Does the first Wednesday of December seem like we’re jumping the gun? Is the second Wednesday too late for those serious bakers who stock their freezers with batches of dough to bake for gifts all month?
For the past three years, I’ve erred on the side of allowing more time for this treasured activity, which can become mayhem if left until the last minute. I’ve even held myself up in this blog as an example of how not to approach baking: haphazardly and without making a test batch.
Mary Shaw at Ashland Food Co-op doesn’t take any chances. She started researching cookie recipes before turkeys were a twinkle in most cooks’ eyes, and she offered in-store cookie samples beginning the first Saturday in November. Recognizing that people need time to plan, she recommends testing a cookie recipe at least once before planning to give any away.
“They do freeze,” she says. “You can literally make a batch every week.”
Shaw’s approach to cookie traditions put me in mind of a story I spied on the newspaper’s wire service about traditional Italian cookies. Lucky enough to take home a sample of her biscotti, I can attest that it eclipsed the vast majority I’ve ever tried.
But I confess I’d also love to try the recipes for Sicilian Sesame and Pine Nut-Fig cookies that accompanied the piece on our Holiday 101 page. Like the reporter, Shaw acknowledges that European cookies are different than American ones but no less delicious.
“A lot of traditional European baking uses nuts especially.”
Here are some more tips from McClatchy News Service for baking great cookies, regardless of where the recipe originated.
1. Proceed with caution. To avoid mishaps, read the recipe from start to finish — twice — before beginning. Many recipes require the dough to be refrigerated for a period of time.
2. Shop carefully. Many recipes use large eggs and all-purpose flour, unless otherwise noted. Invest in fresh baking powder, baking soda and spices.
3. Equip your kitchen. Use flat, shiny, rimless and insulated medium- to heavy-gauge aluminum baking sheets. Eliminate greasy baking sheets by using parchment paper or reusable silicon (such as Silpat) baking mats.
4. Measure carefully. Spoon flour and powdered sugar into the measuring cup (rather than using the measuring cup as a scoop) and level ingredients with a straight edge, such as a knife. Soften butter at room temperature until a light touch leaves a slight indentation, about 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Bake evenly. Preheat the oven for at least 20 minutes. Adjust baking rack to the oven’s middle position. For true accuracy, invest in an oven thermometer. Use one baking sheet at a time in the oven, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Cool baking sheets completely between batches either by alternating among several cookie sheets or running hot ones under cold water.
6. Store wisely. Most cookies remain fresh for up to a week when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Use separate containers to store different types of cookies.