sharing and what greater way then to share with cookies. Not only are you sending your loved ones home baked goodness but you are gifting your time and creativity to another. Showing you think of them and love them in a more heartfelt way then ordering something off of Amazon. Another great way is gifting them something from a small business but I digress, this is about cookies. I would love to know what your cookie traditions are or even better your recipes. You can never have enough cookie recipes.