Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cookie Chaos

It recently occurred to me that while I write about eating, potato chips, drinking and cleaning the kitchen, I never write about actual cooking. Clarification... I have written about cooking, but only in regards to: A) that I don't love to do it; B) I don't spend hours pouring over cookbooks and dreaming about the next magical meal I'm going to whip up; C) that my kids are semi-picky eaters in regards to texture, cheesiness, sauciness, and spiciness; and D) Christmas cookies.

For eleven months out of the year, my cookie baking skills consist of a handy plastic package of pre-made cookie dough purchased in the dairy section. In addition to this being due to the fact that I'm almost always too lazy to haul the stand mixer out and I'm too anal to have the bulky space hog sitting on my counter year round, it's also due to the fact that the only reason I ever make cookies is because my kids want them. And even though my kids want them, they do not need to have five dozen cookies sitting in the house because, inevitably, four dozen of them will go uneaten. For me - having softened butter and creamed the butter and mixed the butter with the dry ingredients and then watched this butter mixture morph into something besides a burnt cookie - chucking those stale little suckers into the garbage can makes me, well, despise baking. And it makes me resentful. And who needs to be resentful about baking when, as parents, we have so many other things to be resentful about?

Anyway, each December, something happens to my brain that I'm sure most psychologists would put into the same classification as Bat Shit Insanity. I start hoarding butter and sugar when it's on sale, dig through recipes and clear a day on my calendar so that I can spend several hours standing in my kitchen.

This year, after several muttered (and a few shouted) obscenities, yards of parchment paper and too many sticks of butter to acknowledge without dry heaving, I ended up with approximately 22 dozen cookies. After Thursday, when I bake the sugar and gingerbread, there will be what is commonly known in the baking world as a fuck ton of cookies. But hey, I have some appreciative friends, a satisfied mailman, a perplexed garbage man and some happy children so, ya know, it was worth it. I guess.

Since I, the non-baker, managed to crank out so many circles of fat without even so much as over-browning one bottom or giving anyone food poisoning, I've decided to share some of my cookie baking tips. If you want to incorporate them into your own holiday baking extravaganza, feel free. If you want me to go burn in a fiery hell because I'm not supposed to talk about anything besides drinking and beating children, I completely understand.

  • Buy and use parchment paper. I buy mine at Costco because you get several football field lengths for not that much money. Use it on every pan, even the ones that claim to be nonstick because then not only will your cookies look better in the end, but you won't have to wash any pans.
  • Another bonus of parchment paper: you can just slide the whole paper off of the pan, directly onto the cooling rack. No more trying to wedge a spatula under a too-warm cookie, resulting in a destroyed/deformed cookie.
  • For those of you that own Silpat/silicone baking mats, do what I did and STOP USING THEM. They are a pain in the ass to wash, no pan ever created fits them exactly without either wasted space and/or the mat lopping over the edges and did I mention that they're a pain in the ass?
  • If you don't have a palm tree in your yard and can't wear shorts year round, the fastest way to cool the cookie sheets between batches is to put them outside.
  • I use the insulated cookie sheets, but have also used the edgeless non-insulated kind. It really is a matter of preference and keep in mind that cookies baked on the non-insulated sheets will have browner edges and bottoms. Also, I am convinced that the burn-rate is much higher for the non-insulated.
  • This may sound a lot like Martha and for that I apologize, but I never make drop cookies without a spring-lever scoop. It's like a mini ice cream scoop and it makes plopping that lump of dough so much easier. Plus, all your cookies will be the same size and if you're anal like me, you get a little bit neurotic if all your cookies aren't the same size.
  • Unless you happen to own 25 cooling racks, cover a giant flat surface with freezer paper, waxy side down. Then, once your cookies have cooled on the parchment paper, move them to the freezer paper to finish setting (especially important when making the always-popular peanut butter/Hershey's Kiss cookies). The waxy surface will prevent any grease/butter/fat from soaking through to the table.
  • Don't frost the sugar cookies too soon before Christmas because storing them is a pain in the ass.
  • This is common sense, but if you need to chill some dough for three hours, make that dough first and then move it to a different bowl to chill so that your mixer bowl is free to make something else. Otherwise you'll just spend those three hours sitting around, during which you may start cocktailing, which will result in some really interesting cookies and probably a few burns (no, I'm not talking about the cookies). Since I am still staring at a scar from a Thanksgiving mishap, I am very much against charred flesh.
  • If you see the peppermint candy cane Hershey's Kisses, buy two bags. They sell out fast. And if you aren't able to find them, then you won't be able to make these:
Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

1/2 c. butter-flavored shortening
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. flower, spooned and leveled
1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 - 12 oz. bag dark chocolate chips
a bag of Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, unwrapped (duh)

Preheat oven to 350

Cream together butter, shortening, brown sugar and white sugar for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed or until light and fluffy, aka the stuff is stuck together enough that it stops flying out of the mixer bowl. Add the eggs (one at a time) and vanilla. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, use a whisk to combine the baking powder, baking soda, salt, flour and cocoa powder. Add to the butter/sugar glop and mix until combined. At this point, if you're like me and don't like chocolate, try not to gag. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Refrigerate dough for 30-60 minutes. Make a drink.

Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet, aka parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake until just set, but centers are still soft, about 9 minutes. Remove from oven without burning yourself and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes. Use a metal spatula to move cookies to cooling rack, or, since you were super smart and used the parchment paper, simply slide the entire piece of paper to the cooling rack and then put the cookie sheet outside to cool. Top each cookie with a candy cane thing.

This is critical, allow to cool completely. Those Kisses take longer than an 82 year old man to harden. After the cookie part seems like you can pick it up without it breaking, you can carefully move it from the cooling rack to the paper covered table, but try not to bump the Kiss. Unless you're like my kid who intentionally bumps it and then says "oops this one is wrecked guess I better just eat it."

Serve the cookies. Make another drink.

And happy holidays.

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