Are you ready to talk about Christmas yet? How about Christmas cookies? Around here, with Thanksgiving and Halloween in the past now, I’m starting to think about Christmas. I’m preparing mental gift lists, I’m entering party dates into my calendar, and I’m starting to plan for the cookie baking season. I would like to gently suggest, that now might also be a good time for you to think about your Holiday baking. Ok, well, maybe not gently suggest, but sort of entice, by way of gratuitous shots of me baking up some Gingerbread cookies. So, if you can all stand it, I’m making November “cookie month”. And anyway, even if you aren’t ready to start thinking about all that December will bring, a cookie is a fantastic treat in the meantime, right?
Alright, so maybe you don’t normally consider baking cookies a month before you need them. Neither do I, really. But I do, quite often, make double batches of dough when I’m baking cookies and store the dough in the freezer for faster cookie making in the future. So, that’s what I’m planning for the next few weeks. Whip up a few batches of dough, freeze the dough until I need it in December. Closer to the end of the month, but more likely even into early December, I’ll be making dough and actually baking it into cookies before I stash the fully baked treats into the freezer. Each week, with one of my favourite recipes, I’ll include some helpful tips about cookie baking.
I thought that this week, we’d start with a holiday classic: gingerbread. It’s so critical to my list of holiday cookies that I knew I had to include it and I chose to include it first because both the dough and the cookies freezer very very well. My go to recipe for gingerbread is this one by Nick Malgieri. Do you know Nick? I feel like I do – I own three of his cookbooks, and really, we can’t talk about cookies without mentioning him. I’ve tried many many gingerbread cookie recipes and I’ve never found one as reliable as this. It makes a firm, crisp cookie that holds its shape well and is extremely forgiving during rolling. If you’re looking for a soft, chewy cookie, this recipe isn’t for you but these cookies are exactly what I look for in a gingerbread cut-out cookie.
I followed the recipe exactly and chose to separate the prepared dough into two portions. One half I wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, put it into a freezer bag and then stored in my freezer on a shelf so that it could be stored flat. The other half I baked up into cookies, using my fantastic set of snowflake cutters. Once the cookies were cooled, I moved most of them, before decorating, into an airtight container and then stored them in the freezer. I prefer to store my cookies undecorated. I kept aside a few for decorating today so that I could show you how they look when they’re finished. Aren’t they lovely?
4 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup unsulfured molassesICING
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
3 large egg whites
1 drop lemon juice
For the dough, add the dry ingredients (except sugar) to a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Beat the butter and sugar, adding one egg at a time. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth. Beat in half the flour mixture, then stop and scrape the bowl and beater(s). Beat in the molasses, scrape again, and beat in the remaining flour mixture, just until combined.
Divide the dough into several pieces and press each piece into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least one hour or until firm.
Set the racks in the middle upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.Roll the dough, one piece at a time, on a floured surface, just to make the dough flat and even, but not much thinner. Cut with floured cutters and arrange on the pans an inch or two apart. Repeat with the remaining dough. Re-roll the scraps immediately; or press together, chill and re-roll later. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until firm when pressed with a fingertip.
Cool the cookies on the pans. Meanwhile for the icing, combine confectioners’ sugar and egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat by machine until combined. Add the lemon juice and continue beating until fluffy. Divide the icing into several small bowls and add coloring. Keep plastic wrap pressed against the surface of the icing to prevent a crust from forming. Use a paper cone or the snipped end of a plastic bag to pipe icing on the cookies.
***3 Tips for Getting Ready to Bake Holiday Cookies***
Choose your recipe wisely
: Most cookie doughs can be stored, well sealed, in the freezer for a few months but cookies themselves aren’t recommended for freezing any longer than 3 weeks, usually. Some cookies don’t freeze well at all. You can use the plethora of recipes available from the Holiday Baking magazines that are hitting shelves now, or from your Grandma’s recipe box, or from Google searches to choose recipes that are delicious and suitable for freezing. Most recipes will mention something about for how long and how they can be stored. If the recipe you have doesn’t mention it specifically you can pretty much count on most drop cookie dough and rolled cookie dough and anything referred to as an ‘ice box cookie’ will freeze exceptionally well. Many bar cookies can be frozen but I don’t recommend freezing cookies that have a curd or pudding filling. Do not try to freeze meringues or molded cookies like tuiles.
Start with all of your ingredients at room temperature. We really really mean it. I usually take everything out of the fridge the night before I’m going to bake. Sometimes I forget though. See those eggs over there sitting in that bowl of warm water? I forgot to take them out the night before, so this is a quick way to get them to room temperature.
Assemble an arsenal of excellent tools.
The right tools can make any job so much easier. The same goes for cookie baking. Cookie sheets are not expensive. Try to invest in at least two shiny surface, rimless cookie sheets, something like these
. Parchment paper or silicone baking mats
are also great additions. Of course, some easy to read and reliable dry and wet measuring cups and spoons
are essential, as is an oven that can keep its temperature. For drop cookies, those cute scoops in a few sizes
can save a lot of time. A rolling pin that you are comfortable wielding will be necessary for any rolled cookies.
Ok, so, now are you feeling ready to get started baking? Feel free to leave any questions you have about cookie baking in the comments and I’ll see if I can get to answering some of them over the course of November, or feel free share any of your own tips for getting all your holiday baking done on time.