I began helping to bake Christmas cookies when I was probably three or so years old. It was a tradition, that in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the cookies were baked, and then stored in vast containers in preparation for Christmas to begin. Of course, the containers were so vast, and stored in the hallway closet, that it was always easy to pilfer one or two without anyone being the wiser. Christmas was the one time of year there were snackables around the house – normally there were no cookies, candy, or chocolate for snacking on. So at Christmas I tend to bake cookies that only get baked once a year. I think if they were baked more often, likely they wouldn’t be as special. But now, over 40 years later, I have baking 800+ cookies down to a fine art. I usually spend the first day just making 4-5 doughs, and then spend another day baking them, interspersed with those cookies that get baked straight away. Normally the doughs need 1-2 hours resting time, so it is just as easy to make them the day before, and bake them all in one batch. Sometimes, like this year, I intersperse new cookies into the mix.
But there are a few things with my cookies. Firstly, I mostly bake Swiss or other European cookies. The reasons (apart from tradition) are two-fold. Firstly European cookies are generally fairly plain, i.e. they aren’t festooned with ¼” of icing, or have sprinkles on them, gummi bears etc. Cookies do not need that much stuff on them, i.e. they don’t need to be over sugared. The most my cookies get is a glasur, which is a fine coating of a icing made from icing sugar and lemon (or water, Kirsch, orange juice) – just enough to impart a slight citrusy note to the cookies. Secondly, European cookies are not huge. My cookies are generally about 1-2″ in diameter. I hate huge cookies, because they are often far too much. Smaller cookies allow for trying a few different varieties, and not feeling like you have just eaten a whole meal.
The nine cookies of Christmas.
People are often awe-struck at the thought of baking 800 cookies, but honestly, it’s not that hard. The trick is to make cookies where the dough is uncomplicated, and to make sure the size of the cookies is reasonable. Most of the cookie (or biscuit) recipes I have posted have been thoroughly tested over the last 20 years. Here are some tips:
– Recipes are never fool-proof. There will be differences with the type of flour, and ovens – two factors which are never the same anywhere. For flour, I use one with about 10g of protein. This is essentially all-purpose flour (read the next post on protein in flour). Cookies need to be watched in the oven, at least near the last 1-2 minutes (don’t Set-It-And-Forget-It). Sometimes they need more time, sometimes less. Altitude also makes a difference in the baking times, as does fan-forced or not (and if it’s not fan forced, the heat will often emanate from the elements on the floor of the oven.
– Large baking trays are efficient, but also mean that cookies on the outer rim will bake faster than those in the middle. I generally use two aluminum baking sheets (15″×21″) and parchment paper. The baking sheets are made by Nordic Ware, in the US. Baking in Canada is perfect at Christmas, because baking trays can be put outside in the cold weather to rapidly cool before the next batch!
– If you are using more than one tray to bake, stagger them by 5 minutes minimum. You don’t want to deal with two trays coming out of the oven at the same time. Ideally 10 minutes is better, but it depends on baking time. If the baking time is less than 1o minutes, then maybe putting one tray in as the other one comes out is optimal. Remove the cookies from the parchment paper to cooling racks ASAP, as there is always the possibility that condensation will occur under the cookie.
– Use good ingredients: flour, unsalted butter, and free-range eggs. It is amazing what a difference a good quality egg makes to the outcome of a bake. For sugar, I usually use super-fine, or caster sugar, as the sugar crystals are nice and small.