Get ready to bake

Eight tips to help ensure your cookies crumble the way you want them to this holiday


When baking Christmas cookies, make sure you follow the recipe. Pamela Stafford of Ocala says, “Don't skimp on ingredients; that can affect the taste of your cookie.”

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Published: Monday, November 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 9:25 a.m.

November is here, and it won't be long before kitchens across America are bursting with the wonderful aroma of something delightful in the oven: cookies.

Facts

Holiday Cookie Contest

November has begun, and that means it's time to start thinking about the holidays.
The Gainesville Sun is looking for the best homemade cookies for its first ever Holiday Cookie Contest.
Start digging through your recipes now and choose your single favorite, most special holiday cookie recipe for a chance at winning the title.
Enter your own original recipe, a recipe that has been handed down from friends and family or one that you've discovered in a newspaper, magazine, cookbook, website or elsewhere. And since we love a great story, we ask that you include a letter that describes your recipe's origins and its part in your family's holiday celebrations.
If you're up for such a challenge, here are the rules.

  • One recipe per person.

  • E-mail your complete recipe along with your name, city and telephone number to features editor Sarah Sain at sains@gvillesun.com by Tuesday, Nov. 16. Or mail a typed copy of your recipe to the Gainesville Sun's Cookie Contest, 2700 SW 13th St, Gainesville, FL 32608.

  • Include a note describing your recipe's origins and what part it plays in your holiday celebrations.

  • Bring a dozen of your cookies in a disposable container clearly marked with your name and contact information to the Gainesville Sun office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Containers will not be returned.

  • Entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges on taste and appearance.

  • Top recipes will be published in The Sun on Sunday, Dec. 5.

  • Professional cooks/bakers and anyone affiliated with The Gainesville Sun are not eligible.

  • Questions? Call 338-3102.

Just about everybody loves Christmas cookies. Heck, if someone had baked some for Scrooge or the Grinch, maybe they wouldn't have been the holiday nasties they were.

"They're nostalgic," says Karla Shelnutt, an assistant professor of Family, Youth and Community Sciences at the University of Florida. "Everybody remembers baking as a child, and sharing with family and friends.

"And they taste good," she adds. "There's a lot of sugar in them."

Isn't that the point?



Yet, despite oodles of websites and other sources devoted to Christmas cookie recipes, it seems none of them has a real handle on just how many cookies are baked — and, of course, eaten — during any one holiday season.

It likely numbers into the billions.

But among the most popular, according to various baking-related websites, are peanut butter blossoms (the ones with the Hershey's Kiss in the middle), soft sugar cookies, snickerdoodles and shortbread cookies.

And probably the easiest to make are from those tubes of premixed refrigerated cookie dough with a reindeer or Christmas tree in the middle. Directions: Slice. Bake. Eat.

But, if you're looking for something a bit more challenging, or you're entering our Holiday Cookie Contest, here are some tips to help ensure your cookies crumble the way you want them to this year.

Follow the recipe: Pamela Stafford of Ocala, who's co-hosted a cookie exchange every December for a dozen years, says: "If the recipe says ‘butter,' use butter. Don't skimp on ingredients, that can affect the taste of your cookie." And make sure all ingredients and decorating supplies are fresh.

Measure ingredients exactly: The baking gurus at Swans Down Cake Flour suggest measuring dry ingredients in a standard measuring cup and leveling each off with the straight edge of a knife. Liquid ingredients should be measured in a glass cup on a level surface.

Use large eggs: PopularCookieRecipes.com notes, "This is the standard size egg used for developing cookie recipes." Use eggs and butter at room temperature.

Chill the dough and don't overbeat it: Kelley Welsh of Primary Oven in Ocala says overbeating cookie dough can cause the cookies to be flat. And chilled dough is easier to work with.

Use shiny cookie sheets: "The reflective quality … ensures even baking and browning of your cookies," says PopularCookieRecipes.com.

Maintain uniform thickness: Whatscookingamerica.com says cookies measured the same size "will bake in the same amount of time." The website suggests using a cookie or ice cream scoop to measure the dough onto the baking surface. One ounce of dough equals a medium-size cookie.

Don't crowd the oven: Both Welsh and homebaking.org suggest this. "The air needs to circulate for even baking," Welsh says. "An overloaded oven brings the temperature down and the process takes longer."

Cool cookie sheets between batches: Putting cookie dough on a hot sheet begins the cooking early, resulting in an unevenly baked cookie. And if you're making multiple batches, say for gift giving, adds Welsh, "stick with a set number per sheet every time. That way you know exactly how many you have at all times without having to recount them."

Contact Rick Allen at rick.allen@starbanner.com.

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