Thursday, December 1, 2011

COOKIE CHRONICLES - 'Tis The Season! Cookie Bake-A-Thon PROLOGUE

Blog wallpaper - last year's Bourbon Cookies
December 1 marks the start of a major cooking frenzy in our house.  I know what you're thinking....didn't we just go through one of those with that Turkey Day thing?
Yes, we did.
But hey!  I didn't invent the holiday schedule! Like everybody else, yours truly is merely a cog in the machinery.   So with wheels still spinning from the previous endeavor, we're off to the races again!

Christmas (or Holiday if you prefer) cookie baking time is a feat of planning, imagination and even a bit of fun. Through the years I've developed a mental checklist to help bring sense through the chaos.

1) Make a list of the cookies that "worked" the previous season.  Decide which ones you want to make again.
2) Make a list of recipes you want to try. It can be fun to add some variety to your cookie plate. Be realistic though.  If the recipe is complex (like the Bourbon Cookies) be mindful of how much work will be involved and be sure you're able to commit to it!
     The holidays are a busy time and unless you have an army of kitchen elves around you may stretch yourself too thin and be too exhausted to enjoy the season.
Allergy alert!
2 a) Some suggest making cookies with similar ingredients to help keep the costs down.  This is a good idea, but remember that if you're baking for someone with gluten or nut allergies or diabetes for example, you'll still have to buy the right fixin's for the job.
     Be sure to include these and any other variations in the budget!
 2b) Be very sure not to allow nut and non-nut cookies to intermingle. Some people's allergies are so severe that even a bit of nut dust can send them to the hospital!
    Clean all tools and utensils thoroughly between batches!
3) Make a list of all the people and events that will be needing your cookies...include what you know about likes and dislikes, allergies and other dietary restrictions too, if possible. See item #2a. 
4) Clean the kitchen - make sure the oven has recovered from its time with the turkey! (There's nothing like a bit of burning charred guck on the oven floor to ruin the flavor of a perfectly good cookie!)
5) Take inventory of your ingredients. See items 2 and 2a.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
6) Make sure your baking equipment is in good working order.
6a) Make sure you have enough waxed paper, release spray or other anti-stick agents of preference, cooling racks, potholders and storage containers.
     For the "main storage," I use coffee cans with their snap on lids.  Each cookie type gets stored in its own can and I label each can. This makes keeping stock and gift-making time a lot easier! I even make a can for the "pogens," those odd-shaped Chocolate Chip and amputated portions of Gingerbread People that are an inevitable by product of the process. These come in handy for household snacking.  They can even be ground up in the food processor and used for making things like pie crusts.  No lie! A Pogen Pie Crust recipe will appear in an upcoming blog entry.
7) Make sure cookies are thoroughly cooled and dry to the touch before storing!
7a) Put waxed paper between layers of cookies that are filled or in any other way have a tendency to get sticky.
7b) Don't pack stored cookies tight!  It's better to use more than one container than to have an entire batch ruined!
8) Look at the calendar...plan baking accordingly - plan for shipping dates, party dates, etc.
9) Consider making this a group or family event.  Kids love to bake, so do some adults.  Besides, it could help cut work-time in half.  Baking parties can be fun!
10) Relax. Plan baking for a time and day when you can really enjoy the process. Spread it out over several days or evenings if you can.
11) Reserve some cookies for yourself!  Your family will love you for it!
12) Consider holding a cookie swap! It's a great way to compare notes and get ideas for your next Cookie Extravaganza.
I'm sure there are other things that can be put on the list, so please feel free to send your ideas!

Anyway....with recipe books, notes and a few cook books serving as "wing men," I began my holiday baking earlier today with a large cup of coffee while taking an inventory of supplies.

After the review it was apparent that we needed to restock. Food store time again!  Thanksgiving had taken a major toll on the staples, but that was to be expected.  While writing the shopping list I thought about which delicacies would be made this season. 

Cranberry Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
"These cookies will be more than 'hostess fare,' they will be gifts for friends and family."  I mused.
I've been kind of planning for months but as the sun lifted itself over our city's skyline I sorted through the ideas and came to some final conclusions. 

First thoughts of course - what worked and what didn't work last year.
One thing's for sure, the Bourbon Cookies were a big hit with the adults!  The Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin and White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cranberry ones satisfied everybody and the Sugar Cut Outs had all the kids happy...admittedly the older crowd loved them too. All these went to the final list....although I have been re-thinking the Bourbons and may do a drop cookie with a Bourbon/Chocolate drizzle if time gets too dear.

Gingerbread People are essential. If time gets too tight, I thought,  I may opt to make Ginger Snaps rather than Gingerbread People, but will cross that bridge when I get to it. 
Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter are a Holiday necessity, at least in my household.  In truth, I could keep our larder stocked with these varieties year 'round and there'd be no complaints!

My sister requested Pizelles (those Italian anise cookies made with a special press or iron). I don't have a real Pizelle Iron so when the time comes I'll be using our ancient waffle iron.  Stay tuned to this blogsite for further details and coverage of the event. Including pictures!

As you can see, there's a lot of work ahead and a limited time to get it all done.  But with a little planning, a little attention to detail and a lot of humor the whole Cookie Bake-A-Thon can be a beautiful thing.

As always, please feel free to share your ideas, recipes and memories on this site.  Just use the handy comments space below each blog entry.  You'll be properly credited, I promise.  Try to include a photo of the finished product if you can.

And above all else.....Enjoy!