Expert Tips for Baking Christmas Cookies -- Without Stress
Ease into cookie-baking with these expert tips from Deb Wagman, editor of Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Baking magazine.
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- Choose your recipes. Grab some baking books, magazines, recipe boxes, and sticky page markers. Find four to six recipes that you'd like to make (Wagman recommends varying flavors to please everyone's tastes) and mark them. Try to find a balance in the cookies you choose. "For each difficult recipe, choose a simple recipe," Wagman says. "For each all-new recipe, choose a tried-and-true recipe, and for each expensive recipe, choose an inexpensive recipe."
- Make a shopping list. Go through your cookie recipes carefully, making lists for all ingredients, special cooking tools, decorating supplies, and cookie storage containers you'll need. "Make sure to put parchment paper on your list," Wagman says. "It'll save pan washing later." Plan shopping to take advantage of sales and specials, and call ahead to make sure stores have specialty ingredients or decorating supplies.
- Gather your goods. Purchase all ingredients, tools, and supplies. If, by chance, you see cookie sheets on sale, treat yourself to another. "You'll be glad you did," Wagman says.
- Do doughs. For each recipe, find a tray or baking pan that will hold all of the recipe's ingredients. Read the recipe carefully, measuring each ingredient into small bowls or eggcups and placing them back on the tray. "This pre-assembly step helps eliminate instances of forgetting to add an ingredient," Wagman says. Allow ingredients to come to room temperature before using. Mix doughs one by one. As you finish each dough, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, label, and refrigerate.
- Bake Away! One by one, remove dough packages from the refrigerator. Shape and bake cookies. Begin with cookies with the lowest baking temperatures and proceed with higher temperatures as you continue. Allow cookies to cool completely.
- Cool off. If you're short of kitchen counter cooling space, Wagman says a foil-covered dining table or desktop will work just fine. When cookies are completely cooled, layer carefully in containers. Store the cookies at room temperature if you intend to decorate the following day. For up to three days, refrigerate; for longer, freeze.
- Decorate cookies. Clear a large space for a working area. Beginning with the first cookie variety, assemble cookies and decor needs. Be sure to allow cookies decorated with icings or melted chocolates to dry completely before stacking. When you're done, layer decorated cookies carefully between sheets of wax paper in airtight containers.