The only way I could stop myself from baking cookies this year during the holidays was to leave the house. If I was at home I was baking. From Thanksgiving until Christmas if I had a spare 20 – 30 minutes I was thinking “hmm. I have time to make some dough” or “I can bake one more batch”. This also counted starting a batch at 11:30 p.m. (more on that later) You name it I baked it. All our family favorites from “kissed” peanut butter cookies (photo above), molasses sugar cookies, snickerdoodle biscuits, sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, chocolate sliced cookies – just to name a few. I don’t ever need an excuse to bake cookies. I have cookie cutters (about 100) for every occassion and no special day at all (think octopus, train, lighthouse, football, etc). But this year, I seemed particularly driven. The funny part is that I discovered I was not alone…
This year more than ever when I got together with friends and family they all had similar cookie baking stories. Whether they were making them for the school gingerbread decorating, the family potluck or gifts for the neighbors, everyone was baking. Was this because it was so cold? My aunt (who rarely bakes, and gave us a beautiful container full of homemade sweets) thought so. We really had our share of cold and rainy days in the Bay Area and yes, I prefer baking cookies with my kids in a warm house in the late afternoon, over bundling and braving the weather at the park, again. Another reason could’ve been the economy. People tend to bake and eat comfort foods more than in the past. What is more comforting than homemade cookies with milk? My final reason is because it’s thoughful and a gift of time. There seems to be a return to homemade gifts. All the magazines talked about “green” gifting and things to make from the heart. This year not only did we make cookies to send to relatives, we also make cookie gifts for neighbors, friends and teachers. Here are a few of the packaging ideas that we used or received that are inexpensive and also green and fun to do with kids especially (and can be remembered for any time of year):
flower pot – filled with baked good and tied with a ribbon. Kids can even decorate the pot with paint, stickers, glitter.
glass jars – Ball, cookie, canning, french – in all shapes and sizes. I found them for as little as $3.99 at the Container Store
dish cloths/tea towels – cookies or breads wrapped in pretty fabric that can be reused for dish or hand drying
china plates and bowls – scour flea markets, estate sales and china outlets for single, one-of-a-kind plates for unique presentation
With all the baking, gifting and shipping of cookies, I actually got burned out on cookies mid-way between Hannukah and Christmas. Even my kids were a bit tired of helping mom and asked “why are we making more cookies?” However at this point I had already committed to bring cookies to a few events and a friends’ house for the kids to decorate. Starting a batch of cookies at 11 p.m. after a long day and evening of holiday shopping, wrapping and merriment did not produce my best results. See below. I was impatient and put the butter in the microwave to soften. I knew it had gone too soft, but used it anyways. As you can see the cookies spread and the results were more plump than pretty – although still just as tasty. I already had some gingerbread men as well as other sucessful cookies to bring, so I brought them for the kids to decorate anyways. They didn’t care. It’s amazing what some frosting, sprinkles and raisins can do to transform the “failed” cookie. Here’s a tip when decorating cookies, or really anything with kids – use a muffin tin lined with muffin cups. This works great to hold a variety of small objects, in this case sugars, sprinkles, raisins, currents, marshmallows, coconut, died fruit, and candy cane pieces. It makes it easy for kids to share, there’s less waste and mess than diving into separate bowls and clean up is quick and easy. oops! too
Since I was getting tired of cookies I wondered about others. Think of the teachers, who while appreciative of homemade sweets probably get overwhelmed by sweets at the holidays. I’ve always been meaning to make cookie dough mixes in jars and this year I tried it. I liked the idea of short cutting the recipe and not shaping and baking more cookies. I also liked the idea that the recipient could bake their cookies whenever they had a craving or wanted to share with others. However I learned there is an art to creating the cookie mix and making it look presentable. My first attempt, didn’t look as neat as my third. Those pretty layers were tough to see. I went online and found some tips that really helped. The most important being : flour and white sugar seeps down to other layers of ingredients, so layer those at the bottom and on top or between packed brown sugar. Common sense, but easy to forget, again when you’re working late at night – it’s easy to layer before thinking (and there’s no going back).