Friday, December 12, 2008

400 Cookies, and miles to go!

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I love to bake. 400 cookies may seem overwhelming, but I'd like to share my method.

First, I am terribly organized. I know ahead I have all the baking staples on hand. I have one drawer with nothing but measuring cups (normal and odd size), spoons(normal and odd size), pastry brushes, silicone spatulas, bench scraper, anything I would need for baking.

My spices are alphabetized, my flour and sugar in large bins. I went through recipes weeks ago so I knew what I was making. It's a 3 day process, but you don't have to do it in a row.
As soon as I got up I took out all the butter and let it sit on the counter. It is crucial it is at room temp so it creams easily. It's pretty chilly here, so there is no worries about it getting too soft. But in warmer climates, if the butter gets slimy, your cookies will be greasy.
I use a heavy duty Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Many of my recipes can be made with a food processor or a hand mixer but I like to have my hands free. And finally the most important step, a clean kitchen. No leftover dishes, no meat thawing on the counter. Fill your sink with the hottest sudsiest water, a clean sponge and you are ready to go.
I do one recipe at a time. If I use a measuring cup or spoon for a dry ingredient, I don't wash it until the last batch is made. I have one spoon only for vanilla. I use a scale for chocolate and nuts, too many and your cookies are dry, too few and you look cheap!
All of my recipes start with creamed unsalted butter. Cream for only about 3-5 minutes. You want it fluffy and pale. The sugar usually comes next. Then vanilla and maybe eggs. Usually the flour folds in after that. Once the eggs are added, mixing should be monitored. You only want things incorporated, do not over mix or your cookies will get tough.
After the dough is complete, I spread it out on a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Drop the dough on the wrap and cover with another piece of wrap and shape it into a disc. Wrap it well, and chill it with the recipe. Wash the dishes and start the next batch. I made 6 batches in no time at all. I doubled 2 batches, and I have no trouble with that, but I don't recommend tripling a recipe. Chances are your mixer will grumble, and thorough mixing is a little harder with larger amounts. Your chilled dough can sit in the fridge for a week, you can even make this dough weeks in advance and freeze it in labeled, heavy duty Ziploc bags, thaw in fridge and continue.
Day 2 is baking day. This day requires a little more time, a lot more space. The next blog will detail all the steps to get these cookies in and out of the oven successfully. Here are the recipes for the drop cookies. The cutouts will be a separate blog.
Remember to chill dough until it is firm, usually 1-2 hours minimum. The dough may be hard to manipulate, but cold dough spreads less in the oven. I always bake on Silpat lined cookie sheets (no rims), and cool on racks until they set and finish cooling directly on the rack itself. When you roll with your hands, keep the extra dough in fridge to keep it firm, and bake the sheets as soon as the dough is rolled. Be careful that dough balls do not roll off the cookie sheet into the oven!

Almond Crescents
2/3 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter, unsalted, room temp, (2 sticks)
1 2/3 cup flour
1/ teaspoon salt

2/3 cups bakers sugar (superfine)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Boil the almonds for 2 minutes in water, rinse and slip the skins off. Dry the almonds thoroughly, I gently toast them to get them dry. (You can use slivered almonds for ease.) Grind almonds and sugar in food processor until fine. In mixer bowl, cream butter for 3-5 minutes, add sugar mixture and mix well. Add flour and salt until just incorporated. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. To bake, remove from fridge and cut dough into sections. Break off small pieces and roll into balls and then gently into crescents. Bake at 325 for 14 minutes. Cool on rack until they can be handled, and roll in sugar mixture. Cool thoroughly and store airtight at room temp. Makes about 75

Mexican Wedding Cakes/Pecan Balls/Snowballs
1 cup pecans, halves or pieces
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, unsalted, room temp,(4 sticks)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour

Confectioners sugar to roll finished cookies in.

Grind pecans and sugar in a food processor until fine. Cream butter in mixer bowl for 3-5 minutes. Add nut/sugar mixture. Mix well and add vanilla and flour. When all dry ingredients are incorporated. Remove and wrap in plastic wrap and chill with recipe. This is a double batch, and makes about 100 balls. Remove the dough from fridge and cut off small strips and make into evenly sized balls. I weigh mine to a 1/2 ounce section and roll it into a ball. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Cool on rack until you can handle them. Toss in confectioners sugar and cool thoroughly. Roll in powdered sugar again after they are cool. Store airtight at room temp.

Cardamom Slices
10 Tablespoons butter, unsalted, room temp
3/4 cup plus 2T sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg yolk
2 T milk
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cup flour

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate for dipping

Cream butter and sugar. Add extracts, egg, milk, and spices. Add flour until incorporated. Form into a loaf on plastic wrap, almost like a rectangle, about 3"X2", wrap well. Lay on cookie sheet and chill. When ready to bake, slice into 1/4" slices and give them plenty of room, they spread. Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes. Cool on racks. Melt chocolate and dip cookies in chocolate on the diagonal. Cool until chocolate is firm. Store airtight in fridge. Makes 56 cookies.

Chocolate Gingerbread Drop Cookies
8 Tablespoons unsalted, room temp butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (unsulphered)
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tablespoon flour
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

1/2 cup granulated sugar, coarse sugar or non pareils

Cream butter and brown sugar 3-5 minutes. Add molasses. Add baking soda mixture and spices and flour and mix thoroughly. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. Break dough off in small balls and roll in sugar. I like the coarse decorating sugar and bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Cool completely on racks and store airtight in fridge.

Tomorrow we bake! And we'll tackle those cut out sugar cookies and gingerbread men!

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